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Hans Henny Jahnn
(1894 - 1959) Germany

Hans Henny Jahnn

Novelist and dramatist


Born in Stellingen, a suburb of Hamburg, he was the younghest son of a shipwright. At school he fell in love with a fellow student who became his best gay friend, Gottlieb Harms. His parents were shocked, but he insisted that Harms was the man he really loved.

At the beginning of WWI they decided to leave germany in order to avoid military service. After several enlistment orders they fled to Norway, Where Jahnn wrote his Norwegian Diary. He read many books about architecture and organ-building and was fascinated by mystical numerology. After the war they returned to germany and lived in Hamburg and in a small village.

In 1919 Jahnn published his first drama, Pastor Ephraim Magnus. Due to his studies in mythology and archaeology he founded a religious community named Ugrino, which was inspired by utopian concepts. In 1923 he was employed to restore the organ of the St Jakobi Church in Hamburg. In 1926 he married Ellinor Philips, a gymnastic tacher, although both thought that marriage was an old-fashioned institution; Harms married Philips' sister. When Harms, the man Jahnn loved more than anyone else, died in 1931, he designed his gravestone.

In the Nazi period Jahnn's second exile began. He knew that the homophobic attitude of Nazis would constitute a serious danger for gays. In August 1933 he moved to Zurich and later to the Danish island of Bornhlm, where he lived on a farm and studied agricolture. During his Danish exile he did not have any contacts with other political emigrants, because he feared that he could lose his citizenship and then he would never have the chance of being buried in the tomb of his beloved Harms in Hamburg.

After the war Jahnn returned to germany and founded the Free Academy of Arts. He was disappointed by the conservative and prudish climate in the 1950s and the beginning of the Cold War. In 1959 he died of a heart attack and was buried near the grave of Harms.


Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001

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