Ernst Toller

Ernst Toller (1 December 1893 – 22 May 1939) was a German left-wing playwright, best known for his Expressionist plays. He served in 1919 for six days as President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic, and was imprisoned for five years for his actions.[1] He wrote several plays and poetry during that period, which gained him international renown. They were performed in London and New York as well as Berlin. In 2000, several of his plays were published in an English translation.

In 1933 Toller was exiled from Germany after the Nazis came to power. He did a lecture tour in 1936-1937 in the United States and Canada, settling in California for a while before going to New York. He joined other exiles there. Struggling financially and depressed at learning his brother and sister had been sent to a concentration camp in Germany, he committed suicide in May 1939.

Ernst Toller
Ernst Toller - Schwadron
Ernst Toller during his imprisonment in the Niederschönenfeld fortress (early 1920s)
BornDecember 1, 1893
DiedMay 22, 1939 (aged 45)

Life and career

Toller was born in 1893 into a Jewish family in Samotschin (Szamocin), Province of Posen, Prussia (now Poznań, Poland). He was the son of Ida (Kohn) and Max Toller, a pharmacist. His parents ran a general store.[2] He had a sister and brother. They grew up speaking Yiddish and German, and he later became fluent in English. The most recent biography on Toller is Robert Ellis' Ernst Toller and German Society. Intellectuals as Leaders and Critics published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered for military duty. After serving for 13 months on the Western Front,[1] he suffered a complete physical and psychological collapse. His first drama, Transformation (Die Wandlung, 1919), was wrought from his wartime experiences.

Max Weber 1917
Ernst Toller (center) and Max Weber (foreground, bearded) in May 1917 at the Lauensteiner Tagung
Fritz Kortner in Die Wandlung 1919
Karlheinz Martin's production of Transformation in Berlin with Fritz Kortner as the war returnee, 30 September 1919

Together with leading anarchists, such as B. Traven and Gustav Landauer, and communists, Toller was involved in the short-lived 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic. He served as President from April 6 to April 12. His government did little to restore order in Munich. His government members were not always well-chosen. For instance, the Foreign Affairs Deputy Dr. Franz Lipp (who had been admitted several times to psychiatric hospitals) informed Vladimir Lenin via cable that the ousted former Minister President, Johannes 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.[3] Shortly after that, the republic was defeated by right-wing forces.

The noted authors Max Weber and Thomas Mann testified on Toller's behalf when he was tried for his part in the revolution. He was sentenced to five years in prison and served his sentence in the prisons of Stadelheim, Neuburg, Eichstätt. From February 1920 until his release, he was in the fortress of Niederschönenfeld, where he spent 149 days in solitary confinement and 24 days on hunger strike.[4]

His time in prison was productive; he completed work on Transformation, which premiered in Berlin under the direction of Karlheinz Martin in September 1919. At the time of this work's 100th performance, the Bavarian government offered Toller a pardon. He refused it out of solidarity with other political prisoners. Toller continued writing in prison, completing some of what would be his most celebrated works, including the dramas Masses Man (Masse Mensch), The Machine Breakers (Die Maschinenstürmer), Hinkemann, the German (Der deutsche Hinkemann), and many poems. These works established him as an important German expressionist playwright, and they used symbols derived from the First World War and its aftermath in his society.

Not until after his release from prison in July 1925 was Toller able to see any of his plays performed. 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 of a revolutionary discharged from a mental hospital after eight years, who discovers that his former comrades have grown complacent and compromised within the system they once opposed. In despair, he kills himself.[5] The most recent study of Toller and his tragic life is Robert Ellis's "Ernst Toller and German Society. Intellectuals as Leaders and Critics" published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.


In 1933, after the Nazi rise to power, Toller was exiled from Germany because of his work; the Nazis did not like modernist arts of any form. His citizenship was nullified by the Nazi government later that year. He traveled to London with 16 year old Christiane Grautoff; they married in London in 1935, the same year he participated as co-director in the Manchester production of his play Rake Out the Fires (Feuer aus den Kesseln).

In 1936 and 1937, Toller went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada, settling in California. Fluent in English, he wrote screenplays but could not get them produced. In 1936 he moved to New York City, where he joined a group of artists and writers in exile, including Klaus Mann, Erika Mann (at one time married to the poet W.H. Auden, who was also in the US), and Therese Giehse. He earned some money from journalism.

Two of his early plays were produced in New York in this period: The Machine Wreckers (1922), whose opening night in 1937 he attended, and No More Peace, produced in 1937 by the Federal Theatre Project and presented in New York City in 1938. Their sense of immediacy was gone: the first play was related to the First World War and its aftermath, and the second an earlier period of the rise of the Nazis. Their style was outmoded for New York, and the poor reception added to Toller's discouragement.[6]

Suffering from deep depression after learning that his sister and brother had been arrested and sent to concentration camps, and struggling with financial woes (he had given all his money to Spanish Civil War refugees), Toller committed suicide on May 22, 1939. He hanged himself in his room[1] at the Mayflower Hotel,[7] after laying out on his hotel desk "photos of Spanish children who had been killed by fascist bombs."[8]

W. H. Auden's poem "In Memory of Ernst Toller" was published in Another Time (1940).

The English author Robert Payne, who knew Toller in Spain and in Paris, later wrote in his diary that Toller had said shortly before his death:

"If ever you read that I committed suicide, I beg you not to believe it." Payne continued: "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."[9]


Poster for the Federal Theatre Project production of No More Peace in Cincinnati, Ohio (1937)
  • Transfiguration (Die Wandlung) (1919)
  • Masses Man (Masse Mensch) (1921)
  • The Machine Wreckers (Die Maschinenstürmer) (1922)
  • Hinkemann (org. Der deutsche Hinkemann), Uraufführung (19 September 1923) Produced under titles of The Red Laugh and Bloody Laughter (US)
  • Hoppla, We're Alive! (Hoppla, wir leben!) (1927)
  • Feuer aus den Kesseln (1930)
  • Mary Baker Eddy (1930), play in five acts, with Hermann Kesten

After exile:

  • Eine Jugend in Deutschland (A Youth in Germany) (1933), autobiography, Amsterdam
  • I Was a German: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary (1934), New York: Paragon
  • Nie Wieder Friede! (No More Peace) (1935)[6] First published and produced in English, as he was living in London, but it was written originally in German.
  • Briefe aus dem Gefängnis (1935) (Letters from Prison), Amsterdam
  • Letters from Prison: Including Poems and a New Version of 'The Swallow Book' (1936), London

In 2000, Alan Pearlman published his translation into English of several of Toller's plays.[10] The literary rights to the works of Ernst Toller were the property of the novelist Katharine Weber until the copyright expired on December 31, 2009. His works have now entered the public domain.



  1. ^ a b c "Ernst Toller". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 17 Feb 2012.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Jeffrey S. Gaab (2006). Munich: Hofbräuhaus & History. Peter Lang. p. 58. ISBN 9780820486062.
  4. ^ Dove, Richard (1990). He Was a German: A Biography of Ernst Toller. London: Libris. ISBN 1870352858.
  5. ^ Pearlman, Alan Raphael, ed. and trans. 2000. Plays One: Transformation, Masses Man, Hoppla, We're Alive!. By Ernst Toller. Absolute Classics series. London: Oberon. ISBN 1-84002-195-0. pp. 17, 31
  6. ^ a b Peter Bauland, The Hooded Eagle: Modern German Drama on the New York Stage, Syracuse University Press, 1968, pp. 112-114
  7. ^ Fisher, Oscar (August 1939). "The Suicide of Ernst Toller". New International, Vol. 5, No. 8. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
  8. ^ Jean-Michel Palmier, Weimar in Exile, pg 360
  9. ^ Robert Payne, "Diary entry for May 23, 1942", Forever China (Chungking Diaries), New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945
  10. ^ Pearlman, Alan Raphael, ed. and trans. 2000. Plays One: Transformation, Masses Man, Hoppla, We're Alive!. By Ernst Toller. Absolute Classics series. London: Oberon. ISBN 1-84002-195-0


  • Tankred Dorst. Toller (suhrkamp ed.). Suhrkamp Verlag. ISBN 3-518-10294-X.
  • Dove, Richard (1990). He was a German: A Biography of Ernst Toller. Libris, London. ISBN 1-870352-85-8.
  • Fuld, Werner; Ostermaier(Hrsg.), Albert (1996). Die Göttin und ihr Sozialist: Gristiane Grauthoff - ihr Leben mit Ernst Toller. Weidle Verlag, Bonn. ISBN 3-931135-18-7.
  • Ossar, Michael (1980). Anarchism in the Dramas of Ernst Toller: The Realm of Necessity and the Realm of Freedom. State University of New York Press, Albany. ISBN 0873953932.
  • Mauthner, Martin (2007). German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940. London. ISBN 978-0853035411.
  • Ellis, Robert; Toller, Ernst; German Society (2013). Intellectuals as Leaders and Critics, 1914-1939. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

External links

Aline Valangin

Aline Valangin was a Swiss writer, pianist, and psychoanalyst. In Zurich she was follower of Carl Jung and became a psychoanalyst. With Vladimir Rosenbaum (1894–1984, her husband from 1917 to 1940), at Comologno she helped and played host to migrants as Ignazio Silone, Ernst Toller, and Kurt Tucholsky. In 1931, she loved Silone, read his masterpiece Fontamara, and helped him to publish it.

All That I Am (novel)

All That I Am is Australian novelist Anna Funder's first fictional work. It follows characters affected by the Nazi regime in pre-war Germany and Britain.

The book was first published in 2011 by Penguin Books.

Bavarian Soviet Republic

The Bavarian Soviet Republic (German: Bayerische Räterepublik) was the short-lived unrecognised socialist state in Bavaria during the German Revolution of 1918–19. It took the form of a workers' council republic. Its name is variously rendered in English as the Bavarian Council Republic or the Munich Soviet Republic (German: Münchner Räterepublik; the German name Räterepublik means a republic of councils or committees; council or committee is also the meaning of the Russian word soviet) after its capital, Munich. It was established in April 1919 after the demise of Kurt Eisner's People's State of Bavaria and sought independence from the also newly proclaimed Weimar Republic. It was overthrown less than a month later by elements of the German Army and the paramilitary Freikorps.

Bernhard Schottländer

Bernhard Schottländer (1895–1920) was a German socialist politician and journalist.Schottländer grew up in one of the richest Jewish families in Breslau (present-day Wrocław in Poland). His family shielded him during his childhood, as he was sickly and had trouble walking. He was constantly accompanied by a private tutor. In secondary school Schottländer was a schoolmate of Norbert Elias. Schottländer was drafted to military service in the First World War in spite of his weak physical state. He stayed at the same barrack as Ernst Toller in Heidelberg for a period.Schottländer became a leading organizer of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) in Breslau. In April 1919 he founded the newspaper Schlesische Arbeiter-Zeitung, and became its editor. Inside the USPD Schottländer argued for union with the Communist International.In the midst of the Kapp Putsch, Schottländer was kidnapped on 14 March 1920. He was one of over 30 people captured by Freikorps troops under the leadership of Andreas von Aulock. Before being executed, Schottländer was subjected to torture. His mutilated body was found at Oswitz (some five kilometers away from Breslau) on 23 June 1920. His family had tried to keep the date and location of his funeral secret, but still around 2,000 workers paraded past his family residence (in the wealthiest part of the city) to show their respect. Writing about the murder of Schottländer, Jüdische Volkszeitung stated that he was 'martyred because of his religion'.

Biljana Srbljanović

Biljana Srbljanović (Serbian pronunciation: [bǐʎana sr̩bʎǎːnoʋitɕ], Serbian Cyrillic: Биљана Србљановић; born 15 October 1970) is a Serbian playwright.

She has written eleven plays for the theater and one TV screenplay for Otvorena vrata TV series that ran on Radio Television of Serbia during the mid-1990s. Her plays have been staged in some 50 countries. Srbljanović is also a part-time lecturer at the Faculty of the Dramatic Arts in Belgrade. On 1 December 1999 she became the first foreign writer to receive the Ernst Toller prize. She is the recipient of various theatre awards, including the Slobodan Selenić Award, the Osvajanje Slobode Award, the Belgrade City Award, The Statuette of Joakim Vujić and the Sterija Award.

Café Stefanie

The Café Stefanie was a coffeehouse in Munich which around the 1900s till the 1920s was the leading artist's meeting place in the city, similar to the Café Größenwahn atmosphere of the Café des Westens in Berlin and the Café Griensteidl in Vienna.

The cafe was located on the corner of Amalienstraße and Theresienstraße in the Maxvorstadt not far from the Simplicissimus cabaret and de:Die Elf Scharfrichter. At the time it was one of the few establishments in Munich which stayed open till 3:00 in the morning.

Regular patrons and visitors included Johannes R. Becher, Hanns Bolz, Hans Carossa, Theodor Däubler, Kurt Eisner, Hanns Heinz Ewers, Leonhard Frank, Otto Gross, Emmy Hennings, Arthur Holitscher, Eduard von Keyserling, Paul Klee, Alfred Kubin, Gustav Landauer, Heinrich Mann, Gustav Meyrink, Erich Mühsam, Erwin Piscator, Alexander Roda Roda, Ernst Toller, B. Traven and Frank Wedekind.

Die Welt ist schön

Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful) is a 1928 book of photography by German photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch. A popular work at the time, Die Welt ist schön is generally considered one of the most important books of photography published in the Weimar Republic, and as an iconic example of the photography of New Objectivity. Renger-Patzsch's book provoked emphatic reactions upon release: while contemporaries such as Ernst Toller and Thomas Mann praised Die Welt ist schön, it was sharply criticized by figures like Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht, who felt that Renger-Patzsch's work was too beholden to a naive idea of photographic realism and ended up aestheticizing everything, thus obscuring social realities.

Drums in the Night

Drums in the Night (Trommeln in der Nacht) is a play by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Brecht wrote it between 1919 and 1920, and it received its first theatrical production in 1922. It is in the expressionist style of Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser. The play—along with Baal and In the Jungle—won the Kleist Prize for 1922 (although it was widely assumed, perhaps because Drums was the only play of the three to have been produced at that point, that the prize had been awarded to Drums alone); the play was performed all over Germany as a result. Brecht later claimed that he had only written it as a source of income.Drums in the Night is one of Brecht's earliest plays, written before he became a Marxist, but already the importance of class struggle in Brecht's thinking is apparent. According to Lion Feuchtwanger, the play was originally entitled Spartakus. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League—who were instrumental in the 'Spartacist uprising' in Berlin in January 1919—had only recently been abducted, tortured and killed by Freikorps soldiers.


Ernst-Toller-Preis is a Bavarian literary prize, awarded every two years in the name of Ernst Toller.

Feliu Formosa

Feliu Formosa Torres (born 10 September 1934 in Sabadell, Catalonia) is a Catalan dramatist, poet and translator. He has served as dean of Institució de les Lletres Catalanes.

He translated dramatic works by Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Toller, Tankred Dorst, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Thomas Bernhard, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Friedrich Schiller, Botho Strauss; poetry by Georg Trakl, Goethe and François Villon; narrative by Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Robert Musil, Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth or Heinrich von Kleist; and essays by Lessing and Peter Weiss.

During his career has received several awards, like Carles Riba Award of poetry for Llibre dels viatges (1972), the Crítica Serra d'Or Award of memories for El present vulnerable (1980), the Ciutat de Palma-Joan Alcover Award for Amb effecte (1986), the Lletra d'Or Award for Semblança (1987), the Premi d'Honor de les Lletres Catalanes (Catalan Letters Lifetime Achievement Award) (2005).

In 1987 was awarded with the Creu de Sant Jordi and in 2007 with the National Theatre Award, both by the Catalan Government.

Hans Wesemann

Hans Wesemann (27 November, 1895, Nienburg on the Weser – 23 October, 1971, Caracas) was a German journalist and Gestapo agent.

Hans was born into the family of Fritz Wesemann and his wife Margarethe Hars. He lived with them and his three siblings Sigrid, Greta and Freiedrich on a large farm.His breakthrough as a journalist came when he was able to interview Ernst Toller in 1923. Following his brief spell as President of the Bavarian Soviet Republic Toller was still being held in Niederschönenfeld prison and Wesemann had to overcome the suspicions of the warders to gain access to the political prisoner.By 1935 he had become a Gestapo agent and conducted the first known kidnapping a person from another country by the Nazis. This was the kidnapping of pacifist writer Berthold Jacob from Basle, Switzerland.

Hoppla, We're Alive!

Hoppla, We're Alive! (German: Hoppla, wir leben!) is a Neue Sachlichkeit (or "New Objectivity") play by the German playwright Ernst Toller. Its second production, directed by the seminal epic theatre director Erwin Piscator in 1927, was a milestone in the history of theatre. The British playwright Mark Ravenhill based his Some Explicit Polaroids (1999) on Toller's play.

Nazi book burnings

The Nazi book burnings were a campaign conducted by the German Student Union (the "DSt") to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, religious, classical liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors, among others. The first books burned were those of Karl Marx and Karl Kautsky.

Neues Schauspielhaus

The Neues Schauspielhaus (English: New Theatre) at 5 Nollendorfplatz in the Schöneberg district of Berlin was built in 1905 as a theatre and concert hall (the Mozartsaal) in the then-fashionable Art Nouveau style. In 1911 the Mozartsaal was converted into a cinema with 925 seats.From the beginning of World War I the theatre turned into an operetta stage until in 1927, Erwin Piscator and Tilla Durieux opened their Theater am Nollendorfplatz in the building. Piscator created critical performances by playwrights like Ernst Toller and Walter Mehring, with artists like Bertolt Brecht, George Grosz and John Heartfield at times working with him. Piscator's theater went bankrupt in 1929, and he emigrated in 1931. After the Nazi takeover the house became an operetta theatre once again, now under the direction of Harald Paulsen.

While the auditorium was destroyed in World War II, the facade as well as the cinema survived and in 1951 was renamed the Metropol. Since 1977 it has been used as a discothèque and became a famous music club during the 1980s heyday of West Berlin, frequented by bands like Depeche Mode, Morrissey, The Cross, The Human League and Front 242. For a short time in 2000 it was the location of the KitKatClub and in 2005 the architect Hans Kollhoff remodeled the interior as the Goya night club.

Pastor Hall

Pastor Hall is a 1940 British drama film directed by Roy Boulting and starring Wilfrid Lawson, Nova Pilbeam, Seymour Hicks, among others. The film is based on the play of the same title by German author Ernst Toller who had lived as an emigrant in the United States until his suicide in 1939. The U.S. version of the film opened with a prologue by Eleanor Roosevelt denouncing the Nazis, and her son James Roosevelt presented the film in the US through United Artists.

St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor

The St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor is one of the annual awards given by the St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association.

Time and Tide (magazine)

Time and Tide was a British weekly political and literary review magazine founded by Margaret, Lady Rhondda in 1920. It started out as a supporter of left wing and feminist causes and the mouthpiece of the feminist Six Point Group.

It later moved to the right along with the views of its owner. It always supported and published literary talent.

The first editor was Helen Archdale. Lady Rhondda took over herself as editor in 1926 and remained for the rest of her life.

Contributors included, Nancy Astor, Margaret Bondfield, Vera Brittain, John Brophy, Margery Corbett-Ashby, Anthony Cronin (literary editor mid-1950s), E.M. Delafield, Charlotte Despard, Crystal Eastman, Leonora Eyles, Emma Goldman, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Charlotte Haldane, Mary Hamilton, J. M. Harvey, Winifred Holtby, Storm Jameson, Max Kenyon, D. H. Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, F. L. Lucas, Rose Macaulay, Naomi Mitchison, Eric Newton, G. K. Chesterton, George Orwell, Emmeline Pankhurst, Eleanor Rathbone, Elizabeth Robins, Olive Schreiner, George Bernard Shaw, Ethel Smyth, Helena Swanwick, Ernst Toller, Rebecca West, Ellen Wilkinson, Charles Williams, Margaret Wintringham, Virginia Woolf and Wyndham Lewis.

In 1940, the article "The Necessity of Chivalry" by C.S. Lewis was published in Time and Tide, beginning an association between Lewis and the magazine that would last twenty years and include more articles and reviews. In 1944, Lewis's articles, "Democratic Education" and "The Parthenon and the Optative" were published, while "Hedonics" appeared in 1945. In 1946, the magazine published Lewis's articles "Different Tastes in Literature" and "Period Criticism". In 1954, Lewis published one of the first reviews of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, and in 1955 his reviews of The Two Towers and The Return of the King were published. Lewis also frequently contributed poetry to Time and Tide, including his poem "The Meteorite" (7 December 1946) which he used as the motto for his book Miracles (1947). Another significant contributor was Lewis's friend and fellow Oxford 'Inkling' Charles Williams, who contributed regularly from 1937 until his death in 1945. His important articles included a review of the 'B' text of W.B. Yeats's A Vision (1937) and an exposition of his own Arthurian sequence of poems, Taliessin Through Logres (1938).

Time and Tide never sold well; its peak circulation was 14,000 copies. It is estimated that the magazine was subsidised by Lady Rhondda to the sum of £500,000 during the thirty-eight years she owned it. In 1956, Time and Tide and André Deutsch published a hardbound book anthology of favorite writings titled Time & Tide Anthology, with an introduction by Lady Rhondda and edited by Anthony Lejeune.

With Lady Rhondda's death in 1958, it passed to the control of Rev Timothy Beaumont and editor John Thompson in March 1960. Under their supervision it became a political news-magazine with a Christian flavour during the 1960s. It however continued to lose £600 a week and, in June 1962, he sold it to Brittain Publishing Company where it was continued by W. J. Brittain. It became a monthly in 1970 and closed in 1979.

The Time and Tide title was later purchased by Sidgwick and Jackson, a subsidiary of the hotel group Trust House Forte. They continued to publish it quarterly during 1984 - 1986 from their global headquarters in London with Alexander Chancellor as editor. Again it was propped-up by a very wealthy peer, Lord Forte of Ripley.

Toller (disambiguation)

Toller may refer to:


Toller, a ward in the City of Bradford metropolitan district of West Yorkshire, England.

River Toller, an old name for the River Hooke in Dorset, England

Toller railway station (1862–1975), a former railway station in DorsetPeople:

Ernst Toller (1893–1939), German playwright, briefly President of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919

Karen Toller (1662–1742), wealthy Norwegian estate owner and ship owner

Montagu Toller (1871–1948), English cricketer

Niels Toller (1592–1642), wealthiest person in, and mayor of, Christiania (Oslo), Norway

Paula Toller (born 1962), Brazilian singer

Samuel Toller (1764–1821), English advocate-general of Madras and legal writer

Thomas Northcote Toller (1844–1930), British academic and one of the editors of An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

Toller Cranston (1949–2015), Canadian figure skaterOther uses:

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, a breed of Canadian gun dog

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