November 16, 1906 – Klaus Mann:
Thomas Mann was an influential German writer and the winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature. He wrote about his struggles with his same-sex attraction in his journals and in his works, especially with the obsession of the elderly Professor Aschenbach for the 14-year-old boy Tadzio in the novella Death In Venice (1912). Yet, he managed to marry and have six children. One of his sons was Klaus Mann.
Klauss Mann’s mother was from a family of secular Jews, marking him a target for the Nazis later in life. Mann’s early life was troubled. His gayness often made him the target of harassment, plus he had a difficult relationship with his closeted father.
After a short time in various schools, he quit his studies and began publishing short stories. In 1925, he was made the drama critic for a Berlin newspaper. After a year, he left to travel around the world with his older sister Erika Mann, visiting the USA in 1927. Both were openly gay. Klaus explored his gayness in his first book, published in 1925, and in many of his other works. He found rough trade in every city he visited on his travels. The siblings published joint collections of essays about their travel adventures starting in 1929.
Around this time, they met Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and photographer, who had affairs with the brother and sister. With Klaus, she started using drugs. The trio led a bustling, decadent, artistic life together in Berlin towards the close of the Weimar Republic. They drove fast and lived dangerously. They drank too much and never went to sleep before dawn. Schwarzenbach’s androgynous beauty fascinated and attracted both men and women. Klaus made several trips abroad with her, the final one to the 1934 Soviet Writers’ Congress in Moscow.
In 1932, Mann published his first volume of memoirs, which was popular in Germany until those damn Nazis came to power. In 1933, Klaus and his sister were part of a political cabaret which came to the attention of the Nazi regime. Erika was more the performer, Klaus more the writer. They took their German Expressionist act to Paris, Amsterdam, London, New York City and Moscow. To escape Nazi prosecution, they fled to Switzerland, where their family had a home.
Mann and Schwarzenbach, founded Die Sammlung, a literary magazine, first published in September 1933 in Amsterdam. It gave a voice to the German writers who fled Adolph Hitler during the first years of the establishment and consolidation of Nazi rule. Die Sammlung died in 1935.
Mann was stripped of German citizenship by the Nazis, and in 1936, he moved to New York City.
In the summer of 1937, he became boyfriends with American Thomas Quinn Curtiss, who later became the longtime film and theater critic for Variety. Mann was nine years older than Curtiss. Mann recorded in his diary: “In the evening, picked up the little Curtiss (cute, a little blase and arrogant kid)”.
Mann later wrote: “The luck and mystery of a first meeting. His hysteria, sadness, intelligence, gentleness, sensuality, his smile, his eyes, moans, lips, expression, voice”. Their romantic relationship lasted only a short time and was complicated by Mann’s addiction. Yet, for years they saw each other, and Curtiss remained the great love of Mann’s life.
Curtiss was interviewed by the FBI about Mann’s sexual behavior as part of their surveillance of German émigrées during World War II.
Mann’s most famous novel is Mephisto (1936), first published in Amsterdam. The novel is a thinly-disguised take on his brother-in-law, German actor Gustaf Gründgens, a Nazi collaborator, and it caused a sensation in Germany where it was banned until the 1960s.
In the meantime, the Mann parents became prominent members of the German expatriate community in Los Angeles. In 1944, Thomas Mann became an American citizen. The Manns lived in Los Angeles until 1952.
During WW II, Thomas Mann made monthly anti-Nazi speeches in German to the German people via the BBC. He condemned Hitler and the Nazis as crude philistines completely out of touch with European culture. In one noted speech he said:
“The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.”
Always in the shadow of his famous father, Klaus Mann tried to make a name for himself as a writer. Among his gay circle: André Gide, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, Jean Cocteau, Carson McCullers, and W.H. Auden, whom Erika married for citizenship. Mann was a courageous, talented writer, but many of his friends couldn’t cope with his life of sex and drugs. By this time in Los Angeles, he was living on morphine and any other drug available, enjoying casual pick-ups. Yet, because of his father’s influence, he dined with film directors Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang; he went to the David Selznick Studio Christmas party, and was the guest of George Cukor for the shooting of a scene for Gone With The Wind.
He became an American citizen, and once he had taken care of his syphilis thing he joined the U.S. Army as Staff Sergeant of the 5th U.S. Army serving in Italy, and in 1945 he joined the American military magazine Stars And Stripes, reporting from Postwar-Germany. The other GIs called him “the professor”.
Gay writer Colm Tóibín wrote:
“Klaus was fluid and generous and flighty. He kept nothing in reserve, and this, despite his obvious literary talent, or maybe because of it, made him melancholy…instead of writing about death as his father did obsessively, he allowed the aura of death to enter his own spirit.”
He was also addicted to heroin. Mann killed himself with an overdose of pills in Cannes in 1949. Curtiss lived until 2000.
Her brother’s suicide devastated Erika Mann. In 1952, due to the anti-communist red scare and the numerous accusations from the McCarthy Committee, the Mann family left America and she moved back to Switzerland with her parents.
Some things run in the family: Thomas Mann was gay; so were three of his children: Erika, Klaus and younger brother Golo, a Nazi fighter, writer and historian. Suicide too; both of Thomas Mann’s sisters committed suicide, as did his sons Klaus and Michael Mann.
There were rumors about the relationship between the extremely close Erika and Klaus, encouraged by the production of Klaus’s 1930s play, The Siblings, which caught the attention of the Gestapo and made its way into the FBI reports about them once they arrived in America. In the mid-1920s Klaus helped to keep things in the family by having an affair with his brother-in-law, Gustaf Gründgens.
“When a man has six children, he can’t love them all equally.”
Thomas Mann loved Erika the most, and eventually she became his assistant. Mann thought Klaus’s suicide was because of his exile from Germany. But really, he couldn’t face being a drug addict, queer and the son of Thomas Mann.
Only Mann’s two younger daughters, writer Monika Mann and scientist Elisabeth Mann escaped the family curse. Their mother, Katia Mann, supported her husband and raised their children at great personal cost. Late in life, she wrote: “I just wanted to say, I have never in my life been able to do what I would have liked to do.”
Thomas Mann, the most German of writers, never again lived in Germany, though he regularly traveled there. He died in 1955 at a hospital in Zürich .
Erika Mann became a war correspondent attached to the Allied forces advancing across Europe and reported from battlefields in France. She was among the first Allies to enter Germany in June 1945.
As soon as it was possible, she went to Munich to register a claim for the return of the Mann family home. She was angry at the complete lack of guilt displayed by some of the German civilians that she met. She attended the Nuremberg Trials each day and interviewed the defense lawyers and ridiculed their arguments in her reports and made clear that she thought the court was indulging the behavior of the Nazis, especially Hermann Göring, a primary architect of the Nazism.
She considered it a scandal that Göring had managed to commit suicide and was furious at the slow pace of the denazification process in Germany. Her views on Russia and on the Berlin Airlift led to her being branded a Communist in America. After the deaths of her father and Klaus, she became responsible for their works. She died in Zürich in 1969, taken by a brain tumor. She is buried in Zürich with her brother.
Escape To Life is a book of essays published in 1937 by Klaus and Erika Mann. It was adapted to a film, Escape to Life – The Erika and Klaus Mann Story (2000).