Author. He is best known for his 1918 play “The Last Days of Mankind”, a satire about World War I, which was written in the German language. The complete 100-year-old play had not been fully translated into English until just recently. Not being translated from German to English limited his notoriety in the English-speaking world. He was known for his high-end wisecracks toward his favorite targets: warrior-politicians, profit-driven businessmen, faddish taste and, above all, the “educated” press. To quote him, “Diplomats lie to journalists, then believe the headlines.” Throughout his life-time, he had a European following who enjoyed reading his wit in words. He was born the youngest of nine children into a wealthy Jewish family; his parents were Jacob Kraus, a papermaker, and his wife Ernestine Kantor. He attended the University of Vienna for a short time studying law before starting his writing career. As a student, he submitted his articles to various newspapers with a positive reception. In April, 1899 he founded the literary and political review magazine “Die Fackel” or “The Torch”. His father helped finance the 32-page first edition. On April 8, 1911, he abandoned his Jewish ancestry and was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, but by 1923 publicly left the church as an act of protest. His magazine published 922 issues by 1926 when the magazine ceased with the rise of Nazism in Austria. He never became associated with a particular literary movement or political persuasion; yet, several issues of “The Torch” were confiscated, other issues hindered by censorship since he was against World War I. On stage as on the page, Kraus was a one-man show presenting more than 700 lectures and readings to rapt audiences of as many as 1,500 people. “Let No One Ask” was a poem which Kraus wrote in 1933 after Nazis leader Adolph Hitler had come to power in Germany; the poem ends, “The word slept as the world awoke”. The love-of-his-life was the aristocrat Sidonie Nadherny. Though they were together off and on for years, they never married. He asked, but she refused and left him stating that he was a “one-man act”. Some sources claim Kraus’ ancestry was the main reason for her refusal as he was considered a Jewish writer in her society circles. Not considered handsome at all, he was a loner who was notoriously cantankerous and at times difficult. He despised modern technology yet kept a car and a chauffeur. “We are complicated enough to build machines,” wrote Kraus in 1908, “and too primitive to make them serve us.” On an evening in February, 1936, he was hit by a bicycle while crossing a dark Vienna street. For weeks, he complained of headaches and loss of memory after the injury. On April 2nd he gave his last lecture. He had a heart attack in Café Imperial on June 10th and died two days later from a heart attack and stroke or head injury from the accident. Sidonie Nadherny was with him when he died. Other publications that he wrote were “The Fall of Hervay” in1904; “Irrenhaus, Austria” in 1904; “The Children's Friends” in 1905; “The Process Riehl” in 1906; “Proverbs and Contradictions” first edition 1909, further editions until 1924; “Pro domo et mundo” in 1919; “Man Will Still Be There” in 1921; and “At Night” in 1924. A serious student of German and German literature, Jonathan Franzen, the bestselling novelist from Western Springs, Illinois, has assembled “The Kraus Project,” which was published in 2013. The project has Kraus’ writings in German on one column on the page and on the other translated to English. With Franzen’s publication, the English-speaking world can enjoy a man who was in control of his language. On April 26, 1974, a commemorative stamp for his 100th birthday was issued in Austria and an exhibit in Vienna to honor him was held May to July of the same year.
Bio by: Linda Davis