Table Of Content
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- A Note on the Translations
- “Homosexuality and Fascism”
- Barred Window
- “African Romance, a Story”
- “Speed, a Story”
- The Dead Don’t Care
- “The Monk”
On September 25th, 1943, an employee of the U. S. Department of Justice prepared a certificate of naturalization for one Klaus Henry Mann, and the recipient signed the document with that same cognomen. The individual who had originally been given the Teutonic and aristocratic sounding name Klaus Heinrich Thomas Mann some thirty-six years earlier had ceased to exist. In his place, a new citizen of the United States had stepped forth. Sporting a less pretentious and a suitably German-American sounding name, Klaus Henry Mann, who had joined the American Army the previous December, was officially recognized as a citizen of his new homeland. Because of events far beyond his control, the enfant terrible who had reveled in Weimar Berlin’s decadence, all while goading and scandalizing his elders, had been forced to grow up, and he had willingly and eagerly adopted a new identity as an American.
Klaus Mann was the eldest son of Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, the author of Death in Venice and Buddenbrooks, and he was the nephew of another famous German novelist, Heinrich Mann. Obviously, a certain literary bent ran in Klaus’s family. However, the younger Mann strove to separate himself from his father’s reputation and influence. While Thomas wrote weighty, philosophical tomes of undeniable brilliance, Klaus penned provocative, shorter pieces, oftentimes moving on before revising and polishing his work. Laurence ← vii | viii → Senelick points out that “from the start of his literary career, the press disliked and distrusted Klaus Mann and ridiculed him as a Dichterkind, the offspring of a great writer incapable of emulating his father’s achievements” (10). And in her biography of Klaus and his sister Erika, Andrea Weiss notes that his tendencies, tastes, and focus led him in a direction away from his father: “Klaus veer[ed] toward [his uncle] Heinrich’s synthesis of literature and social criticism” (21). Nevertheless, too much can be made of the familial and artistic tension that existed in the Mann family. Far too many critics and biographers have misread the playful, ironic give and take between Thomas and Klaus. Instead, we should remember that the typical tensions in a father/son relationship were, in this case, simply a bit more public than is customary. Commenting on the affinity between the two, Anthony Heilbut notes, the elder Mann’s “letters to Klaus contain rich observations extended by one literary professional to another” (439). The two figures came from different generations and lived in different worlds, but that does not mean they did not regard one another as capable, noteworthy artists. And in a few instances, the son led the father.
In his writing and in his daily life, Klaus was far more direct—blunt, even—about his homosexuality than his father could ever have been. Rather than use homoeroticism as a metaphor or a suggestion of immaturity, as Thomas Mann did in Tonio Kröger and The Magic Mountain, Klaus Mann populated his works with a queer demimonde and ventured into straightforward, explicit polemic, calling for acceptance of homosexuals. Even with his ostensibly “straight” characters—such as Hendrik Höfgen, the protagonist of Mephisto, the work best known to contemporary American audiences—there is an inescapable queer sensibility. Outside of the literary sphere, Klaus sometimes preceded his father as well. It was Klaus and his sister Erika, in fact, who had to convince their parents to abandon their lives in Germany when the Nazis began their ascent to power.
From the start, Klaus Mann was destined to be an enemy of the Nazis; he was openly homosexual, descended from a prominent Jewish family on his mother’s side, politically left of center (although never quite comfortable with communists), and avowedly dismissive of nationalism and jingoistic patriotism. For instance, Andrea Weiss observes, “Klaus was grappling intellectually with the threat of Fascism,” at only twenty or twenty-one years of age, “when he wrote ‘Today and Tomorrow: On the Situation of Young European Intellectuals,’ an essay against nationalism and in support of pan-Europeanism” (75). The collective sense of a wounded national pride that so many Germans ← viii | ix → felt after the country’s defeat in World War I was anathema to Klaus. His aesthetic and literary tastes were expansive and global from an early age, and once he had had a chance to travel internationally, his political views assumed an equally broad scope. In his autobiography The Turning Point, Klaus Mann noted that following one of his trips abroad with his sister Erika in 1927 and 1928, “The vast spaces of America and Asia made me realize that Europe is not the world and cannot afford to waste its energies in nonsensical interior feuds. My new perspective enabled me to look through the basic fallacy of European nations” (162). And obviously, such a stance would have been at odds with the chauvinistic German focus and love of Vaterland that the nascent Nazi ideology espoused. The fascists struck back. Anthony Heilbut mentions that the first Nazi-sponsored book burning in 1933 included titles by Klaus Mann (500). And in The Turning Point we learn that the following year, Heinrich Mann was included in the first black list of verboten authors, while Klaus was included in the second (272–73).
In effect, Klaus Mann’s break with Germany came about before his emigration. In achingly poignant language, he describes in his autobiography how alienation is a deeply felt wound. “Infinitely more grisly than actual pain,” Klaus Mann laments, “is the danger of being excluded from the collective adventure. To be an outsider is the one unbearable humiliation” (Turning Point 34). Yet he was willing to suffer that separation. He refused to join the masses who were supporting a fascistic rise in Germany; he refused to endorse a militarization of his country; he refused to celebrate the Teutonic as superior to every other culture. As a matter of fact, in the couple of years before emigrating, “he was more despondent and more alienated…than at any other point in his life” (Weiss 85). What it meant to be German was changing; the ground, as it were, was shifting beneath his feet. Self-imposed exile, then, became the preferred response. Surely, he and his family would have been in danger had they remained in Germany, but the choice to leave came early. Klaus, his sister Erika, and—following some convincing by the two eldest children—the rest of their family decided to abandon their homes and their lives; they voluntarily altered their relationship with Germany, changing from natural-born citizens to critics in exile. In The Turning Point, Klaus Mann explains,
The essential reason for exile, in our case, was irrefutably simple. It had nothing to do with the fact that my mother is of partly Jewish extraction. (She would have been recognized as a “second-rate Aryan,” according to the fantastic racial arithmetic adhered to by the Nazis. As for ourselves, my sisters, brothers, and me, we could have enjoyed all privileges reserved to the “Aryan.”) Nor was it on account of our political ← ix | x → record that we had to leave our country. The Nazis might have been only too pleased to forgive us for trespasses as they had done in many another instance. The truth is that we left voluntarily, or rather, that we were forced away by our own disgust, our horror, our forebodings.
We left because we could not breathe the air in Nazi Germany. (267–68)
Unable, as he says, to “breathe the air,” Klaus Mann left Germany on March 13th, 1933, and he would not return until he came back with the U. S. Army in May 1945, near the end of World War II.
During his exile, Klaus Mann never stopped writing. In fact, the urgency of his literary production seems almost to have escalated. The stakes were much higher. No longer was Klaus trying to shake the establishment with shocking, explicit portrayals of homosexual, hedonistic youth. No longer were he and Erika play-acting as avant-garde theater types or new-generation journalists on poorly organized global junkets. He was now campaigning to end fascism in Europe and to preserve the culture of the German people (the heritage of Bach and Beethoven, Dürer and Goethe), a culture that was being forever altered, irreparably corrupted by Nazism. Klaus Mann responded by writing, and his response, albeit belletristic, could not have been more serious. In one of the many tributes published under the title Klaus Mann zum Gedächtnis (Klaus Mann in Memoriam), Christopher Isherwood said of him, “During the last sixteen years of his life, Klaus produced a really impressive body of work—novels, non-fiction books and innumerable articles—under circumstances which would have reduced most writers to impotent silence” (66). And it is precisely that body of work, which came about after his departure from Germany, or a representative sample of it, that this collection highlights. Six works written during Klaus Mann’s exile have been assembled here to illustrate the skill, to memorialize the struggles, to secure the historical significance, and to celebrate the artistic creations of this individual who is woefully underappreciated. He was, in effect, an immigrant American writer—not unlike Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, or Vladimir Nabokov—who made an impact on American as well as global literature in the middle of the twentieth century, and his work merits recognition.
The first piece in this collection, an essay entitled “Homosexuality and Fascism,” which was previously unavailable to those who do not read German, has been translated into English. “Homosexualität und Faschismus” was originally published in Prague in 1934. Klaus Mann was inspired to write this piece, Andrea Weiss claims, because in 1934 the Soviet Union outlawed sex ← x | xi → between consenting adult males while “an anti-homosexual purge of Nazi ranks and the general populace” occurred in Germany (117). The essay seems fueled by a frustration that homosexuals had become objects of disdain and persecution for both ends of the political spectrum. In November of 1934, Klaus Mann was denaturalized, robbed of his German citizenship. As if he had not done enough to turn the fascists against him already, this essay may have been the proverbial final straw that led the Nazis to consider him an enemy of the state.
Communists, leftists, and others opposed to the National Socialist Party in Germany, stooped to sensationalist tactics to suggest that perversion permeated the ranks of Nazi officials. Ernst Röhm’s purported homosexuality was exploited by Nazi detractors and anti-Nazi news organizations to decry the faction’s political and militaristic philosophies. For his part, Klaus Mann cautions in this essay that the tendency of Nazism’s opponents to conflate fascism with homosexuality harms queers and is, ultimately, an ineffectual way of countering fascist thought. Interestingly, historian Robert Beachy’s recent study, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, suggests there was a precursor for Klaus’s actions. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs published pieces pleading for the recognition of homosexuals’ humanity, and this was at a time when papers loyal to the Social Democratic Party were joyously reprinting the news about the richest weapons manufacturer in Germany being arrested and kicked out of Italy for having sex with under-age males (Beachy 72). In a remarkably similar way, “Homosexuality and Fascism” takes the leftists to task for using the queerness of its opponents to discredit them, rather than contending with social, political, and economic philosophies different from their own.
Nevertheless, what is most striking about “Homosexuality and Fascism” is how progressive, how prescient it is. In the mid-1930s, Klaus Mann was engaging in some of the same arguments historians and theorists would come around to making half a century later. For instance, Klaus attempts to rescue historical figures (viz., Socrates and Da Vinci) from the netherworld of asexuality. He argues that persons whom we today would consider homosexual fill the ranks of history and have even made their names known through genius, creativity, and intellect. He imagines an integrationist world where queers are accepted as a regular part of society’s diversity. And Klaus cautions his readers about prudish, demagogic stigmatizing; attacking Nazis as perverts, he contends, does harm to homosexuals but very little to undermine fascism. ← xi | xii →
In an interestingly ironic act of forgetting, Klaus would go on to engage in the same sort of behavior that he is condemning in “Homosexuality and Fascism.” About two-thirds of the way through his autobiography, Klaus Mann recounts seeing, before his exile, Adolf Hitler up close at a neighboring table at The Carlton Tea Room in Munich. He fixated on the man for some time while trying to figure out whom Hitler resembled. Klaus would finally realize that Hitler bore a striking physical resemblance to “A sort of homosexual Bluebeard,” who had been charged with the rape and murder of dozens of underage males and whose case was covered extensively in the sensational press (Turning Point 237). In this episode, it almost seems that Klaus Mann attempts to impugn Adolf Hitler by making a tenuous link to a deranged pedophile, rather than for Hitler’s role in devising the Final Solution or fomenting world war. Regardless, for those interested in Nazism, resistance movements, and German culture, as well as students of lesbian and gay history, this brief essay is a fascinating early document challenging the homophobia of progressives on the left.
- XXVI, 211
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2015 (December)
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXVI, 211 pp.