To the Editors:

The accompanying letter from Thomas Mann to Ernst Reuter, one of the leaders of the SPD, but during the war a professor at Ankara University, has never been published. Reuter, who became the mayor of Berlin after the war, wrote to Mann in March, 1943 when Mann was living in California, asking him to take part in an appeal to the German people. The German original seems no longer to exist. What follows is a translation produced by the British postal censors, which I have found in the Public Record Office.

A.D. Harvey
London, England
24th June 1943

Dear Herr Reuter:

Your letter of the 17th March took months to reach me, and it is a far from encouraging thought that about the same length of time will probably elapse until my thanks for your profound and fine statement reach you. In any case, one day, which is not so far ahead, I hope you will know that I have devoted all my attention to your letter, that I have read it to my friends, and that I have discussed it with them. The result of these discussions admittedly remained indecisive and uncertain as, indeed, in view of the uncertainty and impenetrability of the future, nothing else can come of them. What should be the actual contents of an appeal to the German people by prominent émigrés, and who should sound such an appeal? In the broadcasts which I address every month through the BBC to the Germans I have long ago given up warning these people to shake off the Nazi Yoke “before it is too late.” One is forced to the conclusion that it is not physically possible for the German people to do so, even if they wished, and even if they were not rather convinced rightly or wrongly that they must continue the war to the bitter end in order to avoid total destruction.

Italy is doubtless much readier for peace than Germany and nevertheless a move from inside is not to be reckoned with for reasons which are only too obvious. I believe we have little to teach the Germans and nothing to warn them about. Ten years of Gestapo State cannot possibly have failed in their instructive aim, and the events, for instance at the Munich University, which rightly roused world-wide excitement, indicate the changes which have been accomplished in the political sense of the German youth formerly so susceptible to Nazism. My hope is and remains that the Germans, as soon as it is physically possible, will put into operation a revolution of a thoroughly purifying nature which will enable the country to find its re-union with the future world commonwealth of nations. One may have some confidence that the forces and people over there are ready, and that they will be called to take over the leadership at such a moment. I was always of the opinion that these leading forces must come from the inner heart of Germany, and I have always considered the part, which we émigrés have to play in it, to be an extremely modest one. If I were to imagine that I were to be entrusted with the task of composing such a declaration as you contemplate, I would find myself in the most extreme embarrassment as regards the tone and contents of such a manifesto. The people of Europe, including Germany have, after all, passed through a purgatorial experience through which most of the émigrés (I am not thinking of you personally) have not gone, and I have the feeling that in certain respects they have progressed considerably further than the nations who are at present occupying themselves with plans for educating them.

There is, however, something else. I have no doubt that a number of names can be found among the German émigrés who would be suitable to arouse the confidence of the German people and to speak to them. But there is one peculiar thing about this emigration: it arose for the most part, not merely from conviction but also from compulsion, for one must estimate the Jewish proportion as about 80 to 90 percent. Even apart from that, with what authority are we in a position to speak to the German people? Surely only on the most personal grounds, for we have nothing behind us. We cannot speak in agreement with the governments of the countries in which we live, we have no guarantee as to their intentions, and we even at times feel evil presentiments as to their intentions. We are simply not in the position to give any assurances whatever to the Germans. If we were to do so we would run the risk of a serious disavowal and it seems to me that the real foundation for such a manifestation in whatever solemn terms it may be conceived, is completely lacking.

Forgive me if these objections sound too doubting and give the impression that they are only raised to avoid any kind of action at all. I cannot in fact see either the practical or even the idealistic purpose of coming forward in this way, or the justification for it, and I can only say that I should honestly be very sorry if my answer comes to you, dear Herr Reuter, as a disappointment. I must say that in all these years I have tried with all my might to combat the Evil Thing and to deliver a warning against it being allowed to grow to the power with which the civilized world must now carry out a life and death struggle. This struggle, after various almost desperate stages, now presents, from the military point of view, an encouraging picture, but how it will finally end, what form the final decision will take and what picture Europe (and in particular Germany) will present at the end is difficult to imagine, and it is still more difficult to speak about it.

I can only repeat that I have followed your train of thought with the greatest consideration and all the respect which is due to the thought of a man like you, and I am proud of the confidence which you have shown me.

Thomas Mann
Pacific Palisades, California

This Issue

January 12, 1995