Gretel Adorno, Walter Benjamin

Correspondence 1930 - 1940

Edited by Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz
(German title: Briefwechsel 1930–1940)
ca. 434 pages
Gretel Adorno

Gretel Adorno

Gretel Adorno (née Karplus) was born in Berlin in 1902. She held a PhD in chemistry and from 1933 to 1937 managed a Berlin-based company that manufactured leather gloves. In the late 1920s, she was affiliated with numerous intellectuals including Walter Benjamin, Ernst Bloch and Bertolt Brecht. In 1923, she met Theodor W. Adorno, whom she married in exile in London in 1937. In 1938, the couple emigrated to the United States. They returned to Germany in 1953. Until her death in 1993, Gretel Adorno lived in Frankfurt am Main.

Walter Benjamin
Foto: Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin was born on July 15,1892 in Berlin as the oldest of three children and died by suicide on September 26, 1940 in Portbou, Spain). After graduating secondary school in 1912, he studied philosophy, German literature and psychology in Freiburg im Breisgau, Munich and Berlin. In 1915, he met Gershom Scholem, a student of mathematics five years his junior, with whom he remained friends until his death. In 1917, Benjamin married Dora Kellner and became father to a son, Stefan Rafael (1918–1972). The marriage lasted for 13 years. Also in 1917, Benjamin relocated to Bern, Switzerland, where he obtained his PhD two years later with his thesis entitled Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik bei Richard Herbertz. In 1923/24 he met Theodor W. Adorno and Siegfried Kracauer in Frankfurt am Main. His attempt to qualify as a professor with his postdoctoral dissertation on The Origin of German Tragic Drama was unsuccessful. Benjamin was advised to withdraw his submission, which he did in 1925. His interest in communism took Benjamin to Moscow for several months. In the early 1930s, Benjamin pursued journalistic endeavours together with Bertolt Brecht and worked for broadcasting companies. When the National Socialsts assumed power, Benjamin was forced to go into exile in September 1933. He was subsequently detained at a camp for German refugees for three months in Nevers, France, in 1939. On September 25, 1940, his attempt to cross the border into Spain failed. He took his own life in order to escape his impending extradition to Germany.

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English world rights (Polity Press), Spanish world rights (Eterna cadencia), France (Gallimard), Japan (Misuzu Shobo)


The correspondence between Gretel Adorno and Walter Benjamin began in 1930, but only after Benjamin’s emigration to France did it reach its full intensity, standing not only as a testament to the intellectual Berlin of the twenties, but also as a document of a great friendship that existed independently of the relationship between Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno.

While Benjamin wrote of his daily tribulations and the pressing projects he worked on in the last years of his life, primarily the “Baudelaire” texts, it was Gretel Karplus Adorno who tried with all her might and main to keep him on earth. She urged him to emigrate, informed him of Adorno’s plans and where Bloch was staying, and in so doing maintained the connection between the old Berlin friends and acquaintances. She sent him monetary aid through the most difficult periods and organized financial support from Saarland, which remained for a time independent from the German Reich. After arriving in New York, she attempted to lure him with descriptions of those newly arriving. But Benjamin wrote in early 1940: »We must see to it that we put our very best into our letters, for there is yet no sign that the moment of our reunion is near.«

Other publications

Briefwechsel 1933-1940/Correspondence 1933-1940 (1983)

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English world rights (Schocken Books), Spanish world rights (Trotta), Chinese simplex rights (Shanghai Sanhui), Italy (Adelphi); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Brazilian Portuguese rights (Perspectiva), France (L'Éclat), Korea (Saemulgyul), Japan (Hosei UP), Turkey (Kolektif)