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Criticism, Complaint, and Controversy: Thomas Mann and the Proponents of Inner Emigration

Modern literary history describes the letters, addresses, and essays centering around Thomas Mann’s refusal to return to Germany, and the corresponding discussion of “inner emigration,” as, quite simply, a great controversy. J. F. G. Grosser coined the moniker “die große Kontroverse” when he published the collection of supporting materials [1] in 1963, and the term caught on quickly. Certainly the conflict was a controversy -- but it was in many ways much more, incorporating elements of literary debates, rhetorical argumentation, and political and personal feuds. Although, historically speaking, it is not uncommon for literary debates to incorporate or degenerate into ad hominem attacks, seldom do such debates inflame the passions of an entire nation, nor do they often encompass such a wide range of political, personal, and poetic topics. Due to the intensely emotional and inflexible responses and the seeming inability of either side to comprehend the other’s position, then, this conflict could in many ways be seen as more of a personal feud -- a feud between Thomas Mann and, in essence, the majority of post-war Germany, namely: those Germans who were neither supporters of the Nazi regime nor active left-wing opponents of it. This portion of the German population, which later became the power base of the Adenauer restoration period, was represented in the controversy with Mann by its most strident and vocal spokesman, Frank Thieß. While other voices played important roles in the later stages of discussion, it was Thieß who set the stage for the events in 1945, both by his controversial tone and his insistence on the moral validity of inner emigration. Unlike many simple “controversies,” then, this personal feud, which may have initially centered on logical argumentation and understandable issues, quickly degraded into a true free-for-all of name-calling and accusatory language, in which even the general public began to take part.

In examining the issues and concepts underlying the controversy, even the most careful reporter is tempted by tangential arguments and biased viewpoints, but a detailed examination of the main points is a necessary prerequisite for any interpretation. One can claim that the debate did not truly begin until Thomas Mann published his open letter explaining his choice to remain in America, in August of 1945. Nonetheless, the precursors to this declaration deserve critical attention as well. The immediate forerunner to the controversy was Mann’s own essay “Über die deutsche Schuld” (alternatively titled “Die deutschen KZ”). After the liberation of the concentration camps in April-May of 1945, Mann read several reports and exposés (notably in Time Magazine) and had, understandably, a strong reaction. His diary reports that, aside from the outrage he felt about the atrocities which had been committed, he also wondered if the average German was now, or would ever be, aware of the magnitude of the situation. “Wird in Deutschland die ungeheure Schande empfunden werden? Will darüber sprechen.” [2] And indeed, he did speak. He quickly penned an essay, and with the aid of the Office of War Information, the article appeared in the Frankfurter Presse on May 10, 1945 and in several reprints elsewhere.

In this essay, Mann not only reiterates many of the themes which had formed the groundwork of the BBC Deutsche Hörer! broadcasts, but he also strikes a new note: the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, he claims, should not be passed off as the vicious anomaly of a select few, but rather the guilt must be born by the entire German people, including Mann himself. It is “unsere Schmach,” he writes, because “alles Deutsche, was deutsch spricht, deutsch schreibt, auf deutsch gelebt hat, ist von dieser entehrenden Bloßstellung mitbetroffen. Es war nicht eine kleine Zahl von Verbrechern, es waren Hunderttausende einer sogenannten deutschen Elite, Männer, Jungen, und entmenschte Weiber, die unter dem Einfluß verrückter Lehren in kranker Lust diese Untaten begangen haben.” [3] Debunking the notion (as would be claimed by Walter von Molo and Frank Thieß) that only a handful of Germans had been responsible for the atrocities, Mann instead leans toward a declaration of Kollektivschuld. Admittedly, it is not yet a full-fledged pronouncement of collective guilt, since Mann claims that all Germans are “mitbetroffen,” not “mitschuldig.” Nonetheless, his insistence on the collective nature of Germany’s people continues, when he writes that the entire world now abhors Germany, as a whole. The incredible weight of this shame is oppressive to Mann, and he tries to communicate to the Germans the manner in which the world now views them. “Die Menschheit schaudert sich vor Deutschland.” The Nazi regime had brought on such a catastrophe, “so daß Deutschland heute dasteht als Abscheu der Menschheit und Beispiel des Bösen.”

These are harsh words, but even harsher are the pointed criticisms Mann has for those Germans who pretended or claimed not to have known what was occurring. Mann contrasts himself to them, saying he himself was “der Deutsche, der sich beizeiten aus dem Bereich nationalsozialistischer Menschenführung davongemacht hatte, der nicht, wie ihr, in der Nachbarschaft dieser Greuelstätten lebte, wie ihr in scheinbaren Ehren seinen Geschäften nachging und nichts zu wissen versuchte, obgleich der Wind ihm den Stank verbrannten Menschenfleisches von dorther in die Nase blies.”

Perhaps realizing that criticisms at this juncture, after the worst is over, cannot accomplish much, Mann then softens his criticisms with the reaffirmation of his belief in the German tradition: the Germans are, he says, “ein von Hause aus gutes, Recht und Gesittung liebendes Volk.” Further comments reveal that Mann is making heartfelt pleas to the Germans, and that he is not merely lashing out in frustration. Mann persuasively explains that the German people must not see the Allied powers who now occupy their land as enemies -- as indeed several key German figures had done, including the bishop Galen who bears the brunt of Mann’s wrath here -- but rather, that the Allies are the bringers of grace and reprieve. The Germans should rediscover their own humanity, and see themselves “als Menschen, der Menschheit zurückgegeben.” All in all, then, despite a few rather harsh words, the article on the whole attempts to criticize gently and constructively; clearly, Mann is concerned about the future of his homeland, and about the spiritual condition of the German people.

At this point, it should be noted, the Frankfurter Presse held no ill will whatsoever for Mann; on the contrary, their laudatory introduction to the article made clear the esteem in which they held him: Thomas Mann, they write, “hat die letzten Jahre in Amerika verbracht. Dort, im Luftkreis der Freiheit und Menschlichkeit, hat der Dichter ...die Entwicklung in Deutschland mit Bangen und, als Deutscher, auch mit schmerzvoller Beschämung verfolgt. Seine Stimme drang durch den Aether zu denen, die die Stimme eines großen und freien Deutschen hören wollten.” [4] Although this is naturally a flattering portrayal for publicity reasons, it nonetheless betrays a level of respect and admiration for Mann that would not be seen again in Germany for over a decade.

After Mann’s article appeared, several radio addresses throughout Germany issued pleas for Mann to return to Germany, thus reaffirming the esteemed reputation which Mann still had within Germany. Mann was aware of at least some of these requests, and seems never to have wavered in his resolve to remain in the United States; he notes in his diary “daß ich gently turned down the Berlin invitation.” [5] But there was one request to which he had to respond publicly. Walter von Molo, the president of the Dichterakademie before 1933, had remained in Germany in, as he claimed, inner emigration during the war; he was acquainted with Mann from their days together in the academy, though they were not close friends (Kurzke describes the two as “bekannt, aber nicht freundschaftlich verbunden” [6]). After reading Mann’s assessment of the German situation, Molo feared that Mann did not have a realistic view of the true conditions in Germany immediately following the war. In particular, Molo found Mann’s emphasis of the world’s reaction to Germany to be misdirected. To Molo, the very disgust which Mann claims characterizes the world’s view of Germany (“Abscheu,” “Haß,” and “Schauder”) is precisely the danger -- this hatred, Molo believed, needed to be countered and corrected. Molo was concerned that Germany’s own efforts toward recuperation and redemption would only by damaged by Mann’s refusal to return, and that the world’s hostility would be damaging to the fragile spiritual condition of the average German.

Molo therefore wrote an open letter to Thomas Mann, which appeared in the Hessische Post on August 4, 1945 [7]; Mann received a copy shortly later (on August 10) via the Office of War Information, in addition to a private birthday greeting from Molo which is, unfortunately, no longer preserved. In the open letter, Molo praises Mann’s “treues Festhalten an unserem gemeinsamen Vaterland,” a rather strange choice of words which reflects Molo’s rather distorted view of Mann’s actions. Molo contends that Germany needs Mann to represent, heal, and respect it, and also that Mann needs Germany: without returning, he claims, Mann will not know the true state of the German people, will not recognize the suffering which they have been through.

 Bitte, kommen Sie bald, sehen Sie in die von Gram durchfurchten Gesichter, sehen Sie das unsagbare Leid in den Augen der vielen, die nicht die Glorifizierung unsere Schattenseiten mitgemacht haben, die nicht die Heimat verlassen konnten, weil es sich hier um viele Millionen Menschen handelte, für die kein andere Platz gewesen wäre als daheim, in dem allmählich gewordenen großen Konzentrationslager, in dem es bald nur mehr Bewachende und Bewachte verschiedener Grade gab.


Molo here presages Thieß’ argumentation, that those who remained had no other choice, but also he also displays the mentality common to all of Mann’s opponents: to them, the “good” Germans were the victims of the Nazi regime -- not only could they not oppose it, but they had to suffer under it as well. This is one of the more delicate, psychological issues involved in the controversy: the victim mentality, [8] in which the true victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi atrocities are mentioned only by Mann and a select few, while their position is usurped by Thieß’ and Molo’s declarations of suffering. In his replies, Mann returns again and again to the crimes committed by the Nazi regime, for he sees that his opponents are unable (or unwilling) to accept their own part in what has occurred, and instead use denial to maintain their own dignity.

Molo repeats his plea for Mann to return, for him to give “Trost durch Menschlichkeit” and a through a belief in justice. After all, Molo writes, the Germans are Mann’s own people, and “Ihr Volk, das nunmehr seit einem Dritteljahrhundert hungert und leidet, hat im innersten Kern nichts gemein mit den Missetaten und Verbrechen, den schmachvollen Greueln und Lügen.” Again, Molo has maintained the paradigm of the suffering “good” German, who was not only unable to stop the Hitler regime, but had no part in or responsibility for it, and was in fact punished by the system. Mann surely recognized that Molo’s view was diametrically opposed to his own, and did, in his reply, attempt to clarify and educate this misguided perception.

“Kommen Sie bald wie ein guter Arzt,” Molo continues, not only to console but also to heal, and where necessary to take measures to remove the infection -- again using a metaphor with which Mann could find no common ground, since in Mann’s view the Hitler regime was infinitely more than a mere “infection.” Molo hopes to make everyone ‘healthy’ again, but he also issues a strong warning, that the continued blame and accusations might serve only to make the illness worse through humiliation and degradation. Although he never explicitly states the connection, Molo’s perception of the Allies scapegoating of the German people, their having blamed and punished them for something which they (the ‘good’ Germans) were not at fault -- this mentality bears a strong resemblance to the outrage of Germans after the First World War, in which the so-called “Schmach von Versailles” was touted as oppression and cruel punishment without justification.

Molo’s final appeal was surely intended to smooth any ruffled feathers, but his choice of words shows how little he understood of Mann’s own hopes for the future. Molo calls for the German people, together with Mann, to return to the humanism of the Weimar republic: “Suchen wir wieder gemeinsam -- wie vor 1933 -- die Wahrheit, indem wir uns alle auf den Weg zu ihr begeben.” Seemingly an innocent call for cooperation, in fact this simple appeal may have done the most harm to Molo’s cause. In attempting to set up a return to, and therefore a continuity to the years before 1933, it appears as though Molo was hoping for a clean slate, to erase the twelve-year Nazi regime from German history. But this, as Mann claims, is not only impossible, but ultimately dangerous as well.

Mann certainly found much in Molo’s letter that disturbed him, both for personal as well as ideological reasons. Before Mann had a chance to respond publicly, however, another voice, and a rather peculiar brand of appeal, was added to the chorus. Frank Thieß, also a friend of Molo’s who had remained in Germany and had published, albeit guardedly, under Hitler, published an article entitled simply “Die innere Emigration” in the Münchner Zeitung of August 18, 1945. [9] As the title suggests, Thieß’ article bears little resemblance to Molo’s straightforward appeal to Mann to return, and in fact Thieß seldom addresses Mann directly. Instead he makes use of many allusions, veiled accusations, and defensive manoeuvres to uphold the definition and validity of the concept of inner emigration, often at the expense of outer emigration itself.

Thieß begins his article with a claim which, until recently, was taken at face value: that he coined the term “innere Emigration” in a 1933 letter to the Reichskulturwalter Hinkel. As we shall later see, this claim is problematic. But Thieß also claims to have predicted and then witnessed a profound movement in the literary world, namely that those opposed to the Hitler regime began to practice a quiet, gentle opposition which set them dangerously apart from their contemporary conformist fellows. “Es trat im Schrifttum eine sehr deutlich erkennbare Trennung zwischen Mitläufern und sogenannten Verdächtigen zutage, deren Folgen für diese sehr bald empfindlich spürbar wurden, während man sie im Auslande übersah.” This separation between inner Emigrants and Mitläufer-authors would turn out to be not nearly as “deutlich erkennbar” as Thieß claims, of course, since this very distinction later became the source of much debate among literary historians.

Thieß sets himself up as the self-appointed spokesman for the writers of this inner emigration. He lays claim, on their behalf, to an “innerer Raum, dessen Eroberung Hitler trotz aller Bemühungen nicht gelungen ist.” While this statement may appear innocuous, once again it belies the chasm of opposition between Mann’s and Thieß’ viewpoints: while Hitler may not have physically “conquered” the inner realm of these writers, Mann believes that those who remained in Germany, regardless of their political stance, have been damaged by the long years of propaganda and perversion. In other words, merely continuing an existence under the Nazi regime was, to Mann, no guarantee of opposition or of moral superiority, but rather an ill-advised attempt to live in isolation, which in the long run was just as dangerous as cooperation.

Had Thieß left his claims at merely defining this “innerer Raum,” the situation might not have taken such a tragic turn. But he pressed, instead, to defend his own choice to remain in Germany in a positive, affirming manner. He chose to remain in Germany, he writes, not necessarily because he couldn’t leave -- and indeed he had had several opportunities to do so -- but because he believed that staying would provide him with priceless experience, even more than if he had merely watched ‘comfortably from the sidelines.’ If he survived the era, the regime, the horror, he believed, “... ich [würde] dadurch derart viel für meine geistige und menschliche Entwicklung gewonnen haben, daß ich reicher an Wissen und Erleben daraus hervorginge, als wenn ich aus den Logen und Parterreplätzen des Auslands der deutschen Tragödie zuschaute.” Even aside from the pointed jab at Mann’s (outwardly) comfortable existence in Pacific Palisades, this comment betrays a true intellectual arrogance on Thieß’ part: in order to be a ‘better’ writer, he was content to subject himself and others to the horrors of the Nazi regime. This type of self-flagellation was, simply put, abhorrent and incomprehensible to Mann, who saw Thieß’ argument as not only logically misleading, but dangerous as well.

Thieß does make several legitimate points in the discussion that follows -- namely, that for many, perhaps even most Germans, emigration was simply not an option, due to financial considerations, or the dreadful practice of Sippenhaftung as practiced by the Nazis: “sie hätten auch ihre nächsten Angehörigen mitnehmen müssen, wenn sie draußen den Kampf gegen Hitler aufnehmen wollten,” since family members who remained behind were subject to persecution or execution by the Nazi regime. But unfortunately, it is difficult to recognize the legitimacy of Thieß’ arguments due to his heated tone, and even his rational pronouncements are surrounded by a feverish defensiveness which effectively discounts their cogency. Nonetheless, one has to admire the boldness of his argumentative strategies. His next statement, for instance, lays claim to a moral superiority on the part of the inner emigrants -- thus calling into question the morals of those who chose to leave. As Thieß puts it, the most important reason for remaining in Germany was “die Gewißheit, daß wir als deutsche Schriftsteller nach Deutschland gehörten und, was auch käme, auf unseren Posten ausharren sollten.” By assuming the moral high ground for his actions, Thieß has here effectively nullified the validity of outer emigration, without needing to explicitly state such an audacious claim.

Following this line of argumentation, Thieß then utilizes the classic rhetorical device of understatement and irony. By stating laconically “Ich will damit niemanden tadeln, der hinaus ging,” Thieß may have actually intended to avoid any insults, but his tone produces the opposite result, and he comes across as exactly what he denies: the moral superior, looking down on those who ‘abandoned’ the fatherland. Indeed, he claims, “Ich glaube, es war schwerer, sich hier seine Persönlichkeit zu bewahren, als von drüben Botschaften an das deutsche Volk zu senden, welche die Tauben im Volke ohnedies nicht vernahmen, während wir Wissenden uns ihnen stets um einige Längen voraus fühlten.” Clearly, Thieß is not attempting a reasonable elucidation of his position. Instead, for the first time here, there is no mistaking the tone of bitter contempt that underlies his entire article. Psychologically speaking, critics have suggested that he is merely defensive, or that he makes claims of superiority to compensate for his weakened state; but whatever the motivations behind Thieß’ claims, they could do no good to the already aggravated nerves on both sides.

Thieß does attempt a half-hearted reconciliation, but as always, his words come across as a backhanded compliment rather than a plea for compassion: it is important, Thieß writes, for all opponents of national socialism to reunite, so that “die Emigranten nicht aus ihrer gesicherten Position, sondern aus der Mitte ihres verführten und leidenden Volkes heraus in ihm wirken und für seinen Aufstieg arbeiten.” And rather than end the essay on a conciliatory note, his closing sentences once again show a simply amazing audacity and a total lack of tact. “Wir erwarten dafür keine Belohnung, daß wir Deutschland nicht verließen,” is Thieß’ understated boast, but, he does add, he hopes that Thomas Mann will find his way back, in order to become an effective aid.

Thieß’ argumentation has already moved beyond a calm, rational discussion of the issues surrounding inner emigration, and has become a heated emotional defense. The two legitimate points he raises -- that for many Germans it was impossible to leave for fear of Sippenhaftung and other repercussions, and, more debatably, the claimed existence of an inner emigration itself -- are buried and obscured by his emotional outbursts. And the language, which bears strong overtones of Nazi jargon mixed with an intellectual arrogance, precludes any attempt at true communication with Mann. In addition, Thieß perpetuates the perception of himself as the victim, just as Molo had done, and refuses to take the entire truth into account. Michael Philip, in describing Thieß’ article, rightly (although harshly) points out the main themes of Thieß’ writing: “starre Selbstgerechtigkeit,” “Unfähigkeit zur Selbstkritik,” “Ignoranz,” and “selektive Wahrnehmung” are the terms he uses. [10] Despite the offensive and embarrassing pathos in Thieß’ writing, or perhaps even because of it, his article did find a resounding audience among German readers. Respect for Thomas Mann began to wane, and support for the ‘faithful’ Germans who could now regain their rightful posts began to rise. When Mann responded, feeling the need to explain his side of the issue, it only set fire to the embers which were already smoldering.

When Thomas Mann responded, finally, on September 28, 1945 in the New York Aufbau, he focused primarily on answering the underlying pleas in Molo’s open letter, and explaining “Warum ich nicht nach Deutschland zurückkehre.” [11] Indeed, there is some debate as to whether or not Mann had actually read Thieß’ article at this point, but he was certainly aware of the general trend of the claims being levelled against him in Germany. Mann writes that Molo’s request was a “verpflichtende Forderung,” and he says that many others had expressed similar wishes to him. But, he continues, although he is grateful for the appreciation and glad to feel needed, there is nonetheless something illogical and not well-thought-out about all of these requests. He then proceeds to enumerate his objections. Most importantly, he starts off by stating a doubt that underlies many of his arguments throughout the essay: what could he do from within Germany, that couldn’t be accomplished just as well, and perhaps better, from outside? Mann emphasizes repeatedly that he does want and intend to help Germany and the German people, and that his decision to remain in America in no way diminishes the ties and connection he has with his country.

Mann does, however, explain that he takes issue with Molo’s call for a return to the values of the Weimar Republic. One cannot simply return to this humanism, “wie vor 1933” as Molo had claimed. On the contrary, the events of the Nazi regime have left an indelible mark on the German identity: “Sind diese zwölf Jahre und ihre Ergebnisse denn von der Tafel zu wischen und kann man tun, als seien sie nicht gewesen?” Perhaps in response to Thieß’ own claims of hardship and superior suffering, Mann goes on to describe his own tribulations in exile, the “Schock des Verlustes” and the realization that he really couldn’t return; the passport bureaucracy, the failed efforts to write, to respond to events, and all the other trials of his situation. “Das haben Sie alle, die Sie dem »charismatischen Führer« Treue schworen und unter Goebbels Kultur betrieben, nicht durchgemacht. Ich vergesse nicht, daß Sie später viel Schlimmeres durchgemacht haben, dem ich entging. Aber das haben Sie nicht gekannt: das Herzasthma des Exils, die Entwurzelung, die nervösen Schrecken der Heimatlosigkeit.” Mann’s description the “charismatic” Hitler, and the oaths of loyalty, were well understood among the German public; as Inge Jens points out, it was common knowledge that, in October of 1933, at least 88 writers had publicly declared a Treuegelöbnis to Hitler -- among them, notably, was Walter von Molo. [12] But while Thieß’ claims of hardship had made him sound like a whining child, one can palpably sense the anguish in Thomas Mann’s own descriptions; in addition, his quiet admission that those who remained had, indeed, been through different and worse horrors, should have won him points among the reading public. Unfortunately, the public was not inclined to listen acceptingly to Mann at this point, due both to the other statements in Mann’s essay, and to Thieß’ manipulations.

Mann now begins to walk a delicate line between constructive criticism and offensive fault-finding with the German people. Mann admits, for instance, that at times he was angered by the advantages that those who remained in Germany enjoyed. And, he points out, there were serious ethical consequences to pay for remaining, that in fact the inner emigrants may have passively contributed to the continued existence of the Third Reich, simply by their continued presence in Germany: “Wenn damals die deutsche Intelligenz, alles, was Namen und Weltnamen hatte, Ärzte, Musiker, Lehrer, Schriftsteller, Künstler, sich wie ein Mann gegen die Schande erhoben, den Generalstreik erklärt, das Land verlassen hätten -- das hätte Eindruck gemacht, draußen und drinnen, manches hätte anders kommen können, als es kam.” But, he claims, although he was morally outraged, he was never jealous: “Ich habe Euch, die Ihr dort drinnen saßet, nie beneidet, auch in Euren größten Tagen nicht, dazu wußte ich zu gut, daß die großen Tage nichts als blutiger Schaum waren und rasch vergehen würden.” The noticeable frustration evident in Mann’s tone here have the effect, unfortunately, of making him sound similar to Thieß himself, with his unsupported claims to superiority. In hindsight, of course, Mann’s position seems far more tenable, but given the already heated atmosphere, public reception to comments like these would have been cool at best.

Mann continues to make the fatal mistake of assuming his readers were actually open to a constructive debate: he attempts to reason through his decision, calmly discussing his justification and situation. Yes, Mann admits, responding to Thieß and others who had pointed out Mann’s luxurious position in Pacific Palisades, he did enjoy certain pleasantries in exile: a gradually more comfortable existence, a relative calm and quiet, and in addition, a heartfelt welcome from the United States, which received him with open arms, gave him honorary degrees and lecture positions, and declared an open and willing friendship. “Ich habe einigen Grund, lieber Herr von Molo, diesem Lande dankbar zu sein, und Grund, sich ihm dankbar zu erweisen.” Mann had long ago declared his intention not to turn his back on his newfound home in America. Why should he, indeed? “Ich sehe nicht, warum ich die Vorteile meines seltsamen Loses nicht genießen sollte, nachdem ich seine Nachteile bis zur Hefe gekostet.”

Again, Mann repeats, it is not due to any self-righteousness on his part. “Ich hebe keinen Stein auf, gegen niemanden. Ich bin nur scheu und »fremde« wie man von kleinen Kindern sagt. Ja, Deutschland ist mir in all diesen Jahren doch recht fremd geworden.” Mann admits to a certain fear when he contemplates any return to Germany: on the one hand, he fears the ruins, both physical and spiritual, and he has doubts as to the possibility of true understanding and worthwhile communication between one who “den Hexensabbat von außen erlebte, und Euch, die ihr mitgetanzt und Herrn Urian aufgewartet habt.” The influence of Mann’s preoccupation with the Faust myth is apparent here: not only is the idea of “fremd” literally repeated in Doktor Faustus (“Deutschland ist mir fremd, wildfremd geworden”), but also, the comparison of the Hitler regime to a devil’s pact and witches’ sabbath makes the connection clear.

Mann steadfastly rejects any possibility of immediate continuity to the years before 1933. Not merely that what has happened should not be forgotten, but that the misdevelopment of the German people under Hitler has led to a condemnable naivete and ignorance, perhaps even an intellectual malformity, which is simply incomprehensible to Mann. This explains much about Mann’s view of Thieß and other proponents of the inner emigration: to Mann, they are themselves intellectually malformed, and worse yet, they are not even aware of their disability. Their naivete extends to the belief of the inner emigrants that what they practiced was a form of resistance or even of any cultural value. This is, indeed, the crux of the matter for Mann. “Es war unmöglich, »Kultur« zu machen in Deutschland, während rings um einen herum das geschah, wovon wir wissen.” To attempt to continue to write, even in the so-called ‘inner emigration’, was tantamount to glossing over and covering up the crimes. “Es hieße die Verkommenheit beschönigen, das Verbrechen schmücken.” Mann condemns those who practiced Kulturpropaganda for the Third Reich, but he also condemns those who carried on in the great humanist tradition while ignoring that which was occurring around them -- here he refers directly to Furtwängler’s symphony direction and Preetorius’ decorations for the Bayreuth Opera. For people such as these to pretend to be artists, when in fact they were practically crusading for Hitler, was an “obzöne Lüge.” Even worse, however, was the way in which the humanist tradition was perverted under the Nazi regime. Mann takes Beethoven’s Fidelio as an example of this perversion: “Wie durfte denn Beethovens »Fidelio«, diese geborene Festoper für den Tag der deutschen Selbstbefreiung, im Deutschland der zwölf Jahre nicht verboten sein? Es war ein Skandal, daß er nicht verboten war, sondern daß es hochkultivierte Aufführungen davon gab, daß sich Sänger fanden, ihn zu singen, Musiker, ihn zu spielen, ein Publikum, ihm zu lauschen.”

The fatal sentence, from which Mann later distanced himself, falls into this perspective as well. “Es mag Aberglaube sein, aber in meinen Augen sind Bücher, die von 1933 bis 1945 in Deutschland überhaupt gedruckt werden konnten, weniger als wertlos und nicht gut in die Hand zu nehmen. Ein Geruch von Blut und Schande haftet ihnen an. Sie sollten alle eingestampft werden.” This single comment, mischosen or misphrased at best, did more to aggravate the controversy around Mann than anything else. Protestors quickly seized upon this as a way to debate the issue of inner emigration itself, and, on a more positive note, the first critical examinations of inner emigration literature arose from this very debate. The issue was further muddled by the numerous non-critical lists and apologetic outlines of the hundreds of books which, the authors claimed, were “frei von Blut und Schande.” [13] Not surprisingly, this comment was one that Mann later came to regret, since, as Thieß and other were quick to gloat, Mann’s own works, including two volumes of the Josef tetralogy, had appeared in Germany until 1936.

Moving on, Mann also reiterates that it is not merely a self-serving need of his to remain in America, but that it is the near impossibility, on both sides, of communication and comprehension, that prevents him from returning to Germany. Mann cannot put himself in the shoes of those who remained, he simply cannot understand what they have experienced or how they have become what they are; likewise, the German people, he says, who seem to want to return to an idyllic time before 1933, are incapable of realizing that such a return is, in itself, an impossibility. Mann rightly realizes that the attempt to declare “die Stunde Null” is a misguided one: German history has not come to end, it has simply reached a critical point, and any further development must take the past into account. This is a very early call for Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which, coming at a time when Germany and the Allies as well were in a state of shock, could hardly be expected to find great resonance, and in fact may have appeared more as a berating and punishment than the appeal to conscience that it truly was.

In addition, and perhaps unjustly, Mann states that he fears that, were he to return, he would find enemies still possessed of the Nazi mindset, who had been brainwashed by the twelve long years of Hitler propaganda. “Unter Leuten, sagte ich mir, die zwölf Jahre lang mit diesen Drogen gefüttert worden sind, kann nicht gut leben sein. Du hättest, sagte ich mir, zweifellos viele gute und treue Freunde dort, alte und junge, aber auch viele lauernde Feind-geschlagene Feinde wohl, aber das sind nicht die schlimmsten.”

Mann never denies, and in fact states emphatically, that he is still very much tied to the German tradition, and that his status as “amerikanischer Weltbürger” does not exclude his deep commitment and devotion to the German spirit. “Nie werde ich aufhören, mich als deutscher Schriftsteller zu fühlen und bin auch in den Jahren, als meine Bücher nur auf englisch ihr Leben fristeten, der deutschen Sprache treu geblieben.” He summarizes briefly the speech for the Library of Congress (“Deutschland und die Deutschen”) and reiterates his belief that “Das böse Deutschland ... das ist das fehlgegangene gute, das gute im Unglück, in Schuld und Untergang.” And, he proclaims, he is a part of this Germany, he has proclaimed solidarity with it, since “ich hätte alles auch in mir .. ich hätte es alles am eigenen Leibe erfahren.”

The last paragraphs of Mann’s letter show a return to a cautiously optimistic tone. He will not return, but that does not mean that he has given up on Germany. Quite the contrary: “ich glaube an Deutschlands Zukunft.” Germany “ist in Begriff, eine neue Gestalt anzunehmen, in einen neuen Lebenszustand überzugehen, der vielleicht nach den ersten Schmerzen der Wandlung und des Überganges mehr Glück und echte Würde verspricht, den eigensten Anlagen und Bedürfnissen der Nation günstiger sein mag als der alte.” The praiseworthy ideals of German humanism are playing a role in shaping the new world, forming a new world order, and Germany should eventually enjoy its place among the other nations: “Deutschland treibe Dünkel und Haß aus seinem Blut, es entdecke seine Liebe wieder, und es wird geliebt werden.” This positive assessment of Germany as a land worthy of respect and honor seems, at times, out of place with Mann’s harsh criticism of the present mindset of the German people, but upon consideration, it reflects the truth of Mann’s claim, that he has never given up on Germany, and that the criticism he levels at the Germans’ naivete and ignorance of the magnitude of their situation is intended to help and improve the country.

But the German people were in no position to receive the constructive criticism which Mann was espousing. Indeed, Mann’s letter provoked strong reaction in Germany, almost all of it shocked and disillusioned with Thomas Mann. How could he give up on Germany, they gasped -- for that is how many saw his refusal to return, despite his assurances to the contrary. Many also took issue with his having received American citizenship in the first place, claiming that it was a betrayal of the “fatherland” that could not be undone or forgiven. And, finally, how could he accuse them of having perpetuated the regime, when in fact they were steadfastly against it? All of these comments show the inability of Mann’s opponents to stop and truly listen to his arguments; instead, their minds are by this point already made up. Thus, the criticisms of Mann now become even harsher, more personal, and lead to even greater misunderstandings on both sides. A few excerpts from a range of sources should suffice to explain the more important points raised, and to illustrate how widespread the reaction was.

An interesting response comes from what Grosser terms “eine unbekannte Briefschreiberin” [14] who wrote to Thomas Mann personally on October 1, 1945. Notable firstly for its early date (only a few days after Mann’s article appeared in Germany), and secondly for its blunt, bold questions, this letter shows how much even the average German was dismayed by Mann’s refusal to return. The author shows some restraint, at least, and avoids the outright name-calling that was later to stain the controversy, but her questions are remarkably valid and insightful. She points out the faults of Mann’s argument: no, she claims, most Germans were not able to leave, and it is wrong to have expected them to do so. “Wenn Sie schon Paßschwierigkeiten hatten, wie, denken Sie, wären die hinausgekommen, die weder den Vorzug hatten, über einen großen Namen zu verfügen, noch im Besitz eines großen Geldbeutels waren?” [15] In addition, she takes issue with Mann’s calls for action (as expressed throughout the war in his BBC Deutsche Hörer! broadcasts). The Germans may have known about and been horrified by the events around them, but there was, in reality, little they could accomplish in terms of resistance. The chance of success was miniscule, and the dangers were far too great. “Hätten Sie gesprochen und gehandelt, wenn Sie wüßten, was konsequenterweise darauf erfolgte? Sie verlangen viel, zu viel in Anbetracht dessen, daß Sie in Sicherheit waren.” Once again, the claim that since Mann was safe, he was in no position to understand the true dangers of the situation; a natural human reaction, of course, but still regrettable in its naivete. Finally, the author takes Mann to task for his outrageous claim about the value of inner emigration works, and, perhaps justifiably, calls into question Mann’s own knowledge and understanding of the situation: “Finden Sie es übrigens besonders taktvoll und zart, Schriftstellern, die sich vertrauend an Sie wenden, mitzuteilen, an ihren Büchern klebe Blut und man stampfe sie am beste alle ein? Wissen Sie überhaupt, was hier alles erschienen ist?” She closes, rather resigned and bitter, with the typical accusation of betrayal: “Aber Sie bleiben drüben. Vielleicht ist es besser so ... Was wir brauchten und brauchen sind Menschen, mit denen man lebt, die Verpflichtung und Vorbild bleiben und tiefgeliebte Freunde.” Mann is no longer a friend to Germany, in the eyes of this and many other private citizens, and they have no use for his repeated ‘attacks’ on their mentality.

Another private letter came directly to Mann from his former friend Emil Preetorius, against whom Mann had directed his attacks regarding the practice of culture under Hitler. Preetorius was naturally dismayed by these claims, but his response to Mann shows signs of an important cultural mentality that was later to form the basis of the post-war cultural discussions in the West. Foreshadowing the debates over poesie pûre versus poesie engagée, Preetorius claims that his artwork, while produced under the Nazi regime, should nonetheless be considered on its own merits, and that the political dimensions of his work are, in fact, completely irrelevant, even nonexistent: “Kunst und Politik sind getrennte, mehr noch, es sind einander ausschließende Sphären.” [16] Preetorius also makes a reasonable attempt to differentiate between Mann’s claim of collective guilt, versus a more acceptable appellation of collective responsibility.

 Verantwortlich für allen Frevel, alles Entsetzliche, abgründig Gemeine, das geschehen ist, geschehen konnte, bin freilich ich auch, wie es jeder einzelne Deutsche ist ... Wie wir aber alle mithaftbar sind, so sind wir doch nicht alle mitschuldig: es gibt einen Unterschied zwischen mittelbar politischer Verantwortung, die jeden Angehörigen des deutschen Staates trifft, und unmittelbar faßlicher Schuld, mag sie nach Art und Grad noch so verschieden sein. Und man sollte die Gerechtigkeit üben, beides klar voneinander zu scheiden.


While both Preetorius and the “unbekannte Briefschreiberin” make rather original and reasonable objections to Thomas Mann’s accusations, most other responses from Germany were far less restrained, and far less original. Otto Flake, for example, writing in the Badener Tageblatt on December 8 [17], mirrored and even parroted Frank Thieß’ previous argumentation, claiming that inner emigration was the only logical and moral choice for a German to have made, in order to remain faithful to the nation. “Ich verwahre mich dagegen, daß die Emigranten sich mehr dünken; ihr Los war schwer -- aber unseres, war es leicht? ... Ich wollte die Schicksale der Nation -- obwohl ich mit ihr politisch ebenso überworfen war wie Hesse oder Mann -- an Ort und Stelle erleben, um nachher legitim mitreden zu können. Allerdings, wüßte ich noch nicht, daß man statt dessen dem Diktum begegnen würde, alle Deutschen seien gleich, es tauge keiner etwas.” Betraying once again a victim mentality as well as a bitterness that borders on irrationality, this refrain became the most common complaint of the inner emigrants against Mann: he had abandoned his country and his fellow countrymen, and had therefore forfeited any claim to be Germany’s spiritual advisor. While six months before, Molo had pleaded with Mann to return as Germany’s guide, by December of 1945, most Germans wanted nothing more than for Mann to stop berating them, for him to leave them in peace.

Mann, however, still had more to say. He was well aware of the conflicts surrounding his reputation, and, since he had never fully responded to Thieß’ claims or those of the other later critics, Mann dedicated his final radio broadcast, the Deutsche Hörer! of New Year’s Eve 1945 [18], to an attempt to set the record straight once and for all. But, once again, Mann misjudged the German public’s willingness to allow him a fair trial. As Grosser puts it, “Thomas Mann fühlt sich mißverstanden. Er ist gereizt. Seine Stimme, die ganze Diktion seiner Neujahrsrede offenbaren eine Künstler und Menschen, der sich gegen seinen Willen in ein Politikum hineingezogen sieht. Er möchte diesem Politikum entfliehen und gibt ihm doch mit jedem Satz, den er spricht, neuen Konfliktstoff.” [19] Not just the statements that Mann makes, but his very tone could be seen as an insult to his opponents, and indeed, Thieß was to capitalize on this portrayal of the “überheblich” and arrogant Mann, making his last-ditch effort to preach to his abandoned flock.

Mann truly does display a different tone in this speech. Where before one could sense the anguish, frustration, and concern which Mann felt for his fellow Germans, at this point in time, the conflict has taken its toll, and Mann has, like Thieß, turned to bitter and sarcastic jabs in place of well-reasoned arguments. So, for example, Mann’s highly ironic response to the repeated claims that opposition to Hitler had been impossible. In vain, he claimed, he had hoped for a revolt against Hitler, and begged the Germans in his radio broadcast to rise up and do something, anything, to show opposition to the Hitler regime. But, unfortunately,

 ... es sollte und konnte nicht sein. Es war unmöglich. Jeder Deutsche sagt es, und also muß man es glauben. Man muß glauben, ob ein hochstehendes 70-Millionen-Volk unter Umständen nicht anders kann, als sechs Jahre lang ein Regime blutiger Halunken zu ertragen, das ihm in tiefster Seele zuwider ist, daß es einen Krieg führe, den es als wahren Wahnsinn erkannte, und weitere sechs Jahre sein Äußerstes, all seine Erfindungsgabe, Tapferkeit, Intelligenz, Gehorsamsliebe, militärische Pünktlichkeit, kurz, seine ganze Kraft daran setzen muß, diesem Regime zum Siege und damit zur ewigen Fortdauer zu verhelfen. So mußte es sein.


The bitterness is unmistakable. Indeed, Mann admits, movingly, that he has changed his tune, and that the twelve long years of Nazism had taught him a sad lesson, that perhaps was not without relevance to the current conflicts: “Mich hat der Teufelsdreck, der sich Nationalsozialismus nennt, den Haß gelehrt. Zum ersten Male in meinem Leben den wirklichen, tiefen, unauslöschlichen, tödlichen Haß, einen Haß, von dem ich mir mystischerweise einbilde, daß er nicht ohne Einfluß auf das Geschehen gewesen ist.”

And yet, he repeats, he still means well: his criticism is meant constructively, no matter if those who hear it perceive it in the wrong way. In summary, he states, that even though his return to Germany is out of the question, he still feels that his German identity is so deep-rooted, that he will remain truly German no matter where he dwells. “Man gönne mir mein Weltdeutschtum,” he appeals.

But Thieß would not grant Mann that, nor any forgiveness. Immediately following Mann’s BBC broadcast, the Norddeutsche Rundfunk requested, not surprisingly, that Thieß respond. [20] Thieß laments that he has had little time to prepare a reaction speech, but his comments do touch on some of the issues which Mann had raised. In addition to that, however, they illustrate, more painfully than ever before, how Thieß almost deliberately misconstrues what Mann is trying to say. Thieß cannot give up without a fight, even though there is, at this point, virtually no hope of reconciliation between the two sides. His arrogance is even more unfounded than in previous commentary, and he seems at times to take advantage of Mann’s tired anguish, perceiving it instead as contempt: “Ich habe in unserem Streit nie siegen wollen,” he magnanimously declares, “ich wollte verstanden werden. Daß dieser Wunsch von Thomas Manns Seite nicht besteht, dürfte allen Hörern, die seine Verlautbarung vernahmen, klar geworden sein.” Thieß belittles Mann’s attempts at justification and explanation, and claims that there is nothing new to be heard in Mann’s words. Here we see perhaps the worst misperception on Thieß’ part: where Mann had freely admitted that he now knew the meaning of hatred, and that he had learned it from the terrible anguish of watching Hitler destroy Germany, Thieß completely turns this statement around, claiming that Mann “hat uns nur insofern Neues gesagt, als darin für meine Ohren ein neuer Haß hervorklang, ein wahrhaft fürchterlicher und schrecklicher Haß gegen Deutschland.” A hatred of Germany? Surely, even Thieß must have recognized the illogic of such a claim, but he allows no quarter. Mann “fürchtet Deutschland selber,” he says. At this point, there is nothing left for Mann in Germany except hatred and misunderstanding. For that reason, Thieß explains, perhaps it is best for Mann not to return. After all, he condescendingly notes, it is “der Eindruck des maßlosen Elends und einer jede Vorstellung übersteigenden Zerstörung, die einen sensiblen Dichter und hohen Geist qualvoll berühren müßten ... Nein, auch ein Thomas Mann könnte es sich nicht vorstellen, und das Ergebnis eines Besuchs seiner alten Heimat müßte ... für ihn so fürchterlich sein, daß er darüber nie mehr in seinem Leben hinweg käme.”

For the final segment of his attack, Thieß simply summarizes all of the criticisms which have been levelled against Mann since the beginning. Mann enjoyed a luxurious life in exile while they suffered at home; he cannot possibly understand the massive destruction of Germany, both physical and spiritual, without returning, but since he refuses to do so, he has nothing of any relevance to say to the German people. “Armer Thomas Mann! Ich frage mich, ob er bei all seinem Glück -- oder wie wir nun den äußeren Wohlstand und die ihn umgebende Atmosphäre von Schönheit, Ruhm, Ehren und Freundschaft bezeichnen wollen -- ob er trotz all dieser vorzüglichen und beneidenswerten Umstände nicht im tiefsten Grunde ärmer ist als wir?” In a final vicious stab, Thieß claims that any future message Thomas Mann hopes to send will henceforth fall on deaf ears, since any perspective he might have had has been lost or corrupted by the separation, both geographical and ideological, which Mann brought upon himself: “Wir, die wir das alles erlebten, können es verstehen, er konnte es drüben nicht. Und so spricht er zu uns hinüber aus einer unendlichen Ferne, die nur noch Worte zu übertragen vermag, deren Bitterkeit und Überheblichkeit uns nicht einmal mehr verletzt, weil sie unedel sind und in ihnen nicht mehr das Herz des Dichters schlägt.” Just as he first annulled the validity of Mann’s departure from Germany, now Thieß annuls any claim of Mann’s to poetic or cultural value for Germany, by much the same twisted, arrogant logic. Whatever true discussion might have arisen from this controversy, there is now no hope for rational debate. As even Grosser, usually so sympathetic to Thieß, points out, “es ist kein Gespräch mehr, die Parteien reden gegeneinander und aneinander vorbei.” [21]

From today’s standpoint, it seems incomprehensible that the German public would have supported Thieß’ allegations against Thomas Mann. After all, Mann repeatedly called for understanding, compassion and empathy, while fighting against the heinous regime that the Germans claim to have despised. And yet, the majority of the German public found that Thieß’ arguments spoke to their own feelings of failure, oppression, disappointment, and bitterness. Although a select few voices (notably those from the left-leaning liberals such as Johannes R. Becher and other exiles) called upon Thieß to soften his diatribe, to extend tact and grace to the greatest living German author, the vast majority of Germans appear to have shared Thieß’ anger and frustration -- and some went even further. Grosser includes several outrageous letters from young and old Germans alike, who call for a total boycott of Mann’s work. One example is a young poet, Herbert Lestiboudois, who wrote a letter praising Thieß’ actions and calling for even stronger measures against Mann. [22] “Wir können uns mit einer ganzen Welt versöhnen aber nicht mit Thomas Mann!” The language here is simply astounding -- not just for its tactless and clouded judgment, but for the psychology of betrayal, victimization, and oppression that it conveys. “Wir schämen uns eines Geistes, der uns mit Füßen tritt in unserer großen, inneren Not! ... Nein, dieser, der Thomas Mann heißt und ein Dichter werden sollte für uns da draußen, aber es nicht wurde -- dieser weiß nichts vom Leide. Darum haßt er uns und beschmutzt uns, denn er spürt noch dort in der Ferne, daß wir durch das Leid tiefer, wesentlicher, menschlicher werden und schon geworden sind, als er es ist -- daß wir ihm überlegen sind, auch wenn wir unterlagen!”

It seems there is little more to say, at this point, that has not already been voiced a thousand times over. Yet the debate continued; the violence and vehemence gradually died down, but the bitterness and resentment towards Mann remained for a full decade or more after the war. This resentment was only exacerbated in the West, of course, by Mann’s decision to present the Goethe-Rede in Weimar in 1949, but the groundwork of the controversy remained. A brief examination of the results of this conflict -- its bearing on the debate around inner emigration as well as on political and cultural developments in the Federal Republic of Germany -- should clarify the importance of Thomas Mann’s role in the West, even, as it were, in absentia.

The very concept of an ‘inner emigration’ is at the heart of Thieß’ arguments, and thus of the larger controversy as well. As stated, Thieß claimed to have coined the term in a 1933 letter. This claim, however, has since been disproved in several ways, and casts a questionable light on Thieß’ argumentation from the very beginning. Firstly, the letter he wrote to Hinkel was not released from the archives until many years later; at the time, no one doubted his honesty, but when the letter did appear in public, it was found to have been written in November of 1934, not in 1933. [23] Thieß responded rather defensively, saying his memory had failed him. More than just the word itself, though, the very concept of inner emigration had been formulated by several other authors, in 1933 and 1934, when they talked in very similar terms of their own experience: Jochen Klepper had noted in diaries his “Emigranten-Stimmung” and his “geistige Exil”, and Gottfried Benn had described his withdrawal from the literary public and into the army as “eine aristokratische Form der Emigrierung.” By 1938 the term Inner Emigration was in common use: Thomas Mann himself used it in the speech “Dieser Friede” when he spoke of “die Deutschen der inneren und äußeren Emigration.” Klaus Mann, Kurt Kersten and F.C. Weiskopf also used the term “innere Emigration” in 1938/9. [24] So, by this point, the terminology, if not the exact definition, had been well-established.

The question remains, however: even if we grant the terminology, that does not by a long shot lend validity to the concept of inner emigration. Indeed, the very existence of a “innerer Raum,” as Thieß put it, has been called into the forefront of literary debates even to the present day. For the purposes of this inquiry, it is worth noting that Thomas Mann does not attempt to deny the theoretical possibility of such a state. An author living under fascism, or in any other oppressive regime, might very well start to write “für die Schublade,” or to withdraw into a private sphere which, on the surface, appears to be separate from the political arena. But what Mann cannot accept is the claim that art and life are completely distinct entities. The very nature of the poet as a public figure and as a bastion of cultural values must necessarily mean that any author who writes and publishes under an oppressive regime is, in some fashion, lending his support to the continued existence of said regime. If, on the other hand, an author were to withdraw all support for the regime, either by choosing exile or complete silence, then the legitimacy of the regime would have to be called into question. Even in the harsh phrasing of Mann’s first letter there is a grain of truth: the stink of “Blut und Schande” is attached to all works published under Hitler -- not because the authors themselves were of the same political ideology, but because they contributed to the facade that culture and freedom of the artist could exist under national socialism.

Even more than that, with his statement that if a mass exodus of intellectual life had occurred, things might have been different, Mann brings up the issue of the dangers of inner emigration. By remaining in Germany and producing works of artistic quality, these authors contributed to the delusion that Hitler’s Germany was upholding the ideals of German humanism: they presented to Western democracies the blatant falsehood that free artistic production was valued, upheld, and liberated within the Nazi regime. While not supporting the system in an ideological or political manner, the very fact that these authors continued their literary production is construed by Mann as problematic. To the best of my knowledge, this recognition of the potential harm which could arise from inner emigration never became a major issue in the debate, but it does find mention (and always rebuttal) by several critics. Alfred Andersch, for example, stated in 1948: “Von [der Literatur der inneren Emigration] zu behaupten, sie habe durch ihr reines Verbleiben schon das System gestützt, ist absurd; sie hat vielmehr in einem jahrelangen aufreibenden Kleinkrieg mit der offiziellen Propaganda zur inneren Aushöhlung des Systems beigetragen.” [25] This outright validation of inner emigration, without calling into question possible drawbacks, may in part be a political strategy arising from the cultural mores of the post-war West German state, which was formed and led by the very inner emigrants under discussion.

Mann also, however, adamantly denies the cultural value of works produced under Hitler. Since these works were, in effect, protecting and/or supporting the regime, they have become tainted. They cannot be culturally valid, because they are upholding a pretense -- they are, in a word, false. As a result, then, since such works have been (even against the authors’ will) co-opted for the purposes of the regime, there is no possibility, in Mann’s view, that the writers of the inner emigration could have had any substantive “resistant” effect within the Third Reich. Indeed, they had exactly the opposite effect: Mann’s moral outrage about the fact that these authors could claim innocence and purity, when in fact they had inadvertently supported the very system they despised, makes clear the seriousness of the allegation.

Thankfully, for the purposes of this discussion, Mann does not enter into a debate over the precise definition of what qualifies as “inner emigration.” This is, to the present day, a hotly debated issue: on the one hand, those authors who ceased production out of protest under the Nazi regime should clearly be classified as inner emigrants -- but what of those who continued to write, often to great public acclaim? Many authors later claimed to have written “versteckte” critiques of the regime’s oppression into their works, and in some cases this is certainly true. But in other cases, in which the critique is so deeply hidden as to be nearly unrecognizable, the waters are muddied: was the reading public able to discern this critique, and if so, why were the works allowed to be published at all? And in other cases, authors simply retreated into non-confrontational literature: historical novels, romances, and biographies, devoid of political bias but upholding the tradition of German nationalism, have also been claimed as works of inner emigration. Indeed, it seems that nearly every author who published under the Nazi regime later jumped on the bandwagon and laid claim to their own “innerer Raum,” although there is no doubt that, in some cases, the claim was made in bad faith.

Since Mann, however, did not enter into this rather delicate side of the debate, it should merely be noted that there is, as yet, no general consensus among scholars as to a true definition of inner emigration. This does not preclude, though, the term from being applied to a core group of writers, whose works clearly include critical content. The debate is not over these authors, but over the borderline cases, of which there are many. As Schnell states:

 Es kann keinen Zweifel daran geben, daß, ungeachtet der Wertungen im einzelnen und der Bewertung ihrer Funktion insgesamt, eine Reihe von Autoren im Dritten Reich den Versuch der Verbreitung regimekritischer Literatur unternommen hat, die zu Recht als ein besonderer Bestandteil der Literatur aus dem Deutschland der Jahre 1933 bis 1945 begrifflich erfaßt wird. Fraglich ist allerdings, ob der formale Konsens tragfähig ist, unter dem Begriff “Literatur der inneren Emigration” die Werke jener Schriftsteller zu verstehen, die im Dritten Reich lebten und publizierten, jedoch nicht als Faschisten einzustufen sind, sondern in ihren Werken eine zumindest distanzierte Haltung zum faschistischen Regime erkennen ließen. [26]


Modern assessments of inner emigration do attempt a more critical evaluation of the problematic issues. The article by Michael Philipp [27], for example, written from a socio-historical rather than purely literary standpoint, is highly commendable for its differentiation among the broad spectrum of inner Emigration authors. In addition, Philip rightly calls for a redefinition of the term itself, hoping that such a measure can clear up the confusion and contention surrounding the use of the designation.

In 1945, of course, the confusion reigned supreme, but few critics attempted to clarify or redefine their terms. Instead, most German critics chose a full-fledged validation and praise of all inner emigration authors, claiming, as Andersch above, that their actions were a real and effective form of resistance to the regime. On the surface, the reasons for this seem clear: anyone who found support, in terms of publication and validation, from the Hitler regime, was immediately cast in suspicion after the war. In order to reclaim their cultural standing, many authors chose to construe their actions as having been a form of resistance. But the issues underlying these claims are more complex. One motivation for Thieß and later critics to uphold the idea of inner emigration was to support the idea of “das andere Deutschland,” or the idea that there had, in fact, been some form of opposition to Hitler. For, as we know, there was little proof that any such resistance had had a substantive effect on the regime. But in the years following the war, the connection between inner emigration and the theory of the other Germany was not at all tenuous: Friedrich Krause, for instance, released a series of volumes entitled Dokumente des anderen Deutschland, which included primary materials that supported the idea of not only a non-fascist “other” German culture during the war, but a pronouncedly antifascist one. Indeed, one volume in this series bore the title Deutsche Innere Emigration: Antinationalsozialistische Zeugnisse aus Deutschland, and dealt with the idea of resistance expressed through “Sklavensprache” and “versteckter Kritik” of the Nazi regime. [28] Thus, the fact that these very cultural icons -- Molo and Thieß, and well as political and social figures such as Adenauer and Heuß -- later came to power in the West German state meant that their own past was upheld as representative of the ‘good’ and ‘other’ German. As Schnell again explains: this is “die apologetische Nachkriegskonstruktion des anderen Deutschland, die die Bemühungen um eine Konsolidierung der antifaschistischen Kräfte in der Aufbauphase Deutschlands nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg repräsentiert. Ihre Antithese -- teils Apologie des Exils, teils Widerspruch zur ideologischen Restauration in der BRD -- nimmt eine Destruktion der positiven Bewertung der literarischen Inneren Emigration vor und deklamiert sie zum Mythos.” [29] The destruction of the myth of inner emigration did not occur within West Germany; on the contrary, it came from the leftist critics in the East, as well as from a few sporadic voices elsewhere. Now, while Thomas Mann may have come close to declaring the inner emigration to be a myth in his original letter, it would be completely anachronistic and ridiculous to claim that he did so out of any objection to the post-war restoration period in German politics, and I do not make any such claim. Nonetheless, a certain ideological stance can still be attributed to his comments, which betray a tendency to favor left-leaning (though not communist) criticisms over the restorative conservatism of the West.

This restoration, under Adenauer in the postwar West German state, upheld and encouraged the theory of a certain continuity, or at least a return to the bourgeois humanism of the years before 1933. And once again we return to an issue which Thomas Mann had found extremely problematic. Mann had rejected not necessarily the continuity in and of itself, but the idea that one can simply erase the years from 1933-45 from the cultural slate. Already in dealing with von Molo’s first letter, Mann has emphatically stated that such a response was unacceptable, and that the Nazi years had made an unalterable change not only to the physical landscape of Germany, but to its intellectual and cultural life as well. It was in part Mann’s own inability to truly comprehend this change -- since, after all, he had not been forced through the mill of Nazi Gleichschaltung -- that worsened his relations to and reception in Germany. And his early insistence on Vergangenheitsbewältigung landed on deaf and unwilling ears in postwar Germany, which was still reeling in shock and not yet ready to deal with the complex issues of guilt and responsibility.

And these issues bring us to the more personal motivations behind both Mann’s and Thieß’s commentary. It may seem obvious, but the emotional tone of the participants had an undeniable inflammatory effect on the controversy. While Thieß was certainly the most openly confrontational and tactless critic, all of the contributors show a certain oversensitivity and defensiveness in their argumentation. Thieß, in attempting to place his own inner emigration above that of the outer emigrants, set the stage. Mann, in his own way, contributed, in that his arguments do seem, at times, accusatory and unsympathetic to the situation of the postwar German spirit. While I do not wish to contend that Mann totally misunderstood the situation, I do think that, had his arguments been couched in a different language, they might have been better received. At this point it is also worth mentioning that Mann was well aware of the delicacy of his opponents’ intellectual constitution. He did, in fact, revise his first open letter several times, in an attempt to soften the blow of the criticism somewhat. Harpprecht reports that Mann read the first draft aloud to Liesl Frank and Wilhelm Speyer, both of whom expressed certain “Bedenkungen,” as Harpprecht puts it: “sie hielten »Kassierungen und Humanisierungen« für angebracht.” [30] In point of fact, Mann seems to have added much of the hopeful, optimistic last paragraphs after this point and after discussions with Katia. “Er nahm sich die letzten Seiten des deutschen Briefes noch einmal vor, und versah sie ... mit jenen Akzenten der Hoffnung, die er im Tagebuch mit ein wenig verspannter Feierlichkeit als eine “Haupterhebung” bezeichnete.” But these emotional and personal issues were, of course, only exacerbated by Mann’s 1949 Goethe-Rede and the political conflict surrounding his speeches; by this point, however, as we have seen, there was little chance that Mann could have received a balanced reception in West Germany.

In terms of later developments, even after the 1949 speeches, one can clearly see that the debate over the position of inner emigration followed the same lines already laid out by Mann and Thieß. The main points of contention centered around three points: the existence and feasibility of inner emigration as a concept, the belief in Kollektivschuld versus the idea of “das andere Deutschland,” and finally, the restoration of the cultural values of the Weimar Republic. These are all intimately connected, as we have seen. While the definition of inner emigration was not, in itself, a source of critical discussion -- since, as stated, the existence of inner emigration was supported both by the Adenauer regime as well as by the Allied occupational forces before that -- the tone of the debate continued to be one of defense and apology. Because the inner emigration authors were all national conservatives, they were empowered by the new German restoration; in addition, their actions as resistant forces during the war continued to be emphasized. Both the Allies and Adenauer held up this conservative resistance as the ideal -- since, of course, it did not share the dangerous left-leaning tendencies of the activist (often communist) opposition.

This rather uncritical view of inner emigration authors persisted for many years after the war. Schnell notes that “erst seit Mitte der sechziger Jahre werden differenziertere und distanziertere Beobachtungen publiziert.” [31] Even then, by the mid-1960’s, the conflict as to the function of inner emigration had not been resolved. Inner Emigration “erscheint teils als spezifisch deutsche Lebensform, teils als Bestandteil einer antifaschistischen Volksfront,” Schnell continues. The debate may not have raged as openly as it did when Mann was involved, but the critical issues remained in contention, as they do to this day.

Finally, one must take into consideration the effect of this controversy on the later critical reception not just of Thomas Mann, but of all of the authors of exile and of inner emigration. Overwhelmingly, it appears, it was the authors of the inner emigration who found public acclaim and cultural standing in the Federal Republic. Schnell reports, significantly, that even in 1965, 20 years after war, “auffallend wenig” exile literature was represented in German anthologies and school textbooks, and that during the fifties, the situation had been even more pronounced: “Es waren, mit wenigen Ausnahmen, Autoren der literarischen Inneren Emigration, die in bundesdeutschen Lesebüchern während der Restaurationsphase der fünfziger Jahre die zeitgenössische deutsche Literatur repräsentierten.” [32] Clearly, the reasons for this are primarily political: exile authors were overwhelmingly left-leaning liberals, many of whom later returned to the East and found acclaim there. With the advent of the Cold War, it was impossible for the West to model any cultural production on the enemy, so the conservative inner emigrants formed the core of the literary canon in the West. This was, of course, merely a continuation of the occupational forces’ strategies, which emphasized “systemkonforme” literature over protest or left-wing culture.

But there was also a cultural motivation at work in the favorable position of inner emigrants: almost by definition, inner emigration represented the critical belief in the autonomy of artistic production. The critical aesthetics of the 1950’s held in vogue the theory that language and form were the cornerstones of great literature, a belief which led to a pronounced separation of art from life. This can be seen across the board: from the primacy of nichtgegenständliche Kunst to the critical movements focused on structure and form -- political activism was out of vogue, and as such, the inner emigration, which was seen to have produced great art completely separate from the political world, was the model for West German aesthetics.

With the increasing political activism of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, of course, inner emigration began to fall out of favor, and, correspondingly, Thomas Mann regained his standing. His remarkable journey through the ranks of public opinion, while fascinating in and of itself, clearly forms a mirror for the political and cultural trends which fashioned post-war Germany. Even more remarkable, though, is Mann’s own apparent influence on German culture, even when he was persona non grata. His reasoning in the controversy surrounding inner emigration -- that it was not only undesirable, but possibly dangerous and certainly of questionable morals, and that it denied the collective responsibility of all Germans for their own history -- continued to drive the debate in the years to follow. Despite the often irrational, emotional, and provocative accusations of Mann’s opponents, then, his commitment to Germany was indeed not changed by his refusal to return to Germany. Although his ultimate goals were not immediately realized, the pervasiveness of his appeals to conscience and his wish for Vergangenheitsbewältigung did, even after his death, eventually reach those who could listen. In hindsight, then, while Thieß and others may have attempted to deny Mann’s relevance to postwar Germany, it is in fact evident that Mann remained a powerful, if unseen, force in German cultural politics.



Notes:

(1)  J. F. G. Grosser, Die große Kontroverse: Ein Briefwechsel um Deutschland (Hamburg: Nagel Verlag, 1963). [return to text]
(2)  Thomas Mann, Diary Entry of 27 April 1945, quoted in Thomas Mann, Essays. Band 6: Meine Zeit, 1945-1955, ed. Hermann Kurzke and Stephan Stachorski (Frankfurt: S. Fischer Verlag, 1997), 375. [return to text]
(3)  Mann, “Die deutschen KZ,” in Mann, Essays, 11-13. [return to text]
(4)  quoted in Mann, Essays, 375. [return to text]
(5)  Mann, Diary Entry of 3 August 1945, quoted in Mann, Essays, 386. [return to text]
(6)  Hermann Kurzke, “Anmerkungen,” in Mann, Essays, 388. [return to text]
(7)  Walter von Molo, “Offener Brief an Thomas Mann,” Hessische Post, 4 August 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 18-21. [return to text]
(8)  My thanks to Professor Hermand for pointing this out in lecture. [return to text]
(9)  Frank Thieß, “Die innere Emigration,” Münchner Zeitung, 18 August 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 22-25. [return to text]
(10)  Philipp, Michael, “Distanz und Anpassung: Sozialgeschichtliche Aspekte der Inneren Emigration,” in Aspekte der künstlerischen inneren Emigration 1933-1945, Exilforschung Band 12, ed. Claus-Dieter Krohn, Erwin Rotermund, Lutz Winckler and Wulf Koepke (München: edition text + kritik, 1994), 11. [return to text]
(11)  Mann, in Essays, 33-42. [return to text]
(12)  Inge Jens, Tagebuchkommentar, quoted in Mann, Essays, 389. [return to text]
(13)  cf. Wilhelm Hausenstein, “Bücher -- frei von Blut und Schande,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24. December 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 62-75. [return to text]
(14)  Grosser, 48. [return to text]
(15)  Anonymous, Letter to Thomas Mann, 1 October 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 48-50. [return to text]
(16)  Emil Preetorius, Letter to Thomas Mann, n/d, reprinted in Grosser, 57-61. [return to text]
(17)  Otto Flake, “Der Fall Thomas Mann,” Badener Tageblatt, 8 December 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 51-56. [return to text]
(18)  Thomas Mann, “Neujahrsrede / Deutsche Hörer,” BBC, 30 December 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 76-80. [return to text]
(19)  Grosser, 76. [return to text]
(20)  Frank Thieß, “Antwort auf Thomas Mann,” Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, 30 December 1945, reprinted in Grosser, 81-87. [return to text]
(21)  Grosser, 88. [return to text]
(22)  Herbert Lestiboudois, Letter to Frank Thieß, 22 January 1946, reprinted in Grosser, 92-94. [return to text]
(23)  Reinhold Grimm, “Innere Emigration als Lebensform,” in Exil und Innere Emigration: Third Wisconsin Workshop, ed. Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand (Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1972), 42. [return to text]
(24)  Ralf Schnell, Literarische Innere Emigration 1933-1945 (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1976), 3. [return to text]
(25)  Alfred Andersch, Deutsche Literatur in der Entscheidung, quoted in Schnell, 8. [return to text]
(26)  Schnell, 5. [return to text]
(27)  Philipp, 11-30. [return to text]
(28)  Schnell, 6. [return to text]
(29)  Schnell, 5. [return to text]
(30)  Klaus Harpprecht, Thomas Mann: Eine Biographie (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1995), 1497. [return to text]
(31)  Schnell, 5. [return to text]
(32)  Schnell, 1. [return to text]




Selected Bibliography:

Best, Otto F. “Widerspruch oder Entsprechen: Überlegungen zu gemeinsamen Randmotiven, Nebenzügen und Klischees in der Literatur von Nationalismus, ‘Innere Emigration’ und Exil.” In Deutschsprachige Exilliteratur: Studien zu ihrer Bestimmung im Kontext der Epoche 1930 bis 1960. Ed. Wulf Koepke and Michael Winkler. Bonn: Bouvier, 1984.
Bluhm, Lothar. Das Tagebuch zum Dritten Reich: Zeugnisse der Inneren Emigration von Jochen Klepper bis Ernst Jünger. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1991.
Brenner, Hildegard. “Deutsche Literatur im Exil 1933-1947.” In Handbuch der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur. Ed. Hermann Kunisch. München: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1965. 677-694.
de Bruyn, Günter. “Deutschland als geistige Lebensform.” In Thomas Mann Jahrbuch, Band 4. Ed. Eckhard Heftrich and Hans Wysling. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1991. 136-144.
Grimm, Reinhold. “Innere Emigration als Lebensform.” In Exil und Innere Emigration: Third Wisconsin Workshop. Ed. Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand. Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1972. 31-74.
Grosser, J. F. G. Die große Kontroverse: Ein Briefwechsel um Deutschland. Hamburg: Nagel Verlag, 1963.
Harpprecht, Klaus. Thomas Mann: Eine Biographie. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1995.
Hoffmann, Charles W. “Opposition und Innere Emigration: Zwei Aspekte des ‘Anderen Deutschlands’.” In Exil und Innere Emigration II: Internationale Tagung in St. Louis. Ed. Peter Uwe Hohendahl and Egon Schwarz. Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1973. 119-140.
Jens, Inge. “...eingeholt von der Vergangenheit: Der späte Thomas Mann und die Politik.” In Thomas Mann Jahrbuch, Band 5. Ed. Eckhard Heftrich and Hans Wysling. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1992. 171-187.
Klieneberger, H. R. “The ‘innere Emigration’: A Disputed Issue in Twentieth-Century German Literature.” Monatshefte 57 (1965): 171-180.
Mann, Thomas. Essays. Band 6: Meine Zeit, 1945-1955. Ed. Hermann Kurzke and Stephan Stachorski. Frankfurt: S. Fischer Verlag, 1997.
Mayer, Hans. “Konfrontation der inneren und der äußeren Emigration: Erinnerung und Deutung.” In Exil und Innere Emigration: Third Wisconsin Workshop. Ed. Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand. Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1972. 75-88.
Philipp, Michael. “Distanz und Anpassung: Sozialgeschichtliche Aspekte der Inneren Emigration.” In Aspekte der künstlerischen inneren Emigration 1933-1945, Exilforschung Band 12. Ed. Claus-Dieter Krohn, Erwin Rotermund, Lutz Winckler and Wulf Koepke. München: edition text + kritik, 1994. 11-30.
Schnell, Ralf. Literarische Innere Emigration 1933-1945. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1976.
Thoenelt, Klaus. “Innere Emigration: Fiktion oder Wirklichkeit?” In Leid der Worte: Panorama des literarischen Nationalsozialismus. Ed. Jörg Thunecke. Bonn: Bouvier, 1987.
Trommler, Frank. “Emigration und Nachkriegsliteratur: Zum Problem der geschichtlichen Kontinuität.” In Exil und Innere Emigration: Third Wisconsin Workshop. Ed. Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand. Frankfurt: Athenäum, 1972. 173-198.
Wiesner, Herbert. “Innere Emigration: Die innerdeutsche Literatur im Widerstand 1933-1945.” In Handbuch der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur. Ed. Hermann Kunisch. München: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung, 1965. 695-720.





Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1999 for German 948 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Criticism, Complaint, and Controversy: Thomas Mann and the Proponents of Inner Emigration." Website Article. 14 May 1999. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/948Mann.html>.