Inner emigration

Inner emigration is a controversial term used to describe German writers who were opposed to Nazism yet chose to remain in Germany after the Nazis seized power in 1933. The term was coined by Frank Thiess in his response to Thomas Mann's BBC broadcast on the subject of German guilt.


Delphine de Girardin, writing in 1839 about French aristocracy during the July Monarchy, uses the term "Émigration Intérieure":[1]

Young people from the best circles of society, who bear the most famous names, display feverish activity heightened still further by their inner emigration and political aversions. They dance, they gallop, they waltz, the way they would fight if we had a war, the way they would love if people today still had poetry in their hearts. They do not attend the parties as court, ugh! There they would meet their lawyer or their banker; instead they prefer to go to the Musard, there they might at least meet their valet or their groom; wonderful! It is possible to dance in front of such people without compromising oneself.[2]

Living in exile in the United States in the 1940s, the German writer Thomas Mann was concerned with the issue of German responsibility for World War II and the Holocaust. He wrote several essays on the subject, including "Deutsche Schuld und Unschuld" ("German Guilt and Innocence") and "Über Schuld und Erziehung" ("On Guilt and Education").[3] After reading about the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in 1945, Mann said in a German-language BBC broadcast:

Our disgrace lies before the world, in front of the foreign commissions before whom these incredible pictures are presented and who report home about this surpassing of all hideousness that men can imagine. "Our disgrace" German readers and listeners! For everything German, everyone that speaks German, writes German, has lived in Germany, has been implicated by this dishonorable unmasking.[4]

Frank Thiess argued that only those who had experienced life in Nazi Germany had a right to speak for Germans about their guilt, and that, if anything, the "innere Emigranten" ("inner emigrants") had shown more moral courage than those who had observed events from a safe remove. In response, Mann declared that all works published under Hitler stank of "Blut und Schande" ("blood and shame") and should be destroyed. As a result of this controversy, German literature of the period is still categorized in terms of the authors' moral status rather than the political content or aesthetic value of their writings.[5]


The term's definition and the moral issues surrounding it have long been a subject of debate.[6] Some argue that certain writers who stayed behind in Germany criticized the Nazi regime in subtle ways, allegorically or by implication,[7] while others contend that such criticisms were "so subtle that they are invisible".[8] The debate is further complicated by the varying degrees to which different writers were under threat, and the varying strength and nature of their protests. Some writers who claimed to be "inner emigrants" appear to have done quite well for themselves during the war,[9] while others saw their works banned or were imprisoned.[10]

At the 1998 Deutscher Historikertag Peter Schöttler, Götz Aly and Michael Fahlbusch were involved in the debate concerning the role of German historians during the Third Reich. The trio challenged the defense of Theodor Schieder, Werner Conze and Karl-Dietrich Erdmann in terms of inner emigration arguing that they were more complicit with the Nazi regime than had been recognised by the next generation of German historians, many of whom were their students.[11]

Other uses

The term is sometimes used more broadly to include others, such as visual artists, as well as writers.[12] It can also be used in a more general or metaphorical sense, to mean a mental dissociation from one's country or surroundings. For example, it has been used in reference to Anglo-Irish people whose loyalties lay with England rather than their native Ireland,[13] and to residents of a 1960s commune.[14]

See also


  1. de Girardin, Delphine (1860–1861). "Oeuvres complètes de madame Émile de Girardin, née Delphine Gay.... Tome 4 / [introduction par Théophile Gautier]". Gallica. Retrieved 2015-07-14.
  2. Fleming, William (June 1986). Arts and Ideas. Harcourt School. ISBN 9780030056697.
  3. Chevalier, Tracy (2012). Encyclopedia of the Essay. Routledge. p. 526. ISBN 9781135314101.
  4. Wyman, David; Rosenzveig, Charles (1996). The World Reacts to the Holocaust. JHU Press. p. 413. ISBN 9780801849695.
  5. Watanabe-O'Kelly, Helen (2000). The Cambridge History of German Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 443. ISBN 9780521785730.
  6. Grenville, Anthony (August 2012). "Thomas Mann and the 'inner emigration'". The Association of Jewish Refugees.
  7. Klieneberger, H. R. (April 1965). "The 'Innere Emigration': A Disputed Issue in Twentieth-Century German Literature". Monatshefte. University of Wisconsin Press. 57 (4): 175.
  8. "The Fallacy of 'Inner Emigration'". Dialog International. 24 March 2007. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  9. Klieneberger (1965), p. 172
  10. Klieneberger (1965), p. 178
  11. Sims, Amy (2005). "The unsettling History of German Historians in the Third Reich". In Donahue, Neil H.; Kirchner, Doris. Flight of Fantasy: New Perspectives on Inner Emigration in German Literature, 1933-1945. Berghahn Books.
  12. Wenke, Monika (January 2010). "Aspects of Inner Emigration in Hannah Höch: 1933 – 1945". Deutsche National Bibliotek. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  13. Gray, Billy (Summer 2009). ""The Lukewarm Conviction of Temporary Lodgers": Hubert Butler and the Anglo-Irish Sense of Exile". New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua. University of St. Thomas (Center for Irish Studies. 9 (2): 84–97. JSTOR 20646499. Their emotional withdrawal from Ireland led to a profound sense of social and political dislocation, which in turn encouraged a communal retreat, a loss of power, and a form of 'inner emigration' among the Anglo-Irish.
  14. Gildea, Robert (2013). Europe's 1968: Voices in Revolt. Oxford University Press. p. 198. ISBN 9780191651274.

Further reading

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