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Irving Howe

Thomas Mann Punishes Hitler;
Avoids Germany on His Tour

(2 June 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 22, 2 June 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The famous German novelist, Thomas Mann, has recently left the United States for a trip to Europe. He has not entered the land of his birth, Germany, he has merely toured the countries surrounding it and made statements shout the Germans.

It is difficult to write with restraint about this man. Thomas Mann has long claimed to be the spokesman for what is best in European culture; he has spoken of himself as a humanist. By none too subtle implications he has even laid claim to the mantle of Goethe, though as one writer remarked, Mann is distinctly a pocket-size edition of the master if there is any relation at all.

When the Nazis came to power, Mann did not extend himself in his opposition to their regime. At first he even refused to sign a statement drafted by other intellectuals which contained criticism of the Nazis. It was only when the Nazis launched an offensive against him that Mann spoke out against them.

We do not mention these facts to suggest that Mann was or is a Nazi. We mention them in order to show that Mann did not ally himself at the beginning with the anti-Nazi cause, as any decent human being should have done; that on the contrary for a time he tried to play the role of being “above the battle.”

In recent years Mann has become a professional anti-German, together with that other great thinker, Emil Ludwig, Mann has denounced the German people as a group; he has read them moral preachments from the safe retreat of California while the true anti-Nazis were tortured and murdered in Buchenwald. Mann competed with characters like Rex Stout and Clifton Fadiman in spewing forth hatred of the German people; in his case the spectacle of chauvinist racism was even more disgusting because it was directed against his own people.

And now Mann has attacked the Germans for demonstrating for food. In his eyes the fact that the German workers want to have a bite of food shows that they have not purged themselves, that they still suffer from pride and lack the proper humility. And then the most contemptible statement of all; Mann informs the world that he has no desire to return to Germany because he does not want to view the physical and spiritual wreckage of that country.

Such delicacy on the part of the man who condemned the entire German people, who held the entire German people responsible for the rise of Hitler, is a little difficult to understand. If Mann is appalled at the spiritual and physical wreckage, let him urge his ideological masters – Anglo-American imperialism – to lessen the burden of their disastrous occupation and thereby permit the Germans to eat. In that way, there’ll be less physical and spiritual wreckage.

Mann correctly states that if he returned to Germany he would need a police guard. We venture to say that it wouldn’t be the Nazis or former Nazis who would be most belligerent against him. It would probably be the masses of. Germans who hated Hitler but were helpless under his rule, and leading anti-Nazi elements who managed to survive the concentration camps while Mann was lumping them into the same category with the Nazis. While these people were being crucified in Buchenwald, Mann was babbling about the “warlike German spirit.” Little wonder that they would hate him if he returned to Germany.

That Thomas Mann is a novelist of the first order we do not doubt. But his pronouncements on politics show him also to be a wretched philistine full of empty rhetoric and poisonous malice. Only a man peculiarly insensitive to human suffering; only a man. who can babble about human dignity while the infant death rate mounts steadily in Germany could have indulged in the performance by which Thomas Mann besmirched himself before the entire world.

Let the starving children of Hamburg, the hungry mothers of Duesseldorf, the collapsing miners of the Ruhr know that Thomas Mann insists that they show the proper humility and purge their spirits before he is willing for them to have a piece of bread with which to fill their stomachs!

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