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Haas, Willy

(1891–1973), critic and editor. The son of a German-speaking Jewish lawyer in Prague, Willy Haas became friendly with Franz Kafka, Max Brod, and Franz Werfel while still at school and was a central member of the literary Prague circle, serving as editor, with Otto Pick, of its literary magazine Herder-Blätter. The journal was sponsored by the Herder-Verein, a society founded by the Prague branch of B’nai B’rith to promote Jewish culture, and named after the eighteenth-century writer and ethnologist Johann Gottfried Herder. Lacking funds, the magazine was issued only four times (April 1911 and February, May, and October 1912), but it published the works of notable young writers from Prague, Vienna, and Berlin, including Brod, Kafka, Werfel, Max Mell, Franz Blei, and Ernst Blass.

Haas studied law, but did not practice it; after serving as an officer in World War I, he moved to Berlin, where he wrote critical essays, film reviews, and film scripts, including that of G. W. Pabst’s Die freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street; 1925), and in 1925 he became editor of the literary weekly Die literarische Welt (The Literary World). Some of his essays, including those on Kafka, were reprinted in Haas’s collection Gestalten der Zeit (Figures of the Age; 1930), which appeared with an afterword by Walter Benjamin. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, Haas returned to Prague as a newspaper editor; when they invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, he fled via Italy to India, settling in Bombay as a film writer. From 1948, he worked in Hamburg as a literary and drama critic.

Haas’s autobiography, Die literarische Welt (1957), is an important account of the literary milieus in which he was such an animating influence. It also testifies to his abiding interest in myth and mysticism, which made him a sensitive reader of Kafka and, later, an enthusiastic student of Hindu mythology. His publications include the first edition of Kafka’s letters to Milena Jesenská (1952), a study of Bertolt Brecht (1958), and a collection of short essays, Fragmente meines Lebens (Fragments of My Life; 1960). His correspondence with the Viennese poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, whom he deeply admired, and whom he brought to Prague in 1912 to read to the Herder-Verein (an occasion recorded in Kafka’s diary), was published in 1967.

Suggested Reading

Luisa Valentini, Willy Haas: Der Zeuge einer Epoche (Frankfurt a.M., 1986).