Erwin Guido Kolbenheyer

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Erwin Guido Kolbenheyer (December 30, 1878, Budapest – April 12, 1962, Munich) was an Austrian novelist, poet and playwright. Later based in Germany, he belonged to a group of writers that included the likes of Hans Grimm, Rudolf G. Binding, Emil Strauß, Agnes Miegel and Hanns Johst, all of whom found favour under the Nazis.[1]

Early life[edit]

A Volksdeutscher from the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he attended school in Budapest before furthering his education in Karlsbad and Vienna.[2] Kolbenheyer studied philosophy, psychology and zoology at the University of Vienna and earned his PhD in 1905. He became a freelance writer and came to specialise in historical novels that were characterised by their fixation with all things German.[2] In 1908 he published Amor Dei, a novel about life and thinking of the Jewish-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, which made Kolbenheyer fairly known. Kolbenheyer published an anthology with own poetry under the title Der Dornbusch brennt (i.e. Burning bush) in 1922. Between 1917 and 1925 he produced his most celebrated works, a trilogy of novels about Paracelsus, and in these books Kolbenheyer explored many of the Völkisch movement concepts prevalent at the time by presenting his hero as the Nordic race archetype struggling against racial degeneracy and immorality.[3] In 1929 he published „Heroische Leidenschaften“ (i.e. Heroic Passions), a drama about the Italian astronomer Giordano Bruno. Having settled amongst the Sudeten Germans, Kolbenheyer's right-wing attitudes solidified and he came to pre-empt many ideas of Nazism, notably in his theoretical work Die Bauhütte (1925), which predicted a turn away from 'Judeo-Christianity' as the source of German salvation.[2] This work has been identified as being one of the main influences on Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century.[4] In Kolbenheyer's own words the addressee of his book "Bauhütte" is the "philosophical conscience ... of the white race" which he wanted to arouse.[5] A strong opponent of left-wing politics, he joined Wilhelm Schäfer in resigning from the Akademie der Künste in 1931 over what he saw as their support for the activities of Heinrich Mann and Alfred Döblin.[6]


He continued to write widely under the Nazis, taking up his pen to praise Adolf Hitler in a poem and to defend the Nazi book burnings, as well as to write pro-Nazi war novels such as Karlsbader Novellen 1786 (1935) and Das Gottgelobte Herz (1938).[2] The Gottgelobte Herz (i.e. The God-blessed heart) is a novel about the Dominican nun Margareta Ebner. Indeed, his star rose under the Nazis because his literature fitted their world view.[7] He was one of a number of writers added to the Prussian Academy of Arts after the Nazis came to power in 1933 at the expense of the likes of Franz Werfel, Ludwig Fulda and Jakob Wassermann, none of whom shared the Nazi weltanschauung.[8]

His 1934 play Gregor und Heinrich, concerning Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor and Pope Gregory VII, demonstrated an instance of his pro-Nazi stance as he dedicated it to "the German spirit in the process of being resurrected".[9] As a reward for his high standing under the Nazis he was one of six writers included on 'List A' or the 'List of the God-gifted', properly known as the Gottbegnadeten list, who were exempted from military service on account of their prestige.[10] He was also awarded the Goethe Prize in 1937.[11] In 1940 he published the anthology Vox humana.

Post-war writing[edit]

Unsurprisingly Kolbenheyer's star fell somewhat (he was banned from writing for five years) after the Second World War although from his base in West Germany he continued to publish novels that were largely in the same nationalist spirit as his previous output.[12] He also became a regular contributor to the far right, pan-European nationalist journal Nation Europa.[13]


I promised to you grace and a dream,
if you embitter the lust of my grace,
you will feel, old man, my wrath![14]
Not at all do I care for your atonement.
It does not give back to the flame
the passion of life. Lustre and ashes,
the late symbols, are all, that it's got.[15]
He who arises from the depth of pain
can reach the stars and claims the scales,
he lives in hope and quenches the longing
of his self-sacrifice through eternity.[16]
Look at this life's short time, my God: compared to you it's like nothing,
but still, it’s filled with your eternity. Without you it would never have been,
and what cannot be without you, takes part in your whole splendor. ... It's inside of you.
What is resting on this bed will soon be dust, two hands full of dust. ...
O Lord, thus is your infinity and the sea of your being, wherein a drop of rain is falling ... for a life's short time.[17]
Go further monk, and heal
your excessive pain through my pain.
It flows to you as a part of yourself
out of the infiniteness.
Lo, the drops descend,
drops of blood out of heart and hand.
You shall humbly drink
the salvation of sacrifice, sent by God.[18]


  1. ^ Raymond Furness, The twentieth century, 1890-1945, 1978, p. 255
  2. ^ a b c d Robert S. Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany, 2001, p. 144
  3. ^ Andrew Weeks, Paracelsus, 1997, pp. 25-6
  4. ^ Klaus P. Fischer, Nazi Germany: A New History, London, 1996, p. 369
  5. ^ Christian Jäger, Minoritäre Literatur: Das Konzept der Kleinen Literatur am Beispiel Prager- und Sudetendeutscher Werke, Deutscher Universitats-Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3824446073, p. 158; Kolbenheyer: "weltanschauliche Gewissen [...] der weißen Menschheit"
  6. ^ Jay W. Baird, Hitler's War Poets, 2008, p. 54
  7. ^ Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship, Penguin, 1970, p. 324
  8. ^ Viktor Reimann, The Man Who Created Hitler, William Kimber, 1977, p. 182
  9. ^ Karl-Heinz Schoeps & Kathleen M. Dell'Orto, Literature and film in the Third Reich, pp. 130-1
  10. ^ Reimann, The Man Who Created Hitler, p. 192
  11. ^ R. Wistrich, Who's Who in Nazi Germany, 1984, p. 177
  12. ^ Karl-Heinz Schoeps & Kathleen M. Dell'Orto, Literature and film in the Third Reich, p. 289
  13. ^ Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship, Penguin, 1970, p. 585
  14. ^ Drama: Menschen und Götter (i.e. Men and Gods), Orbis, Prague, 1944; "Gnade war dir verheißen und Traum, vergällst du die Lust mir meiner Gnade an dir, spüre, du Alter, den Zorn!"
  15. ^ Drama: Menschen und Götter (i.e. Men and Gods), Orbis, Prague, 1944; "Nichts gilt mir deine Sühne. Der Flamme gibt sie nicht die Leidenschaft des Lebens wieder. Glanz und Aschenrest, die späten Zeichen nur, sind ihr geblieben."
  16. ^ Drama: Menschen und Götter (i.e. Men and Gods), Orbis, Prague, 1944; "Was aus des Leidens Tiefe entschwungen, reicht an die Sterne und fordert die Waage, lebt aus der Hoffnung und stillt seiner Sehnsucht Selbstverlust an der Ewigkeit."
  17. ^ Drama: Menschen und Götter (i.e. Men and Gods), Orbis, Prague, 1944; "Siehe dieses Lebens Weile, mein Gott: vor dir ein Nichts, und doch erfüllt von deiner Ewigkeit. Ohne dich wäre es nie gewesen, und was nicht sein kann ohne dich, das bist du in deiner ganzen Fülle. ... Sie liegt in dir. Was auf diesem Bettlein ruht, ist balde nur Staub zwei hohle Hände voll. ... O Herr, also ist deine Unendlichkeit und das Meer deines Wesens, darein der Regentropfen fällt ... für eines Lebens Weile."
  18. ^ Drama: Menschen und Götter (i.e. Men and Gods), Orbis, Prague, 1944; "Begib dich, Mönch, und heile dein Übermaß an meinem Leid. Es fließt als Teil dem Teile dir zu aus der Unendlichkeit. Sieh an, die Tropfen sinken des Blutes rot aus Herz und Hand. In Demut sollst du trinken des Opfers Heil, von Gott gesandt."
Preceded by
Georg Kolbe
Recipient of the Goethe Prize
Succeeded by
Hans Carossa