Berthold Auerbach was born into a Jewish family in Thorn in Western Prussia (now Torun, Poland). He attended school there, until his parents moved to Berlin in 1885. He had already begun studying Latin and in the next few years added French and Greek to his curriculum. In December 1891 he began his working life by going into commercial training with the firm of H. Holde in Berlin. He remained with them until October 1894. Between 1895 and 1897 he trained in business and commerce with Albert Meyer (Speditions-, Commissions- und Bankgeschäft) but was very unhappy, realising that this type of career was not for him.
He joined the Literarische Gesellschaft in Leipzig, which had been founded by Carl Heine, and in March 1898 began work there as actor, Treasurer and Secretary. Out of this society grew Heine's Ibsentheater. The dramatist Frank Wedekind was also a member of the company. The Ibsentheater toured northern Germany until the end of 1898 when it ceased to exist.
After a brief period as a reporter in Berlin, Auerbach started out as a theatrical agent. He was to pursue this career for the next 36 years and became skilled in matching directors and companies with suitable actors and actresses, not only in Germany, but also in Austria and Switzerland. In this way many famous names in German theatre owed their careers to him through being spotted by him and his subsequent support and development of their talent. Amongst these were Adolf Roff, Elsa Wagner, Emil Jannings and Carl Ebert. He was untiring in his travels to review productions and was enthusiastic about contemporary drama. His conduct and industry won him many lasting friendships in the profession: Helene Riechers, Carl Ebert, Elsa Wagner, and the Dumont/Lindemann Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus.
In October 1898, Auerbach went to work for the theatre agency E. Drenker & Co. In 1907 he married Anna Pergams who came to Berlin from Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad in Russia). In 1915 he was called up for military service and sent to Königsberg for training, where the director of the Stadttheater 'Neues Schauspielhaus' gave him free tickets for all performances. His old firm of Drenker managed to secure his release from the army and he remained with them until 1929, when the firm closed. At this point the state founded an official agency for stage and film, Paritätischer Stellennachweis der Deutschen Bühnen, where the Actors' Union and the Union of Theatre Directors were represented on equal terms. Auerbach remained with them until 1933, when he was dismissed after an SA (Sturmabteilung) raid, albeit with a creditable testimonial. He was called back and re-employed for short periods four times, having become indispensable to the agency, until Goebbels personally put a stop to this.
Despite numerous letters from the acting profession and others urging his re-employment, Auerbach remained without work in Berlin from 1934 to 1939 when he and his wife, after much heart-searching, decided to leave Germany to join their daughter in England. They were not allowed to bring out their two sons. The free tickets Auerbach had been sent during the first few years of the Nazi regime largely ceased once Jews were forbidden to enter German theatres, and he could only attend performances in the few special Jewish theatres.
After his arrival in England, Auerbach was interned in a camp on the Isle of Man for a few months. In 1945 he was invited back to Germany to take up his profession again, but decided it was too late to start afresh. In 1951 he made his first visit to Düsseldorf and Berlin. When he revisited Germany his reception was tumultuous. He wrote an address for Helene Riecher's 85th birthday in 1954, which was read out at her memorial sevice in 1957. She died one month after Auerbach's wife.
In November 1959, Auerbach celebrated his own 85th birthday and received presents and tributes from the entire German theatrical profession, including the Unions. During his exile, he never lost touch with the German theatre scene and derived immense enjoyment not only from the letters he received but from the journals which were sent to him regularly.
Auerbach’s archive consists in large part of letters from German actors, theatre agents and directors, of which roughly half date from the pre-emigration period. Many of these items were written to Auerbach in his capacity as an employee of the theatre agency E. Drenker & Co and concern the writer’s availability for work. They also include several from actor Albert Bassermann dating to the period 1915-1927, and two from actor Pamela Wedekind dating from 1932 asking for Auerbach’s advice. There are also several testimonials by theatre directors and actors with whom Auerbach had worked; many of them date from 1933 and 1934 and were written following Auerbach’s dismissal from the Paritätischer Stellennachweis der Deutschen Bühnen after the Nazis came to power in 1933. Of the letters sent to Auerbach after his emigration to the UK, only one, from Austrian exile actor Lucie Mannheim, dates from the wartime period 1939-1945. The rest of the post-emigration correspondence is from the post-war period and includes several letters from opera director, Carl Ebert, dating to 1948-1954; two from poet Herbert Eulenberg dating to 1946, and three from actor Fritz Valk dated 1947-1948. There are also numerous items of correspondence of congratulation sent to mark the occasion of Auerbach’s 85th birthday in 1959. Note that the correspondence is almost all incoming; there are very few (copies of) letters written by Auerbach himself.
In addition to the correspondence, there are typescripts of articles and speeches written by Auerbach following his emigration to the UK. Some of the articles were published in the journal Theater der Zeit, but in some cases it is not clear whether the articles were actually published. They include a text entitled ‘Gedächtnisfeier für Stefan Zweig zum Geburtstag am 25.11.1943’, written after Zweig’s death in exile in 1942; an account of the first performance of Gerhart Hauptmann's play Hanneles Himmelfahrt at the Königliches Schauspielhaus, Berlin, in 1893 (undated); a fragment of a text on the awakening of consciousness concerning the arts in Germany after the oppression of the previous decade, dated 1945; and an account of the founding of the Literarische Gesellschaft and the Ibsen Theater by Carl Heine in Leipzig in the 1890s, entitled ‘Frühlingsgewitter über Leipzig’ (dated 1950). The latter includes Auerbach’s recollection of how the prologue of Frank Wedekind’s Der Erdgeist came to be written, a copy of the first handwritten draft of which is also in the archive. [According to a letter from Auerbach’s daughter, Hilde Auerbach, on 7 August 1986, the original first draft was sold at auction by Sotherby's in 1974 or 1975 to a dealer, Otto Haas. The original draft is now in the Moldenhauer Archives at the US Library of Congress.]
In addition to the correspondence and texts by Auerbach, there are also a number of his early school reports, photographs and some news cuttings.
The German Theatre Collection was originally catalogued together with the Auerbach papers, but these have now been recatalogued with reference code GTC.
BAA/1.1 Education: School Reports
BAA/1.2 Career: Testimonials
BAA/1.3 Published Output
BAA/1.4 General Correspondence
An oral history interview with Berthold Auerbach’s daughter, Hilde Auerbach, carried out by Irene Wells on behalf of the Research Centre for German & Austrian Exile Studies in 1996 is also available.