Werner Krauss

Last updated

Werner Krauss
Werner Krauss um 1920 by Alexander Binder.jpg
Krauss about 1920
Werner Johannes Krauß

(1884-06-23)23 June 1884
Died20 October 1959(1959-10-20) (aged 75)
Years active1902–1959
Paula Saenger
(m. 1908;div. 1930)

(m. 1931;div. 1940)

Liselotte Graf
(m. 1940)
Awards Staatsschauspieler (1934)
Goethe-Medaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft (1938)
Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1954)
Iffland-Ring (1954)
Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria (1955)

Werner Johannes Krauss (Krauß in German; 23 June 1884 – 20 October 1959) was a German stage and film actor. Krauss dominated the German stage of the early 20th century. However, his participation in the antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süß and his collaboration with the Nazis made him a controversial figure.


Early life

Krauss was born at the parsonage of Gestungshausen bei Sonnefeld in Upper Franconia, where his grandfather was a Protestant pastor. He spent his childhood in Breslau and from 1901 attended the teacher's college at Kreuzburg. After it became known that he worked as an extra at the Breslau Lobe-Theater, he was suspended from classes and decided to join a travelling theatre company.

Acting career

Werner Krauss in 'Dantons Tod' Werner Krauss als St. Just in 'Dantons Tod'.jpg
Werner Krauß in 'Dantons Tod'

In 1903 he debuted at the Guben municipal theatre. Although never trained as an actor, he continued to play in Magdeburg, in Bromberg at the Theater Aachen, in Nuremberg and in Munich.

By the agency of Alexander Moissi, in 1913 he met the theatre director Max Reinhardt, who took Krauss to his Deutsches Theater in Berlin. However, Krauss initially only gained minor and secondary roles like King Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet or Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust , wherefore after his military discharge as a midshipman of the Imperial German Navy in 1916 he also pursued a career as a film actor.

Krauss' first film role was in Richard Oswald's 1916 Tales of Hoffmann . Committed to playing sinister characters, he became a worldwide sensation for his demonic portrayal of the titular character in Robert Wiene's film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), considered a milestone of German Expressionism. Krauss played the title role of Shakespeare's Othello in a 1920 adaption, and played Iago in a 1922 film adaptation. In 1922, Krauss also played the noble Jewish hero in Nathan the Wise , based on the play by Lessing. He was prominently featured in Paul Leni's Waxworks (1924), F.W. Murnau's Tartuffe, and The Student of Prague (1926).

In 1924 Krauss continued his theatre career by joining the ensemble of the Prussian State Theatre in Berlin. He again appeared on stage of the Deutsches Theater from 1926, as in Strindberg's A Dream Play filling five roles or as Wilhelm Voigt in the 1931 premiere of Carl Zuckmayer's The Captain of Köpenick . He also performed at the Vienna Burgtheater, and guest performances even brought him to London and on Broadway in New York City, where Max Reinhardt staged Karl Vollmöller's The Miracle in 1924.

Krauss' consummate skills in characterization earned him the title of "the man with a thousand faces". [1] [ failed verification ] His fellow actress Elisabeth Bergner called him "the greatest actor of all time" and a "demonic genius" in her memoirs. Oskar Werner, born Oskar Josef Bschließmayer, chose his stage name in Krauss' honour.

Nazi Germany

Werner Krauss Werner Krauss.jpg
Werner Krauss

Krauss was an unapologetic antisemite [2] who supported the Nazi Party and its ideology. While the Nazis seized power in Berlin in January 1933, Krauss joined the Vienna Burgtheater ensemble to perform as Napoleon in 100 Tage (Campo di maggio), a drama written by Giovacchino Forzano together with Benito Mussolini, whereafter he was received by the Italian dictator and also made the acquaintance of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. In the course of the totalitarian Gleichschaltung process, Krauss was appointed Vice President of the Reichskulturkammer theatre department and served in that capacity from 1933 to 1935. In 1934, Krauss was designated as a Staatsschauspieler ('State Actor', i.e. an actor of national importance). Upon the death of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg in August, he signed the Aufruf der Kulturschaffenden to merge of the offices of President and Chancellor in the person of Adolf Hitler. Goebbels and Hitler rated Krauss as a cultural ambassador of Nazi Germany.

Krauss and Max Reinhardt worked together for the last time at the 1937 Salzburg Festival, staging Goethe's Faust (with Krauss as Mephistopheles) in the Felsenreitschule theatre, shortly before Reinhardt emigrated to the United States. In 1940, Krauss simultaneously played the roles of six stereotypical Jewish characters – among them Rabbi Loew and Sekretar Levy – in Veit Harlan's antisemitic propaganda film Jud Süß , implementing Harlan's concept of a common Jewish root. When asked by Wolfgang Liebeneiner about the devastating effects of his performance, he replied: "that's no concern of mine – I'm an actor!" Krauss also played Shylock in Lothar Müthel's defamatory production of The Merchant of Venice staged at the Burgtheater in 1943. In 1944, Krauss was added to the "Gottbegnadeten list" of indispensable German artists, which exempted him from military service in the Wehrmacht forces, including service on the home front.


After the war, Krauss had to leave his home in Mondsee near Salzburg and was expelled from Austria. He also was banned from performing on stage and in films in Germany. His films were proscribed and he was ordered to undergo a denazification program from 1947 to 1948, whereafter he could return to Austria to become a naturalized citizen. In 1950, he again performed as King Lear at the Ruhr Festival in Recklinghausen. However, in December his performance with the Burgtheater ensemble at the Kurfürstendamm Theatre in Berlin met with protest.

In 1951 Krauss again received German citizenship. Ultimately, he was rehabilitated to the extent of being invited to German film festivals. In 1954, he received the Iffland-Ring, though not determined by the previous holder Albert Bassermann but by a committee of German-speaking actors. In the same year, Krauss was awarded the Order of the Federal Republic of Germany; in 1955, he received the High Decoration of the Republic of Austria. [3] In 1958, Krauss published his autobiography titled Das Schauspiel meines Lebens (The Play of my Life). [3]

Krauss died in relative obscurity in Vienna at the age of 75. He was cremated and buried in an Ehrengrab in the Vienna Zentralfriedhof.


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernst Deutsch</span> Austrian actor

Ernst Deutsch, also known as Ernest Dorian, was a Jewish Austrian actor. In 1916, his performance as the protagonist in the world première of Walter Hasenclever's Expressionist play The Son in Dresden was praised. Deutsch also played the antihero Famulus in Paul Wegener's The Golem: How He Came into the World in 1920. He is known by English-speaking audiences for his role as Baron Kurtz in Carol Reed's 1949 film noir, The Third Man.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georg Kaiser</span> German dramatist

Friedrich Carl Georg Kaiser, called Georg Kaiser, was a German dramatist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carl de Vogt</span> German actor

Carl de Vogt was a German film actor who starred in four of Fritz Lang's early films. He attended the acting school in Cologne, Germany. Together with acting he was also active as a singer and recorded several discs. His greatest hit was "Der Fremdenlegionär". An extremely successful actor in his early career, he died in relative obscurity in 1970.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Leni</span> German film director (1885–1929)

Paul Leni was a German filmmaker and a key figure in German Expressionism, making Hintertreppe (1921) and Waxworks (1924) in Germany, and The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Chinese Parrot (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), and The Last Warning (1928) in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Theodor Loos</span> German actor (1883–1954)

Theodor August Konrad Loos was a German actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lothar Müthel</span>

Lothar Müthel was a German stage and film actor and director.

Hans Emil Thimig, pseudonym: Hans Werner was an Austrian actor, film director, and stage director.

Giuseppe Becce was an Italian-born film score composer who enriched the German cinema.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harry Liedtke</span> German actor (1882–1945)

Harry Liedtke was a German film actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Georg John</span> German actor (1879–1941)

Georg John was a German stage and film actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gertrude Welcker</span> German actress

Gertrude Welcker was a German stage and silent film actress. She appeared in 64 films between 1917 and 1925.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Erna Morena</span> German actress

Erna Morena was a German film actress, film producer, and screenwriter of the silent era. She appeared in 104 films between 1913 and 1951.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hermann Thimig</span> Austrian actor

Hermann Thimig was an Austrian stage and film actor. He appeared in 102 films between 1916 and 1967.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reinhold Schünzel</span> German actor and director (1888–1954)

Reinhold Schünzel was a German actor and director, active in both Germany and the United States. The son of a German father and a Jewish mother, he was born in St. Pauli, the poorest part of Hamburg. Despite being of Jewish ancestry, Schünzel was allowed by the Nazis to continue making films for several years until he eventually left in 1937 to live abroad.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eduard von Winterstein</span> Austrian actor

Eduard Clemens Franz Anna Freiherr von Wangenheim, known as Eduard von Winterstein, was an Austrian-German film actor who appeared in over one hundred fifty German films during the silent and sound eras. He was also a noted theater actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernst Pittschau</span> German actor (1883–1951)

Ernst Pittschau was a German stage and film actor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hermann Vallentin</span> German actor

Hermann Vallentin was a German actor.

Emil Rameau was a German film and theatre actor, and for many years the deputy artistic director at the Schiller Theater. He appeared in nearly 100 films between 1915 and 1949.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rudolf Lettinger</span> German actor (1865–1937)

Rudolf Lettinger was a German stage and film actor. He made his stage debut in 1883 when he played the role of Kosinsky in Friedrich Schiller's drama The Robbers. Some of his more prominent roles in his prestigious stage career were Cyrano de Bergerac and Gessler in William Tell. He also worked with acclaimed stage director Max Reinhardt. In 1912, Lettinger played his first film role in Das Geheimnis von Monte Carlo. Lettinger appeared in over 90 films until 1931, mostly as a supporting actor. His best-known film is perhaps The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), where Lettinger portrayed Dr. Olsen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Paul Hartmann (actor)</span> German actor

Paul Wilhelm Constantin Hartmann was a German stage and film actor.


  1. Rentschler, Eric (1996). The ministry of illusion: Nazi cinema and its afterlife . Harvard University Press. p.  157. ISBN   978-0-674-57640-7 . Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  2. Gadberry, Glen W. (30 March 1995). Theatre in the Third Reich, the prewar years: essays on theatre in Nazi Germany. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 95. ISBN   978-0-313-29516-4 . Retrieved 3 November 2011. Gottfried (Reinhardt) refers to Krauss as (an) "unashamed anti-Semite"
  3. 1 2 Hans-Michael Bock; Tim Bergfelder (30 December 2009). The concise Cinegraph: encyclopaedia of German cinema. Berghahn Books. p. 261. ISBN   978-1-57181-655-9 . Retrieved 1 November 2011.