Erika Mann

Erika Mann (Erika Julia Hedwig Mann, 1905 – 1969) was a German writer and actress.

Born in Munich, she was the eldest daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann. From 1912 to 1914, she attended the private school Ebermayerschule,  followed by almost a year at the Bogenhausen Volksschule. From 1915 to 1920, Erika attended the Höhere Mädchenschule am St. Annaplatz. In 1921, she transferred to the Luisengymnasium in Munich. From April to July 1922, she studied at the Bergschule Hochwaldhausen, a progressive  boarding school in Vogelsberg in Oberhessen. She then returned to the Luisengymnasium, and passed her Abitur in 1924. That same year, Erika began her theater studies in Berlin.

While in a passionate relationship with Pamela Wedekind, Erika married the actor Gustaf Gründgens in 1926 – whom she divorced in 1929. She would later have love relationships with the actress Therese Giehse, the Swiss writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach, and the American journalist Betty Knox.

Erika vehemently criticized the Nazis, and became increasingly involved in politics. “I realised that my experience had nothing to do with politics – it was more than politics. It touched at the very foundation of my – of our – of the existence of all” (Source: Time Magazine, 10th October, 1938). Together with her brother Klaus Mann and Therese Giehse, Erika founded the anti-Fascist cabaret Die Pfeffermühle, in Munich, in 1933. When the Nazis forced its close, two months later, the group left to Zürich, where the cabaret opened again for a while.

In 1935, Erika married the queer poet W.H. Auden, so she could become a British citizen. Shortly thereafter, she was stripped of her German citizenship by the Nazis. She and Auden never lived together, but they were still married when she died. In 1937, Erika moved to New York, where she lived with Therese, Klaus and Annemarie – and where Die Pfeffermühle opened once again. During WWII, Erika also worked as a journalist,  making radio broadcasts for the BBC, and as a war correspondent in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

After the war, while living in the USA, both Erika and Klaus came under an FBI investigation because of their political views and rumored homosexuality. In 1949, Klaus committed suicided, and, in 1952, upon being branded as communists by the McCarthy Committee, the Mann family moved back to Switzerland. 

Erika died in Zürich due to a brain tumour.


In English

  • School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis (1938)
  • Escape to Life, tr. Mary Hottinger-Mackie (1939)
  • The Lights go Down, tr. Maurice Samuel (1940)
  • The Other Germany (with Klaus Mann, 1940)
  • The Last Year of Thomas Mann – A Revealing Memoir by His Daughter Erika Mann,  tr. Richard Graves (1958)

In German

  • Rundherum (1929, with Klaus Mann)
  • Das Buch von der Riviera. Was nicht im „Baedeker“ steht (1931, with Klaus Mann)
  • Escape to Life. Deutsche Kultur im Exil (1991, with Klaus Mann)
  • Zehn Millionen Kinder. Die Erziehung der Jugend im Dritten Reich (1997. Original: School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis, 1938)
  • Mein Vater, der Zauberer (1998)
  • Briefe und Antworten, edited by Anna Zanco-Prestel (1998)
  • Blitze überm Ozean, Aufsätze, Reden, Reportagen (2001)
  • Stoffel fliegt übers Meer. Mit Bildern von Richard Hallgarten, Nachwort von Dirk Heißerer (2005)
  • Ausgerechnet Ich. Ein Lesebuch (2005)
  • Das letzte Jahr. Bericht über meinen Vater (2005)
  • Wenn die Lichter ausgehen. Geschichten aus dem Dritten Reich (2006)

About her

  • Thomas Mann und die Seinen, by Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1990)
  • Wir werden es schon zuwege bringen, das Leben: Annemarie Schwarzenbach an Erika und Klaus Mann: Briefe, 1930-1942 (1993)
  • Erika Mann und ihr politisches Kabarett „Die Pfeffermühle“ 1933–1937, by Helga Keiser-Hayne (1995)
  • Escape to Life: The Erika & Klaus Mann Story (2000, documentary directed by Andrea Weiss und Wieland Speck, IMDb)
  • Flucht ins Leben. Die Erika und Klaus Mann-Story, by Andrea Weiss (2000)
  • Klaus Und Erika Mann: Les Enfants Terribles, by Armin Strohmeyr (2000)
  • Erika Mann. Eine Biographie, by Irmela von der Lühe (2001)
  • Die Manns – Ein Jahrhundertroman (2001, TV-series, directed by Heinrich Breloer und Horst Königstein, IMDb)
  • „Wie ich leben soll, weiss ich noch nicht“. Erika Mann zwischen „Pfeffermühle“ und „Firma Mann“. Ein Porträt, by Ute Kröger (2005)
  • Die Frauen der Familie Mann, by Hildegard Möller (2005)
  • Erika Mann. Eine jüdische Tochter. Über Erlesenes und Verleugnetes in der Familie Mann-Pringsheim, by Viola Roggenkamp (2005)
  • Der Wendepunkt. Ein Lebensbericht, by Klaus Mann (2006)
  • Erika Mann und die ‘Pfeffermühle’. Dadaismus und die Anfänge des Cabarets in der Schweiz, by Daniela Chana (2015)
  • Erika und Therese: Erika Mann und Therese Giehse – Eine Liebe zwischen Kunst und Krieg, by Gunna Wendt (2018)

3 thoughts on “Erika Mann

  1. In marrying Mann, Auden probably saved her life. And of course Auden dedicated his 1936 collection of poems “Look, Stanger!” to her.

    Good to have all these resources in one place. Thank-you.


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