This article was translated from the German by Maxim Bohlmann, the son of Bruno Vogel’s friend Otto Böhlmann. The younger Bohlmann was born in South Africa and currently lives in California.
WITH HIS ANTI-WAR NOVEL ALF, from the year 1929, the Leipzig writer Bruno Vogel (1898–1987) acquired a prominent place in gay literary history. “Vogel’s Alf is tremendously lifelike, a deep and richly thoughtful book. It should be read by all people, especially all young people,” wrote Walter Schönstedt (1909–1961) enthusiastically at the beginning of 1930 in Reports of the
Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. In 1977 the book appeared in a third edition in Germany, and in 1992 the British Gay Men’s Press published an English translation of Alf (by Samuel B. Johnson) in its series Gay Modern Classics.
The novel, which Vogel himself subtitled “A sketch,” describes the love between two high school students, which ends in tragedy. It is the time of the First World War. When Felix acknowledges that the feelings he and Alf experience for each other go against the morals of their environment, and that gay sex is punishable as indecent assault, he pulls back, deeply disconcerted, from his friend. In his pain Alf volunteers for military service, and shortly before a visit home on leave can bring reconciliation, he dies a “heroic death” at the front. The letters he wrote during his time as a soldier are the only things remaining of him. Full of guilt and regret, Felix swears to his dead friend that from now on he will “join in the fight against evil and stupidity,” that he will do his part “so that no one else is forced by ignorance to go through the hard times the two of us went through.”