For the MEP, see Erika Mann (politician).

Erika Julia Hedwig Mann (November 9, 1905 – August 27, 1969) was a German actress and writer, the eldest daughter of novelist Thomas Mann and Katia Mann.

Early life

Erika Mann was born in Munich, the firstborn daughter of writer and later Nobel-prize winner Thomas Mann and his wife, Katia (née Pringsheim), the daughter of an intellectual German family of Jewish heritage. She was named after Katia Mann's brother Erik, who died early, Thomas Mann's sister Julia Mann, and her grandmother Hedwig Dohm. She was baptized Protestant, just as her mother had been.

Thomas Mann expressed in a letter to his brother Heinrich Mann his disappointment about the birth of his first child:

"It is a girl; a disappointment for me, as I want to admit between us, because I had greatly desired a son and will not stop to hold such a desire. [...] I feel a son is much more full of poetry [poesievoller], more than a sequel and restart for myself under new circumstances."[1]

Nevertheless, he later candidly confessed in the notes of his diary, that he "preferred, of the six, the two oldest [Erika and Klaus] and little Elisabeth with a strange decisiveness".[2]

In Erika he had a particular trust, which later showed itself in that she exercised a great influence on the important decisions of her father.[3] Her particular role was also known by her siblings, as her brother Golo Mann remembered: "Little Erika must salt the soup".[4] This reference to the twelve-year-old Erika from the year 1917 was an often-used phrase in the Mann family.

After Erika's birth came that of her brother Klaus, with whom she was personally close her entire life. They went about "like twins", and Klaus Mann described their closeness as follows: "our solidarity was absolute and without reservation".[5] Eventually there were four more children in total, including Golo, Monika, Elisabeth, and Michael. The children grew up in Munich. On the mother's side the family belonged to the influential urban upper class, and the father came from a commercial family from Lübeck and already had published the successful novel Buddenbrooks in 1901.

The Mann home was a gathering-place for intellectuals and artists, and Erika was hired for her first theater engagement before finishing her Abitur at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.

School career and first theatrical experiences

In 1914, the Mann family obtained their well-known villa on 1 Poschingerstraße in Bogenhausen, which in the family would come to be known as "Poschi." From 1912 to 1914, Erika Mann attended a private school with her brother, joining for a year the Bogenhausener Volksschule, and from 1915 to 1920 she attended the Höhere Mädchenschule am St. Annaplatz. In May 1921, she transferred to the Munich-based Luisengymnasium. Together with her brother Klaus Mann and befriended neighborhood children, which included Bruno Walter’s daughters, Gretel and Lotte Walter, as well as Ricki Hallgarten, the son of a Jewish intellectual family, Erika Mann founded an ambitious theater troupe, the Laienbund Deutscher Mimiker. While still students at the Munich Luisengymnasium Max Reinhardt engaged her to appear on the stage of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin for the first time. The partially mischievous pranks that she undertook in the so-called “Herzogpark-Bande” with Klaus and befriended neighborhood children prompted her parents to send her and her brother Klaus to a progressive residential school, the Bergschule Hochwaldhausen, located in Vogelsberg in Oberhessen. This period in Erika Mann’s schooling lasted from April to July 1922; subsequently she returned to the Luisengymnasium. In 1924 she passed the Abitur, albeit with poor marks, and began her theatrical studies in Berlin that were again interrupted, because of her numerous engagements among others in Hamburg, Munich, and Berlin.


Acting and writing

In 1924, she began serious theater studies in Berlin and played in Berlin and Bremen. In 1925, she played in the premier of her brother Klaus's play Anja und Esther.

On July 24, 1926, she married German actor Gustaf Gründgens, but they divorced in 1929. In 1927, she and Klaus undertook a trip around the world, which they documented in their book Rundherum; Das Abenteuer einer Weltreise. The following year, she began to be active in journalism and in politics.

She was involved as an actor in the film about lesbianism Mädchen in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan) but left the production before its completion. In 1932 she published Stoffel fliegt übers Meer (de), the first of seven children's books.

In 1933, she, Klaus, and Therese Giehse had founded a cabaret in Munich called Die Pfeffermühle, for which Erika wrote most of the material, much of which was anti-Fascist. Erika was the last member of the Mann family to leave Germany after the Nazi regime was elected. She saved many of Thomas Mann's papers from their Munich home when she escaped to Zurich. In 1936, Die Pfeffermühle opened again in Zurich and became a rallying point for the exiles.

In 1937, she crossed over to New York, where Die Pfeffermühle (as The Peppermill) opened its doors again. They lived with her lover Therese Giehse and her brother Klaus Mann and "Miro" (Annemarie Scharzenbach) in a large group of artists in exile that included Kurt Weill, Ernst Toller and Sonja Sekula.

In 1938, she and Klaus reported on the Spanish Civil War, and her book School for Barbarians, about Nazi Germany's educational system, was published. The following year, they published Escape to Life, a book about famous German exiles. During the war, she was active as a journalist in England.


After World War II, Mann was one of the few women who covered the Nuremberg Trials. Following the war, both Klaus and Erika came under an FBI investigation into their political views and rumored homosexuality. In 1949, becoming increasingly depressed and disillusioned over post-war-torn Germany, Klaus Mann committed suicide. This event devastated Erika Mann.[6]

Personal life

In the early 1930s, she became involved in several lesbian affairs. Her first noted affair was with actress Pamela Wedekind (de), whom she met in Berlin, and who was engaged to her brother Klaus. She later became involved with actress Therese Giehse, and journalists Betty Knox and Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom she served with as a war correspondent during World War II. As was later written[by whom?], her relationships were both sexually passionate and intellectually stimulating.

On July 24, 1926, she married German actor Gustaf Gründgens, but they divorced three years later. In 1935 she undertook a lavender marriage (marriage of convenience) to the homosexual English poet W. H. Auden, in order to obtain British citizenship. She and Auden never lived together, but remained friends and technically married until Erika's death.

Later life and death

In 1952, due to anti-communist red scare and the numerous accusations from the McCarthy Committee, the Mann family left the US and she moved back to Switzerland with her parents. She had begun to help her father with his writing and had become one of his closest confidantes. After the deaths of her father and her brother Klaus, she became responsible for their works. She died in Zürich.

Selected filmography

Biographical films

  • Escape to Life: The Erika & Klaus Mann Story (2001)


  • School for Barbarians: Education Under the Nazis (1938)
  • Escape to life (1939)
  • The lights go down (1940)
  • The Other Germany (with Klaus Mann, 1940)
  • The Last Year of Thomas Mann. A Revealing Memoir by His Daughter, Erika Mann (1958)


  1. ^ Thomas Mann/Heinrich Mann: Briefwechsel 1900–1949, S. 109
  2. ^ Thomas Mann: Tagebücher 1918–1921, Eintrag vom 10. März 1920
  3. ^ Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Thomas Mann und die Seinen, S. 184
  4. ^ Golo Mann: Meine Schwester Erika. In Erika Mann, Briefe II, S. 241
  5. ^ Klaus Mann: Der Wendepunkt, S. 102
  6. ^ "Mann, Erika". glbtq. 2005-07-09. Retrieved 2012-08-25. 

Further reading

  • Martin Mauthner: German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940, Vallentine Mitchell, London, 2007, (ISBN 978 0 85303 540 4).