Berthold Auerbach & Germanic Theatre

Biographical Note

Berthold Auerbach was born into a Jewish family in Thorn in Western Prussia (now Torun). He attended school there until his parents moved to Berlin in 1885. He had already begun studying Latin and in the next few years added French and Greek to his curriculum.

In December 1891 he began his working life by going into commercial training with the firm of H. Holde in Berlin, remaining there until October 1894. Between 1895 and 1897 he trained in business and commerce with Albert Meyer (Speditions-, Commissions- und Bankgeschäft) but was most unhappy, realising that this type of career was not for him.

He joined the Literarische Gesellschaft in Leipzig, which had been founded by Carl Heine, and in March 1898 began work there as actor, Treasurer and Secretary. Out of this society grew Heine's Ibsentheater, and dramatist Frank Wedekind joined the company. The Ibsentheater toured Northern Germany until the end of 1898 when it ceased to exist.

After a brief period as a reporter in Berlin, Auerbach started a career as theatre agent. He was to pursue this career for the next 36 years and became skilled in matching directors and companies with suitable actors and actresses, not only in Germany, but in Austria and Switzerland as well. In this way many famous names in German theatre owed their careers to him through discovery by him and subsequent support and protection for their talent. Amongst these were Adolf Roff, Elsa Wagner, Emil Jannings and Carl Ebert. He was untiring in his travels to review productions and enthusiastic about contemporary drama. His conduct and industry won him many lasting friendships in the profession: Helene Riechers, Carl Ebert, Elsa Wagner, the Dumont/Lindemann Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus.

In October 1898, Auerbach went to work for the theatre agency E. Drenker & Co. In 1907 he married Anna Pergams who came to Berlin from what is now Kaliningrad in Russia, but which then was called Königsberg. In 1915 he was called up for military service and sent to Königsberg for training, where Leopold Jeßner, the director of the Stadttheater 'Neues Schauspielhaus' gave him free tickets for all performances. His old firm of Drenker managed to secure his release from the army and he remained there until 1929, when this private firm closed. At this point the State founded an official agency for stage and film, the Paritätischer Stellennachweis der Deutschen Bühnen, where the Actors' Union and the Union of Theatre Directors were represented on equal terms. Auerbach remained with them until 1933, when he was dismissed after an SA (Sturmabteilung) raid, albeit with a creditable testimonial. He was called back and re-employed for short periods four times, having become indispensable to the Agency, until Goebbels personally put a stop to this.

Despite numerous letters from the acting profession and others urging his re-employment, Auerbach remained unemployed in Berlin from 1934-1939 when he and his wife, after much heart-searching, decided to leave Germany to join their daughter in England. They were not allowed to bring out their two sons. During the first few years of the Nazi regime, Auerbach was sent free tickets for performances at most of the Berlin theatres, but this largely ceased once Jews were forbidden to enter German theatres, and he could only attend performances in the few special Jewish theatres.

After his arrival in England, Auerbach was interned in the camp on the Isle of Man for a few months. In 1945 he was invited back to Germany to take up his profession again, but he decided it was too late to start afresh. In 1951 he made his first visit to Düsseldorf and Berlin, to a tumultuous reception. He wrote an address for Helene Riechers' 85th birthday in 1954, which was read out at her memorial service in 1957. She died one month after Auerbach's wife.

In November 1959, Auerbach celebrated his own 85th birthday and received presents and tributes from the entire German theatrical profession, including the unions. During his exile, he never lost touch with the German theatre scene and derived immense enjoyment not only from the letters he received, but from the journals which were sent to him regularly.

A less well-known fact is that Auerbach was a poet of not inconsiderable talent. There are examples scattered through the Collection and in relevant literature.

The Papers

The Berthold Auerbach Collection was deposited in the archives of the Institute of Germanic Studies (from  August 2004, the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies) in October 1986 by his daughter Hilde Auerbach. Due to the difficult conditions still pertaining in the German Democratic Republic at that time, where Auerbach's other relatives were still living, his daughter considered the Institute of Germanic Studies in London both a safe and a highly suitable repository for her father's valuable papers.

The papers include early school reports, photographs, news cuttings, letters from German actors and actresses, agents and directors, especially of the Weimar Republic, and other papers by and about well-known figures in German theatre. With Auerbach's papers as the nucleus, the archive has been expanded to include all documents relevant to Germanic theatre productions, particularly in the United Kingdom, but also Germanic productions of English drama, e.g. Shakespeare. The object is to illustrate the close cultural ties between the English and German-speaking countries. Items include programmes, playbills, posters, photographs, reviews and exhibitions and correspondence.

Archival Arrangement


1. Berthold Auerbach Collection
1.1 Education: School reports
1.2 Career: Testimonials
1.3 Published output
1.4 General correspondence

2. Germanic Drama: The Context
2.1 Performances: Posters, playbills, programmes, photographs (stills of rehearsals and scenes)
2.2 Exhibitions

3. Germanic Drama: Individuals
(Playwrights, actors, agents, etc. arranged alphabetically by name). Includes memorabilia and photographs, drafts, correspondence.

Note: Some of the material from the original deposit of Berthold Auerbach's Collection will be found in classes 2 and 3 if relevant to the specific context.