The mask of Thomas Mann (1875-1955): medical insights and last illness

Ann Thorac Surg. 1998 Feb;65(2):578-85. doi: 10.1016/s0003-4975(97)01369-6.


Thomas Mann, German novelist and essayist, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1929 for his masterpiece, The Buddenbrooks, aided by his much acclaimed The Magic Mountain, which depicts life in a tuberculosis sanitorium. One of the most medically perceptive writers of the century, Mann was obsessed by illness and disease and produced works that reflect penetrating observation of medicine. When Hitler seized power, Mann fled Germany and entered Switzerland in forced exile. Mann later moved to the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1944. He became embroiled in political turmoil during the red-baiting era; disenchanted with this country, he returned to Switzerland in 1952 and died in Zürich in 1955. This vignette lifts the veil revealing the Mann behind the mask, tormented by life-long homoerotic tendencies that were confirmed by his unexpurgated diaries, published in 1979. I interviewed Professor Christoph Hedinger, who performed the autopsy on Thomas Mann. Professor Hedinger's protocol formed the primary source material for this study and clarified the exact cause of the Nobelist's death. Magisterial, with robust self-regard, Thomas Mann led a life that lends itself as a great human interest story. He was a highly intelligent, complex person whose sexual inversion provides some insight into the person but is irrelevant in assessing his artistic achievements. Mann's defiant stance against the Nazis and his masterful contributions to world literature assure him an enduring and unassailable role in world history.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Famous Persons*
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Literature, Modern / history*
  • Medicine in Literature

Personal name as subject

  • T Mann