Skip to main content

Ernst Toller papers

Call Number: MS 498

Scope and Contents

The Ernst Toller Papers make it possible to examine Toller's development as a political writer and speaker as well as a dramatist. The personal papers are concentrated in the last years of Toller's life, covering 1934 to 1939. Correspondence dates primarily from the year 1938. In addition, the personal papers include manuscript and typscript copies of Toller's plays written between 1935 and 1939.

A major feature of the Ernst Toller Papers is the nearly complete collection of Toller's plays in German and English translation. Also of special interest is a large collection of Toller's occasional pieces which originally appeared in newspapers and periodicals in several countries. These works span Toller's entire writing career. They were collected by John M. Spalek, editor of Toller's works, and have been brought together here in the Ernst Toller Papers.

Toller's fame before 1933 rested almost exclusively on his plays. Yet after 1930 Toller's political writings increased until in exile they actually exceeded his dramatic works. The papers as a whole reflect this trend, notably in the large amount of material devoted to Toller's involvement with the Spanish Relief Project.

In addition to Toller's own published and unpublished work, the papers contain valuable critical writings on Toller and his work.

For the most complete critical bibliography of works by and about Toller see John M. Spalek's Ernst Toller and His Critics, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1968.

The papers are arranged in three series and two additions: Series. I CORRESPONDENCE, MANUSCRIPTS AND MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS; Series II. PUBLISHED WORKS; Series III. WORKS ABOUT TOLLER.

Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, MANUSCRIPTS AND MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS, contains some correspondence concerning the publication of Toller's plays, but consists primarily of correspondence which deals with Toller's efforts to seek funds and support for his Spanish Relief Project in 1938. Correspondents of note include Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, Pablo Picasso, H.G. Wells and Frederic Wertham.

Series I also contains manuscripts of Toller's plays, articles, speeches and short stories. Most of the articles and speeches concern the Spanish Relief Project and Toller's opposition to Nazism.

The photographs in Series I include those of Toller alone and in groups, of Toller's theatrical productions, and photographs of war-torn Spain in 1938.

Materials in Series I concerning the Spanish Relief Project include statistics and reports on the food shortage in Spain, numerous newspaper clippings from various countries, and leaflets and memoranda.

At the end of Series I are various miscellaneous items.

Series II, PUBLISHED WORKS, is divided into two sections: Books and Plays and Miscellaneous Minor Works and Reprints. The latter contains a collection of the occasional works of Toller, and of portions of his works reprinted either in periodicals or in pamphlet form. Among the miscellaneous works are essays, speeches, newspaper and periodical articles, interviews with and newspaper articles about Toller. Included here are transcripts of his trial in Bavaria, 1918-1919. The works are mostly in German and English translation and are all electrostatic copies.

Series III, WORKS ABOUT TOLLER, includes books, dissertations and articles about Toller and his work. Also included are a student play based on Toller's life, and a poem written after Toller's death by W. H. Auden.

The Ernst Toller Papers were purchased by Yale University from Sidney Kaufman in 1954 and John M. Spalek in 1977.


  • 1917-1978
  • Majority of material found within 1933 - 1939


Language of Materials

The materials are in English, German, and French.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Sidney Kaufman, 1954, and from John M. Spalek, 1977. Gift of Bert Kasties, 1991. Purchased from A Piece of History, 2011.


Arranged in three series and two additions: I. Correspondence, Manuscripts, Miscellaneous Items. II. Published Works. III. Works About Toller.


8.77 Linear Feet (29 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The major part of the papers is made up of a nearly complete collection of Ernst Toller's plays printed in German and in English translation, together with copies of his articles (1917-1939) which were gathered from newspapers and periodicals from many countries by John M. Spalek, editor of Toller's works. Also assembled by Spalek and added to the papers are articles, books, and dissertations (1922-1972) about Toller in both German and English. The personal papers stem from the last five years of Toller's life and consist of manuscripts for eight plays written between 1934 and 1938, typescripts of short stories in English and German, speeches, memorabilia and photographs. A small amount of correspondence (1933-1939) is largely concerned with his Spanish Relief Project, devoted to raising funds to alleviate the consequences of the Civil War in Spain. Notable correspondents include Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, Pablo Picasso, H. G. Wells, and Frederic Wertham.

Biographical / Historical

Ernst Toller, German dramatist and political activist, was born of Jewish parents on December 1, 1893, in Samotschin, a small town near Bromberg. After receiving his primary and secondary education in Samotschin and Bromberg, he attended the University of Grenoble, France.

At the outbreak of World War I, Toller returned to Germany from France. He enlisted in the army and served on the western front. Discharged from the army because of poor health, Toller continued his studies at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg.

When the Bavarian Revolution broke out in Germany in 1918, Toller was prominent in the revolutionary government. For activities connected with this position he later served five year's imprisonment.

The term in prison was a prolific period for Toller. Plays which were successfully produced during his confinement include Die Wandlung (1919), Masse-Mensch (1921), Die Maschinenstürmer (1922), and Hinkemann (1924).

Toller's play Hoppla, wir leben! opened in Berlin in 1927. The year 1930 saw the opening of Feuer aus den Kesseln! in Berlin and the publication of Quer Durch.

Toller went to Switzerland in 1933. During the same year he was deprived of his citizenship by the Nazi government, his property was confiscated, and his books were burned. He fled to England and subsequently became a British subject. At the end of 1933, Toller's autobiography, Eine Jugend in Deutschland, was published.

In 1935 Toller produced Draw the Fires! in Manchester and published Briefe aus dem Gefängnis. No More Peace! opened in London in 1936.

Toller made his first trip to the United States in 1929. He again came to this country in 1936 with his wife, Christiane Grautoff, whom he had married the previous year, and lectured both here and in Canada on the dangers of Hitler and fascism.

In 1937 Toller was hired to write film scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. During this time he resided mostly in Santa Monica, California.

Toller traveled to Spain in 1938 and witnessed the suffering of the civilian population in the midst of a civil war. He initiated a large-scale relief project for civilians on both sides of the Spanish Civil War and secured the cooperation of the United States and several European countries in raising money for food suplies. The bulk of Toller's correspondence and essayistic prose from this period reflects his deep commitment to aiding the Spanish refugees.

Toller's last play, Pastor Hall, was published in the spring of 1939.

Toller died by suicide on May 22, 1939, in New York City.

Guide to the Ernst Toller Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Miriam Levi
February 1979
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2023-06-21: Finding aid revised to address euphemistic and/or stigmatizing descriptive language related to suicide.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours