Kessler, Harry Graf

(1868-1937)
   writer and diplomat; best known for his perceptive diaries. He was born in Paris; his father was a Hamburg banker ennobled by Kaiser Wilhelm I. After receiving an international education, he studied law and art history during 1888-1891 in preparation for a diplomatic career. Meanwhile, he endeavored to establish himself in Berlin* society. Among the au courant of the capital's elite, he led the German Artists' Asso-ciation (Deutsche Kunstlerbund) and helped organize numerous exhibits high-lighting modern and international art. He was friendly with the royal family, and it was said that he knew everyone worth knowing in the Old World and the New. His prewar friends included Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche (Friedrich's sister), Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerhart Hauptmann,* Max Liebermann*, Edvard Munch, and Walther Rathenau.* Combining artistic in-stinct and writing skill, he presented Richard Strauss* with the ballet scenario for the Josephslegende.
   Kessler was a cavalry captain and ordinance officer in World War I. In 1916, while he was assigned as cultural attache in Bern, he unofficially probed for peace conditions with France. Shortly before the Armistice* he procured the release of Jozef Pilsudski, Poland's* future leader, and was accredited Ambas-sador to a reborn Poland in November 1918. Although he succeeded in regu-lating the return of troops stationed in the East, his mission ended with a break in diplomatic relations.
   Never fully engaged as a diplomat, Kessler increasingly espoused democracy and socialism through a budding journalistic career. Supportive of the German Peace Society* (he served on its Presidium) and the Reichsbanner,* he was dubbed "the Red Count"—a naïve appellation (he was never a Communist) resulting from his support of the Republic. No doubt his circle of friends— including Albert Einstein,* the poet Theodor Daïubler, George Grosz,* Wieland Herzfelde, Carl von Ossietzky,* Ludwig Quidde,* and Kurt Weill*—encour-aged the epithet. A founder of the DDP, he ran unsuccessfully for office in 1924. Kessler served at the 1922 Genoa Conference,* was a member of the London embassy staff in 1923, and acted in 1924 as Germany's observer at the League of Nations. But he is remembered most for his superb biography of Rathenau (1928) and his diaries, Harry Graf Kessler, Tagebucher 1918-1937 (published in 1961, they were translated as In the Twenties).
   Kessler was in Berlin when Hitler* seized power. Warned to leave Germany, he fled to Paris on 24 March 1933, a day after the Reichstag* enacted Hitler's Enabling Act.*
   REFERENCES:Andrews, Siegfried's Curse; Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; NDB, vol. 11.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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