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The life of East German/American Jewish writer Stefan Heym was varied. Born in Chemnitz in 1913, he was in 1933 Germany's youngest literary exile; the earliest literary manuscript in the archive is from the subsequent two years in which he subsisted from his writing in Prague. In 1935 he settled in America, where his activities included editing a German-language anti-Fascist newspaper in New York 1937-1939, and writing his first bestseller,Hostages. As an American soldier during World War II he was at the spearhead of the Normandy invasion, and wrote broadcasts for Radio Luxembourg and newspapers in 1945, for the German civilian population. During the McCarthy purges, Heym returned to Europe, and lived in East Berlin from 1953 until his death. In Germany his writings were influential, but at a cost: his open criticism of 'real existing socialism' brought him into conflict with the authorities, and he had the largest secret police file in East Germany.

Today, his books are constantly in print in Germany, and Heym received wide media coverage as a literary and political figure. From an early stage, Heym collected material which was to form the basis for his archive - an archive significant both for showing how a writer works and for encapsulating in many respects the history and cultural life of the GDR. The archive is large, currently containing, in addition to printed editions and translations of his books, approximately 300 boxes/volumes of manuscripts, including plot outlines and source studies, and some unpublished literary works. There are also 75 boxes of correspondence (access restricted), some 40 boxes/volumes of press cuttings, 400 audio cassettes and 70 video cassettes, as well as miscellaneous material such as photographs and wartime pamphlets.

The University Library acquired the archive in December 1992. A grant from the Leverhulme Trust enabled this first section of the archive to be sorted and catalogued, but material is still being added to the collection on a regular basis.