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Biographical/Historical Information

Ernst Toller was a German-Jewish Expressionist playwright, known for his left-wing ideals. During the First World War, he volunteered for the military and served on the Western Front for just over a year. He suffered from physical and psychological collapse, and his experiences inspired his first drama, "Transformation." In 1919, he served as President of the brief Bavarian Soviet Republic, a government which was led by a group of anarchists and communists. Toller was tried for his part in the revolution and was sentenced to five years in prison. During his incarceration, he wrote most of his plays and poems. He was released from prison in 1925. When Nazi rule began in 1933, he was exiled from Germany and traveled to London. He spent two years traveling and lecturing in North America before settling down in New York City and working as a journalist. Poor reception of his plays, coupled with financial troubles and learning that his siblings were in concentration camps, caused him to spiral into depression. Toller committed suicide in his room at the Mayflower Hotel on May 22, 1939.

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Ernst Toller, Portrait, Leo Baeck Institute, F 17892.