Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland

The Life of Klaus Mann (1906-1949)
Seán Mac Mathúna

Europes Search for New Credo by Klaus Mann

Fiba - Europes leading film magazine

A suicide wave among the world's most distinguished minds would shock the peoples out of the lethargy, would make them realize the extreme gravity of the ordeal man has bought upon himself by his folly and selfishness - Klaus Mann's last essay


Published by Random House, New York, USA, 1977

First written in 1936, this scathing portrait of the Third Reich was written by Klaus Mann whilst in exile from his native Germany. When the novel was first published in West Germany in the late 1950s, it became the subject of the longest lawsuit in the history of German publishing - dragging on for more than a decade before the Supreme Court finally banned publication.

The books subject matter is based on his brother-in-law Gustaf Grúndgren, who married his sister, Erika. Grúndgren, who had once been a flamboyant defender of communism, had a magnificent career in Nazi Germany under the auspices of Herman Goring, where he had been the leader of theatrical life in the Third Reich. Mann wrote Mephisto to "analyse the abject type of treacherous intellectual who prostitutes his talent for the sake of some tawdry fame and transitory wealth". The the lawsuit against the book was brought by Gründgrens adopted son.

The book has also been published in France, Yugoslavia, Austria and Switzerland

Klaus Mann came from a famous family of German writers. He was a novelist, essayist, and playwright whose works include Alexander (1929), Pathetic Symphony (1936), and the autobiographical Turning Point (1942). His father, Thomas Mann (1875-1955), has been described as one of the "outstanding German literary figures of the 20th century". One of Thomas Mann's brothers was Heinrich Mann (1871-1950), who wrote novels of sharp social criticism such as Professor Unrat (1905; tr. The Blue Angel) and the trilogy The Poor (1917), The Patrioteer (1921), and The Chief (1925).

Thomas Mann's novels developed themes relating inner problems to changing European cultural values. His first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901), brought him fame. Translations of his shorter fiction, collected in Stories of Three Decades (1936), including Tonio Kröger (1903) and the classic Death in Venice (1912), reflect Mann's preoccupation with the proximity of creative art to neurosis, with the affinity of genius and disease, and with the problem of artistic values in bourgeois society. These themes are featured in his major work, The Magic Mountain (1924). His tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers (1933-43) is a brilliant study of psychological and mythological elements in the biblical story. Later works include Doctor Faustus (1947), The Holy Sinner (1951), and Confessions of Felix Krull (1954). Translations of Mann's major political writings denouncing fascism are published in Order of the Day (1942); his major literary essays are collected in Essays of Three Decades (1947). He left Nazi Germany in 1933 and lived in the U.S. after 1938, moving to Switzerland in 1953. He received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1929. His daughter (Klaus's sister) Erika Mann (1905-69) was an actress and author and was married to the poet W. H. Auden.

The last person to see him alive in 1949 (at Gulf Juan, French Riviera), was the publisher and writer Themistocles Hoetis, then editor of the famous literary magazine, Zero. He had asked him to review of a book by Jean Coteau called Letter to America for Zero. The day after Klaus handed the finished manuscript to Themistocles, he committed suicide. Shortly before, in June 1949, he had hinted at taking his own life in his essay Europe's Search for a New Credo. He saw how the end of the war against fascism in Europe was leading to a possible war with the Soviet Union - always seen as the enemy of the West. He noted how "the ominous preparations for war continue" and the "fatal rift between two world powers" (the USSR and the USA) is "deepening from day to day". Indeed, in April 1949 had seen the USA create it's own military organisation to dominate Western Europe - NATO - fifty years old this year. The creation of NATO would lead to the USSR forming it's own defensive military bloc - the Warsaw Pakt - thus sowing the seeds for the division of post-war Europe.

Klaus writes how a "a weak, dissonant chorus, the voices of the European intellectuals accompany the prodigious drama". He says that he has "heard many voices on my travels, some aggressive and arrogant, others gentle or flippant, passionate or sentimental. I have yet to hear the harmony of coordinated sounds, the concert of reconciled or peacefully competing forces". He meets a young student of philosophy and literature in the university town of Uppsala, Sweden. He says that this is what the student tells him, but in a way, you think that he's also talking himself:

"There is no hope. Whether we intellectuals are traitors or whether we are victims, in any case we'd better recognize the utter hopelessness of our situation. Why fool ourselves ? We're done for ! We're licked !"

Klaus observes how:

"the struggle between two great anti-spiritual powers - American money and Russian fanaticism - does not leave any room in the world for intellectual integrity or independence. We are compelled to take sides and, by doing so, to betray everything we should defend and cherish. Koestler is wrong when asserting that one side is a little better than the other - not quite black, just gray. In reality, neither side is good enough - which is to say that both are bad, both are black".

Thus he suggests a new movement ("the movement of despair, the rebellion of the hopeless ones"), should be launched by European intellectuals:

"Instead of trying to appease the powers that be, instead of vindicating the machinations of greedy bankers or the outrages of tyrannical bureaucrats, we ought to go on record with our protest, with an unequivocal expression of our bitterness, our horror. Things have reached a point where only the most dramatic, most radical gesture has a chance to be noticed, to awake the conscience of the blinded hypnotized masses. I'd like to see hundreds, thousands of intellectuals follow the examples of Virginia Woolf, Ernst Toller, Stefan Zweig, Jan Masaryk. A suicide wave among the world's most distinguished minds would shock the peoples out of the lethargy, would make them realize the extreme gravity of the ordeal man has bought upon himself by his folly and selfishness".

The essay ends with the student speaking in a trembling voice:

"Let's sign ourselves to absolute despondency. It's the only sincere attitude, and the only one that can be of any help".

Clearly, there were no takers for this suggestion of a "suicide wave" among Europe's intellectuals, except sadly, that of Klaus Mann himself who killed himself not long afterwards. Today, notably in Germany, he is being recognised at last as - like his father - as one of Europe's greatest literary figures.

© 1999