Max Reinhardt was born Maximilian Goldmann in a spa town outside of Vienna in 1873. In 1904 the family changed its surname to Reinhardt. After first training as a bank employee and then as an actor, he worked as a theater director in Germany and Austria from 1902 to 1933. In 1920, Reinhardt founded the Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival). At the height of his career, he ran 13 theaters in Berlin and Vienna, including the world-famous Theater in der Josefstadt (Vienna) and the Deutsches Theater (Berlin). The combined forces of the Great Depression and the diminishing success of his productions led him to give up the direction of his German stages. After spending a few years in Austria, Max Reinhardt emigrated to the US. Here he would prove unable to build upon his earlier successes. He died impoverished in New York in 1943.
Max Reinhardt fled Berlin and the Nazis, initially to Austria. His theaters had already been confiscated in March 1933. On 16 June 1933 Reinhardt penned an open letter to the governments of the German Reich and of Prussia and especially to the Reich Minister of Education, who was responsible for theater. In the letter, Reinhardt gifted his theaters to the German people: “Since I am devoted to Germanness with a momentarily spurned yet nonetheless unshakable love and know that truth, the courage of convictions and loyalty are inherent in it, I believe that this repeatedly and gratefully invoked connection [between Reinhardt’s oeuvre and internationally renowned theater; ed.] cannot be disputed, even today… Without good will or official support, artistic theater cannot survive under present circumstances… Therefore the only possibility left to me… is to offer to Germany the possession my life’s work.”
“If I now… surrender my property to the state… I will be able to leave with a light conscience, secure in the belief of having thereby repaid a debt of gratitude for my many happy years in Germany.”
Exclusion and Alterity: In autobiographical notes composed in exile in New York shortly before his death in 1943, Reinhardt commented: “These days, making serious theater is essentially a quixotic exercise. It means attempting to tilt with artistic ideals at the monstrous windmills rattling away in our stormy times. The whole world has become a stage… Great stars play the leading roles… They issue their orders under the thunder and lightning of the canon. They create their fellow man in their own image… and lead crusades against the faith, the words and the race of their lord and savior. For they are jealous gods, who can suffer no others beside themselves.”
(Max Reinhardt, Ausgewählte Briefe, Reden, Schriften und Szenen aus Regiebüchern, ed. Franz Hadamowsky [Vienna 1963], p. 96–97, 99, 119 [in the order of the three quotations])