Whatever Happened To George Dibbern?
"[Dibbern] was put into a concentration camp in New Zealand because of his German origin. And not for the first time. The same thing had happened to him in the same place during the First World War. His publishers do not know what has happened to him in the interim. I wrote him as soon as I had read his book. I hope that others who read him will do likewise."
This inspired me to go on a quest of my own, to find out what happened to George Dibbern after Miller wrote this review of his book in 1945. [read excerpts of Miller's review here]
GEORGE DIBBERN - A SHORT BIOGRAPHY
First, a bit about Dibbern. Born in 1889 in Kiel, Germany, George sailed to New Zealand in his youth, an expereince that left a deep impression on him. In 1930, the middle-aged Dibbern was broke, in a post-war Germany that was leading toward fascism. His boat, which he'd named Te Rapunga (Maori for "the dark sun"), was calling out to him. Off he sailed back to New Zealand, an experience he wrote about in his novel Quest, published in 1941. As a German in New Zealand during wartime, he was rounded up and kept in an internment camp in January '41, the year he was published.
One of the chief points of interest about Dibbern is his declarartion that he was not a German but a citizen of the world, going so far as to create his own flag and his own passport. His customized passort was not accepted by his New Zealand captors on Somes Island, as one might expect.
ENTER HENRY MILLER
Henry read Quest in 1945, wrote a review of it, and saw it published in Circle magazine on July 8, 1946. But it didn't stop there. Henry also felt compelled to write to George at the internment camp:
"Dear George Dibbern . . . great pleasure and instruction on reading the book Quest . . . learned from publishers . . . once again prisoner of war . . . are you all right . . . discovered wonderful book through George Leite. . . good friend Emil White is a good friend and distant relative of
Dr. Bertel. .[..] .. . . . send you a book . . . from the publishers . . . The Power Within Us . . . I hope you are not reading much now, but writing. Your book is a wonderful human document, a spiritual more than a physical saga. I felt that you were a brother, and it’s as a brother that I write you and pray that you are well. All your reflections about life, about war, about people, about the Bible, impressed me deeply. So few men think for themselves. That’s what made your book a feast. . . I always wondered, of course, whether you would continue cruising about, whether you would find nothing but disillusionment whenever you put ashore. The purpose of self-liberation, which you seem to have achieved, is to rejoin society but how difficult, especially when it’s the kind of world we now have . . . The more you succeed in freeing yourself from passions and prejudices, from stupid fetishes and inhibitions, the less place there is for you in the world. That’s how it seems. I know something of what it’s all about, because I made a similar struggle all my life. The feeling of being cut off is an agony. . . This is just to let you know how a book sometimes reaches out and finds warm friends in some unexpected place. I shall send it on its way now — to the four quarters of the earth. You must have friends everywhere. You breathe a spirit as warm and large as Walt Whitman’s. I salute you as one of the good, honest men of the earth, one we shall always be proud of. Call on me if there is anything you think I can do for you. Your book should be translated into many languages. Has it? There I might really be able to help. Let me know. A friend. Signed Henry Miller."
Henry made George Dibbern his personal project and crusade. Henry sent Dibbern money, urged friends to send money to his wife and kids in Germany, encouraged people to buy Quest, and made attempts to have the book re-published.
LINKS: Reviews of Quest . . . . Review of Dark Sun  . . . . Vintage copies of Quest for sale [Terry's] [ReadInk]. . . . Various Henry Miller papers relating to Dibbern, sold as Lot 54 from PBA Galleries. . . . the University of Victoria's Henry Miller Collection contains a typed letter from Miller, dated Jan 30, 1958, which is an appeal for funds for Dibbern (ref. item 1.23).
I hope Miss Grundmann will not mind that I borrowed so liberally from her. Perhaps she will be satisfied that I am drawing attention to her work.