Albert Ehrenstein and the Tragedy of Exile

  • Hanni Mittelmann


The poet and writer Albert Ehrenstein represents a fascinating and neglected case study of Jewish artistic existence in pre-1939 Austria. Ehrenstein’s literary oeuvre as well as his biography may be viewed as symptomatic of the precarious position of the Jews in fin-de-siècle Austria, an empire whose so-called ‘liberal’ era was coming to an end and where anti-Semitism and nationalism had already begun to manifest their destructive powers. The notion of living in spiritual exile within Austrian society is a recurring theme in all of Ehrenstein’s writings. It can be considered to be the key to the comprehension of his works, to his self-understanding as a writer and his perception of the world. The feeling of living in spiritual exile was, however, by no means unique to Albert Ehrenstein. Born in Vienna in 1886 he shared this feeling with the whole generation of Austrian expressionists, to whom he belonged as their earliest representative. Protesting against conservative tastes in literature and the arts as well as against the repressive social and political conditions in Austria, expressionist writers were relegated to the position of outsiders. Indeed, to this very day Austrians only reluctantly deal with the expressionist movement in the discussion of Austrian culture around the turn of the century and between the two world wars, since the dissonances which these writers exposed and represented do not readily fit into the harmonizing picture that official Austrian cultural politics likes to paint of those times. If Ehrenstein the expressionist was an outsider, however, he was doubly one as a member of the Jewish minority in Austria.


Austrian Society Jewish People Expressionist Writ Expressionist Movement Chinese Poetry 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

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  • Hanni Mittelmann

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