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Marchwitza was the son of miner Thomas Marchwitza and his wife Thekla Maxisch, and was born in Scharley (Szarlej) (now a part of Piekary Śląskie) near Beuthen in Upper Silesia. Already at fourteen years old (1904) Marchwitza was working underground in the mines. In 1910 in he was hired to work in the Ruhr area.
Two years later, however, he became unemployed because of his participation in a strike. Until he was drafted into the military in 1915, he worked as a laborer in odd jobs. He served on the Western Front until 1918.
In 1919 he joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. In the following year, he fought as a commander for the Red Ruhr Army against the Kapp Putsch, Freikorps groups, and the Reichswehr during the Ruhr Uprising. In 1920, he joined the Communist Party of Germany. When France occupied the Ruhr area, he fought in resistance.
In the meantime, he again became unemployed because of his participation in a strike. In this period, he wrote his first literary pieces. Alexander Abusch, an editor for the Ruhr-Echo supported him and published his initial piece. After 1924, he published in the Communist newspapers the Rote Fahne (Red Banner) and the Rote Front.
In 1929, he was invited along with a number of other journalists and writers to visit the Soviet Union. In 1930, he published his first book Sturm auf Essen, reporting on the fighting in the Ruhr Area in 1920. After the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933, he fled to Switzerland, but was expelled by 1934. Until 1935 he worked for the Communist Party in the French occupied Saarland and fought as an officer in the Spanish Civil War after 1936.
In 1938, he attempted to cross from Spain to France but was arrested and detained by the French. In 1941, he succeeded in fleeing to the United States. There he was detained but was later allowed to work in construction and other odd jobs. In 1946 he returned to Germany, first to Stuttgart and then in 1947 to Babelsberg in the Soviet Occupation Zone. He became a founding member of the Academy of the Arts of East Germany. For this action, in 1950 he received the National Prize of East Germany, a prize he received again in 1955 and 1964. He also became a cultural attaché in Prague in 1950, an office he held until 1955. For his seventieth birthday he gained entrance into the Karl Marx Order and the honorary title of Dr. phil. h.c. from Humboldt University.
At age 75 on 17 January 1965 Marchwitza died in Potsdam.
His autobiographical trilogy "Die Kumiaks" (1934, 1952, 1959) and autobiography "Meine Jugend" (1947) depict vivid scenes of the life of German working families in Silesia and the Ruhr Area.
- Sturm auf Essen (Reportage, 1930)
- Walzwerk (Roman, 1932)
- Die Kumiaks (Roman, 1934)
- Meine Jugend (1947)
- In Frankreich (1949)
- Unter uns (Erzählungen, 1950)
- Die Heimkehr der Kumiaks (Roman, 1952)
- Die Kumiaks und ihre Kinder (Roman, 1959)
- In Amerika (Roman, 1961)
- Gedichte (1965)
- Ilberg, W.: Hans Marchwitza. - Leipzig : Deutsche Akademie der Künste, 1971
- Matke, Fritz (Hrsg.): Kamst zu uns aus dem Schacht : Erinnerungen an Hans Marchwitza. - Berlin : Verl. Tribüne, 1980
- Konrad Fuchs (2002). "Hans Marchwitza". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German) 20. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 974–977. ISBN 3-88309-091-3.
- Complete Online Edition of the Sturm auf Essen (German)