Erika Mann, the daughter of the novelist, Thomas Mann, was born in Munich on 9th November, 1905. Her mother, Katia Pringsheim Mann, was the daughter of a wealthy, Jewish industrialist family who owned coal mines and early railroads. (1)
Soon after Erika was born, her father wrote to his brother, Heinrich Mann about his new child: "Unexpectedly, the birth was frightfully difficult, and my poor Katia had to suffer so cruelly that the whole thing became an almost unendurable horror. I shall not forget this day for the rest of my days. I had a notion of life and one of death, but I did not yet know what birth is. Now I know that it is as profound a matter as the other two.... The little girl, who will be named Erika at her mother's wish, promises to be very pretty. For brief moments I think I see just a little Jewishness showing through, and every time that happens it greatly amuses me." (2)
It is claimed that the parents were disappointed that their first child was a girl. The next year a son, Klaus Mann, was born, therefore guaranteeing the Mann dynastic name. Erika and Klaus looked so much alike and were so emotionally close, they were known as "the twins". They both dressed similarly and celebrated their birthdays on the same date." They were followed by Gottfried (1909), Monika (1910), Elisabeth (1918) and Michael (1919). (3)
Although her mother came from a Jewish family, all the six children were baptised as Protestants. According to Mann's biographer, Anthony Heilbut, she was his favourite. The Mann were considered to be very unconventional: "Mann had tainted his new family with scandal. It would trail him for years; literary gossip recounted how Katia strolled hand-in-hand with her brother Klaus; while the Mann's oldest children, Erika and Klaus, with their penchant for shared wardrobes, appeared to some observers the 1920s answer to Siegmund and Sieglinde." (4)
Erika Mann attended a private school with her brother. In May 1921, she transferred to the Luisengymnasium in Munich. With a group of friends, Erika and Klaus, they founded an experimental theater troupe, the Laienbund Deutscher Mimiker. In 1924 she began her theatrical studies in Berlin and during this period she worked under Max Reinhardt and appeared in several productions. (5)
In 1924, Klaus Mann wrote Anja and Esther, a play about "a neurotic quartet of four boys and girls" who "were madly in love with each other". The following year he was approached by the actor Gustaf Gründgens, who wanted to direct the play with himself in one of the male roles, Klaus in the other; Erika Mann and Pamela Wedekind, the daughter of the playwright Frank Wedekind, would be the two young women. "Klaus planned to marry Pamela, with whom Erika fell in love, while Erika arranged to marry Gustaf, with whom Klaus began an affair." (6)
The play, which opened in Hamburg in October 1925, attracted vast amounts of publicity, partly because of its scandalous content and partly because it starred three children of two famous writers. A photograph appeared on the cover of Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung. It created a great deal of controversy as "Klaus's lipstick gave him the look of a transvestite". (7)
It has been argued that Thomas Mann was also bi-sexual and as a young man he had a sexual relationship with Ernst Bertram. One of his biographer's, Richard Winston, has claimed: "Never in his whole life was he to admit openly to that defect, except in the deep privacy of his diaries. Yet he nursed this secret as a source of pleasure, of interest, of creative power." (8)
The Mann family lived in luxury. Gottfried later wrote, "thanks to the Nobel Prize and the tremendous earnings of The Magic Mountain. They took trips, they ate and drank well, and two large cars stood in the garage: an open American car and a German limousine. When they went to the theatre, the chauffeur waited in the lobby with their fur coats at the end of the performance. This style of life, which they went to no trouble to conceal, made their growing number of political enemies hate them all the more". (9)
On 24th July, 1926, Erika married Gustaf Gründgens, but the marriage was not successful and they lived together for a short period. (10) In 1927, she and Klaus traveled around the world. (11) On her return to Germany she divorced Gründgens, who was sympathetic to the Nazi Party. She began a passionate affair with Pamela Wedekind, who at that time was engaged to her brother, Klaus Mann. Erika also had a relationship with the actress Therese Giehse, and appeared in the film about lesbianism Mädchen in Uniform (1931). It was a great success but because of its subject matter it was banned in the United States. (12)
Colm Tóibín has pointed out that during this period Erika and Klaus "wrote articles and books and made outrageous statements; they travelled, they had many lovers. Erika worked in the theatre and appeared in films, Klaus wrote more plays. In other words, they took full advantage of the freedoms offered by the Weimar Republic. For many in the Nazi Party, they were the epitome of all that was wrong with Germany. And their mother’s Jewish background didn’t endear them to the National Socialists either." (13)
Hermann Kurzke has suggested: "Professionally, her focus shifted from the stage to journalism. A journey to Africa in 1930 introduced experiences with drugs. Erika trained as an automobile mechanic and in 1931 participated in a rally, driving ten thousand kilometers in ten days." (14)
In January 1932, Erika Mann was asked to read a poem by Victor Hugo to a women’s pacifist group. However, a group of Sturmabteilung (SA) men were in the audience and they heckled her. One of them shouted out: "You are a criminal... Jewish traitress! International agitator!" She later wrote: "In the hall, everything became a mad scramble. The Stormtroopers attacked the audience with their chairs, shouting themselves into paroxysms of anger and fury." The Nazi newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter, reported that Mann was "a flatfooted peace hyena" with "no human physiognomy". Mann sued for damages and after examining several photographs of her the judge declared that her face was in fact legally human." (15)
Mann now became heavily involved in politics. "I realised that my experience had nothing to do with politics - it was more than politics. It touched at the very foundation of my - of our - of the existence of all." Mann joined together with a group of left-wing activists, including Therese Giehse, Walter Mehring, Magnus Henning, Wolfgang Koeppen and Lotte Goslar, to establish a cabaret in Munich called Die Pfeffermühle (The Peppermill). (16)
The production opened on 1st January, 1933. Erika Mann wrote most of the material, much of which was anti-Fascist. It ran for two months next door to the local Nazi headquarters, and, since it was so successful, was preparing to move to a larger theatre when the Reichstag went up in flames. Erika and Klaus were on a skiing holiday while the new theatre was being decorated and arrived back in Munich to be warned by the family chauffeur, that they were in danger. Later, Klaus wrote that the chauffeur "had been a Nazi spy throughout the four or five years he lived with us... But this time he had failed in his duty, out of sympathy, I suppose. For he knew what would happen to us if he informed his Nazi employers of our arrival in town." (17)
Adolf Hitler gained power in January 1933. Soon afterwards, a large number of writers were declared to be "degenerate authors". This included Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Hans Eisler, Ernst Toller, Thomas Heine, Arnold Zweig, Ludwig Renn, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka and Hermann Hesse. On 10th May, the Nazi Party arranged the burning of thousands of "degenerate literary works" were burnt in German cities. (18)
However, Thomas Mann's work still remained popular in Germany and unlike his brother, Heinrich, had made no statements attacking the regime. His biographer, Hermann Kurzke, has argued that during the period before he took power, Mann developed friendships with some significant figures in the Nazi Party: "Does that make Thomas Mann a precursor of Fascism? He certainly made an effort to stay out of the way of the resurgent right-wing movement of the time. Very early on in the summer of 1921, he took note of the rising Nazi movement and dismissed it as ‘swastika nonsense’. As early as 1925 when Hitler was still imprisoned in Landsberg, he rejected the cultural barbarity of German Fascism with an extensive, decisive and clearly visible gesture." (19) However, others had pointed out, he had always been careful not to attack Hitler in print. (20)
Thomas Mann was on holiday in France when Hitler took power. Erika and Klaus were warned by the family chauffeur that the Mann family were in danger. (21) Later, Klaus wrote that the chauffeur "had been a Nazi spy throughout the four or five years he lived with us... But this time he had failed in his duty, out of sympathy, I suppose. For he knew what would happen to us if he informed his Nazi employers of our arrival in town." (22)
Erika made contact with her parents, and warned them not to return to Munich. Mann, who was on holiday at the time, was warned that he faced the possibility of being arrested if he returned to Germany. In September, 1933, Thomas, Katia, Gottfried, Monika, Elisabeth and Michael Mann settled in Küsnacht, near Zurich. Erika and Klaus decided to remain in Germany to continue the fight against fascism. (23)
In April 1933, Thomas Mann wrote in his diary, that he had finally accepted that "something deeply significant and revolutionary be taking place in Germany? The Jews: it is no calamity after all... that the domination of the legal system by the Jews has been ended. Secret, disquieting, persistent musings... I am beginning to suspect that in spite of everything this process is one of those that has two sides to them". (24)
During the period Erika worked as a journalist. She later wrote that "the life of every human being in Germany has been fundamentally changed since Adolf Hitler became Chancellor.... German democracy gave way to Nazi dictatorship, the upheaval was as drastic to the private life of the individual as it was to the State." Before Hitler came to power "the German citizen thought of himself as a father, or a Protestant, or a florist, or a citizen of the world, or a pacifist, or a Berliner. Now he is forced to recognise that above all he is a National Socialist." (25)
Erika Mann was especially interested in the impact of Nazi ideology on children. "All the power of the regime - all its cunning, its entire machine of propaganda and discipline - is directed to emphasize the program for German children. It is not surprising that the Nazi State considers it of primary importance that the young grow up according to Hitler's wishes, and the plans set in Mein Kampf... The Führer realizes that the education of German youth will have a tremendous influence on Germany's future - and on Europe's and the world's. He gives the problem the attention it deserves." (26)
Mann quotes as saying in Mein Kampf (1925): "Beginning with the primer, every theater, every movie, every advertisement must be subjected to the service of one great mission, until the prayer of fear that our patriots pray today: Lord, make us free, shall be changed in the mind of the smallest child into the cry: Lord, do Thou in future bless our arms... All education must have the sole object of stamping the conviction into the child that his own people and his own race are superior to all others." (27)
In her book, School for Barbarians, Mann argues that the Weimar Republic made a serious mistake to create a political neutral curriculum. "One subject, political propaganda, was missing from the curriculum. The German Republic refused to influence its citizens one way or the other, or to convince them of the advantages of democracy; it did not carry on any propaganda in its own favour. This proves to have been an error... Unused to self-rule, the German people submitted to a new State which made itself the master, and forced the people to be its servants." (28)
Mann reported that "in the winter of 1933, was that all teachers of non-Aryan or Jewish descent were relieved of their posts. An edict was issued on July 11, 1933, that included teachers with all other State officials, ordering them to subordinate their wishes, interests, and demands to the common cause, to devote themselves to the study of National Socialist ideology, and 'suggesting' that they familiarize themselves with Mein Kampf. Three days later, a 'suggestion' was sent to all those who still maintained contact with the Social Democratic Party, that they inform the Nazi Party of the severance of these connections. Committees were formed to see that it was carried out, and whoever hesitated was instantly dismissed. The purge was on. It was decided, in Prussia first (November, 1933), and later in all German schools, that public school teachers must belong to a Nazi fighting organization; they were to come to school in uniform, wherever possible, and live in camps; and, during the final examinations, they were to be tested in military sports." (29)
Erika Mann remained in constant danger. Her friends told her that one way she could protect herself was to marry a foreigner. In 1935, the poet W.H. Auden, who was an homosexual, offered to marry her. She agreed and visited England for the ceremony in Colwall. (30) When the German government heard what she had done, she was stripped of her German citizenship. According to Time Magazine, "at the risk of her life, she returned secretly to Germany to get some of her father's manuscripts." (31)
Thomas Mann remained silent on the Nazi crimes and continued to be published in Germany. In 1936, Mann's publisher, Gottfried Bermann Fischer, was denounced by exiles as a Jewish protégé of Joseph Goebbels . Mann responded by making a fervent public defence of Bermann. Erika was appalled wrote to her father: "You are stabbing in the back the entire émigré movement - I can put it no other way. Probably you will be very angry at me because of this letter. I am prepared for that, and I know what I’m doing. This friendly time is predestined to separate people – in how many cases has it happened already. Your relation to Dr Bermann and his publishing house is indestructible – you seem to be ready to sacrifice everything for it. In that case it is a sacrifice for you that I, slowly but surely, will be lost for you – then just never mind. For me it is sad, and terrible. I am your child." (32)
Erika Mann joined the anti-fascist American Artists' Congress (AAC), a group closely associated with the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). Other members included Rockwell Kent, Stuart Davis, Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, Max Weber, George Biddle, William Zorach, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Philip Evergood, Nathaniel Dirk, Arnold Blanch, Victor Candell, Mervin Jules and Alexander Z. Kruse.
Erika eventually convinced her father to become active in America's anti-fascist movement. In December 1937, she attended a meeting of 400 members of the AAC at Carnegie Hall where she read out a statement from Thomas Mann: "One frequently hears it said that the artist should stick to his own craft, and that he merely cheapens himself when he descends into the political arena to participate in the struggles of the day. I consider this a weak objection, because of my conviction, or rather my clear realization, of the fact that the different spheres of humanity - whether artistic, cultural or political - are really inseparable. And that is why it makes me very happy to see that the art world of a country as large and as important to civilization as the United States... is taking its stand against those barbaric tendencies which today endanger all that we understand by civilization and culture and all that we love." (33)
While living in the United States she began an affair with a German doctor, Martin Gumpert, who was staying at her hotel. Gumpert wanted to maary her but she refused. (34) According to Sybille Bedford, she "went off women, she really became interested in men, she went off with people’s husbands even." Erika told Bedford: "I fancy almost all of them, porters, liftboys, and so on, white or black. Almost all are agreeable to me. I could sleep with all of them." (35)
In 1938, Erika and Klaus reported on the Spanish Civil War. On her return she published, School for Barbarians, a book on the Nazi education system; it sold forty thousand copies in the US in the first three months after publication. Time Magazine commented: "Miss Mann's book is about Germany's children. Other investigators have reported what has happened under the Nazis to Germany's once-great educational system but none has reported so scathingly as Erika Mann what has happened to Germany's youngsters." (36)
The FBI kept a close watch on Erika Mann as she was suspected of being a secret supporter of the Communist Party of the United States. The FBI snoopers speculated that Erika may have had a sexual relationship with her brother, Klaus. "Confidential informants" told agents that the two were having an affair, one file reports. Erika Mann was described in the files as having her hair cut "in a short mannish bob with a part on the right side" and to be close to a group of political actors who were "members of the Hebrew race". In 1940 Erika agreed to work with the FBI and gave information on members of the German exile community, who she suspected of pro-Nazi connections. (37) Erika once claimed that she was neither a Jew or a Communist". (38)
Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, Klaus and Erika Mann published The Other Germany (1940). In the book they argued: "Germany's structure... is regional. The Germans do not care to, and do not actually, accept dictation from Berlin. There are, moreover, simply too many Germans in Europe for one state. An empire comprising all Germans would always constitute an implied threat and a source of unrest for the Continent... The land of Europe's middle, the mediator between North and South, East and West, has no mission to rule, but the more profound and noble mission to unite and reconcile."
One reviewer claimed: "The Manns are weak on analysis of the tremendous economic problem that will arise if the totalitarian state is defeated. But their book is a strong and pertinent reminder of the cultural resilience and political talent Germany displayed under the Weimar Republic (whose constitution was as liberal a one as Europe had ever seen). If Europe after World War II is to be federal, as they hope, the Manns provide a logical line on the neglected question as to what sort of Germany should take part in the federation." (39)
Erika Mann returned to Germany a few weeks after the end of the Second World War. She later wrote: "The Germans, as you know, are hopeless. In their hearts, self-deception and dishonesty, arrogance and docility, shrewdness and stupidity are repulsively mingled and combined. " Sybille Bedford said of her: "Erika could hate, and she hated the Germans. You see, Erika was a fairly violent character. At one point during the war, she propagated that every German should be castrated.... Erika was very unforgiving." (40)
Erika Mann was the only woman to cover the Nuremberg War Trials. This included an interview with Julius Streicher. (41) In 1946 Erika went to live with her father after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was being operated on in Chicago. For the next nine years she was Mann’s secretary and chief confidante. Elisabeth Mann remembered: "She returned home, because she had exhausted her career, and so devoted herself to the work of her father... Erika was a very powerful personality, a very dominant, domineering personality, and I must say that this role that she played in the latter part of her life as manager of my father was not always very easy to take for my mother, because she had been used to doing all of that." (42)
Erika returned with her parents to the US and sought citizenship only to find that she was once more under investigation by the FBI. (43) So were her friends such as Hans Eisler and Bertolt Brecht were ordered to appear before the Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Eisler and Brecht both decided to leave the country. Mann described the behaviour of members of the HUAC such as John Rankin and J. Parnell Thomas as "fascistic". In his diary he wrote: "What oath would Congressman Rankin or Thomas take if forced to swear that they hated fascism as much as Communism?" (44)
Brecht told the HUAC: "As a guest of the United States, I refrained from political activities concerning this country even in a literary form. By the way, I am not a screen writer, Hollywood used only one story of mine for a picture showing the Nazi savageries in Prague. I am not aware of any influence which I could have exercised in the movie industry whether political or artistic. Being called before the Un-American Activities Committee, however, I feel free for the first time to say a few words about American matters: looking back at my experiences as a playwright and a poet in the Europe of the last two decades, I wish to say that the great American people would lose much and risk much if they allowed anybody to restrict free competition of ideas in cultural fields, or to interfere with art which must be free in order to be art. We are living in a dangerous world. Our state of civilization is such that mankind already is capable of becoming enormously wealthy but, as a whole, is still poverty-ridden. Great wars have been suffered, greater ones are imminent, we are told. One of them might well wipe out mankind, as a whole. We might be the last generation of the specimen man on this earth. The ideas about how to make use of the new capabilities of production have not been developed much since the days when the horse had to do what man could not do. Do you not think that, in such a predicament, every new idea should be examined carefully and freely? Art can present clear and even make nobler such ideas." (45)
The first ten men accused of being communists: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, John Howard Lawson and Ring Lardner Jr, refused to answer any questions about their political and union activities. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The HUAC and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.
On hearing the news, Thomas Mann issued a statement comparing the activities of the HUAC with those of Nazi Germany: "As an American citizen of German birth and one who has been through it all, I deem it not only my right but my solemn duty to state: We - the America of the Un-American Activities Committee; the America of the so-called loyalty checks... are well on our way towards the fascist police state and - hence - well on our way towards war." (46)
Klaus Mann made several attempts to kill himself. (47) While in Los Angeles in 1948 he attempted suicide by slitting his wrists, taking pills and turning on the gas. Thomas Mann wrote to a friend: "My two sisters committed suicide, and Klaus has much of the elder sister in him. The impulse is present in him, and all the circumstances favour it – the one exception being that he has a parental home on which he can always rely." (48)
At the beginning of January 1949, Klaus Mann wrote in his diary: "I do not wish to survive this year." (49) In April, in Cannes, he received a letter from a West German publisher to say that his novel, Mephisto, could not be published in the country because of the objections of Gustaf Gründgens (the book is a thinly-disguised portrait of Gründgens, who abandoned his conscience to ingratiate himself with the Nazi Party). (50)
Klaus wrote to Erika about his problems with his publisher and his financial difficulties. "I have been luck with my family. One cannot be entirely lonely if one belongs to something and is part of it." (51) Klaus Mann died in of an overdose of sleeping pills on 21st May 1949. (52)
Erika and Thomas Mann were in Stockholm when they heard the news. Thomas wrote: "My inward sympathy with the mother’s heart and with Erika. He should not have done this to them... The hurtful, ugly, cruel inconsideration and irresponsibility." (53) Thomas wrote to Hermann Hesse: "This interrupted life lies heavily on my mind and grieves me. My relationship to him was difficult and not free of guilt. My life put his in a shadow right from the beginning." (54)
Thomas Mann decided not to attend his son’s funeral or interrupt his lecture tour. Later, Elisabeth Mann would say of Erika: "When Klaus died, she was totally, totally heartbroken - I mean that was unbearable for her, that loss. That hit her harder than anything else in her life." (55)
Erika Mann, Thomas Mann and his brother Heinrich Mann, continued to be active in left-wing politics. Heinrich, who was planning to move to East Germany, died on 14th March, 1950. Erika and Thomas were both supporters of the American Peace Crusade. Established by Paul Robeson, William Du Bois and Linus Pauling, it called for a cease-fire in Korea, negotiations with the Soviet Union, and the admission of China to the United Nations. Thomas and Erika were attacked in the press and the New York Times stated that they should avoid anything "which involves... the name of Paul Robeson as you would the Bubonic Plague." (56)
The newspaper refused to publish Mann's letter of complaint. Mann told Alfred A. Knopf that Agnes Meyer had been responsible for stopping its publication: "She (Agnes Meyer) threatened me with the loss of my citizenship; accused me of being a traitor to my country; predicted that I would plunge both myself and all those near me into disaster and perdition; and wound up by offering to save my soul." (57)
By 1950, there was a move to deport Erika Mann because they suspected she was a secret member of the Communist Party of the United States. On hearing the news the whole family decided to move to Kilchberg, Switzerland. Thomas Mann died three years later at the age of 80.
Erika Mann spent the next few years editing a three-volume edition of her father’s letters, fighting the case for Klaus Mann’s book, Mephisto, in the West German courts, and battling with her first husband after all these years. When two German newspapers insinuated that she had had an incestuous relationship with Klaus, she sued and won. (58)
Erika Mann, suffering from a brian tumour, died in Zürich, aged 63, on 27th August, 1969. (59)
Unexpectedly, the birth was frightfully difficult, and my poor Katia had to suffer so cruelly that the whole thing became an almost unendurable horror. I shall not forget this day for the rest of my days. I had a notion of life and one of death, but I did not yet know what birth is. Now I know that it is as profound a matter as the other two. Immediately afterwards, all was idyll and peace (the counterpart to the peace after the death throes), and seeing the child at the breast of its mother, who herself is still like a lovely child, was a sight that transfigured and sanctified the atrocious agonies of the birth (which had gone on for almost forty hours). The little girl, who will be named Erika at her mother's wish, promises to be very pretty. For brief moments I think I see just a little Jewishness showing through, and every time that happens it greatly amuses me.
All the power of the regime - all its cunning, its entire machine of propaganda and discipline - is directed to emphasize the program for German children. It is not surprising that the Nazi State considers it of primary importance that the young grow up according to Hitler's wishes, and the plans set in Mein Kampf...
The Führer realizes that the education of German youth will have a tremendous influence on Germany's future - and on Europe's and the world's. He gives the problem the attention it deserves...
This matter of educating successors is a real fear. Hitler has maneuvered to make himself the absolute ruler of the lives of all Germans, and has taken over the lives of all of the German children, who not only are taken care of so that they live according to the will of the Führer, but also are made to have no guide but the Führer. And this is in the general air, that one breathes with such difficulty.
Every child says "Heil Hitler!" from 50 to 150 times a day, immeasurably more often than the old neutral greetings. The formula is required by law; if you meet a friend on the way to school, you say it; study periods are opened and closed with "Heil Hitler!"; "Heil Hitler!" says the postman, the street-car conductor, the girl who sells you notebooks at the stationery store; and if your parents' first words when you come home to lunch are not "Heil Hitler!" they have been guilty of a punishable offense, and can be denounced. "Heil Hitler!" they shout, in the Jungvolk and Hitler Youth. "Heil Hitler!" cry the girls in the League of German Girls. Your evening prayers must close with "Heil Hitler!" if you take your devotions seriously.
Officially - when you say hello to your superiors in school or in a group - the words are accompanied by the act of throwing the right arm high; but an unofficial greeting among equals requires only a comparatively lax lifting of the forearm, with the fingers closed and pointing forward. This Hitler greeting, this "German" greeting, repeated countless times from morning to bedtime, stamps the whole day.
The first thing that happened, in the winter of 1933, was that all teachers of "non-Aryan" or Jewish descent were relieved of their posts. An edict was issued on July 11, 1933, that included teachers with all other State officials, ordering them to subordinate their wishes, interests, and demands to the common cause, to devote themselves to the study of National Socialist ideology, and "suggesting" that they familiarize themselves with Mein Kampf. Three days later, a "suggestion" was sent to all those who still maintained contact with the Social Democratic Party, that they inform the Nazi Party of the severance of these connections. Committees were formed to see that it was carried out, and whoever hesitated was instantly dismissed. The purge was on.
It was decided, in Prussia first (November, 1933), and later in all German schools, that public school teachers must belong to a Nazi fighting organization; they were to come to school in uniform, wherever possible, and live in camps; and, during the final examinations, they were to be tested in military sports.
This was all deadly serious, and the teachers knew it. Hitler had cried in Weimar, "If there are still people in Germany today who say, we will not join your community, we will remain as we are, then I reply, You will pass on, but after you will come a generation that knows nothing else!" The teachers, haunted by this verdict, are helping to educate this generation.
In a famous photograph from 1931, Auden, Spender and Isherwood face the camera, though Spender's eyes are looking off at an angle. Auden looks like an overgrown schoolboy, Spender like a cricket captain, Isherwood like a pocket film star or glamorous jockey. Spender is the central figure, but only as a requirement of photographic composition, thanks to his height. His arms are behind his friends, though it's not clear if he actually has his hands round their shoulders, as he does when the grouping was repeated in front of another camera on Fire Island in 1947. Spender's eyes are closed on the later occasion (he's in mid-smile and the day is sunny), while Auden and Isherwood grin warmly at each other.
All three writers tried to be true to literature without ignoring politics, and also to balance the claims of desire, commitment and public image. In 1935 Isherwood rejected the idea of marrying Erika Mann, to give her citizenship and safety, because he hated the idea of seeming to want a respectable facade. Auden stepped in without hesitation, as if marriage held no sacredness for him, yet he committed himself completely to his partner Chester Kallman in what seemed to his friends an arbitrary martyrdom (the relationship was open, but only at Chester's end). As a young man Spender was relatively frank about his interest in his own sex, but encouraged the idea that this was some sort of phase after he married Natasha Litvin in 1941, by whom he had children, Matthew and Lizzie.
For four years after Hitler came to power, Nobel Prizewinner Thomas Mann, greatest of exiled German writers, evaded questioners who pressed him for his opinion of fascism in Germany. When he visited the U. S. in 1934 and 1935 - the first time to be honored on his 59th birthday, the second to receive an honorary degree from Harvard - he maintained a controlled silence about politics that was exceptional among literary exiles, extraordinary in view of the anti-Nazi activities of his brother Heinrich, his son Klaus and daughter Erika. Sometimes he said he kept silent to protect his German readers. Sometimes, when reporters got him to the point of discussing Hitler or his own status as an exile, he was checked by shrewd, matter-of-fact, English-speaking Frau Mann, who hovered near, adroitly answered for him. In voluntary exile in Zurich since Hitler came to power, officially deprived of German citizenship last December, his property confiscated and books burned, Dr. Mann nevertheless held his tongue, waited until the right moment to strike back.
Last fortnight in Manhattan Dr. Mann's right moment came. Starting his 12-day visit to the U. S. by striking back with a stinging denunciation of Nazi censorship, he carried on his attack with lectures, mass meetings, an impressive barrage of speeches and statements. Dr. Mann's most telling blast was in his pamphlet, An Exchange of Letters, which critics recognized as belonging with such classic literary rebukes as Zola's J'Accuse. Like most such spontaneous expressions of intellectual integrity, An Exchange of Letters was called into being by a relatively small occasion. Last December Dr. Mann received a curt note from the Frederick-William University, of Bonn, stating that since "Herr Thomas Mann, writer," had lost his citizenship, the University was obliged to withdraw its honorary degree. Author Mann's reply to this last straw was first published in the Nation, was reprinted by his U. S. publisher to coincide with his arrival in the U. S. Even Nazis might be impressed by the dignity with which author Mann states his position. "I have spent four years in an exile which it would be euphemistic to call voluntary since if I had remained in Germany or gone back there I should probably not be alive today." His work has won appreciation outside of Germany, nevertheless he still considers himself a German writer, primarily for German readers: "From the beginning of my intellectual life I had felt myself in happiest accord with the temper of my nation and at home in its intellectual traditions.
I am better suited to represent those traditions than to become a martyr for them; far more fitted to add a little to the gaiety of the world than to foster conflict and hatred in it. Something very wrong must have happened to make my life take so false and unnatural a turn." With what might seem presumption in a lesser man but in Mann's case carries prophetic weight, he calls the Nazi leaders to account: "I, forsooth, am supposed to have dishonored the Reich, Germany, in acknowledging that I am against them! They have the incredible effrontery to confuse themselves with Germany! When, after all, perhaps the moment is not far off when it will be of supreme importance to the German people not to be confused with them. To what a pass, in less than four years, have they brought Germany! Ruined, sucked dry body and soul by armaments with which they threaten the whole world, holding up the whole world and hindering it in its real task of peace, loved by nobody, regarded with fear and cold aversion by all, it stands on the brink of economic disaster.... The mature and cultural states - by which I mean those which understand the fundamental fact that war is no longer permissible - treat this endangered and endangering country, or rather the impossible leaders into whose hands it has fallen, as doctors treat a sick man - with the utmost tact and caution, with inexhaustible if not very flattering patience." Nazis will gnash their teeth over this prophecy: "No other people on earth is today so utterly incapable of war, so little in condition to endure one. That Germany would have no allies, not a single one in the world, is the first consideration but the smallest. Germany would be forsaken - terrible of course even in her isolation - but the really frightful thing would be the fact that she had forsaken herself. Intellectually reduced and humbled, morally gutted, inwardly torn apart by her deep mistrust of her leaders and the mischief they have done her in these years, profoundly uneasy herself, ignorant of the future, of course, but full of forebodings of evil, she would go into war not in the condition of 1914 but, even physically, of 1917 or 1918...a war, that is, which after the first inevitable defeat would turn into a civil war.
"I have not spoken out of arrogant presumption, but out of a concern and a distress from which your usurpers did not release me when they decreed that I was no longer a German - a mental and spiritual distress from which for four years not an hour of my life has been free.... God help our darkened and desecrated country and teach it to make its peace with the world and with itself!"
In Manhattan's Carnegie Hall one night last week an angular young woman in black with an enormous white shawl collar gripped a microphone, spoke with warm, smiling emphasis to an assemblage of some 400 U. S. artists and six times as many followers of the arts. Of all speakers of the evening, Erika Mann had the simplest and to many listeners the most significant words to justify the second American Artists' Congress. They were a message from her father, Thomas Mann: "One frequently hears it said that the artist should stick to his own craft, and that he merely cheapens himself when he descends into the political arena to participate in the struggles of the day. I consider this a weak objection, because of my conviction, or rather my clear realization, of the fact that the different spheres of humanity - whether artistic, cultural or political - are really inseparable. And that is why it makes me very happy to see that the art world of a country as large and as important to civilization as the United States... is taking its stand against those barbaric tendencies which today endanger all that we understand by civilization and culture and all that we love."
Fully as much as any worker or professional man, the average U. S. artist is now interested in politics and deadly serious about it. As a free man he hates the tyrant and despises his addiction to war. As a worker whom his fellowmen have rarely over-burdened with material rewards, he appreciates his $23.86 from WPA, can live pretty well on it and wants to keep it. On the very practical subject of subsistence, the Artists' Congress, to which such noted professionals as William Zorach, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Rockwell Kent, Stuart Davis, Max Weber, George Biddle, were delegates, was eloquent indeed. This practicality distinguished the Artists' Congress from the American Writers' Congress of last summer.
Lean, ascetic Painter Biddle, in a suit so wrinkled it looked shrunk, warned the audience that the intelligent supervision of the WPA art project which he helped to found would be as precarious as the project itself while it remained an emergency measure. Discussion followed on what has become a great desideratum of politically conscious artists who want better standing than work relief affords - the Federal Arts Bill, a proposal for an arrangement more permanent and dignified than WPA, introduced in Congress last session by Representative John Coffee of Washington. Thickset, heavy-voiced Painter Philip Evergood, president of the Artists' Union which, with the Cartoonists' Guild, the Commercial Artists and Designers Union, had unanimously voted to join the C.I.O., was all for it. Said he:
"The collector has had his eyes opened to a wealth of new talent. The museums also have responded... many purchases have been made of the work of young and hitherto unknown artists. The commercial gallery has benefited greatly by this newly developed public interest in art, and last but not least ordinary people are beginning to adorn their homes with original works of art instead of the old atrocities... But the WPA artist who has served the public faithfully on this great Government art program has done so under the constant threat of dismissal... The nation is desperately in need of legislation which will assure the permanency of this culture - legislation which will make American culture a permanent impulse in the nerve centre of its government."
Big event of the evening was to have been a message from Pablo Picasso by transatlantic telephone, amplified for the Carnegie Hall audience. But Picasso was ill in Switzerland, sent instead a cable proudly assuring them, "as director of the Prado Museum,* that the Democratic Government of the Spanish Republic has taken all the necessary measures to protect the artistic treasures of Spain during this cruel and unjust war."
If stirring anti-War sentiments were lacking in the Congress' open meeting, the exhibition of paintings by 138 Congress artists held concurrently on Fifth Avenue more than made up for it. Dedicated "to the peoples of Spain and China," this show was devoted almost exclusively to excoriations in paint of the contemporary conquerors and their technique. Most were better as expressions of hot feeling than as paintings. A few, by Max Weber, Nathanial Dirk, Arnold Blanch, Victor Candell, William Cropper, Mervin Jules, were excellent as both. None equaled a set of etchings by Picasso called Dreams and Lies of Franco, caricaturing El Caudillo as an inhuman, hairy nightmare. Favorite painting of a group of Amalgamated Clothing Workers who showed up at the opening was Two Generations, by Alexander Z. Kruse: the Kaiser as a kangaroo carrying a baby kangaroo earmarked with swastikas.
Tall, black-haired Erika Mann, 32, is the oldest and most intrepid of Novelist Thomas Mann's six children. She has traveled round the world, once won an automobile driving contest, driving 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) a day. In her teens she decided not to follow the family trade of writing, instead became an actress under Max Reinhardt. When the Nazis came into power, although no Jewess, she was divorced from her Nazi husband (Gustaf Gründgens, now head of the Berlin State Theatre), and produced a satirical political revue, Peppermill, in Munich, her birthplace. For this piece of audacity she had to flee Germany and her citizenship was revoked by Adolf Hitler. She met and married Britain's Poet W.H. Auden, like her a zealous anti-fascist. At the risk of her life, she returned secretly to Germany to get some of her father's manuscripts. Last year she arrived in Manhattan, applied for U.S. citizenship. Today she is engaged in the same trade as her father. Her angriest book, School for Barbarians, with a preface by her father, was published last week. Miss Mann's book is about Germany's children. Other investigators have reported what has happened under the Nazis to Germany's once-great educational system but none has reported so scathingly as Erika Mann what has happened to Germany's youngsters. Her sensational but thoroughly documented description:
* Every child says "Heil Hitler!" from 50 to 150 times a day, is taught to venerate: Horst Wessel, a pimp; Poet Dietrich Eckart, a drug addict; Leo Schlageter, a railroad wrecker. (Minister of Education Bernhard Rust has frequently been confined in a sanatorium during violent attacks of insanity.)
* Arithmetic pupils in Nazi schools calculate problems in bombing; art pupils draw pictures of air raids. History pupils are told that Austria's late Chancellor Dollfuss was murdered not by Nazis but in a Marxist uprising.
* The few Jewish children remaining in Nazi schools are used as object lessons. A teacher calls a little Jewish girl to the front of a class, asks other pupils: "What do you see in this face?" They answer obediently: "A gigantic nose, Negroid lips, inferior frizzy hair." The teacher adds: "You see, besides, a cowardly and disloyal facial expression."
* Obscenity, with which Nazis smear Jews and priests, is part of the curriculum. "The Stunner, which writes almost exclusively about sexual outrages, bedroom gossip and scandal, is read in the schools to children between 6 and 14." Copies hang on classroom walls. Result: "Pupils have become possessed by pathological sexual aberrations." Nazi children are taught that motherhood is a duty, even of unmarried women, and "the number of illegitimate pregnancies and births among the members of the State Youth is tremendous." There is even a standard form for applications by youthful fathers to be declared of age so they can marry their mistresses.
* For military training, children begin long marches at the age of 10. and 15-year-olds are expected to march 13∧ miles a day with an eleven-pound load. Result: an abnormal increase in the prevalence of fiat feet, a trait Nazis attribute to non-Aryans. Of youths conscripted in 1936. some 38% were found unfit for military service for this reason.
* René, a refugee to the U.S., tells about an incident in Nazi youths' night rifle practice. One night Rene and his friends. August and Gert, had to hold flashlights for a youth leader to shoot at. August was hit in the knee. The leader swore. "Then it was Gert's turn. He was good and afraid.... The leader was a little afraid, too, I guess. He shot to the left, and that was where Gert's forehead was." The leader was transferred to another group. Gert's father sent to a concentration camp for complaining.
When her book was published last week, emotional Erika Mann was in Prague, ready to fight with the Czechs against Adolf Hitler.
R.B. Hood was the special agent in charge of the FBI division in LA throughout much of the 40s and 50s... He had the job of coordinating everything that could be found out about some of the most celebrated foreign exiles ever to make their way to the United States.
In the 40s, his job was to spy on Bertolt Brecht, Erich Maria Remarque, Thomas Mann, his brother Heinrich, and dozens of other celebrated refugees from Hitler's Germany, many of whom had come to Hollywood in search of work. Everything that Hood and his fellow G-men found out about them would eventually find its way to FBI chief J Edgar Hoover in Washington....
During the 30s, dozens of German artists, writers and musicians - many, but not all Jewish - fled the Third Reich and eventually found their way to the US. Though they were exiles from fascism, they remained objects of official suspicion, especially if they had left wing politics or associations. When the second world war ended and the cold war began, the official suspicions grew stronger not weaker. The FBI called these exiles "Communazis" because they believed that though they were refugees from one form of tyranny, they might also be in league with a second form.
Hood and his team of agents were interested in everything that the German writers were up to. They tapped their phones. They opened their mail. They kept watch on them. And they interviewed the writers themselves, their circles and their casual acquaintances - mostly without the Germans having the faintest idea of how closely they were being monitored.
When one of the writers met a Russian, or someone who might have contacts with the Russians, Hood kept a note of it. It was Hood who checked the cars outside Lion Feuchtwanger's villa by the ocean. It was Hood who got to know when Heinrich Mann's wife Nelly was stopped for drunken driving in Beverly Hills. It was Hood's men who broke in to Leonhard Frank's house on a fishing expedition for evidence of communist sympathies. And it was Hood's men who searched the luggage of Brecht's mistress, Ruth Berlau.
Why the FBI kept track of the German exiles is easy to explain. "The communist movement", raged Hoover, "stands for the destruction of our American form of government". More surprising was the thoroughness of the surveillance - a thoroughness which in other circumstances might be described as Germanic...
Writers such as Heinrich Mann, who wrote almost nothing in his late years in the US, would be assiduously documented with the same thoroughness as Feuchtwanger, who continued to write and publish his novels from California, and whose bids for American citizenship Hoover blocked with repeated and ill-concealed glee.
By far the biggest fish in Hood's net, however, was Thomas Mann. The author of Buddenbrooks, Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain was, by a considerable distance, the most famous and eminent German writer of his era, as well as the most celebrated of all the exiles who settled in the US. As the winner of the Nobel prize for literature and a major public figure, Mann was a hugely influential voice. Any attempts by him to become involved in organisations of which Hoover was suspicious - or attempts by such groups to recruit him - were carefully tracked and recorded by the FBI, as well as by other American security organisations and by the state department.
The portion of Mann's career in the US which most alarmed the watchers was an attempt to form a German exile organisation in America, with Mann as its leader and figurehead. In 1943, the office of strategic services (the forerunner of the CIA) tried to frustrate such a move. "Thomas Mann is extremely important and useful for any group which might be needed later," the OSS recorded, and managed to convey their views to the novelist, who duly backed away from the plan. Mann was in a category of his own. He seems to have been too major a figure to be placed under routine surveillance of the kind to which both his brother Heinrich and his son Klaus - as well as Feuchtwanger and Brecht - were subjected.
Klaus Mann, the author of Mephisto, was a particularly frequent FBI target. Even his postman was recruited as an informant. Klaus attracted attention partly because of his left wing politics, but also because of his homosexuality. The files unearthed by Stephan refer to Mann as "a well-known sexual pervert" with "communistic sympathies".
The bureau's files contain some very detailed surveillance. When Klaus Mann stayed in the Bedford Hotel in New York, an informant identified only as "T3" reported that a soldier "with fair complexion and dirty blond hair" stayed overnight with him regularly. "Informant advised that the only suitable sleeping place in Mann's room is a single bed", the files report. "Informant further advised that quite a number of 'longhairs' go in and out to see Mann."
The FBI snoopers speculated that Mann may have had a sexual relationship with his sister Erika, one- time wife of WH Auden. "Confidential informants" told agents that the two were having an affair, one file reports. Erika Mann was described in the files as having her hair cut "in a short mannish bob with a part on the right side" and to be close to a group of political actors who were "members of the Hebrew race".
In the end, though, Erika Mann turned the tables on her watchers. She became an informant as early as 1940, and for much of the next 15 years cooperated willingly with dozens of inquiries about members of the German exile community, some of whom she too suspected of pro-Nazi connections.
In 1935 Auden gave himself in matrimony, to Erika, Thomas Mann’s daughter, to provide her with British nationality when the Nazis were about to revoke her German citizenship. In the following year he persuaded John Hampson to marry a friend of Erika, the actress Therese Giehse, who was also under threat for her anti-Nazi activities... Auden arranged a wedding party at the pub near the school where he was teaching, attended by his colleagues and pupils. After the war, she and Auden were seldom in touch, but they never divorced and she left him a small legacy in her will.
Thomas and Katia Mann had six children. It was clear from early on that Katia most loved the second child, Klaus, who was born in 1906, and that Thomas loved Erika, the eldest, born in 1905, and also Elisabeth, born in 1918. The other three – the barely tolerated ones – were Golo, born in 1909, Monika, born in 1910, and Michael, born in 1919. Erika remembered a time during the shortages of the First World War when food had to be divided but there was one fig left over. "What did my father do? He gave this fig just to me alone . . . the other three children stared in horror, and my father said sententiously with emphasis: “One should get the children used to injustice early."
Some things ran in the family. Homosexuality, for instance. Thomas himself was gay most of the time, as his diaries make clear. So were three of his children: Erika (also just most of the time; she made an exception for Bruno Walter, among others), Klaus and Golo. Suicide was a family theme too. Both of Thomas Mann’s sisters committed suicide, as did his sons Klaus and Michael, as did the second wife of his brother Heinrich. Also, gerontophilia. Bruno Walter was almost as old as Erika’s father; and in 1939 Elisabeth married the literary critic Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, who was 36 years her senior.
And then there is the small matter of incest. Much interest in this was fuelled by incidents in Thomas Mann’s own work. In her useful and sympathetic book about the Mann family, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain, Andrea Weiss writes: ‘Just how much Katia and Klaus Pringsheim loved each other was the subject of public gossip and private distress, especially when Thomas Mann, married to Katia for only a few months, used his wife’s relationship with her brother as the basis for one of his novellas.’ The novella, Blood of the Walsungs, dealt with the incestuous relationship between a twin brother and sister; Katia’s father attempted to have the story suppressed.
Such rumours also existed about Erika and Klaus, much encouraged by Klaus’s play on the subject, The Siblings, and made their way into Gestapo reports when the siblings went into exile and FBI reports about them once they arrived in America. (In the mid-1920s Klaus helped to keep things in the family by having an affair with Erika’s first husband, Gustaf Gründgens.) In his novel The Volcano, Klaus allowed the character based on his sister to marry the character based on his father. In Thomas Mann’s The Holy Sinner, the hero, Pope Gregorius, marries his mother – who is also his father’s sister.
(1) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 179
(2) Thomas Mann, letter to Heinrich Mann (November, 1905)
(3) Frederic Spotts, Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann (2016) page 6
(4) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 196
(5) Frederic Spotts, Cursed Legacy: The Tragic Life of Klaus Mann (2016) page 18
(6) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(7) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 437
(8) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) pages 273-274
(9) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(10) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 274
(11) Time Magazine (10th October, 1938)
(12) Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary (1995) page 322
(13) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(14) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 274
(15) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 80
(16) Time Magazine (10th October, 1938)
(17) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(18) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 15
(19) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 264
(20) Colm Tóibín, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (2013) page 196
(21) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 88
(22) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(23) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 530
(24) Thomas Mann, diary entry (April, 1933)
(25) Erika Mann, School for Barbarians (1938) page 19
(26) Erika Mann, School for Barbarians (1938) page 20
(27) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925) page 108
(28) Erika Mann, School for Barbarians (1938) pages 45-46
(29) Erika Mann, School for Barbarians (1938) page 52
(30) Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer (29 July 2012)
(31) Time Magazine (10th October, 1938)
(32) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(33) Time Magazine (27th December, 1937)
(34) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 396
(35) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 184
(36) Time Magazine (10th October, 1938)
(37) Martin Kettle, The Guardian (22nd September, 2000)
(38) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 92
(39) Time Magazine (26th February, 1940)
(40) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(41) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 575
(42) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(43) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 251
(44) Thomas Mann, diary entry (5th October, 1947)
(45) Bertolt Brecht, statement to the Un-American Activities Committee (30th October, 1947)
(46) Thomas Mann, statement (31st October, 1947)
(47) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 453
(48) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(49) Klaus Mann, diary entry (1st January, 1949)
(50) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(51) Klaus Mann, letter to Erika Mann (20th May, 1949)
(52) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 239
(53) Thomas Mann, diary entry (May, 1949)
(54) Thomas Mann, letter to Hermann Hesse (6th July, 1949)
(55) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(56) New York Times (2nd February, 1951)
(57) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 584
(58) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)
(59) Andrea Weiss, In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2008) page 260