The King of Vagabonds, by Bea Davies and Patrick Spät, Dargaud-Seuil, 154 pages, 19 euros.
In the 1990s, newspapers written and distributed by homeless people flourished. Those assigned to reach out wanted to capture our gaze, open our eyes to their daily reality. Thus were born “The Big Issue” in London, “l’Itinérant in Paris”, and others in Rome, Berlin… We thought they were original, but these initiatives were not new. It was in 1927 that the first itinerant magazine in Europe appeared: “Le Trimardeur”, written by those who traveled on foot on the roads, the homeless, the tramps. History has forgotten this paper ancestor, as has its editor, Gregor Gog, the traveling anarchist, founder of the Brotherhood of Wanderers. Before this astonishing graphic novel by Bea Davies and Patrick Spät, no biography had related the incredible and uncompromising journey of this man known throughout Germany in 1929, and his homeless community that Nazism exterminated.
Inspired by the engravings of the artist Käthe Kollwitz, who devoted her art to witnessing social misery, the realistic black and white of the “King of the Vagabonds” plunges us into Weimar Germany, a highly creative period but also a melting pot of suffering between the end of the Great War and the advent of Nazism. To the entrenchment of the rancid concepts of “Social Darwinism, the increase in the number of social or racial hygiene theorists, and the flourishing of the biological view of society”, as historian Annette Wieviorka writes in the preface, Gregor Gog opposes a libertarian humanism, in solidarity with Gypsies, homosexuals, beggars, cripples. A whole world that the fascists in power will direct to the camps. More than 70,000 “asocials” will wear the black triangle there.
IN 1929, GREGOR GOG ORGANIZED THE “FIRST INTERNATIONAL VAGABOND CONGRESS”.
Seeing the brown ideology grow, the king of vagabonds thought he could unite his ragged comrades into a brotherhood. In 1929, he organized the “first international congress of vagabonds” and brought together six hundred tramps, tramps, priests, “voluntary engaged intellectual walkers” in the gardens of Stuttgart. The authorities tried in vain to silence his call for a “general strike for life” against “the bourgeois hell”. A trip to the USSR in 1930 convinced him to transform his brotherhood into a reserve army of the proletariat. The anarchist joins the German Communist Party. The arrival of Hitler in power will prevent the organization of his movement. Gregor Gog is arrested. He will succeed in fleeing then in gaining Moscow. Later evacuated to Soviet Central Asia, worn out by disease, hunger and despair, he committed suicide in 1945 in Tashkent.
Nourished by the personal archives of Gregor Gog and his diary, period songs translated for the first time into French, police orders and historical sources, the “King of the Vagabonds” brings this incredible figure of totally forgotten journalist-thinker-writer. A destiny that we hope has finally been exhumed.
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