Hanns Johst

Hanns Johst

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Hanns Johst was a 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...

 playwright and Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...


Hanns Johst was born in Seehausen as the son of an elementary school teacher. He grew up in Oschatz
Oschatz is a town in the district Nordsachsen, in the Free State of Saxony, Germany. It is located 60 km east of Leipzig and 60 km west of Dresden.- Site and Climate :...

 and Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

. As a juvenile he planned to become a missionary. When he was 17 years old he worked as an auxiliary in a Bethel Institution
Bethel Institution
The Bethel Institution is a diaconal hospital for the mentally ill in Bielefeld, Germany....

. In 1910 he earned his Abitur
Abitur is a designation used in Germany, Finland and Estonia for final exams that pupils take at the end of their secondary education, usually after 12 or 13 years of schooling, see also for Germany Abitur after twelve years.The Zeugnis der Allgemeinen Hochschulreife, often referred to as...

 in Leipzig and then started studying medicine and philosophy and—later—history of art.

He volunteered for the army in 1914. In 1918 he settled down in Allmannshausen (part of Berg
Berg, Upper Bavaria
Berg is a municipality in the district of Starnberg in Bavaria, Germany.It is most famous for the royal Castle Berg....

) at the Starnberger See.

Early work

His early work is influenced by Expressionism
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...

. Examples include Der Anfang [The Beginning] (1917) and Der König [The King] (1920). Later, he turned to a naturalist
Naturalism (philosophy)
Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know...

 philosophy in plays such as Wechsler und Händler [Money changers and Traders] (1923) and Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...


Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwright, and theatre director.An influential theatre practitioner of the 20th century, Brecht made equally significant contributions to dramaturgy and theatrical production, the latter particularly through the seismic impact of the tours undertaken by the...

's first play Baal
Baal (play)
Baal was the first full-length play written by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It concerns a wastrel youth who becomes involved in several sexual affairs and at least one murder...

 was written in response to Johst's play Der Einsame [The Lonely], a dramatization of the life of playwright Christian Dietrich Grabbe
Christian Dietrich Grabbe
Christian Dietrich Grabbe was a German dramatist.Born in Detmold, Lippe, he wrote many historical plays and is also known for his use of satire and irony. He suffered from an unhappy marriage...

. In 1928 Johst joined Alfred Rosenberg
Alfred Rosenberg
' was an early and intellectually influential member of the Nazi Party. Rosenberg was first introduced to Adolf Hitler by Dietrich Eckart; he later held several important posts in the Nazi government...

's "Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur" (Militant League for German Culture) designed to combat "Jewish" influence in German culture. In 1932 he joined the Nazi party, explaining his agreement with Hitler's ideology in the essay "Standpunkt und Fortschritt" [Standpoint and Progress] in 1933.


When the Nazis achieved power in 1933, Johst wrote the play Schlageter, an expression of Nazi ideology performed on Hitler's 44th birthday, April 20, 1933 to celebrate his victory. It was a heroic biography of the proto-Nazi martyr Albert Leo Schlageter
Albert Leo Schlageter
Albert Leo Schlageter was a member of the German Freikorps. His activities sabotaging French occupying troops after World War I led to his arrest and eventual execution by French forces. His death created an image of martyrdom around him, which was cultivated by German nationalist groups, in...

. The famous line "when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun", often associated with Nazi leaders, derives from this play. The actual original line from the play is slightly different: "Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning!" "Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety catch
Safety (firearms)
In firearms, a safety or safety catch is a mechanism used to help prevent the accidental discharge of a firearm, helping to ensure safer handling....

 of my Browning
John Browning
John Moses Browning , born in Ogden, Utah, was an American firearms designer who developed many varieties of military and civilian firearms, cartridges, and gun mechanisms, many of which are still in use around the world...

!" (Act 1, Scene 1). It is spoken by another character in conversation with the young Schlageter. In the scene Schlageter and his wartime comrade Friedrich Thiemann are studying for a college examination, but then start disputing whether it is worthwhile doing so when the nation is not free. Thiemann argues he would prefer to fight than to study.
The famous line is regularly misattributed, sometimes to Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 and sometimes to Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

. In December 2007, historian David Starkey
David Starkey
David Starkey, CBE, FSA is a British constitutional historian, and a radio and television presenter.He was born the only child of Quaker parents, and attended Kendal Grammar School before entering Cambridge through a scholarship. There he specialised in Tudor history, writing a thesis on King...

 misattributed it to Joseph Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

 in comments criticizing Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 for being "poorly educated and philistine". It has also been adapted, for example by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

 as "When I hear of Schrödinger's cat
Schrödinger's cat
Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment, usually described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that might be...

, I reach for my pistol" and by filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard
Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss film director, screenwriter and film critic. He is often identified with the 1960s French film movement, French Nouvelle Vague, or "New Wave"....

 in 1963's film Le Mépris, when a producer says to Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang was an Austrian-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute...

: "Whenever I hear the word culture, I bring out my checkbook." Lang evokes the original line as he answers "Some years ago—some horrible years ago—the Nazis used to take out a pistol instead of a checkbook."

Role in Nazi Germany

In 1933, Johst signed the Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft
Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft
The Gelöbnis treuester Gefolgschaft was a declaration by 88 German writers and poets of their loyalty to Adolf Hitler...

, a declaration of loyalty to Hitler by pro-Nazi writers. In 1935, Johst became the President of the Reichsschrifttumskammer (writer's union) and of the Deutsche Akademie für Dichtung (poetry academy), powerful organisations for German writers. In the same year the last prominent Jewish writers, e.g. Martin Buber
Martin Buber
Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, a form of religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship....

, were expelled from the Reichsschrifttumskammer. By this time these organisations restricted membership to writers whose work was either explicitly pro-Nazi or at least approved of by the Nazis as non-"degenerate". Johst achieved many other positions of importance within the Nazi state, and he was named in the Gottbegnadeten list
Gottbegnadeten list
The Gottbegnadeten list was a 36-page list of artists considered crucial to Nazi culture. The list was assembled in September 1944 by Joseph Goebbels, the head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Germany's dictator Adolf Hitler.The list exempted the designated artists from...

 of September 1944 as one of the Reich's most important artists. During the war he held various positions within the SS.

After the war Johst was interned by the Allies. In 1949 he was tried for his activities, and was imprisoned for three and a half years. On his release he was unable to reestablish his career as a writer.

Novels, Stories, Novellas

  • Der Anfang, 1917 [The Beginning]
  • Der Kreuzweg, 1921 [Stations of the Cross]
  • Consuela, 1924
  • Consulea. Aus dem Tagebuch einer Spitzbergenfahrt, 1925 [Consuela. Out of a Diary about a trip to Spitsbergen]
  • So gehen sie hin, 1930 [So they vanish]
  • Die Begegnung, 1930 [The encounter]
  • Die Torheit einer Liebe, 1931 [The Foolishness of a Love]
  • Ave Maria, 1932
  • Mutter ohne Tod. Die Begegnung, 1933 [Mother without Death (i.e. undying). The encounter]
  • Maske und Gesicht, 1935 [Mask and Face]
  • Erzählungen, 1944 [Stories]
  • Gesegnete Vergänglichkeit, 1955 [Blessed Mortality]


  • Stunde der Sterbenden, 1914 [Hour of the Dying]
  • Strof, 1915
  • Der junge Mensch, 1916 [The Young Person]
  • Der Ausländer, 1916 [The Foreigner]
  • Stroh, 1916 [Straw]
  • Der Einsame, 1917 [The Lonely]
  • Der König, 1920 [The King]
  • Propheten, 1922 [Prophets]
  • Wechsler und Händler, 1923 [Money changers and Traders]
  • Die fröhliche Stadt, 1925 [The happy city]
  • Der Herr Monsieur, 1926 [Mister Monsieur]
  • Thomas Paine, 1927
  • Schlageter, 1933
  • Fritz Todt. Requiem, 1943


  • Wegwärts, 1916 [Way-Bound]
  • Rolandruf, 1918 [Roland's Call]
  • Mutter, 1921 [Mother]
  • Lieder der Sehnsucht, 1924 [Songs of Longing]
  • Briefe und Gedichte von einer Reise durch Italien und durch die Wüste, 1926 [Letters and Poems about a journey through Italy and the Desert]
  • Die Straße. Gedichte und Gesänge, 1941. [The Road. Poems and Songs.]
  • Im Tal der Sterne. Liebeslieder. Mutterlieder, 1943. [In the Valley of Stars. Love Songs. Mother-Songs]

Essays, Speeches, Propaganda Articles et al.

  • Dramatisches Schaffen, 1922 [Dramatic Creativity]
  • Wissen und Gewissen, 1924 [Knowledge and Conscience]
  • Ich glaube! Bekenntnisse, 1928 [I believe! Declarations of Faith]
  • Meine Erde heißt Deutschland, 1938 [My World is called Germany]
  • Ruf des Reiches, Echo des Volkes, 1940 [Call of the Reich, Echo of the People]
  • Hanns Johst spricht zu dir (Sammelausgabe), 1942 [Hanns Johst talks to you. Combined edition]

External links