ERIKA MANN died on this date. Who was Erika Mann? Mann was the daughter of Thomas Mann and Katia Mann and led one of the most eventful lives you’ve probably never heard of. She was born in Munich and had a privileged childhood. The Mann home was a gathering-place for intellectuals and artists. She was hired for her first theater engagement before finishing her Abitur at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. 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 Lesbian film Mädchen in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan) but left the production before its completion. In 1932 she published the first of many children’s books. Shortly thereafter she became involved in several Lesbian affairs in her private life. Her first noted affair was with actress Pamela Wedekind, whom she met in Berlin, and was engaged with her brother Klaus. She later became involved with director Therese Giehse, and journalists Betty Cox and Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom she served with as a war correspondent during World War II. As was later written, her relationships were both sexually passionate and intellectually stimulating. Mann enjoyed being in the company of women who were intelligent, and with whom she could converse with on any number of international topics.
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 1935 she undertook a 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.
In 1937, she crossed over to New York, where Die Pfeffermühle (as The Peppermill) opened its doors again. They lived (with Therese Giehse and her brother Klaus Mann and Miro) in a large group of artists in exile with people like 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.