Erich Heller's Disinherited Mind: A Bohemian Jewish Germanist in Anglo-American Exile

Martina Kerlova*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the life and thought of Erich Heller, a prolific scholar of Austrian and German literature and philosophy. Born into a German Jewish family in the borderland of Habsburg Bohemia, Heller graduated from Prague's German University, only to be forced to flee the Nazi invasion. He found refuge in Britain before moving ultimately to the United States where he taught for two decades at Northwestern University. Erich Heller's physical and intellectual journey highlights both moments of conflict and cultural transmittance between German-speaking Central Europe and the Anglophone world. Heller was only half at home in the new world where he helped rehabilitated German and Austrian literature and thought abroad. The article explores Heller's intellectual development throughout his voluntary and forced migrations and traces changes in his political and philosophical identity. Heller's life, thought, and success are considered in two main contexts: that of his generation of Bohemian-born émigrés and of the postwar atmosphere in American higher education, in particular, the role of German-speaking scholars within it. It analyzes the way in which Heller understood his own transcendence within the national frames and its implication. The article answers two questions: What were the main contributing factors to Heller's success in the postwar academic discipline German and Austrian Studies and what is the relevance of his teaching today?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-91
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Austrian-American History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Austrian literature
  • Bohemia
  • exile/émigrés
  • German literature
  • Jewish
  • Northwestern University
  • Sudeten German

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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