Britta Böhler

The Decision

Reconstruction of a decisive moment in the life of Thomas Mann

Switzerland, Friday 31 January 1936. The world-famous German author Thomas Mann faces a dilemma. At the urging of his daughter Erika he has written an open letter in which he makes a public stand against the Nazi regime. On Monday it will be published in the Neue ZŸrcher Zeitung and all his connections with his fatherland will be severed.

Immediately after Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann left his country. After warnings from his daughter, he didn’t dare to go back and felt forced to abandon his beloved house in Munich and a substantial chunk of his property. His holiday home in Lithuania became inaccessible. After travelling around for a while, he and his wife Katja rented a house in KŸsnacht near Zurich, where he carried on writing his Joseph trilogy.

The story begins just after Mann has delivered the letter to the editorial office. He walks along the shore of the lake, contemplating his fate. He knows his letter will make him enemies, that the loss of his possessions will now be final and that he is putting his Jewish publisher in a difficult position. Worse, he will be alienated from his fatherland and possibly even from his readers. Should he withdraw the letter? How indignant would his children and his wife be if he did? What will the courage to speak out cost him?We feel for the prominent writer in the days he spends wavering between withdrawal and publication. Britta Böhler skilfully makes his dilemma tangible: Mann was a born doubter who needed continual reassurance from others. The decision to sever ties with Germany raises questions about the significance of nationality. ‘The breach will be permanent; his country will be lost to him forever, he will have no fatherland. A German master without a country. He won’t even have a German passport any longer. What does it matter? Nationality is an outdated notion, after all.’

By creating this intimate, personal portrait, Böhler unlocks a crucial moment in Mann’s life, a small but significant watershed in German and European cultural history.

Reading the book is as if we are getting close to Thomas Mann, and it feels like a privilege. As we follow him we understand his doubts but we also get to know him as writer, a father, a husband and a citizen. While we know the outcome, it’s fascinating to make the journey with him, leading up to his courageous decision. It is very moving to witness his decision which is the first step to his intellectual resistance against the Nazis. The strength of this literary novel is that it can reach a wide audience.

Emmanuelle Heurtebize, publisher at Stock

A clever novel. Böhler has painted a convincing picture of a period and of an exile who has no idea how the situation will unfold. She is a true novelist.

Britta Böhler

Britta Böhler (b. 1960) was born in Germany but has Dutch citizenship. She is bilingual and wrote the text in German before translating it into Dutch with the help of a translator, Nelleke van Maaren. Böhler is a lawyer and a law professor at the University of Amsterdam. As part of the writing…

lees meer


De beslissing (2013). Fiction, 176 pages.
Words: 34,189

Full German version available; English sample translation available
Eligible for translation subsidy if translated from the Dutch.



Kerkstraat 361
NL - 1017 HW Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 528 99 11
Fax: +31 20 528 99 12

[email protected]

lees meer