Who is the mother of exile

Exile literature (1933-1945)

The term exile literature

Exile literature bundles all literary works that were created in exile. Sometimes it is also referred to as émigré literature. This is always associated with a forced flight, emigration or exile. A common reason is political or racial persecution.

Word meaning

The term exile derives from the Latin word Exile ab and means banishment.

Historical context

After the rise of Hitler and the National Socialists take power In 1933, basic democratic rights in Germany were severely restricted or even completely abolished.

All political and social institutions (authorities, associations, media) should be aligned with National Socialist ideas. One speaks of "Synchronization". All areas of life fell under the control of the National Socialists. Those who resisted were fought and had to fear for their own lives.

The diverse and free intellectual life in the fields of art, literature, press and film came to an abrupt end in the Third Reich and was often banned, i.e. under censorship posed.

May 10, 1933 was an important date for the literary life and work of many authors. That day took place public Book burning instead of. The Nazis burned innumerable books by authors in Berlin and thus destroyed a large part of the critical German-language literature of the time.

The consequence of such actions was one Wave of emigrationwhere 500,000 people left their homes and went abroad. Many emigrants were artists, writers and intellectuals. Out of desperation about the political and social conditions, many of these people subsequently committed suicide.

Literary developments during the Nazi era

A distinction is made between three directions of literature during the Nazi regime:

Exiled authors

Over 2,000 authors emigrated due to persecution by the National Socialists. Other political attitudes, ethnic origins or critical views of art and culture were the main reasons for the flight.

Important authors and works of exile literature

First, the authors went to Germany's neighboring countries. They later emigrated to countries such as England and the USA. For many writers, the hope of returning to Germany soon was not fulfilled. In addition, only a few authors managed to make a living from their literary work. Numerous writers such as Walter Benjamin, Stefan Zweig, Kurt Tucholsky, Ernst Toller and Ernst Weiß ultimately committed suicide in their exile.

Features of exile literature

There was no uniformity in style, language and content in exile literature. So there are no typical formal features that are characteristic of this era.

But one thing the works had in common was this Rejection and fight against National Socialism. The common goal of the exiled authors was to warn and educate about the Nazi regime.

Due to different political views, there were repeated conflicts between conservative (bourgeois) and communist authors.


In the field of narrative literature, historical novels in particular enjoyed great popularity in exile literature. Often they were based on stories and fables with parallels to political and social developments in Germany.

With the help of exile novels, however, many authors processed their experiences from the exile situation. Above all, they wanted to do educational work on National Socialism.

Anti-fascist social and contemporary novels focused on the authors' present at the time. In it, society, living conditions and their impact on the individual were viewed critically.


With the help of the poetry, the authors were able to reflect and process their flight and exile situation. Nevertheless, poetry played a rather subordinate role in exile literature.

Exillyrik was primarily shaped by authors who were known before the Nazis came to power (1933). Many poems that were written during the exile did not appear until after the end of the Second World War.

Important poets of exile literature

  • Bertolt Brecht
  • Hilde Domin
  • Oskar Maria Graf
  • Hans Sahl
  • Nelly Sachs
  • Else Lasker-Schüler


In exile there were hardly any stages for the dramatists of the time and many plays were written but ultimately never performed. Only Bertolt Brecht was able to achieve success with works such as "Fear and Misery of the Third Reich" and to make a name for himself as a playwright in exile outside Germany. He assessed the developments in the Third Reich precisely and developed novel literary forms in order to artistically process reality.

Page published on February 16, 2020. Last updated on April 23, 2021.
Text by Romana Jesse. © Inhalt.de.