Erika Mann often recalled an incident from her childhood during her childhood in Munich at the time of the First World War when, amid the time of food shortages, there was just one remaining fig after the family’s food were split equally to eat dinner. Without hesitation her father, the author Thomas Mann, picked up the fig, and set it on Erika’s table. “The other three kids stared at them in disbelief,” she said, “and my father remarked insistently: “One must make children aware of injustice from a young age’.”
Unconventional parenting it could be however, the experience led to an unusual life of fighting injustice wherever she saw it. Mann’s first direct encounter came in January 1932 . having earned a reputation for herself as a writer and actor that extended far beyond German boundaries She was invited by an Munich women’s club to read a poem written by Victor Hugo at an anti-war gathering.
She was barely beginning when a group in the back of the hall started shouting her down. “You are an incriminate!” they screamed. “Jewish traitor! International protester!”
The soldiers proved to be SAs and stormtroopers. They were belonging to the Sturmabteilung the paramilitary wing from the Nazi Party.
“In the hall, it was chaotic,” she wrote later. “The stormtroopers swarmed the crowd by grabbing chairs and shouting into a rage of violence in rage and anger.”
The Nazi journal Volkischer Beobachter reported on the incident and declared Mann as a “flatfooted peaceful Hyena” with no human physiognomy “possessed no human-like anatomy” Mann filed a lawsuit – and was successful.
“I realized that what I experienced did not have anything to do with politics. It was much more than just politics,” she wrote. “It was a direct attack on the basis of me and our lives, of our existence as a whole.”
In the year following, she started the cabaret, which was satirical. It’s almost naive today that Mann believed that satire as well as the courts were a way to stop the growing wave of fascism.
But these were new times and the Nazis despite their aversion to the word “abhorrence” and the ferocity in their conduct, was seen in certain circles to be a minority force sporting absurd uniforms that were unlikely to gain anything close to a significant amount of power.
When Mann was worried by the increasing danger posed by the Nazi cause, she was with her. In spite of their anti-Semitism, and bullying, why had she not been able to defeat their divisive beliefs in the courts? Germany was, as she believed was still a democracy in which words ruled over actions. The word was her business.
The night of New Year’s Day 1933, Mann opened the first cabaret in Munich named Die Pfeffermuhlealso known as “The Pepper Mill The Pepper Mill’ that was a mockery of the Nazis in a series comedy skits and songs at the same venue as The Party headquarters.
For the duration of two months Nazi employees were able to hear laughter and applause for their work being heard through the walls. Even with Hitler having been sworn in as chancellor only four weeks into his production, the show was so popular that it outgrew the space, leading to an upgrade to a larger venue.
Then , on February 27 The Reichstag went up in flames and the entire world changed overnight.
Erika along with her older brother Klaus and Klaus, brothers born just a year apart and with a close relationship that many believed it was twins. were enjoying the family holiday in Switzerland while the new theater was being constructed and they rushed into Munich.
When they got to their house the chauffeur of the family who was an Nazi Party member himself, advised them that as Jews they were in serious danger.
The children ran into their homes to Switzerland and prepared themselves for the worst possible scenario: the loss of their homes, their possessions as well as their father’s writings and even his novel, which is still not published book Joseph and his Brothers.
The relationship between Erika and her father, who is famously known as the “Fat the work in progress. She was the oldest of the children and both parents were dissatisfied that she wasn’t an actual boy.
“It was a girlnamed Erika,” her mother wrote in a letter addressed to her sister, announcing the birth. “I was very upset.”
Thomas Mann wrote to his brother Heinrich, “I find a son who is more poetic and more of a continuation and a fresh beginning in new conditions.”
As she grew older Erika’s intelligence and imagination turned her into the father’s favorite. “Little Erika must salt the soup,” became a family saying , and as a result she set out to travel all the way all the way back Munich to retrieve the most important things from the home.
It was an act of courage as her performances and her triumphant trial on the top of Jewishness has made her an easy target. The chauffeur had warned her that she was being watched however she was an excellent actor as well as a driver. She had been able to win her Ford car when she was first in a ten-day 6000-mile trans-European race.
As a covert thief, she managed to break into the home, steal the things she could and carry herself off in Zurich using the Joseph and his Brothers manuscript kept in the toolbox of her car.
Injustice remained a constant companion to injustice however, she fought on. In 1935, when Mann was evidently not in the hands of neutral Switzerland The German Reich took action by the deportation of Mann of citizenship.
In return, she was married poetry writer W.H. Auden who gave her the British passport, in the year following, she, she cut her teeth while working as war correspondent during her coverage of the Spanish Civil War.
Following D-Day she was part of British forces, reporting on Allied advancements and she was living in London where she produced frequent broadcasts to the BBC and broadcasting throughout Blitz and Battle of Britain. Blitz as well as in the Battle of Britain.
After covering the Nuremberg Trials she settled in New York, writing and protesting against what she perceived as the inability by the Allies to force Nazi atonement for their crimes.
She was shocked to learn that Hermann Goring was able to escape justice through suicide, as an example and was aghast at the fact that people who been a part of the regime such as conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, seemed able to carry on their careers with no sanction.
She and Klaus were battling with what could be a new day of justice and forgiveness, but instead felt different.
Klaus died in 1949 after it became clear that the siblings were being investigated by the FBI for their ‘premature anti-fascism was a bit close to communism to the Bureau’s tastes. This led to her returning to Switzerland and there, Mann continued to spend the remainder of her time helping her father. She also, following his death, making sure that there was a continuity of Klaus’s writings. The rights of those who that be free from unfairness.