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Exiled in Hollywood: A Coordinate System for the Anders Experience

Hollywood Sign
© David Krausse

In the 1930s and 1940s, as the terrors of Nazi Germany engulfed Europe, Los Angeles became a sanctuary for some of the continent's most celebrated artists and intellectuals. Playwright Bertolt Brecht, author Thomas Mann, and composer Arnold Schoenberg all made Southern California their home during these years. Drawn by the region's favourable climate and the economic opportunities afforded by the Hollywood film industry, scores of other German-speaking exiles joined them. So did Günther Anders (born Günther Sigmund Stern, 1902-1992), the remarkable philosopher and thinker this webspace is dedicated to.  

Günther Anders with dog in Hollywood, 1941

Günther Anders with dog in Hollywood,1941 | © Austrian National Library and Gerhard Oberschlick

Image Caption: Günther Anders, Hollywood 1941          


Anders’ path to Hollywood was complicated, painful, and marked by separation. Forced to leave Berlin in 1933, his diaries speak of his traumatic overnight escape Cologne to France. His exile started with him pretending to be asleep behind a raincoat while crammed into a train compartment full of Nazi thugs singing anti-Semitic songs (Tagebücher, p. 229). Anders left Berlin without his wife Hannah Arendt and although they briefly reunited in Paris, the couple would divorce in 1937, by which time Anders had already moved to New York. [A detailed biography of Anders’ extraordinary life can be found here

Günther Anders, passport image taken in exile

Günther Anders, passport image taken in exile | © Austrian National Library and Gerhard Oberschlick

Image caption: Günther Anders, passport image taken in exile 

On the 27th of April 1938, Anders was formally expatriated from the German Reich, and was henceforth a stateless refugee who found that American arms were not wide open to those seeking shelter in the United States.  

“Each of us (the exceptions from this rule are hardly worth mentioning) had, first of all, to hunt down the bare essentials, such as a bed, ration stamps, illegal employment, and, above all, a life permit (a.k.a. work permit). And the hunt for this life permit (mostly spent waiting in corridors) held out hardly any hope at all.” (The Émigré, p. 182) 

A page of Der Aufbau's West Coast feature, a fortnightly publication insert that first appeared in September 1941

A page of Der Aufbau's West Coast feature, a fortnightly publication insert that first appeared in September 1941 | Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York © Aufbau Archiv in der JM Jüdischen Medien AG, Zürich.

Image caption: A page of Der Aufbau's West Coast feature, a fortnightly publication insert that first appeared in September 1941

After three years in New York, California beckoned. On the East Coast, German-language emigree newspapers such as Der Aufbau/Reconstruction, reported on the lifestyle and opportunities emigrees could enjoy in the West. The coverage painted a picture of a comfortably anonymous enclave of famous German and Austrian writers, musicians, artists, actors, and academics, who had made their home in luxurious villas, lush gardens, and azure swimming pools by the “Quiet Ocean”: 
”Of course the houses that Thomas Mann or Lion Feuchtwanger, Emil Ludwig or Vicky Baum live in can't be located on any city map; and no Sightseeing Car visits them. Like many other European writers, they could have dinner at Brown Derby or Sardi's night after night without anyone ever stopping them for their autograph. Fame, it's a strange affair." (Der Aufbau, Aug 7, 1942/VOL8, No32

Lion Feuchtwanger's letter of recommendation, dated 11th of March 1941

Lion Feuchtwanger's letter of recommendation, dated 11th of March 1941 | © Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, Special Collections, University of Southern California

Image Caption: Lion Feuchtwanger's letter of recommendation, dated 11th of March 1941

Anders, by his own account, was intent on achieving a "typical American breakthrough" (Interviews, p. 37) upon arriving in the U.S. But even the strange, anonymous kind of fame reported in Der Aufbau’s West Coast feature, "Die Westküste", remained a distant hope. Despite Lion Feuchtwanger’s commendation of Günther Stern (Anders) as “a productive writer with original ideas” whose “collaboration will be useful for every Motion Picture Company", Anders' attempts to establish himself as a script writer failed. Instead, he encountered the reality of menial labour at conveyer belts in factories and as an unskilled employee. 

And so, for Anders, California turned out to be paradise, sunny side down.  

“We had exchanged rain not for fair weather but for another bout of rain ..." (The Émigré, p. 182)

This brings us to the pages of “Washing the Corpses of History”. The diary zhat gives an insight into the hidden truth of Hollywood and life in exile, which forms the basis for Real is not Real Enough. [You can read more about our translation journey here]. 

Hollywood Costume Corp

Advertisment of Western Costume's new location on Melrose Ave that appeared in 1934 in the Hollywood Filmograph, a Los Angeles trade paper | © The Filmograph

Image caption: Advertisement for Western Costume's new location on Melrose Ave that appeared in 1934 in the Hollywood Filmograph, a Los Angeles trade paper

The diary provides an account of one of the many “odd jobs” Anders had during his years of exile: the job of cleaning props and costumes for a company in the supply chain of the Hollywood movie industry. Dated to March and April 1941, it leads uns into a large "hulk of a building", the palace of employment Anders introduces in his diary as the "THE HOLLYWOOD CUSTOM PALACE". The word custom, he explains, actually means costume - but it is indeed a place of strange costumes and contradictions that we find inside. It is the world of fake props and costumes that Hollywood creates as it adopts and distorts European history and culture in its movies, while – at the very same time – Hitler and the ravages of war are in the process of destroying the originals. A global disaster experienced through the private concerns and ignominy of menial work.   

“Those who have never realized to their horror that, in the midst of a global catastrophe, they were prevented from attending to what was happening and were condemned instead to eating their utterly private bread with utterly private tears do not know today's hellish powers; they have failed to take in today’s main scandal. This scandal systematically prevents us – and by us I mean the millions that make up humankind - from participating emotionally in the chief dilemmas of our world; it forces us to shed "wrong tears", tears spilled over insignificant, trivial matters; and it deprives us of the time, the strength and the right to shed tears over what does have a claim…” (“The Émigré”, p. 183-84) 
Western Costume Company

An army of shoes inside the costume archives at the Western Costume Company | © Western Costume Company Research Library and Archive

Image caption: An employee examining an army of boots at Western Costume Company, Bronson Building, Los Angeles, 1935

The true identity of the Hollywood Costume Palace remains a mystery and may stay so for good. It is likely that the Western Costume Company (WCC) served as Anders’ place of employment. As Leighton Bowers, Director of Research and Archives at the Western Costume Company, notes, the WCC would have been the only organisation to match key aspects of Anders’ account, such as the size of the company the diary describes, its multi studio customer base and the sheer range of props and costumes kept in store. The relevant employment records at WCC no longer survive, and many aspects of Anders' account do not fully match the reality on the ground. Historical accuracy, it is a strange kind of affair. 

Upon leaving the Palace and returning to Europe in 1950, Anders would go on to publish 30 books and produce some of the most significant and prescient critiques of technology, all drawing on the experience of exile. So much so that in his later work, California does not primarily seem to relate to a physical place but to the human condition of Western modernity itself.  

Find out more about the Western Costume Company via the Finding Lost Angeles project’s historical exhibition here, visit the Western Costume Research Library here or click here for The Hollywood Reporter’s WWC feature piece.   

Explore Anders’ ideas further 

The Life of a Rescuer: Eva Michaelis-Stern in Dark Times (Jason Dawsey on the extraordinary life of Eva Michaelis-Stern, Günther Anders’ sister, World War Two Museum, New Orleans) 

Ruins Today: Günther Anders’s Delayed Contribution to the Heidegger Debate in Les Temps Modernes (by Anna Pollmann, Journal of the History of Ideas Blog) 

Beyond the World War II We Know: The Hiroshima Pilot Who Became a Symbol of Antinuclear Protest (by Anne Harrington, The New York Times Magazine) 

Utopia Inverted: Günther Anders, Technology and the Social (Special Edition of Thesis Eleven)  

In German 

Der Emigrant, a 2021 edition (C.H Beck)  

“USA for Good?” Zum Briefwechsel zwischen Hannah Arendt und Günther Anders (Kerstin Putz, Forschungsblog Östereichische Nationalbiliothek) 

Günther Anders aktuell (Special edition of Behemouth)  

“Bild als Beute“ (Kerstin Putz on the logic of Anders’ diaries as ‘warning images’ in Wiener digitale Revue)  

On and by Anders 

Books by Günther Anders at C.H Beck 

Anders in video, text, and audio on the website of the International Günther Anders Society  

Günther Anders at FORVM (edited by Gerhard Oberschlick) 

Homeless Sculpture (a speech delivered at the Vigovino Galleries, Brentwood, California, on March 13, 1943) 


Günther Anders, Tagebücher und Gedichte (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1985) 
Günther Anders, “The Émigré” [1962], trans. Otmar Binder, The Life and Work of Günther Anders: Iconoclast, Philosopher, Man of Letters, ed. Günter Bischof, Jason Dawsey, and Bernhard Fetz (Innsbruck: Studien Verlag, 2014), 171-186 

Günther Anders, “Washing the Corpses of History”, trans. Christopher John Müller, Modernism/modernity PrintPlus 5(4) 

Der Aufbau/Reconstruction, “Refugee-Dichter am Stillen Ozean“, 7 August, 1942, Vol8(32), Aufbau Archiv in der JM Jüdischen Medien AG, Zürich, Courtesy of Leo Baeck Institute New York 

The Hollywood FilmographWestern Costume Corporation Advertisement, 9 April, 1932, Vol12(12), Los Angeles