Herbert Thomas Mandll

(18.08.1926, Bratislava - 22.02.2007, Meerbusch-Büderich)


Mandl was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, the son of Czech Jewish parents, the engineer Daniel Mandl and Hajnalka Mandl.
He was educated in Jewish and Czech schools in Bratislava and in Brno. He began to play the violin at the age of 6.
The Mandls were living in Brno when the remains of Czechoslovakia were annexed by Nazi Germany on March 15, 1939.
Mandl was 13 at the time. In 1942, Mandl and his parents were deported to the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto.
There he met Viktor Ullmann. Mandl played in Karel Ančerl and Carlos Tuabo orchestras. He also played in Viktor Ullmann lost work "François Villon".
In 1944, Mandl and his father were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, thence to several Dachau-Kaufering satellite camps, where Mandl's father died.
At the end of World War II, Mandl was repatriated to Czechoslovakia where he was reunited with his mother.

Registration form of Herbert Thomas Mandl as a prisoner at
Dachau Nazi Concentration Camp
Slavi and Tommy Mandl in 1978
Slavi and Tommy Mandl in 1973

Once free, Mandl returned to his studies. He was ultimately awarded a doctorate in the performing arts (violin) from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague[4] in Prague, where he met his future wife, Jaroslava (“Slavi”), a concert pianist. While professors of music at the Janáček Conservatory[5] in Ostrava, the Mandls developed several plans for escaping to the West from the oppressive conditions in Communist Czechoslovakia. Mandl himself finally succeeded in Cairo, where he broke away from his tourist group and applied for asylum at the United States Embassy in Cairo.[6] Initially, he was suspected of being a spy, and the CIA interrogated him for months. When released, he was placed in a refugee camp in Zirndorf, West Germany. (“There were as many spies as real refugees there,” he had said of Zirndorf.) Once granted the status of political refugee, Mandl moved to Cologne, where he became the private secretary of Heinrich Böll, the recipient of the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature. Since Mandl’s wife Slavi had remained behind in Ostrava (this was by the Mandls' prior agreement), Böll had agreed to help smuggle her to the West. He engaged a professional illusionist to build a hideaway in his personal automobile, a Citroen DS-19, drove to Czechoslovakia with his entire family and smuggled Slavi out. This incident is documented in Mandl's autobiography, Durst, Musik, Geheime Dienste[7] published in Germany in 1995 and in a Bavarian television film directed by Gloria de Siano.

In later years, Mandl produced and edited cultural broadcasts that were transmitted to Communist Eastern Europe by the West German radio station Deutsche Welle in Cologne. He and Slavi twice emigrated to the USA, where he studied psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington and was supervisor on the ward for the criminally insane at Western State Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. In 1971, the Mandls permanently returned to West Germany, settling in Meerbusch-Büderich. Mandl found a position as a professor of English at the Roman Catholic evening gymnasium (Nikolaus-Groß-Abendgymnasium [DE]) in Essen, where he remained until his retirement.

In addition to his other talents, Mandl was an inventor. He developed and patented two very different devices. One was a transparent model of a human head (the phonetic head)[8] that contained movable speech organs and was used to help teach pronunciation of foreign languages. The second was the Suggestometer, a complex device that could be used to measure human suggestibility empirically – something that was considered impossible by research psychologists at the time. Mandl was also a very successful psychotherapist who continued to provide mental health treatment even after his retirement. During the last decades of his life, Mandl was a very active as a contemporary witness to the musical scene in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto; he had played the violin in the camp orchestra in 1943/44 under the batons of Karel Ančerl and Carlo Sigmund Taube.

Mandl was a tireless contemporary witness to the horrors of life under totalitarian regimes and particularly to the Holocaust, traveling throughout Europe and North America to deliver his message. As one of the few survivors of the Terezín ghetto musical scene, he provided expert eyewitness accounts for this extraordinary phenomenon.

Literary Themes

The central theme of Mandl’s literary work is the battle of the individual against the sophisticated instruments of totalitarian oppression: secret services, isolation, psychological torture, brainwashing, incarceration, starvation, the debilitating effects of the "daily grind" in the most difficult of circumstances. As in works by Edgar Allan Poe, Aldous Huxley, Franz Kafka and George Orwell, Mandl's protagonists, armed only with their reason, stand alone against all the sophisticated torture arts of their seemingly omnipotent opponents. In his works, Mandl underscores the drama of this unequal combat by interspersing the narrative with philosophical reflections written in clear and meaningful language. His novel, The Philosopher’s Wager (published in Germany in 1996 as Die Wette des Philosophen,[9] is remarkable for its vivid portrayal of not just the most mundane aspects of life in the Theresienstadt) ghetto but also of the extensive, if illegal, cultural and musical life of the ghetto. (For more on this subject, see also University Over the Abyss by Elena Makarova, Sergei Makarov and Viktor Kuperman).



Mandl's other works for the stage include:


In addition to being published in Germany, several of Mandl's works have been translated into Czech and published in the Czech Republic between 1994 and 2000. Other unpublished stories, dramas and presentations with philosophical and political themes are contained in Mandl’s bequest to the archives of the Moses Mendelssohn Academy in Halberstadt, Germany.

Most of Mandl's works have been translated into English by Michael J. Kubat of Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States.


As long as you still have breath left in your body, you should continue to speak out loudly as a contemporary witness to the National Socialist era.

— Herbert Thomas Mandl on the occasion of the premiere of his play The Voyage to the Center of Reality (in German only, as Die Reise ins Zentrum der Wirklichkeit, 1997)