While most are aware that Thomas Mann’s role during the Nazi years was one of moral authority in the face of National Socialist transgression, few are familiar with Hermann Hesse’s role. This exhibition at the Literaturhaus Berlin wished to change this by examining Hesse’s position with respect to the “Third Reich”. The focus was on Hesse’s literary, political and social activities from the beginning of the 1930s to the mid-1950s, and in particular, on the intensive literary and personal relationship he fostered with Thomas Mann. As a Swiss national, having gained citizenship in 1924, Hesse played a special role in navigating between German resistance, “inner emigration” and exile. In the years of National Socialism, Hesse put numerous writers and intellectuals in contact with publishing companies, intervened on their behalf with the Swiss immigration authorities and even provided direct financial assistance, e.g. to Walter Benjamin, Peter Weiss, Siegfried Kracauer and Robert Musil. Countless friends and relatives, especially from Austria, sought help from Hesse’s second wife Ninon who came from a Jewish family herself. Hesse’s position as a writer was a constant balancing act – his books were tolerated by the Nazi authorities, but also occasionally sabotaged. And while the S. Fischer Verlag was dismantled and was forced to relinquish numerous authorial rights, Hesse continued to publish his works with the imperial German Restverlag.
The exhibition presented a portion of the unpublished correspondence between Hermann Hesse and his son Martin, as well as between Hesse and Thomas Mann. The organisers hoped to shed light on the contemporary and cultural contexts with historical items, documents, photos, Hesse’s original aquarelles and multimedia components. A comprehensive accompanying programme of readings, a film presentation and expert discussion forum has supplemented the exhibition at the Literaturhaus Berlin. The organisers also plan to stage the exhibition in Zürich, Ukraine, Russia, the United States and China.
Artistic director: Lutz Dittrich
Curators: Volker Michels, Gunnar Decker, unodue (Florian Wenz, Costanza Puglisi)
Participants: Jan-Pieter Barbian, Markus Bernauer, Lukas Bärfuss (CH), Richard Dindo (CH), Eva Eberwein, Harald Eggebrecht, Heike Gfrereis, Michael Kleeberg, Hanspeter mit Matthias und Martin Siegenthaler, Florian Welle
2019, Philosophicum at Druckereihalle, Basel (planned)
mobile exhibition, various venues in Ukraine, Russia and China: 2 Mar. – 28 Dec. 2018;
mobile exhibition, various venues in the USA: 7 Sep. – 28 Dec. 2018;