A short biography of Alexander Granach, anarchist and famous actor in German and Hollywood cinema.
Born April 18, 1890, Werbiwici, East Galicia (now Ukraine). Died March 14, 1945, New York, USA.
Granach was born Jessaja Szajko Gronach in 1890 in Werbiwici (Wierzbowce) (now Verbotsy), East Galicia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire in what is now the Ukraine. Born into a poor Jewish family with many siblings, he saw his brothers leaving one by one and the family becoming poorer. He ran away from home and apprenticed as a baker, moving from town to town. He took part in a strike and at Lemburg in Germany saw his first play which inspired him to become an actor. In Germany he was a member of a small anarchist group consisting mostly of Russian Jews recently arrived in Berlin and working in cigarette factories. The group called itself Arbeiter Fraint after the London based paper of Rocker. The group lived communally, shared household tasks and attended a Free Thinkers circle on Sundays. It was the cultural magazine Germinal, also produced by Rocker, which introduced Granach to the world of literature.
In London in 1905 he set up a theatre group with other anarchists. During this time he met leading anarchists like Malatesta, Kropotkin, and above all Rudolf Rocker. In 1906 he went to Vienna and took part in Yiddish theatre, alongside his day job as a baker. In the 20s Granach became a big star in German cinema in films like Nosferatu and Kameradschaft. He gave money to the defence of Sacco and Vanzetti and starred in the play Staatsraison, written by his friend the anarchist Erich Muehsam which defended Sacco and Vanzetti and denounced the American judicial system. When the Spanish anarchists Ascaso and Durruti risked being deported from Germany to Spain, Rudolf Rocker and another German anarchist Augustin Souchy visited Granach and asked for money. Rocker recalls that he replied: “ “You’ve come at a good time” he said, almost shouting, “Here’s what I earned this morning”. And he took three or four hundred marks out of his pocket and threw them on the table. We hadn’t expected so much and we were extremely pleased. …The good Granach never knew who he helped with his money. All he needed to know was that we used his aid for a good cause. The rest wasn’t his concern”.
With the coming to power of Hitler, he fled to Russia. Arrested by the Stalin regime, only through the intervention of the German novelist Lion Feuchtwanger was he extradited to Switzerland. From there he fled to USA, where he continued as a film actor in such films as Ninotchka and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Curiously, in later Hollywood films, Granach often played the part of evil Nazis. In the USA he continued to give financial support to refugees from fascism and from Stalinism.
He died on March 14th 1945 in New York after an appendectomy from a pulmonary embolism. His autobiography There Goes An Actor was published in the year of his death.