Tobias Boes, Thomas Mann's War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters (Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 2019), 376 pp., $34.95.
In February 1938, Thomas Mann and his family sailed from Cherbourg, France to New York, where they were greeted by a throng of reporters and a film crew from the Paramount News Corporation. Mann, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1929 and appeared on the covet of Time in 1934, decried British prime minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement and correctly predicted that Hitler would annex Austria forthwith. Later that day, Mann, after being asked whether he found exile a lonely state of affairs, responded,
It is hard to beat. But what makes it easier is the realization of the poisoned atmosphere in Germany. That makes it easier because it's actually no loss. Where I am, there is Germany. I carry my German culture in me. I have contact with the world and I do not consider myself fallen. Like Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger and Arnold Schoenberg, Mann ended up living in a German enclave that became known as Weimar on the Pacific. Mann was not only the most prominent member of the exiles, but also the one who had probably traveled the furthest politically. In 1937, the German philosopher Gunther Anders observed:
his enemies will be amazed by the tragic violence of a man they had always derided as the master of ceremonies of German prose. They will be amazed all the more by the fact that Mann speaks as a patriot, thus seizing the claim staked out by the present rulers of Germany. There can be no doubting that Mann had performed something of a volte-face. During World War I, Mann had written a murky paean to German nationalism, Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man. It was supposed to serve as a counter-blast to his older brother Heinrich's woolly-headed humanitarian socialist beliefs. Mann, a lifelong neurasthenic who shirked service in the imperial army and recorded his medical ailments with unswerving fidelity in his diaries, loftily termed Reflections a kind of "intellectual military service." He declared that the country's essential mission was battling the decadent Western democracies. Mann, who believed France and England were intent upon foisting doctrines that were "foreign and poisonous to the German character," held that the profundity of its culture meant that the German nation was itself fated to transcend mere politics. Mann went to town:
I myself confess that I am deeply convinced that the German people will never be able to love political democracy simply because they cannot love politics itself, and that the much decried 'authoritarian state' is and remains the one that is proper and becoming to the German people, and the one they basically want. After World War I, Mann, who was living in Munich, had good reason to alter his sentiments as he watched Hitler's alarming rise in what the Nazis...