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Ernst Toller (back) and Max Weber (front, bearded) in May 1917 at the Lauensteiner Tagung
December 1, 1893|
|Died||May 22, 1939(aged 45)|
Ernst Toller (1 December 1893 – 22 May 1939) was a German left-wing playwright, best known for his Expressionist plays and serving as President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, for six days.
Ernst Toller was born in Samotschin, Province of Posen, Prussia in 1893 into a Jewish family. At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered for military duty, spent thirteen months on the Western Front, 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, along with other leading anarchists – such as B. Traven and Gustav Landauer – and communists. Toller served as President from April 6 to April 12. It has been said that as a playwright, he was not very good at dealing with politics, and his government did little to restore order in Munich. His government members were also not always well-chosen. For instance, the Foreign Affairs Deputy Dr. Franz Lipp(fr) (who had been admitted several times to psychiatric hospitals) informed Vladimir Lenin via cable that the ousted former Minister-President Hoffmann had fled to Bamberg and taken the key to the ministry toilet with him. On Palm Sunday, April 1919, the Communist Party seized power, with Eugen Leviné as their leader. The republic was short-lived and was defeated by right-wing forces. Toller was imprisoned for five years for his part in the revolution serving his sentence in the prisons of Stadelheim, Neuburg, Eichstätt and, from February 1920 until his release, in the fortress of Niederschönenfeld where he spent 149 days in solitary confinement and 24 days on hunger strike.
While imprisoned, he completed work on Transformation, which premiered in Berlin under the direction of Karlheinz Martin in September 1919. At the time of Transformation's hundredth performance, the Bavarian government offered Toller a pardon, which the writer refused out of solidarity with other political prisoners. 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, 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, Erika Mann and Therese Giehse.
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 refugees), Toller committed suicide by hanging in his hotel room at the Mayflower Hotel on May 22, 1939.
The English author Robert Payne who knew Toller in Spain and in Paris writes at the end of the entry for May 23, 1942 in his Chungking diaries, "Forever China," that almost Toller's last words to him were: "If ever you read that I committed suicide, I beg you not to believe it." Payne continues: "He hanged himself with the silk cord of his nightgown in a hotel in New York two years ago. This is what the newspapers said at the time, but I continue to believe that he was murdered."
W. H. Auden's poem "In Memory of Ernst Toller" was published in Another Time (1940) together with poems memorializing Yeats and Freud, and mourning the spread of fascism and war (Spain 1937 and September 1, 1939).
- Transfiguration (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, 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
- Richard Dove: He was a German: a biography of Ernst Toller, Libris (London: 1990), ISBN 1-870352-85-8
- 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
- Michael Ossar: Anarchism in the dramas of Ernst Toller: the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, State University of New York Press (Albany: 1980), ISBN 0873953932
- German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940, by Martin Mauthner (London: 2007), ISBN 978-0853035411
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 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 has reworked Hinkemann and his play (entitled Broken) will be produced in the UK in 2011.
- Jeffrey S. Gaab. Munich: Hofbräuhaus & history. Peter Lang. p. 58.
- Dove, Richard (1990). He was a German: a biography of Ernst Toller. London: Libris. ISBN 1870352858.
- Pearlman, Alan Raphael, ed. and trans. 2000. Plays One: Transformation, Masses Man, Hoppla, We're Alive!. By Ernst Toller. Absolute Classics ser. London: Oberon. ISBN 1-84002-195-0. pp. 17, 31
- Fisher, Oscar (August 1939). "The Suicide of Ernst Toller". New International, Vol. 5, No. 8. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
- Red Yucca - German Poetry in Translation (trans. Eric Plattner)
- There are some Toller-Texts on the Internet. Links of Helmut Schulze.
- Eamonn Fitzgerald's Rainy Day: Prague spring
- Ernst Toller Page Daily Bleed's Anarchist Encyclopedia
- Ernst-Toller-Gesellschaft e.v. (Ernst Toller Society)