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Hanns Heinz Ewers

Hanns Heinz Ewers (November 3, 1871, Düsseldorf - June 12, 1943, Berlin) was a German actor, poet, philosopher, and writer of short stories and novels. While he wrote on a wide range of subjects, he is now known mainly for his works of horror, particularly his trilogy of novels about the adventures of Frank Braun, a character modeled on himself. The best known of these is Alraune.

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Career

Ewers's literary career began with a volume of satiric verse, entitled A Book of Fables, published during 1901. That same year he collaborated with Ernst von Wolzogen in forming a literary vaudeville theatre before forming his own such company, which toured Central and Eastern Europe before the operating expenses and constant interference from censors caused him to abandon the enterprise. A world traveller, Ewers was in South America at the beginning of World War I, and relocated to New York City, where he continued to write and publish.

Ewers' reputation as a successful German author and performer made him a natural speaker for the German cause to keep the United States from joining the war as an ally of Britain. Ewers toured cities with large ethnic German communities and raised funds for the German Red Cross.

During this period, he was involved with the "Stegler Affair". American shipping companies reportedly collaborated with the British, allowing male Germany-bound passengers to be arrested and interned in prison camps by the British Navy; German volunteers required false passports to reach Europe unmolested. Ewers was implicated by one of these ethnic Germans, Richard Stegler.

After the United States joined the war he was arrested during 1918 as an “active propagandist,” although the US government, as well as British and French intelligence agencies asserted that Ewers was a German agent. They evidenced his travels to Spain during 1915 and 1916, both with an alias using a falsified Swiss passport. A travel report in the archives of the German foreign office also indicates that he may have been traveling to Mexico, maybe to encourage Pancho Villa to hamper the U.S. military by an attack on the United States.

Ewers is associated with the pro-German George Sylvester Viereck, son of the German immigrant and reported illegitimate Hohenzollern offspring Louis Sylvester Viereck (a Social Democrat famous for sharing a prison cell with August Bebel), who was a member of the same Berlin student Corps (fraternity) as Ewers.

Ewers' activities as an "Enemy Alien" in New York were documented by J. Christoph Amberger in the German historical journal Einst & Jetzt (1991). Amberger indicates arrival records which demonstrate that Ewers entered the United States in the company of a "Grethe Ewers", who is identified as his wife. Enemy Alien Office records refer to a recent divorce. The identity of this otherwise undocumented wife has never been established and is missing from most biographies.

As a German national he was sent to the internment camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Ewers was never tried as a German agent in the United States. During 1921, he was released from the internment camp and returned to his native Germany.

Ewers's first novel, Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), was published during 1910, with an English translation appearing in America during 1927. It introduces the character of Frank Braun, who, like Ewers, is a writer, historian, philosopher, and world traveller with a decidedly Nietzschean morality. The story concerns Braun's attempts to manipulate a small cult of evangelical Christians in a small Italian mountain village for his own financial gain, and the horrific results which ensue.

This was followed during 1911 by Alraune, a reworking of the Frankenstein myth, in which Braun collaborates in creating a female homunculus or android by impregnating a prostitute with the semen from a hanged murderer. The result is a young woman without morals, who commits numerous monstrous acts. The novel was filmed several times, most recently by Erich von Stroheim during 1952.

The third novel of the sequence, Vampyr, written during 1921, concerns Braun's own eventual transformation into one of these blood-drinking creatures. Another novel, Der Geisterseher, was published during 1922.

Ewers also published several plays, poems, fairy tales, opera librettos, and critical essays. These included Die Ameisen, translated into English as The Ant People, Indien und ich, a travelogue of his time in India, and a 1916 critical essay on Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he has often been compared. Indeed, Ewers is still considered by many a major author in the evolution of the horror literary genre, cited as a major influence by no less than H. P. Lovecraft. Students of the occult are also attracted to his works, due to his longtime friendship and correspondence with Aleister Crowley.

Movie work

Ewers was one of the first critics to recognize cinema as a legitimate artform, and wrote the scripts for numerous early examples of the medium, most notably The Student of Prague (1913), a reworking of the Faust legend which also included the first portrayal of a double role by an actor on the screen. Nazi martyr Horst Wessel, then a member of the same Corps (student fraternity) of which Ewers had been a member, appears as an extra in a 1928 version of the movie, also written by Ewers. Ewers was later commissioned by Adolf Hitler to write a biography of Wessel (Einer von vielen), which also was made into a movie.

Nazi involvement

During the last years of the Weimar Republic, Ewers became involved with the burgeoning Nazi Party, attracted to its Nationalism, its alleged Nietzschean moral philosophy, and its cult worship of Teutonic culture, although he never officially joined it. He did not agree with the party's anti-Semitism (his character Frank Braun has a Jewish mistress, Lotte Levi, who is also a patriotic German) and this plus his homosexual tendencies soon ended his popularity with the party management. During 1934 most of his works were banned in Germany, and his assets and property seized. Ewers eventually died in poverty from tuberculosis.

Despite his great influence on 20th century fantasy and horror literature, Ewers remains out of favor in many literary circles because of his brief association with the Nazis. As a result, post-World War II editions of his works are often difficult to find, and earlier editions can command a premium price from collectors.

During March 2009 Side Real Press issued an English language collection of short stories including some newly translated material.

Trivia

Ewers appears in Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula, as a predatory vampire who travels briefly with Edgar Allan Poe.

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