Heinrich Mann

Rochus Misch

Heinrich Mann, the oldest child of Thomas Johann Mann and Júlia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Lübeck, on 27th March 1871. His father was an energetic and successful businessman. In 1863, at the age of 23, had inherited the ownership of the Johann Siegmund Mann firm, a granary and shipping business dating back to the previous century. (1) Heinrich remembered his father as "young, gay, and carefree." (2)

Heinrich's brother, Thomas Mann, later recalled his father's "dignity and good sense, his ambition and industry, his personal and intellectual distinction, his social talents and his humor... he was not robust, rather nervous and susceptible to suffering; but he was a man dedicated to self-control". (3) His mother was described as "a much admired beauty and extraordinarily musical". (4)

Thomas Johann Mann was often in conflict with his son who he described as having a "dreamy loss of self-control and lack of consideration for others". (5) He hated school and although he spent most of his time reading he refused to conform to the requirements of his teachers. He still passed his exams with high grades but refused to go to university. (6)

Heinrich Mann refused to join the family business and in October 1889, he was employed by the Dresden book shop of Jaensch & Zahn as an apprentice. His employer was not impressed with his new apprentice and accused him of being "apathetic, indolence and truculence". (7)

Heinrich Mann - Novelist

In 1890 Heinrich Mann had some of poems published in Die Gesellschaft, the magazine was regarded to most modernist of the German periodicals. The following year Heinrich Mann moved to Berlin with the ambition to be a successful novelist. His father was very angry with this development and wrote: "I wish the guardians of my children to consider it their duty to influence these children towards a practical education. Insofar as they are able, they are to oppose my eldest son's leanings towards so-called literary activity. In my opinion he lacks the prerequisites for sound, successful work in this direction, namely sufficient study and broad knowledge." (8)

Heinrich Mann inherited some money from his father's estate in 1891 that enabled him to concentrate on being a writer. His hero was Heinrich Heine. His younger brother, Thomas Mann, also attempted to make it as a writer. He also admired Heine: "In his enthusiasm for Heine, in trying his hand at verse, fiction, and criticism, Thomas at this time was faithfully following in the footsteps of his elder brother. His youthful revolt against society, natural though it was for his age, seems also to have been borrowed from his brother, who was bohemian by instinct". (9)

Heinrich's first novel, Within a Family, was published in 1893. He was unable to obtain a living as a novelist and in April 1895 he became the editor of a periodical, The Twentieth Century: A Journal of German Art and Welfare. It was anti-capitalist and frequently anti-Semitic: "Heinrich drew caricatures of wealthy Jews and intellectuals, and he attacked the power of the Jewish press." (10)

In 1896 he moved to Paris and wrote what became known as "My Plan". Richard Winston has argued: "It is a curious document, full of delighted anticipations, avowals to himself that the whole plan is in the interests of a literary project, propitiatory reassurances to the ghost of his father that he really is not a wastrel. Heinrich also wondered whether he would be seeing the authentic fashionable world." (11)

Relationship with Thomas Mann

Heinrich Mann's first important novel was In the Land of Cockaigne (1900) a portrayal of the decadence of high society. It is considered by most critics to be inferior to his brother's first novel, Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (1901), a fictional account of the Mann family. "Compared to the Tolstoyan achievement of Buddenbrooks, Heinrich's novel may seem comparatively light, but contemporaries like Rilke felt it had ushered both expressionism and social criticism into the German novel. For his admirers Heinrich's early work, more topical, vivacious, and unfinished than his brother's - as the journalistic rate of production might guarantee - provides a more useful guide to the era as well as prophetic views of Germany's future. (These readers would contend that Buddenbrooks points backward.) (12)

In January 1905, Thomas Mann decided to marry Katia Pringsheim Mann, the daughter of a wealthy, Jewish industrialist family who owned coal mines and early railroads. Thomas wrote to Heinrich about his decision: "A feeling of the lack of freedom that I cannot rid myself of up to now, and of course you call me a timid plebeian. But it's easy for you to talk. You are absolute. I, on the other hand, have paused to improve my state of mind." (13)

Rochus Misch

Heinrich Mann in 1906

Heinrich Mann did not attend his brother's wedding. His mother, who also did not approve of the marriage, wrote, "Please, please, dear Heinrich, follow my advice and do not withdraw from Tommy... You are both men blessed by God, dear Heinrich - don't let your personal relationship with Tommy become strained.... Your latest works were not without exception liked. That has nothing to do with your sibling relationship." (14)

Mann's portrait of a tyrannical provincial schoolmaster, Professor Unrat (1905) gained him good reviews. However, it was his novels, The Poor (1917), Man of Straw (1918) and The Patrioteer (1918), that brought him "great fame, a prophetic image, large earnings". (15) Thomas was jealous of Heinrich's success: "My brother-problem is the real, in any case the most difficult, problem of my life... At every step kinship and affront.... his books are bad in such an extraordinary way as to provoke passionate antagonism". (16)

Weimar Republic

Heinrich Mann became increasingly interested in left-wing politics. He was a supporter of Kurt Eisner, the Jewish leader of the Independent Socialist Party in Munich. This was a departure from his earlier anti-Semitism. Konrad Heiden has pointed out: "On November 6, 1918, he (Kurt Eisner) was virtually unknown, with no more than a few hundred supporters, more a literary than a political figure. He was a small man with a wild grey beard, a pince-nez, and an immense black hat. On November 7 he marched through the city of Munich with his few hundred men, occupied parliament and proclaimed the republic. As though by enchantment, the King, the princes, the generals, and Ministers scattered to all the winds." (17)

The following day Eisner led a large crowd into the local parliament building, where he made a speech where he declared Bavaria a Socialist Republic. Eisner made it clear that this revolution was different from the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and announced that all private property would be protected by the new government. Eisner explained that his program would be based on democracy, pacifism and anti-militarism. The King of Bavaria, Ludwig III, decided to abdicate and Bavaria was declared a republic.

On 9th November, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II also abdicated and the Chancellor, Max von Baden, handed power over to Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the German Social Democrat Party. At a public meeting, one of Ebert's most loyal supporters, Philipp Scheidemann, finished his speech with the words: "Long live the German Republic!" He was immediately attacked by Ebert, who was still a strong believer in the monarchy and was keen for one of the his grandsons to replace Wilhelm. (18)

On 21st February, 1919, Eisner was assassinated by Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley. It is claimed that before he killed the leader of the Independent Socialist Party he said: "Eisner is a Bolshevist, a Jew; he isn't German, he doesn't feel German, he subverts all patriotic thoughts and feelings. He is a traitor to this land." (19)

Heinrich Mann spoke at Eisner's funeral and at his memorial three weeks later. Thomas Mann, who was deeply opposed to socialism, commented that Heinrich claimed that "Eisner had been the first intellectual at the head of a German state... in a hundred days he had had more creative ideas than others in fifty years, and... had fallen as a martyr to truth. Nauseating!" (20)

In 1924 Thomas Mann published his most successful novel, The Magic Mountain. This was followed by Disorder and Early Sorrow (1925). Heinrich wrote: "You know as well as I do myself that your honours and successes do not bother me. Sometimes a few crumbs are even tossed my way." Mann success was emphasized by being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929.

Nazi Germany

Heinrich Mann had more success when his novel, Professor Unrat, was turned into the popular film, The Blue Angel (1930). The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and starred Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich and Kurt Gerron. Philip French has argued: "Jannings gives an exquisitely detailed performance as the pompous, middle-aged Professor Rath, a high-school teacher whose life is destroyed through his romantic infatuation with Lola Lola (Dietrich), a wilful young singer he meets at the eponymous nightclub." (21)

Heinrich fell in love with the actress Trude Hesterberg, a Berlin actress. He now divorced his first wife Mimi Kanova, a Czech actress, (married 1914). However, the couple argued about politics and when she joined the Nazi Party, the relationship came to an end: "As a woman and an artist I naturally have been influenced by all tendencies of the times, but I never became a politician. I have always instinctively considered my art as a megaphone of the popular opinions of the day. Out of this sense of artistic duty, I became a member of the Nazi party and the Fighting League." (22)

In June 1932 Heinrich Mann joined with Albert Einstein, Ernst Toller, Arnold Zweig, Käthe Kollwitz, Karl Kollwitz, Willi Eichler, Arthur Kronfeld, Kurt Grossmann, Karl Emonts, Anton Erkelenz, Hellmuth Falkenfeld, Walter Hammer, Theodor Hartwig, Maria Hodann, Minna Specht, Hanns-Erich Kaminski, Erich Kaestner, Theodor Plievier, August Siemsen, Helene Stocker, Pietro Nenni, Erich Zeigner, Paul Oestreich and Franz Oppenheimer to sign an appeal by the International Socialist Combat League (ISK) for tactical cooperation of German Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the Reichstag elections of July 1932.

Rochus Misch

Heinrich Mann

Adolf Hitler gained power in January 1933. Soon afterwards, a large number of writers were declared to be "degenerate authors" because they were Jews or held left-wing views. This included Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Hans Eisler, Ernst Toller, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, H.G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Erich Maria Remarque, Karl Kautsky, Thomas Heine, Arnold Zweig, Ludwig Renn, Jack London, Rainer Maria Rilke, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Theodor Plievier, Magnus Hirschfeld, Max Brod, Richard Katz, Franz Werfel, Alfred Döblin, Lion Feuchtwangerand Hermann Hesse. On 10th May, the Nazi Party arranged the burning of thousands of "degenerate literary works" were burnt in German cities. (23)

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." (24) However, others had pointed out, he had always been careful not to attack Hitler in print. (25)


To escape arrest, Heinrich Mann, went to live in Paris. He joined Klaus Mann and Erika Mann in the German resistance to Hitler. Klaus went to Amsterdam, where he worked for the first emigre journal of anti-fascism, Die Sammlung, which attacked the government in Nazi Germany. Heinrich contributed to the magazine. Thomas Mann condemned the venture and pleaded with his son and brother to withdraw their support for the journal. (26)

In 1939 Heinrich Mann married Nelly Kroeger, who he had been living with for ten years. She was almost thirty years his junior and described as "a pretty, animated, ex-barmaid". After the fall of France in the summer of 1940, Heinrich and Nelly escaped across the Pyrenees to reach Madrid. Heinrich, who was now 69, needed the support of the much younger Nelly. Eventually they got to Lisbon and took the last available ship passages to New York City. (27)

Heinrich Mann went to live in Los Angeles and was given a 12 month contract with Warner Brothers (none of the movies were made). After this he became more and more impoverished. He received help from his brother Thomas but he had a intense dislike of Nelly who was frequently drunk, who he described as "repugnant... foolish ... a terrible trollop". (28)

In January, 1944, they made a joint suicide attempt. Nelly was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. She told Heinrich: "I can not think of what I have suffered the last two years, and only because I in my deepest humiliation a glass of wine much had been drinking and was often drunk, I have not completely lost my mind. Now I want to live! It's all up to you, that we organize in quality and without making even more attention this matter. Otherwise you force me to do something that you intended... sorry." (29)

Nelly Mann returned home but took an overdose of sleeping pills on 17th December, 1944. Heinrich Mann reported in a letter to a friend "She died in the ambulance... This last year was misery and terror... people who know nothing, I try to suggest that it is better... No... I hardly leave the apartment, which her ​​was." Heinrich was devastated but Thomas Mann was "relieved". (30) Thomas wrote that Heinrich's "very favorable income had melted away far into the negative through the disastrous goings-on of his wife." (31)

Heinrich Mann remained active in left-wing politics but was upset when 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. Thomas 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?" (32)

The East German government offered him the post as president of the Academy of Fine Arts. Thomas commented in his diary that "Soviet money reaches Heinrich, which he claims is royalties, while it is probably travel money." (33) Heinrich Mann was making plans to leave the country when he died in Los Angeles on 11th March, 1950.

Heinrich Mann was buried in Santa Monica: "The participants not very numerous. Wreaths and flowers a beautiful sight. My wreath with To my big brother, with love." (34)

Primary Sources


(1) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995)

Heinrich published his first novel, Within a Family, when he was twenty-two. His first important novel, In the Land of Cockaigne, appeared in 1900. Compared to the Tolstoyan achievement of Buddenbrooks, Heinrich's novel may seem comparatively light, but contemporaries like Rilke felt it had ushered both expressionism and social criticism into the German novel. For his admirers Heinrich's early work, more topical, vivacious, and unfinished than his brother's - as the journalistic rate of production might guarantee - provides a more useful guide to the era as well as prophetic views of Germany's future. (These readers would contend that Buddenbrooks points backward.)

(2) Colm Tóibín, London Review of Books (6th November, 2006)

In May 1933, when "un-German" books were being burned, Heinrich Mann’s were on the bonfire. Thomas Mann’s were not. He was still being protected by Bertram, among others. But his main protection was his own silence. In September the first issue of Die Sammlung appeared, with a provocative essay by Heinrich Mann and an editorial by Klaus: "The true, valid German literature... cannot remain silent before the degradation of its people and the outrage it perpetrates on itself... A literary periodical is not a political periodical... Nevertheless, today it will have a political mission. Its position must be unequivocal." Goebbels, in retaliation, stripped Heinrich of his citizenship, and the following year Klaus, too, was declared stateless...

In March 1937, the entire Mann family, including Heinrich, was granted Czechoslovak citizenship. Klaus could now travel to Budapest to seek a cure for his heroin addiction. Six months later he returned to the US and to Erika, who took him with her on what became joint lecture tours. Their titles included ‘What Price Peace?’, ‘What Does the Youth of Europe Believe in Today?’ and ‘Our Father and His Work’. They wrote two books together.


(3) Time Magazine (7th August, 1939)

One day in May 1937, dignified Thomas Mann shinnied self-consciously down the Ivory Tower and announced that a writer's business is to be political as well as literary. Elder Brother Heinrich Mann might have snickered in his lush Van Dyke beard, for Brother Thomas was only preaching what Brother Heinrich has spent a lifetime practising. For some 40 of his 68 years he has been writing a series of historical novels which constitutes a political and sociological record of the German people from Kaiserdom to "folkdom." If there is no Magic Mountain among his collected works, Brother Heinrich might well claim that they form a whole mountain chain with respectable, and occasionally imposing, literary heights.

To those heights Author Mann last week added a peak in the shape of massive, craggy, 786-page Henry, King of France, crammed with up-to-the-minute politics in 16th-Century dress, royal venery, papist deviltry and a necessary quota of ruffs and ruffians.

Europe's crisis in the 16th Century looked much like Europe's crisis in the 20th. The line-up then was the Habsburgs' medieval world reich and the Catholic Church v. the collective-security front of Protestant England, Holland and France. Protestantism and Catholicism were in the balance. The curious instrument that tipped this balance for Protestantism was shifty, sentimental, sensual Henry IV of Navarre. He did it by turning Catholic but ruling in the interests of Protestantism. Jesuits finally succeeded in murdering him as he was planning a Protestant crusade against the Habsburgs which had all the earmarks of a Stop Hitler Drive.

Far too sound a craftsman and too good a storyteller to point up obvious present-day implications, Author Mann lets his political chips fall where they may, lets his readers pick up whatever chips they prefer. Some readers will find that Henry's intriguing enemies, disgruntled Protestants, priests, Jesuits, Spaniards, resemble Nazis; others will be reminded of Communists. Fussed historians will throw up their hands at the free-&-easy handling of history. But few will deny that thoroughgoing German Heinrich Mann, in seasoning this lump of historical data into a right royal and highly spiced narrative, has produced, if not a first-rate novel, a monster tour de force.


(4) Ian Sansom, The Guardian (18th June, 2011)

In 1916, the novelist Thomas Mann wrote to his friend Ernst Bertram that he believed the tragedy of Germany was "symbolised and personified by my brother and myself". He may have been correct. The story of the strained relationship between Thomas and Heinrich Mann - characterised by a lifelong hate-envy - is a familiar part of German literary history. According to the German critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, in his book Thomas Mann and his Family (1989), Thomas Mann "was as sensitive as a prima donna and as vain as a tenor". Reich-Ranicki hits exactly the right note: the Mann family story is the stuff of German opera.

Thomas and Heinrich were from Lübeck in northern Germany. Heinrich was the elder by four years. He dropped out of school, gave up work, and became a writer. His little brother Thomas wanted to be just like him. With the publication of his very first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901) – a fictional account of the Mann family – he succeeded. The book became a sensation. Thomas became rich and famous. "I was swept up in a whirl of success," he wrote. In 1912 he wrote Death in Venice and in 1929, he won the Nobel prize for literature. Meanwhile, Heinrich disappeared in his brother's wake.

Among his many works, Heinrich wrote only one novel that is now remembered, Professor Unrat (1905), and that only because in 1930 it was made into a film - The Blue Angel – starring Marlene Dietrich. Heinrich's books were not merely bad, wrote Thomas, but "bad in such an extraordinary way as to provoke passionate antagonism". "My brother-problem", he wrote in a letter in 1917, "is the real, in any case the most difficult, problem of my life... At every step kinship and affront." Kinship and affront: not only Thomas Mann's themes as a writer, but the story of his life.

In 1905, Thomas married Katia Pringsheim and they had six children, despite the fact that Mann was gay, or rather, in Colm Toíbín's nice phrase, "gay most of the time". One biographer, Andrea Weiss, has argued that Mann did not care at all for Katia, only for her "cultured background, her family's position in Munich society, and no doubt the prospect of regaining the privileges of wealth which had eluded him since the death of his father".

His relations with his children were similarly complex. "When a man has six children, he can't love them all equally," Mann claimed. He loved the eldest, Erika, the most. She was an actor, and eventually became his assistant. Only one of his children, Klaus, became a novelist and he faced the same problem as Heinrich: how to compete with Thomas? He couldn't, and on 21 May 1949, in Cannes, he killed himself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Mann interpreted his son's death as a consequence of exile from Germany. But Klaus had faced other, more obvious challenges: he was a drug addict, he was gay and he was the son of Thomas Mann.

Another son, Michael, also killed himself (as did Mann's two sisters, and Heinrich's second wife). A third son, Golo, became an eminent historian, without a good word to say about his father. Only the two younger daughters, Monika and Elisabeth, seemed to have escaped their father's long, dark shadow.

On close inspection, great artistic dynasties often seem to be made out of other people's agony. Katia supported her husband, and raised their children at great personal cost. Late in life, she remarked: "I just wanted to say, I have never in my life been able to do what I would have liked to do."

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(1) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 7

(2) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 9

(3) Thomas Mann, Lübeck as a Way of Life and Thought (1926) page xiv

(4) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 9

(5) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 18

(6) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 30

(7) Sigrid Anger, Heinrich Mann (1971) page 44

(8) Thomas Johann Mann, statement in his will (June, 1891)

(9) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 49

(10) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 68

(11) Richard Winston, Thomas Mann: The Making of an Artist (1982) page 52

(12) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 115

(13) Thomas Mann, letter to Heinrich Mann (17th January, 1906)

(14) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) pages 112-113

(15) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 68

(16) Ian Sansom, The Guardian (18th June, 2011)

(17) Konrad Heiden, Hitler: A Biography (1936) page 23

(18) Simon Taylor, Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Rise of Hitler (1983) page 30

(19) Chris Harman, The Lost Revolution (1982) page 127

(20) Heinrich Mann, letter to Thomas Mann (27th August, 1927)

(21) Philip French, The Blue Angel (10th March, 2013)

(22) Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret (1996) page 233

(23) Peter Hoffmann, The History of German Resistance (1977) page 15

(24) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 264

(25) Colm Tóibín, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families (2013) page 196

(26) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 527

(27) Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann (2002) page 449

(28) Thomas Mann, diary entry (29th April, 1942)

(29) Nelly Kroeger, letter to Heinrich Mann (30th January, 1944)

(30) Anthony Heilbut, Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1995) page 527

(31) Thomas Mann, diary entry (20th December, 1944)

(32) Thomas Mann, diary entry (5th October, 1947)

(33) Thomas Mann, diary entry (14th September, 1949)

(34) Thomas Mann, diary entry (14th March, 1950)