Oskar Seidlin (February 17, 1911 – December 11, 1984); German-born American literary scholar, poet, and writer of children’s stories. He is also said to have co‑authored several detective novels or Kriminalromane in collaboration with Dieter Cunz and Richard Plant (1910–1998, his lover) under the collective pen‑name of Stefan Brockhoff.
He was born Oskar Koplowitz to a respected, well-to-do Jewish merchant's family in Königshütte in the Upper Silesia Basin of Germany (now Chorzów in southwestern Poland). He and his sister Ruth chose to study at the recently founded University of Frankfurt, which enjoyed a reputation as a Germany's most progressive university and also as the one with the highest percentage of Jewish students and professors. Here he attended classes on German literature (especially Martin Sommerfeld), sociology (Theodor Adorno, Norbert Elias, Karl Mannheim), and philosophy (Paul Tillich) and soon developed a friendship with Richard Plant. With Plant he transferred to the University of Berlin for one semester in the fall of 1930, where they became acquainted with the Kattowitz editor Franz Goldstein and through him with Klaus Mann, both of whom were erotically drawn by Koplowitz. Upon returning to Frankfurt in 1931, he met the history student Dieter Cunz, who became his lifetime partner. He also met Wilhelm Emrich, who became a lifelong friend, despite Emrich's later accommodation with the Nazi regime.
Seidlin emigrated to Switzerland in 1933, where he supported himself by freelancing for Swiss newspapers. In 1936 he received a doctorate from the University of Basle (Universität Basel) with a dissertation on Otto Brahm (1856–1912), written under the supervision of Franz Zinkernagel (1878–1935) and Eduard Hoffmann‑Krayer (1864–1937). In 1938 he left Switzerland for the United States, where a year later, in 1939, he obtained a lectureship (in 1941 elevated to assistant professorship) at Smith College for women in Northampton, Massachusetts, a post which he held discontinuously until August 1946 – with a hiatus between 1942 and 1946 for his war‑time service in the U.S. Army Intelligence Division (he participated in the early stages of the invasion of Europe). At Smith he is said to have had a relationship with Newton Arvin. While teaching at the German Summer School of Middlebury College in Vermont in the summer of 1946 he made the acquaintance of Bernhard Blume (1901–1978), then chairman of the Department of German at the Ohio State University (and himself a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1936), who offered him a position at his institution. Thereupon, from the autumn of 1946 onwards, Seidlin taught at the Ohio State University, eventually moving to the Bloomington campus of Indiana University where in August 1972 he became professor of Germanic languages, an appointment he retained until his retirement in May 1979. Seidlin also served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University for several terms. He was twice the recipient of Guggenheim Fellowships, in 1962 and 1976.
Seidlin’s tale for children, Pedronis muss geholfen werden!, appeared in 1937; this was followed in 1939 by S.O.S. Geneva, another book for children which Seidlin authored jointly with Richard Plant (1910–1998). Seidlin’s Der goldene Apfel, issued in the United States during the Second World War, belongs to the same category of children’s literature.
A collection of his poems, entitled Mein Bilderbuch, saw the light of day in 1938.
Seidlin had numerous publications, in both German and English, in the field of (German) literary studies, beginning with his doctoral dissertation, Otto Brahm als Theaterkritiker, published under his birth-name (Oskar Koplowitz) in 1936, and the 29-page essay on Goethe published in the United States in 1947, Helena: vom Mythos zur Person. He collaborated with Werner Paul Friederich (b. 1905) on the latter’s An Outline‑History of German Literature (1948). He considered his study of the German Romantic poet Joseph Eichendorff (Versuche über Eichendorff, Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965; 2nd ed., 1968) to be his most important work. His last major publication seems to have been Von erwachendem Bewusstsein und vom Sündenfall, issued in 1979.
On his sixty-fifth birthday in 1976 Seidlin was presented with a commemorative volume or Festschrift entitled tellingly Herkommen und Erneuerung.
A collection of his letters addressed to William Henry Rey (b. 1911), sometime professor of Germanic languages and literature at the University of Washington in Seattle, and written between 1947 and 1984, was published posthumously under the title “Bete für mich, mein Lieber...” in 2001.
- Erich Heller (s.v. Life in letters)
- Cf. Stefan Brockhoff, Schuß auf die Bühne (Leipzig, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, 1935); id., Musik im Totengässlein (Bern, etc., Goldmann, 1936); id., Drei Kioske am See (Leipzig, Goldmann, 1937); id., Begegnung in Zermatt (Munich, Goldmann, 1955). Another novel, entitled ‘Verwirrung um Veronika’, is said to have been serialized in the Zürcher Illustrierte in 1938. Cf. Angelika Jockers and Reinhard Jahn, eds., Lexikon der deutschsprachigen Krimi-Autoren (2nd ed., rev.; Munich, Verlag der Criminale, 2005). The present writer is unable independently to corroborate the attribution in question.
- John Leonard, ‘Music for Chameleons’, The Nation (New York), July 23, 2001.
- Oskar Seidlin, Pedronis muss geholfen werden!..., with illustrations by Felix Hoffmann (Aarau, H.R. Sauerländer & Co., 1937). This appeared in an American translation by Senta Jonas Rypins under the title Green Wagons... (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1943), and was reissued in Switzerland in 1969 under the title Waldwyl und die Theaterleute, illustrated by Felix Hoffmann (Aarau, H.R. Sauerländer & Co., 1969).
- S.O.S. Geneva, by Richard Plant and Oskar Seidlin, with drawings by William Pène du Bois (New York, Viking Press, 1939). This was issued in Switzerland as: S.O.S. Genf: Ein Friedensbuch für Kinder, with illustrations and dust‑jacket design by Susel Bischoff (Zurich, Humanitas Verlag, 1940).
- Oskar Seidlin, Der goldene Apfel: Eine Erzählung für die Jugend, edited with questions, exercises, and vocabulary by Ann Elizabeth Mensel (New York, F.S. Crofts & Co., 1942).
- Oskar Seidlin, Mein Bilderbuch: Gedichte (Zurich, Verlag Oprecht, 1938).
- Originally published as: Oskar Koplowitz, Otto Brahm als Theaterkritiker: mit Berücksichtigung seiner literarhistorischen Arbeiten (Zurich, etc., Max Niehans Verlag, 1936); 2nd ed. published as: Oskar Seidlin, Der Theaterkritiker Otto Brahm (Bonn, Bouvier, 1978).
- Oskar Seidlin, Helena: vom Mythos zur Person: Versuch einer Neu‑Interpretation des Helena‑Aktes, Faust II (New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1947) [reprinted from: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 62, no. 1 (1947), pp. 183–212].
- Oskar Seidlin, Von erwachendem Bewusstsein und vom Sündenfall: Brentano, Schiller, Kleist, Goethe (Stuttgart, Klett-Cotta, 1979).
- Herkommen und Erneuerung: Essays für Oskar Seidlin, ed. Gerald Gillespie and Edgar Lohner (Tübingen, Niemeyer, 1976).
- “Bete für mich, mein Lieber...”: Oskar Seidlin – Willy Rey Briefwechsel (Oldenburg, Igel-Verlag, 2001).