Dr Edmund Forster

The Man Who Invented Hitler: The Making of the Führer

Ernst Weiß and Der Augenzuge


Ernst Weiß photographed sometime in 1920

Ernst Weiß
photographed sometime in 1920

Ernst Weiß, the second son in a family of two boys and a girl, was born on 28 August 1882, in Weinberg near Brünn (now Brno). His father died when he was aged four. His elder brother Egon went on to become a Professor at the University of Prague. After graduating from medical school in 1908, Ernst practiced in Berne, Berlin, and Vienna where he studied surgery under Professor Julius Schnitzler (brother of Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler).

To speed his recovery from tuberculosis he joined the ocean-liner Austria as ship’s doctor and spent several months travelling to India and Japan during which time he started writing. In 1913 his first novel, Die Galeere, edited with the assistance of his long time friend Franz Kafka, was finally published after being turned down by more than twenty publishers!

During the war Ernst Weiß served as a front line surgeon. After demobilisation he went on to publish over a dozen novels, as well as stories, plays, and reviews (see list below) to considerable critical acclaim. In 1928 he was awarded the “Silberne Medaille des Olympischen Kunstwettbewerbs“and two years later the Adalbert-Stifter-Preis für Literatur des Landes Oberösterreich“for Boëtius von Orlamünde (subsequently re-published as: Der Aristokrat).

While he enjoyed a measure of popular success, Weiß never obtained much financial security and during the late 1930’s received financial support from Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig.

Shortly after meeting Edmund Forster in the Café Royal, Paris, in July 1933, Weiß returned to Prague to take care of his dying mother. When, a few months later, she passed away he moved to Paris where he enjoyed a tempestuous relationship with actress and author Rahel Sanzara who died in 1936.

In 1938 Weiß submitted a manuscript, Der Augenzeuge (The Eyewitness) – based on Hitler’s medical file which Forster had handed over some five years earlier – for a literary competition sponsored by the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom (see note on this competition).  He wrote this in his room on the 5th floor of the Hotel Trianon (still standing). This was typed for him by his part-time secretary Mona Wollheim (see note below). Weiß hoped that winning the literary competition would not only help him escape from poverty but also help him obtain a visa for the United States.

His hopes were dashed, however, when the committee awarded the prize to 36-year-old Arnold Siegfried Bender who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Philippi, for his book “Es ist später, denn ihr wißt” (See note on the competition below).

Mona Wollheim, who typed the MSS for Weiss, says, in a personal communication that Weiss wanted his book published in the USA due to the political pressures on émigré writers in France at that time: “At that time (1938-1939) of rapprochement between France and Germany it was immensely difficult for the publishers of the exiled writers to print such Jugen write. I refer to Hans-Albert Walter Deutsch Exiliteratur Vol 2, page 88, where he tells of the imprisonment on account of his report of the “Ost hilpe Skandle” which implicated President Hindenburg.

Frau Mona Wollheim was later arrested by the Germans and spent time in a concentration camp in France before emigrating to the USA where she lived at 97 Ft. Washinton Av. New York N.Y. 10032 (D17). She was in Paris when the German’s raided her flat and confiscated all her books and papers. “My Paris apartment was emptied by German soldiers. There were Weiss’ diaries. Books by Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig with handwritten dedications to Weiß by the authors.” (Mona Wollheim in a letter to Rudolph Binion, November 29 1973.)

After its rejection, Weiß’s manuscript lay unread in a filing cabinet until the early ’sixties when it was discovered by chance and finally published. It originally came out under Weiß’ chosen title, but not long after the publishers were forced to stamp a new one — Ich, der Augenzeuge – on the cover when another publishing house, which had just brought out a translation of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Le Voyeur under the same title, threatened legal proceedings.

On 14 June 1940 when the Germans marched into Paris Weiß wrote a farewell note to the world which concluded: “Vive la France quand-même”. Then, going into bathroom, he swallowed some sleeping pills and slashed his wrists.

Only a few of his books continued to be republished after his death, culminating in Suhkamp’s 1982 publication of the 16-volume edition of the collected works (edited by Peter Engel and Volker Michels). While not all these volumes remain in print, Suhkamp continues to reissue some titles.  Ernst Weiß has, today, disappeared almost entirely from the literary scene with even serious German literary histories failing to make any mention of him.Only two his books have been translated into English. The Eyewitness (translated by Ella R.W. McKee’s), 1977 and The Aristocrat (Martin Chalmers’ translation of Boëtius von Orlamünde) which came out as a paperback original in 1994 with three testimonials from Thomas Mann on its cover.

Ernst Weiß – Novels

Die Galeere. Roman. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1913.
Der Kampf. Roman. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1916.
Tiere in Ketten. Roman. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1918.
Franziska. Roman [Neue Fassung der 1916 bei S. Fischer Under the title "Der Kampf" erschienenen Erstausgabe]. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1919.
Mensch gegen Mensch. Roman. München: Georg Müller, 1919.
Das Versöhnungsfest. Eine Dichtung in vier Kreisen. München: Georg Müller, 1920.
Stern der Dämonen. Roman. Franta Zlin. Novelle. Der Bunte Dämon. Gedicht. Wien, Leipzig: Genossenschaftsverlag, 1920.
Tanja. Drama in drei Akten [Rahel Sanzara gewidmet]. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1920.
Nahar. Roman [Forts. von "Tiere in Ketten"]. Reinbeck: Rowohlt, 1922.
Tiere in Ketten. Roman [Neufassung der zuerst 1918
bei S. Fischer erschienenen Erstausgabe]. München, Berlin: Rowohlt, 1922.
Atua. Drei Erzählungen. München: Wolff, 1923.
Die Feuerprobe. Roman. Ill.: L. Meidner. Berlin: Die Schmiede, 1923.
Hodin. Erzählung. Ill.: N. Pusirewski. Berlin: Tillgner, 1923.
Olympia. Tragikomödie [Rahel Sanzara gewidmet]. Berlin: Die Schmiede, 1923.
Daniel. Erzählung. Berlin: Die Schmiede, 1924.
Der Fall Vukobrankovics. Kriminalanalyse. Berlin: Die Schmiede, 1924.
Männer in der Nacht. Roman. Berlin: Propyläen, 1925.
Das verlorene Kind. Roman. [Mit Rahel Sanzara]. Berlin: Ullstein, 1926.
Boëtius von Orlamünde. Roman. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1928.
Dämonenzug. Fünf Erzählungen. Berlin: Ullstein, 1928.
Das Unverlierbare. Essays ["Meiner Mutter gewidmet"]. Berlin: Rowohlt, 1928.
Die Feuerprobe. [Erw. Neudruck der 1923
im Verlag Die Schmiede erschienenen Erstausgabe]. Berlin: Propyläen, 1929.
Georg Letham, Arzt und Mörder. Roman. Wien: Zsolnay, 1931.
Der Gefängnisarzt oder Die Vaterlosen. Roman. Leipzig, Mährisch-Ostrau: Kittl, 1934.
Der arme Verschwender. Roman [Für Stefan Zweig]. Amsterdam: Querido, 1936.
Der Verführer. Roman [Thomas Mann gewidmet]. Zürich: Humanitas, 1938.
Der Augenzeuge. Roman [Aus dem Nachlaß]. Vorw.: H. Kesten. Icking-München: Kreisselmeier, 1963.
Ich – Der Augenzeuge. Roman [Überstempelter neuer Titel der 1963
bei Kreißelmeier erschienenen Erstausgabe, lt. Gerichtsbeschluß m. eingekl. Zettel]. Vorw.: H. Kesten. Icking-München: Kreisselmeier, 1963.
Der zweite Augenzeuge und andere ausgewählte Werke. Hrsg., Einl.: Klaus-Peter Hinze. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1978.
Die Ruhe in der Kunst. Ausgewählte Essays, Literaturkritiken und Selbstzeugnisse, 1918-1940. Berlin, Weimar: Aufbau, 1987.

Ernst Weiß – Collections

Gesammelte Werke in 16 Bänden. Hrsg.: P. Engel, V. Michels . Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1982.

Ernst Weiß – Plays

Tanja. Drama in drei Akten. Kammerspiele, Prag: Deutsches Landestheater Prag, 1919.
Lenore. Nach der Novelle “Die Verdorrten”. Prag, 1923.
Olympia. Tragikomödie. (Junge Bühne), Berlin: Renaissance-Theater, 1923.

Ernst Weiß – Translations

Guy de Maupassant: Die Brüder. Roman. Übers.: Ernst Weiss. Berlin: Ullstein, 1924.
M. T. Dekobra: Wie ich Grisel – das Millionen gewann. Übers.: Ernst Weiss. Berlin: Robinson, 1926.
Alphonse Daudet: Tartarin de Tarascon. Übers.: Ernst Weiss, Ill.: W. Klemm. Hamburg: Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft, 1928.
Theodor Dreiser: Das Buch über mich selbst. Band 2: Jahre des Kampfes. Übers.: Ernst Weiss. Berlin: Zsolnay, 1932.
James Mallahan Cain: Serenade in Mexiko. Übers. a. d. Amerikan.: Ernst Weiss. Amsterdam: Querido, 1938.
Honoré de Balzac: Oberst Chabert. Novelle. Übers. a. d. Franz.: Ernst Weiss. Köln: Pick, 1946.
Alphonse Daudet: Tartarin aus Tarascon. Übers.: Ernst Weiss*. Berlin, Hamburg: Deutsche Buchgemeinschaft, 1948. Marcel Proust: Tage der Freuden. Übers. a. d. Französ.: Ernst Weiss.