Toller, Ernst

(1893-1939)
   playwright and poet; a personality in Ba-varia's* short-lived Raterepublik. He was born to an affluent Jewish family near Bromberg in the town of Samotschin (now in Poland*); his aversion to the region s anti-Semitism* led him to begin studies in France in February 1914. The war forced his return to Germany, where he immediately enlisted. He was wounded near Verdun, where his ordeal induced a nervous breakdown and led to his discharge in January 1917. Resuming studies at Munich, he was drawn to leftist politics and joined the USPD in December 1917. He was appointed to Kurt Eisner s* provisional government in November 1918 and was soon elected vice chairman of the Central Council (Zentralrat) of Bavaria's Workers', Peas-ants , and Soldiers Council.*
   Intense and idealistic, Toller coined the concept "United Front"* through which Eisner hoped that the USPD and the SPD might achieve socialization in unison. But Toller soon judged the Landtag and councils incompatible, one representing a middle-class past and the other a proletarian future. On 8 April 1919 he replaced Ernst Niekisch* as head of the Zentralrat and thus became the reluctant leader of Munich's Raterepublik. A political neophyte, armed only with a conviction that he could not "leave the masses in the lurch, he was displaced after five days by Eugen Levine.* Leading a detachment of the Ba-varian Red Army on 16 April, he wrested control of Dachau from an advance Freikorps* patrol; it was the regime s only victory. As "liberator of Dachau, he presented Levine with grievances on 26 April, accusing the Communist leader of failing to open negotiations with Johannes Hoffmann* while striving to reproduce Russia's Revolution in Bavaria. The grievances caused Levineto resign. Toller was fortunate to escape Munich s White Terror; his friend Gustav Landauer* was not so lucky. Toller received a five-year prison sentence for his role in the Raterepublik and was released on 15 July 1924.
   Toller s writing is that of an erstwhile idealist disillusioned with a Republic little altered from the Wilhelmine era. Aside from Die Wandlung (The trans-formation), a play written in the war, he produced most of his work in prison, including Gedichte der Gefangenen (Poems of the prisoner, 1921) and several Expressionist plays that bear the strain of confinement. Full of anger and scorn, the plays—especially Masse-Mensch (Masses and man, 1921), Die Maschinen-sturmer (The machine wreckers, 1922), and Hinkemann (1923)—reflect cyni-cism and the morbidity of his wartime experience. His Hoppla, wir leben! of 1927, the story of an alienated veteran, was staged by Erwin Piscator.* Although he was a celebrated Expressionist, his later work rejected Expressionism.* His 1933 autobiography Eine Jugend in Deutschland was translated as I Was a German.
   After his release from prison Toller traveled widely while contributing to Die Weltbuhne.* Convinced that Weimar's parties had failed to ensure basic human dignity, he restricted his political activity to membership in Kurt Hiller s* Gruppe revolutionare Pazifisten. As a Jew* who had frequently warned of the dangers of Nazism, he fled Germany in 1933 and lived variously in Europe and the United States. His last play, Pastor Hall, appeared in 1938. Bitter over socialism s failures and distressed by Nazi brutalities, he endured recurring de-pression. In May 1939, after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, he committed suicide.
   REFERENCES:Benson, German Expressionist Drama; Dove, He Was a German; Lamb, "Ernst Toller"; Portner, "Writers' Revolution."

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

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  • Toller, Ernst — ▪ German writer born Dec. 1, 1893, Samotschin, Ger. died May 22, 1939, New York, N.Y., U.S.  dramatist, poet, and political activist, who was a prominent exponent of Marxism and pacifism in Germany in the 1920s. His Expressionist plays embodied… …   Universalium

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  • Toller, Ernst — (1893 1939)    German dramatist and poet. Born in Samotshin, he studied at the University of Grenoble. Later he studied at Munich and Heidelberg. He participated in strikes and was imprisoned. He later engaged in anti war and revolutionary… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

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