Albert Ehrenstein, poet and story writer, came from a Jewish-Hungarian family and was born in Vienna. His brother Carl (1892–1971) was also a poet. From 1905-1910 Albert Ehrenstein studied history and philosophy in Vienna and received his PhD in 1910 with a thesis on “The Situation in Hungary in the Year 1790”. The same year his expressionist poem Wanderers Lied was published in Karl Kraus´ journal Der Fackel. A story named Tubutsch appeared in 1911 with illustrations by Oskar Kokoschka. The cooperation with Kokoschka let to contact with Herwarth Walden, editor of the leading avantgarde periodical Der Sturm. Ehrenstein then published in both this journal and in Franz Pfemfert´s Die Aktion. In this way he established himself as a significant proponent of expressionism.

At the outbreak of war he was deemed unsuitable for military service and was instead required to work in the war archive in Vienna. However his literary work at this time attests to his strong opposition to the war; for example, he published some outspoken poems in the “Weiße Blätter” and during 1916-1917 contributed to the Dadaist Neue Jugend (New Youth), a journal that was banned in Germany due to its anti-Kaiser standpoint. For a time he worked as an editor at Kurt Wolff Verlag in Leipzig. He emigrated to Switzerland in 1917, but returned to Germany the next year and supported the revolutionary activities there.

In the 1920s he travelled with Kokoschka and others in Africa, the near East and China. He then began reading and translating poetry from the Chinese and wrote a novel in Chinese style Mörder aus Gerechtigkeit (Murderer Out of Justice, 1931). After the accession of the national socialist regime his books were banned and he fled to Switzerland. He lived for a time in Zürich and Brissago in the house of the art patron Bernhard Mayer, but was unable to obtain a long-term residence permit, in spite of the intervention of writers such as Hermann Hesse, who was then permanently resident in Switzerland. In 1941 he emigrated to the USA and died in New York in 1950. Later friends were able to retrieve his ashes and have them interred in London, where his brother Carl still lived.

Selected writings and references

A. Ehrenstein, Gedichte, Max Rascher Verlag, Zürich, 1919

A. Ehrenstein, Todrot. Eine Auswahl an Gedichten (Selected poems), 2009, hochroth Verlag, Berlin. ISBN: 978-3-9812619-3-6

F. Martini: Ehrenstein, Albert In: Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). Vol.4, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1959, p. 355, www.deutsche-biographie.de/ppn 118688227.html , accessed April 2015.

S. Zweig: Albert Ehrensteins Gedichte, in: Rezensionen 1902–1939. Begegnungen mit Büchern. 1983

K.-M. Gauß: Wann endet die Nacht. Über Albert Ehrenstein – ein Essay. Edition Moderne, Zürich 1986, ISBN 3-907010-24-8.

A. Wallas: Albert Ehrenstein. Mythenzerstörer und Mythenschöpfer, Boerverlag, Grafrath 1994. (This is the most complete and thorough study of Ehrenstein´s literary work to date.)

This page contributed by Penelope Monkhouse