Ernst Toller

Ernst Toller

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Ernst Toller was a left-wing German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

, best known for his Expressionist plays and serving as President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic
Bavarian Soviet Republic
The Bavarian Soviet Republic, also known as the Munich Soviet Republic was, as part of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, the short-lived attempt to establish a socialist state in form of a council republic in the Free State of Bavaria. It sought independence from the also recently proclaimed...

, for six days.


Ernst Toller was born in Samotschin
Szamocin is a city in Chodzież County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland.During the Partitions of Poland the town belonged to Kreis Kolmar in Posen.-External links:*

, Province of Posen
Province of Posen
The Province of Posen was a province of Prussia from 1848–1918 and as such part of the German Empire from 1871 to 1918. The area was about 29,000 km2....

, Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

 in 1893 into a Jewish family. At the outbreak of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, he volunteered for military duty, spent thirteen months on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

, and suffered a complete physical and psychological collapse. His first drama, Transformation (Die Wandlung), was to be inspired by his wartime experiences.

Toller was involved in the 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic
Bavarian Soviet Republic
The Bavarian Soviet Republic, also known as the Munich Soviet Republic was, as part of the German Revolution of 1918–1919, the short-lived attempt to establish a socialist state in form of a council republic in the Free State of Bavaria. It sought independence from the also recently proclaimed...

, along with other leading anarchists – such as B. Traven
B. Traven
B. Traven was the pen name of a German novelist, whose real name, nationality, date and place of birth and details of biography are all subject to dispute. A rare certainty is that B...

 and Gustav Landauer
Gustav Landauer
Gustav Landauer was one of the leading theorists on anarchism in Germany in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was an advocate of communist anarchism and an avowed pacifist. Landauer is also known for his study and translations of William Shakespeare's works into German...

 – and communists. Toller served as President from April 6 to April 12. The republic was short-lived and was defeated by right-wing forces. Toller was imprisoned for his part in the revolution.

While imprisoned, he completed work on Transformation, which premiered in Berlin under the direction of Karlheinz Martin
Karlheinz Martin
Karlheinz Martin was a German stage and film director, best known for his expressionist productions.After enjoying success with experimental productions in Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg, Martin went to Berlin, where he premiered Ernst Toller's anti-war drama, Transfiguration on September 30, 1919...

 in September 1919. At the time of Transformations hundredth performance, the Bavarian government offered Toller a pardon, which the writer refused out of solidarity with other political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

s. Toller would go on to write some of his most celebrated works in prison, including the dramas Masses Man (Masse Mensch), The Machine Breakers (Die Maschinenstürmer), Hinkemann, the German (Der deutsche Hinkemann), and many poems.

It would not be until after his release from prison in July 1925 that he would finally see a performance of one of his plays. In 1925, the most famous of his later dramas, Hoppla, We're Alive! (Hoppla, wir Leben!) directed by Erwin Piscator
Erwin Piscator
Erwin Friedrich Maximilian Piscator was a German theatre director and producer and, with Bertolt Brecht, the foremost exponent of epic theatre, a form that emphasizes the socio-political content of drama, rather than its emotional manipulation of the audience or on the production's formal...

, premiered in Berlin. It tells the story of a revolutionary who is discharged from a mental hospital after eight years to discover that his once-revolutionary comrades have grown complacent and hopelessly compromised within the system they once opposed. In despair, he kills himself.

In 1933, after the Nazi rise to power, he was exiled from Germany. His citizenship was nullified by the Nazi government later that year. He traveled to London and participated as co-director in the Manchester production of his play Rake Out the Fires (Feuer aus den Kesseln) in 1935.

He went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada in 1936 and 1937, before settling in California, where he worked on screenplays which remained unproduced. Toller moved to New York City in 1936, where he lived with a group of artists and writers in exile, including Klaus Mann
Klaus Mann
- Life and work :Born in Munich, Klaus Mann was the son of German writer Thomas Mann and his wife, Katia Pringsheim. His father was baptized as a Lutheran, while his mother was from a family of secular Jews. He began writing short stories in 1924 and the following year became drama critic for a...

, Erika Mann
Erika Mann
Erika Julia Hedwig Mann was a German actress and writer, the eldest daughter of novelist Thomas Mann and Katia Mann.-Life:...

 and Therese Giehse
Therese Giehse
Therese Giehse , born Therese Gift, was a distinguished German actress. Born in Munich to German-Jewish parents, she first appeared on the stage in 1920. She became a major star on stage, in films, and in political cabaret...


Suffering from deep depression (his sister and brother had been arrested and sent to concentration camps) and financial woes (he had given all his money to Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 refugees), Toller committed suicide by hanging in his hotel room at the Mayflower Hotel on May 22, 1939.

W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

's poem "In Memory of Ernst Toller" was published in Another Time (1940) together with poems memorializing Yeats
W. B. Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright.Yeats may also refer to:* Yeats ,* Yeats , an impact crater on Mercury* Yeats , an Irish thoroughbred racehorse-See also:...

 and Freud, and mourning the spread of fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and war (Spain 1937
Spain (Auden)
Spain is a poem by W. H. Auden written after his visit to the Spanish Civil War and widely regarded as one of the most important literary works to emerge from that war. It was written and published in 1937....

 and September 1, 1939
September 1, 1939
"September 1, 1939" is a poem by W. H. Auden written on the occasion of the outbreak of World War II. It was first published in The New Republic issue of October 18, 1939, and was first published in book form in Auden's collection Another Time ....



  • Transformation (Die Wandlung) (1919)
  • Masses Man (Masse Mensch) (1921)
  • The Machine Wreckers (Die Maschinenstürmer) (1922)
  • Hinkemann (org. Der deutsche Hinkemann), Uraufführung (19 September 1923)
  • Hoppla, We're Alive! (Hoppla, wir leben!) (1927)
  • Feuer aus den Kesseln (1930)
  • Eine Jugend in Deutschland (1933), autobiography
    An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

    , Amsterdam
  • Briefe aus dem Gefängnis (1935), Amsterdam
  • I was a German (1934), autobiography, New York
  • Mary Baker Eddy (1930), play in five acts, with Hermann Kesten


  • Tankred Dorst: Toller, edition suhrkamp, Suhrkamp Verlag, ISBN 3-518-10294-X
  • Ernst Toller: Eine Jugend in Deutschland, ISBN 3-499-14178-7
  • Werner Fuld/Albert Ostermaier(Hrsg.): Die Göttin und ihr Sozialist: Gristiane Grauthoff - ihr Leben mit Ernst Toller, Weidle Verlag, Bonn 1996, ISBN 3-931135-18-7
  • German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940, by Martin Mauthner (London: 2007), ISBN : 978 0 85303 540 4.

His plays have been recently translated into English by Alan Pearlman.

The literary rights to the works of Ernst Toller were the property of the novelist Katharine Weber
Katharine Weber
Katharine Weber is an American novelist.Weber was born in New York City. She grew up in the Forest Hills Gardens section of Queens, New York. She attended The Kew-Forest School and Forest Hills High School before attending the Freshman Year Program at The New School for Social Research in 1972...

 until the copyright expired on the last day of 2009 and the works of Ernst Toller entered the public domain.

The English dramatist Torben Betts
Torben Betts
Torben Betts is an award-winning English playwright and screenwriter.A consistently controversial dramatist, who has written heavily naturalistic plays as well as epic, poetic works, he has been hailed as a successor to writers as diverse as Alan Ayckbourn, Edward Bond and Howard Barker...

has reworked Hinkemann and his play (entitled Broken) will be produced in the UK in 2011.

External links