Jacob Wassermann

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Jacob Wassermann

Jakob Wassermann (born March 10, 1873 in Fürth , † January 1, 1934 in Altaussee ) was a German writer . He was one of the most productive and popular storytellers of his time.


After graduating from the Royal Realschule in Fürth, Wassermann, like his father, an unsuccessful Jewish toy manufacturer and general merchant, should have become a businessman, but broke off the apprenticeship that had begun in Vienna in 1889 because he felt called to write. After a year of military service in Würzburg , a short stint in an insurance company and an aimless period of wandering in southern Germany, he became secretary to Ernst von Wolzüge and through his agency met the publisher Albert Langen in Munich in 1896 , who accepted him into the editorial team of the Simplicissimus magazine . At Langen, Wassermann published further prose works after his first work Melusine - Ein Liebesroman (1896), including the novel Die Juden von Zirndorf (1897, new edition 1987), a 17th century chronicle about the life of Shabbetaj Zvi , with a description that follows of the Jewish community in the small Franconian town in the 19th century.

In Munich, where Wassermann lived for almost three years, he became friends with Thomas Mann and Rainer Maria Rilke . At the end of 1897 he began to write feature articles and theater reports for the Frankfurter Zeitung , on whose behalf he later moved to Vienna , where he joined the poets of Young Vienna , especially Arthur Schnitzler .

Jakob Wassermann
(1899 by Emil Orlik )

In 1899 Wassermann became the author of the Berlin publishing house Samuel Fischer , which published the novel The Story of Young Renate Fuchs in 1901 . In the same year he married the eccentric Julie Speyer, who came from a wealthy Viennese family. Since the beginning of his literary activity, Wassermann has written journalistic and essayistic texts (including Die Kunst der Erzählung , 1904) and narrative works, which, however, hardly met with an echo ( Der Moloch , 1902; Alexander in Babylon , 1905). Even the novel Caspar Hauser or The Sluggishness of the Heart (1908), which was received positively by critics , initially only sold poorly. It was only shortly before the beginning of the First World War , which threw him into deep doubts - his wife kept him from reporting for military service - that Wassermann completed a large-circulation novel for the first time: Das Gänsemännchen (1915). The work is an accusation against the philistinism of the petty bourgeoisie, which persecutes and destroys the genius.

After the end of the war, the two-volume novel Christian Wahnschaffe (1919, new edition 1932) was published, the life story of a great bourgeois son , which Wassermann dedicated to his new partner Marta Stross , née Karlweis. He moved with her to Altaussee in 1919 , after he had left his wife, who, however, delayed the divorce until 1926 due to new lawsuits and monetary claims. The couple's son, Carl Ulrich (Charles), was born on February 21, 1924. An echo of these unfortunate experiences can be found in the novel Laudin und die Seinen (1925). Marta became Wassermann's second wife and first biographer in 1926. In Altaussee he was on friendly terms with Hugo von Hofmannsthal .

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Wassermann gained global fame with several novels that have a tendency to the sensational. Wassermann's works, which are still distributed today in numerous editions, are also valuable as documents of their epoch. Influenced by psychoanalysis and Dostoyevsky's style, Wassermann subtly traced the nuances of the soul in his characters. Helga Abret writes:

“Wassermann, discovered and promoted by Langen , was one of the most successful novelists of the Wilhelminian era. He knew how to combine the reader's interest in historical material or the scandalous figure of Caspar Hauser [...] with a modern psychological narrative. But younger psychological storytellers such as Stefan Zweig formally overtook him during his lifetime. The fact that the attempts to make Wassermann accessible to a broader readership again after the Second World War were not crowned with convincing success may be partly due to his exalted, high-spirited language, which today sounds strange and often spurious. On the other hand, Wassermann is a 'moralizing' author, for whom social grievances are the result of wrong moral developments. "

- Helga Abret : Albert Langen. A European publisher, p. 388.
Illustration of a satirical short story by Jakob Wassermann for the Simplicissimus

Convinced that he could promote a new humanity through literature, Wassermann fought against every form of indolence and for the triumph of justice. This project also forms the core of Wassermann's most famous prose work Der Fall Maurizius (1928), in which the sixteen-year-old Etzel Andergast, in a youthful exuberance, reveals a miscarriage of justice that was committed eighteen years earlier. For a long time the work was mistakenly viewed as a reflection of the Hau case . Two other works can be regarded as loose continuations of this virtuoso novel: Etzel Andergast (1931) and Joseph Kerkoven's Third Existence (posthumously 1934). Theodor Lessing wrote in connection with the Halsmann case : “Only one person, Jakob Wassermann, who wrote the most beautiful of all justice books, the story of young Etzel, declared publicly that he did not want to rest until he had successfully rehabilitated the apparently unjustified Halsmann . "

In addition to the novels, Wassermann wrote successful biographies ( Christoph Columbus , 1929) and continued his essay writing, in which he repeatedly dealt with the form of existence of the Jew in a non-Jewish environment ( Mein Weg als Deutscher und Jude , 1921) - most recently in the Self-reflections published in 1933, the year he was expelled from the Prussian Academy of the Arts . At the same time as the book burning in Germany in 1933 , his books were banned , although he had been one of the most widely read authors by then. For him this meant not only material ruin, but above all the collapse of his lifelong hopes that his work would help to build a world of peace without national tensions and without racial hatred. Wassermann died on January 1st, 1934 at the age of 60 in Altaussee, impoverished and mentally broken. Robert Neumann reports in his autobiography that a possibly intentionally wrong connection - phone calls still had to be put through manually at the time - must have been to blame for the stroke he suffered. Wassermann had wanted to ask his publisher for an urgently needed advance payment of 2000 Reichsmarks and was more than depressed by the false information. Neumann also reported that his early encounter with Wassermann, who dismissed him as "completely untalented", was a decisive stimulus to take up the writing profession.

Villa Wassermann in Altaussee

Jakob Wassermann's grave is in the Altaussee cemetery in Austria.

Jakob Wassermann Prize

In 1993 the city of Fürth donated a Jakob Wassermann literary prize , which it awards every two to three years.


Faustina cover design 1912

The Greifenverlag , Rudolstadt edited since 2009, a 25-volume Jakob Wassermann paperback series


  • Lorenzo Bellettini: The Seismograph and the Grosserzähler , in Neue Zürcher Zeitung , January 15, 2011, p. 63; on-line
  • Daniela Eisenstein, Dirk Niefanger, Gunnar Och (Eds.): Jakob Wassermann. German, Jew, writer. Wallstein, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 3-8353-0158-6
  • Stephen H. Garrin: The concept of justice in Jakob Wassermann's trilogy. Lang, Bern 1979. (= European university publications; Series 1, German language and literature; 267) ISBN 3-261-03154-9
  • Birgit Gottschalk: The child of Europe. On the reception of the Kaspar Hauser material in literature. German Universitätsverlag, Wiesbaden 1995 ISBN 3-8244-4166-7
  • Hermann Greissinger: "Maybe into the fourth existence". Concepts of “life” and “non-life” in the work of Jakob Wassermann and in the narrative texts of early modernism. A semiotic-structural work and epoch analysis. Lang, Bern 1986. (= European university publications; series 1, German language and literature; 933) ISBN 3-261-03597-8
  • Christa Joeris: Aspects of Judaism in the work of Jakob Wassermann. Shaker, Aachen 1996 ISBN 3-8265-1720-2
  • Rudolf Kayser: Jakob Wassermann . In Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden , Issue 1. Olamenu, Tel Aviv 1970, pp. 37–44
  • Rudolf Koester: Jakob Wassermann . Morgenbuch, Berlin 1996. (= heads of the 20th century; 122) ISBN 3-371-00384-1
  • Thomas Kraft : Jakob Wassermann , dtv, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-423-24705-4
  • Heike Lindemann-Luiken: It is in vain… You say: “He is a Jew.” The effects of anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the life and work of Jakob Wassermann. Peter Lang, Frankfurt 2005 (= Cologne Studies in Literary Studies, Vol. 14) ISBN 3-631-54100-7
  • Markus Malo: Claimed subjectivity. A sketch on the German-language Jewish autobiography in the 20th century. Conditio Judaica series, 74th Niemeyer, Tübingen 2009
  • Beatrix Müller-Kampel:
  • Martin Neubauer: Jakob Wassermann. A writer in the judgment of his contemporaries. Lang, Frankfurt 1994. (= European University Papers; Series 1, German Language and Literature; 1485) ISBN 3-631-47919-0
  • Nicole Plöger: esthete, accuser, herald. Jakob Wassermann's literary beginnings 1890–1900. Ergon, Würzburg 2007 ISBN 3-89913-584-9
  • Erwin Poeschel : Jakob Wassermann . In: Jews in German literature . Welt-Verlag Berlin 1922, pp. 76-100.
  • Regina Schäfer: Plaidoy for Ganna. Men and women in Jakob Wassermann's novels. Niemeyer. Tübingen 1992 (= studies on the history of German literature; 62) ISBN 3-484-32062-1
  • Reiner Scheel: literary judicial criticism with Lion Feuchtwanger , Robert Musil , Wassermann and Arnold Zweig . Klartext, Essen 2008 ISBN 978-3-89861-919-6
  • Esther Schneider-Handschin: The image of the bourgeoisie in Jakob Wassermann's “Andergast Trilogy”. Peter Lang, Bern 1990 (= European University Papers; Series 1, German Language and Literature; 1170) ISBN 3-261-04164-1
  • Kaspar Schnetzler : The Maurizius case. Jakob Wassermann's art of storytelling. Peter Lang, Bern 1968
  • Wolfgang Schoberth & Doris Leithner: Text and commentary on “The prisoners on the Plassenburg”. Buchner's School Library of Modernism, no. 22, Bamberg 2005, ISBN 3-7661-3972-X
  • Marion Weindl: Function and construction of the narrative work of art. Königshausen & Neumann , Würzburg 1995 (= Epistemata; Series Literary Studies; 144) ISBN 3-8260-1010-8
  • Stefan Zweig : "Jakob Wassermann" essays - selection 1907–1924. Insel-Verlag 1983, pp. 31-51.

Web links

Commons : Jakob Wassermann  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. today Hardenberg-Gymnasium .
  2. Halsmann: Tragödie der Jugend (1930), in: Rainer Marwedel (ed.), Haarmann - The Story of a Werewolf , Munich 1995, p. 246. The novel Der Fall Maurizius from 1928 is meant by “Justice Book” .
  3. a b Digital copy online at Archive.org
  4. ^ Robert Neumann: An easy life , p. 367ff
  5. 12 of 25 volumes had been published by February 2010, here marked with *
  6. as an audio book at AS-AudioWissen
  7. as a school text edition 2011 published by CC Buchners, Bamberg. Series: Buchner's School Library of Modernism. Text and comment. Authors of the comments Doris Leithner, Wolfgang Schoberth. For sec. 1 from age 10 and sec. 2. Upper school students made on-site investigations into various aspects of the detention at that time and the 1848 movement. ISBN 978-3-7661-3972-6 . Also included in the following volume.
  8. 16 different ores are inserted into a framework story. Two of them were also published individually: "The prisoners ..." and "Geronimo de Aguilar"
  9. see previous note
  10. next to W. are dealt with in detail: Werner Kraft , Gershom Scholem , Max Fürst , Ernst Toller , Ludwig Greve , Ruth Klüger and Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt