Thomas Mann: Correspondence with the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Bonn (1936/1937)

Letter: Thomas Mann to the University of Bonn
Letter of Thomas Mann to the decane of the department of philosophy of the univeristy of Bonn, newyears 1937, page 1
Universitätsarchiv Bonn, courtesy of Frido Mann, © S. Fischer Verlage, Frankfurt am Main

Thomas Mann: Correspondence with the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Bonn (1936/1937)

Ich habe es mir nicht träumen lassen, es ist mir nicht an der Wiege gesungen worden, daß ich meine höheren Tage als Emigrant, zu Hause enteignet und verfehmt, in tief notwendigem politischen Protest verbringen würde.

[I could never have dreamed, it could never have been prophesied of me at my cradle, that I should spend my later years as an emigrant, expropriated, outlawed, and committed to inevitable political protest. (ed. trans.)]

Thomas Mann, Letter to the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Bonn, 1937

In December 1936, only a few days before Christmas, Thomas Mann, who was living in exile in Switzerland at the time, received a letter from the Dean of the University of Bonn informing him that the university was taking away his title as an honorary doctor. The Dean defended the decision by referring to the fact that Mann had had his German citizenship revoked shortly prior to that. Mann used the opportunity to write a public reply in which he sharply criticized the Nazi regime in Berlin, and explaining that merely knowing who in Germany possessed the ridiculous outward power to deprive him of his German citizenship, which was his birthright, was enough to reveal the absurdity of such a move. He continued by claiming it an effrontery by the Third Reich, which confused itself with Germany, to accuse him of dishonouring it.

Mann’s open letter was published together with the university letter from Bonn on 15 January 1937 by Zurich publisher Oprecht under the title Ein Briefwechsel [A Correspondence]. The letter soon spread throughout the world and was translated into several languages. It managed to find its way into Nazi Germany, where it was circulated illegally disguised in a publication titled Briefe deutscher Klassiker. Wege zum Wissen [Letters by Authors of German Classics. Paths to Knowledge]. Thomas Mann made sure his letter of reply reached a wide audience when he read it out on the radio.