The Papers of Fritz Mauthner
at the Leo Baeck Institute

In November 1991, just before Thanksgiving, I attended a conference at the German Historical Institute in Washington on "Women in the Emigration after 1933." It was an exciting moment in my life, and I was happy to be there.

There were eyewitness reports from many countries where refugees had settled: England, Israel, Shanghai and Brazil, where I had been in 1936/7, and many more. Others spoke about the careers of professional women in their new homes. Dr. Frank Mecklenburg, Archivist at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, now its Research Director, gave an excellent talk about "Women Lawyers." I spoke in the discussion, as I happened to know three of the women lawyers he was talking about: one at Harvard, another at the University of Michigan, and a third at Berkeley. It was quite exciting. After the end of the session, Dr. Mecklenburg and I had lunch together and discovered a lot of common interests, and this led to a lively correspondence over the years.

One day, looking for some old photographs in my mother-in-laws beautiful desk, I discovered a letter from Fritz Mauthner to his brother Ernst (Paul's grandfather), dedicating his book to him. I was delighted to find this interesting letter and decided to translate it for my family, and later wrote an essay, called, "A Bit of Family History," dedicating it to my husband, Paul.

A few years later I wrote an essay "Remembering the Children of Terezin," which I sent to the Leo Baeck Institute. Mrs. Strauss, the Executive Director, thanked me for it and wrote that the Institute would be only too glad to help me with any further research. I was very glad about her warm response and wrote to her that I might well need their help, as I was just writing an essay about my husband's family, the Mauthners, called, "A Bit of Family History."

A short time later, Dr. Mecklenburg told me that they were most interested in this essay and would like to put it in their Archives. And ten days later another letter arrived, in answer to mine:
    Thanks for your letter of February 19 and the enclosed materials. The Mauthner family history is a very interesting one for us for all the reasons you give, but also since we have the papers of Fritz Mauthner in our archives. I am glad that the source of your memory is flowing. I am looking forward to the essay.
Soon I received a copy of the Inventory, 164 pages long.

I was, of course, delighted and excited and only wished that my husband and my brother-in-law, Henry Alexander, had known about this. My brother-in-law, a journalist in London, had drawn up a family tree and had written an article in the "Aufbau" on the "Rise and Fall of the Mauthners." How pleased they would have been.

Ever since I received Dr. Mecklenburg's letter, I have been translating letters written to Fritz Mauthner and learning more about the family history. My first essay was Family Letters from Austria: 1887 - 1927," which I finished in 1999.

I shall always be grateful to the Leo Baeck Institute for preserving the Mauthner papers and to the three people who made this possible: the Roman Catholic priest, Wilhelm Restle, who lived in Mauthner's Glaserhäusle after his retirement and kept the papers safe; to Irmgard Foerg, archivist at the Institute, who suggested and supervised the move of the papers to New York; and to Elazar Benyoetz, an Israeli rabbi and poet who admired Mauthner's work.

It is a privilege to present their correspondence.

Eleanor Alexander
November 2000


Fritz Mauthner was born on November 23, 1849, in Horice, a small Bohemian town. Though Horice was officially Czech, the local dignitaries of the time were either "German or those who proudly spoke German," and his father Emmanuel belonged to this group. He was the owner of a small weaving factory who came from a highly assimilated upper-class Jewish family and insisted that German be spoken by his children at home. The family moved to Prague because his father believed that the children would receive a better education there. He spent three years in the Klippschule, a private Jewish school, before going to the gymnasium. In his memoirs, written almost sixty years later, he still resented this decision and writes that "the theft of these years left deep permanent scars." My husband Paul often spoke of this because, having gone to the excellent College Francais in Berlin, he thought it was sad that his great uncle still felt so bitterly about his school after all these years.

Fritz Mauthner writes in his memoirs "Prager Jugendjahre" that it was in these years that he developed a fascination with language:
    "I cannot understand how a Jew born in a Slavonic land of the Austrian Empire could not be drawn to the study of language. In those days he learned to understand three languages at once: German as the language of the civil servants, of culture (Bildung), poetry, and polite society; Czech as the language of the peasants and servant girls, and as the historical language of the glorious kingdom of Bohemia; a little Hebrew as the sacred language of the Old Testament and as the basis of Mauscheldeutsch (German-Jewish jargon) that he heard not only from Jewish hawkers, but occasionally also from the quite well-dressed Jewish businessmen of his society, or even from his relatives .... the mixture of completely dissimilar languages in the common Kuchelböhmisch (Czech-German jargon) and the even more common Mauscheldeutsch was bound to draw a child's attention to certain linguistic laws." (Prager Jugendjahre 30-31)
Fritz Mauthner was a man of many talents; he was a philosopher, a linguist, a writer, and for many years a theater critic of the liberal newspaper, the Berliner Tageblatt, he left Berlin in 1905, and after a few years in Freiburg; he moved to Meersburg on Lake Constance. At that time he met Hedwig Straub, a doctor whom he married in 1910. She was a close companion and driving force behind his second major work, the "Dictionary of Philosophical Words." She had spent the previous ten years among Bedouin tribes in the Sahara and had carried with her, as she rode through the desert on camel back, Mauthners "Contributions Tooward a Critique of Language."

In 1879 Mauthner published a collection of literary parodies "Nach berühmten Mustern" (After Famous Models) which was very popular. The success of the parodies, together with his reputation as a critic and essayist, led to the publication of several of his earlier literary works, but none enjoyed the same popularity as the satirical pieces.

Volume I of his language critique appeared in 1901 and came as a surprise to Mauthner's readers, colleagues and acquaintances. In 1910 he published "Wörterbuch der Philosophie" (Dictionary of Philosophy), and in 1920-23 "Der Atheismus and seine Geschichte im Abendlande" (Atheism and its History in the West).

Since the Second World War there has been a great deal of interest in Mauthners work in Germany. Several books about him have been published and there is an active Fritz Mauthner Gesellschaft in Germany. Modern linguists have shown renewed interest in his theory of language. His memoirs have been republished by S. Fischer in 1964 as "Prager Jugendjahre." They are fascinating reading and give an excellent picture of the life of those days.

Irmgard Foerg, an archivist at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, visited Wilhelm Restle, a retired Roman Catholic Priest, in the Glaserhäusle where Fritz Mauthner had lived for so many years. During that time he had taken excellent care of Mauthner's papers. Unfortunately, she does not tell us how she came to visit at the Glaserhäusle. She returned the next summer, and the following letter is a report about that visit.


October 10, 1966
My esteemed, dear friend in the Glaserhäusle,

I returned to New York already three weeks ago, but all these past weeks I have been trying to clear my desk, reading all the letters and inquiries that had arrived during my absence. Now I should like to use these few quiet moments to thank you for the magical time in your lovely Glaserhäusle. For me it was a beautiful and rewarding experience to prepare with you the papers of Fritz Mauthner for the Archives of the Leo Baeck Institute. I will never forget the days we spent together in the library of Fritz Mauthner, reading and sorting his papers, steeped in the atmosphere of the place where he worked and where he wrote his important philosophical books. You have been able to keep the magic of the place, already celebrated by Droste in her lovely poem "Die Schenke am See" (The Tavern by the Lake) just as it had been created by Fritz Mauthner and his wife. And it was only through your devotion that everything remained unharmed all through these terrible years in Germany. This place is a gift for any one sensitive enough to feel its attraction, and we owe it only to you that we are able to enjoy it in peace. Many, many thanks.

We will never forget what we owe you, and we are grateful to you for giving this material to the Leo Baeck Institute, where it will be preserved and available to many readers. Even if you are no longer in possession of the papers, you will keep alive the place where Mauthner found peace and happiness. And it is only because of your commitment all these years that we, at the Leo Baeck Institute, will be able to catalogue the material and make it available for study. And I believe that all this gives you as much satisfaction as it does to us.

It was a happy chance that led me last year to your charmed place and made it possible for me to bring you and the Institute together. Just a few days ago the first parcels arrived, sent from Munich. As soon as we have everything, I will write to you so that your mind will be at ease. You will understand that the cataloguing of the papers will take a long time, but I will send you a preliminary account next month. Needless to say, we will send you a copy of our final report as promised. We gratefully accept your kind offer to help us with the identification of persons mentioned.

Unfortunately I was unable to retum to Meersburg to look at the papers that you discovered recently, but I hope to do so next year. The letters of the following correspondents are still with you in Meersburg: Lou Andreas Salome, Anzengruber, Ebner-Eschenbach, Fontane, Gottfried Keller; many letters written by Keller are in the Archives of the Gottfried Keller Society in Zurich. I hope that one day you will let us have them, so that everything that you and Hedwig Mauthner preserved will be in one place.

When we have examined all of the papers, I will let you know about the Döblin papers; they may be with Professor Mugsch. Could you give me the address of his widow? I forgot to write down the address of Fritz Mauthner's daughter who owns the copyright. I would also like more information about Hedwig Mauthner; when did they get married? lf it is not too much trouble, could you tell me more about the life of this extraordinary woman? I think it is most important that future generations will be able to remember her. I would be most grateful, if you could do this for me.

On October30 you will celebrate the jubilee of sixty years in the priesthood. You were always anxious to avoid such celebrations, but I am sure you will be glad to accept such festivities this time. I also was delighted to learn that the City of Meersburg will honor you and make you an honorary citizen. I know that you realize that this gesture towards one of the best loved and most admired citizens briings honor to the city.

I should like to add my warmest congratulations, also in the name of the Institute, and express the hope that you remain for a long time as active in your important work as in the past.

With my warmest wishes and thanks for all that you have accomplished, I remain,

Your grateful Irmgard Foerg


Fritz Mauthners daughter, Margarete Wartenberger, lived in Israel at the time this letter was written. She had two children: Lotte (Jerusalem) and Fritz (London).

Hedwig Mauthner stayed in the Glaserhäusle after her husband's death; she died in 1945. They were married in 1910.
LITERATUR - Letters to Fritz Mauthner, Translation by Eleanor Alexander, Winter 2001