In 1905, the young writer Ehrenstein met Arthur Schnitzler, an important Jewish Viennese writer. Four years later Ehrenstein met Karl Kraus, editor-in-chief of the expressionist journal, “Die Fackel" (The Torch), and it was in this periodical that Ehrenstein was first published. Later on, more opportunities arose with avant-garde journals, including “Der Sturm" (The Storm), which was edited by Herwarth Walden – the poet Else Lasker-Schüler’s husband. Ehrenstein’s prominent presence in the circles of principal avant-garde writers of German speaking countries made him one of the leading figures of the expressionist movement in the years 1911-1930.
Ehrenstein’s first book, “Tubutsch”, was received with much enthusiasm, and following its first appearance in 1911 was re-printed in several more editions. Ehrenstein’s friend, the painter Oscar Kokoschka, added several illustrations to the first edition of the book and in doing so helped to turn it into a classic example of expressionist art characteristic of the first decades of the 20th century.
Many of the authors writing in German at that time were familiar with Ehrenstein, as is evident by the rich correspondence he kept with several of them, a great deal of which has been preserved. Among Albert Ehrenstein’s correspondents were the publisher Ernst Rowohlt, the writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Stefan Zweig, Herman Hesse, Else Lasker-Schüler, Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus and Alfred Doeblin, the philosopher Martin Buber, the actress Elizabeth Bergner (with whom Ehrenstein fell madly in love), and many others.
Albert Ehrenstein lived a bohemian life, was never married (although he was certainly no prude), and moved several times throughout his life. He lived in Vienna, Zurich, and Berlin until the early 1930s. When he was in his late twenties, Ehrenstein and his friend, Oscar Kokoschka, traveled the Middle East and even made it to Israel, though Ehrenstein never became a fan of the Zionist Movement. During the years 1932-1941 Ehrenstein lived mostly in Italian Switzerland and thus was able to escape the Nazi regime, which by 1933 was burning his books, claiming he was a Jewish writer creating “un-German” literature. Switzerland’s problematic policies regarding refugees at the time of WWII left Ehrenstein with no choice but to leave, and ensuing great efforts he was successful in securing a visa to the United States. He spent the remainder of his years in New York, where he passed away in 1950. He was unsuccessful in finding an audience in the USA, and his endeavors in the English language largely failed. The last decade of his life was spent in poverty, and until his death in 1950 Ehrenstein was impoverished – his few remaining friends had to gather money in order to prevent his burial in an anonymous shared grave.
Following his death, Albert Ehrenstein’s estate made its way to the National Library with the help of his brother Carl. Apart from the considerable amount of correspondence, there were manuscripts of his works, newspaper clippings, and personal effects such as private journals, photographs, and documents. These materials have served as the basis for many research and literary publications. In the sixty years since his death, Ehrenstein’s estate has accrued a variety of materials, among them manuscripts and letters donated by friends and collected by the staff of the Archives department
. These additional materials were catalogued separately and made the task of evaluating the whole of the archive quite difficult. Ehrenstein’s personal archive is one of the most requested at the Archives department, and over the past several months has undergone reorganization and been entered into the National Library’s Online Catalogue
. In celebration of Albert Ehrenstein’s 125th birthday on December 22, 2011, this important resource is now properly organized and available to researchers online.