Regret moving to San Francisco

Thomas Mann and his family in the USA

The Mann family came to the USA in 1938 after exiles in France and Switzerland and lived first in Princeton and from 1941 in Los Angeles. Geographically far removed from his roots and his first readership, Thomas Mann turned to the “German listeners” on the radio. In monthly interventions he commented on the events of the war from 1940 to 1945, warned early about the Holocaust, spoke very specifically of the German atrocities, but also of the hoped-for future victory of the allies over the National Socialists: “Hitler's Germany has neither tradition nor future ". A Germany will emerge from its demise that will overcome hatred, make hope and reconciliation possible again.

By 1943 Thomas Mann had completed his cycle of novels "Joseph and His Brothers" with the volume "Joseph the breadwinner", which can also be read as an indirect homage to President Roosevelt's America. Between 1943 and 1947, in the “most beautiful study I have ever had”, the German novel par excellence was created: “Doctor Faustus”, a “fictional artist biography” in which a composer striving for the extraordinary loses his soul to the devil and beyond perishes, just like Germany from the madness of National Socialism. Thomas Mann called it the “novel of my era, disguised in the story of a highly precarious and sinful artist's life”, with features of “self-mockery”.

In the spring of 1946, Thomas Mann underwent serious lung surgery in Chicago from which he quickly recovered. Despite his political commitment, his many lecture tours through the USA and his health crisis, Thomas Mann was admirably productive, especially during the years at the house on San Remo Drive. In addition to the narrative work (which also includes “The Law”, a Moses novella), important essays were created, including “Germany and the Germans”, “Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Light of Our Experience”, “Goethe and Democracy” but also “Mine Time ”, a lively and very vivid autobiographical review.

In the new house, the Nobel Prize winner wrote perhaps his most personal book, which was published in 1949 under the title “The Origin of Doctor Faustus”. This masterful account provides a vivid picture of Thomas Mann and his world in exile in America. He shows his everyday life, his paperwork, family life, social contacts, and gives an insight into his diary and his reading experiences. The readers follow the thinking about Germany, America, exile, also about music. This self-portrait offers an insight into the sphere of Thomas Mann; in the relaxed, elegant and at the same time self-deprecating portrayal, the spirit of the new house manifests itself in this remote location.

Once again he delves deeply into his own prehistory, traces his path from realistic to mythical storytelling and names his most formative readings, Nietzsche, Heine, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy. He reports on the trips through the USA, the illness and the operation, and the US naturalization. His own performers too: Brother Heinrich, his wife Nelly, his wife Katia, all six children, plus artistic friends and advisers from Theodor Adorno to Bruno Walter.

The new domicile was rarely a family home. Erika Mann was initially in a British uniform as a war reporter, with stations in Lisbon and Cairo, and later in defeated and occupied Germany. After the end of the war, she increasingly began to work for Thomas Mann as his "adjutant" and later estate guardian.

After a long wait, Klaus Mann was accepted into the American army and served in a propaganda company on the dangerous Italian campaign. Before that, he had completed two major texts, an essay on André Gide and the autobiographical novel “The Turning Point”. After the end of the war, he visited the half-destroyed family house in Munich's Herzogpark, bombed Berlin, but also liberated Prague and the Theresienstadt concentration camp. After his discharge from the army he got into a personal crisis, attempted suicide in 1948, fled from California to the French Côte d'Azur, where he put an end to his life in May 1949.

Sister Monika experienced her personal tragedy in 1940 when the ship was sunk with which she wanted to flee from England to the USA. Her husband drowned, she herself could be saved, but she was not happy in her parents' house, lived for a while in New York, where she felt good and began to write before she returned to Europe.

Golo Mann initially worked for the American Army at Radio London, and later for a station in the American zone of occupation. He, too, came to the Pacific Palisades from time to time while teaching at a college east of Los Angeles. He became a well-known historian and writer.
The later maritime law expert and ecologist Elisabeth Mann Borgese and her Italian husband lived in Chicago during the years of exile. After the war they went to Italy. Elisabeth returned to California after the death of her husband and last lived in Halifax (Canada). In 1970 she was the only woman to be a founding member of the Club of Rome.

Michael Mann settled in San Francisco with his Swiss wife and two sons Frido and Toni, made a career as an orchestral musician, but also as a soloist (viola), for whom well-known composers wrote new works. He stayed in the USA when the rest of the family was back in Europe, but switched from music to German studies. Frido was Thomas Mann's favorite grandchild. It served as a model for the child Nepomuk, called Echo, in "Doctor Faustus".

Katia Mann had felt at home in Princeton (1938/39) and initially regretted the move to Los Angeles. But later she also said that "the San Remi", as the house was called in the family jargon, was probably the most beautiful house in which the family had ever centered. Photos of Florence Homolka, a daughter of the patron Agnes Meyer, who had financially secured the construction of this house and to whom Thomas Mann also owed a lot in other ways, vividly documented impressions of the Manns' happiness in living.

After 1947, the Manns' relationship with the United States deteriorated for political reasons. The Cold War, the McCarthy period, and the declining interest of the American reading public all contributed to this. Now Europe was luring again and the book market there became important again. Thomas and Katia Mann returned to Germany for the first time in 1949, and then in 1954 and 1955. Thomas Mann's post-war publications were great successes in their old homeland, in the East and in the West.
From 1947 the Manns traveled once a year to Switzerland, in 1952 they stayed in the country of the Confederates, temporarily living in Erlenbach, before moving into their last family home in Kilchberg near Zurich in 1954. Thomas Mann died there in 1955, Katia Mann in 1980.

Manfred Flügge