Kraus, Karl

(1874–1936)
   Like so many leading intellectuals in fin de siècle Vienna, Kraus was not a native of the city, but he was raised there. Born in Bohemia of Jewish extraction, he was baptized a Catholic and remained in the church until 1923. Though he fell short of his ambition to become an actor, he had a large following as a mesmerizing solo reader. After 1910, he gave over 700 such performances. His journal, Die Fackel (The Spark), published irregularly from 1911 until his death, served as a vehicle for numerous causes that he pursued with relentless critical verve.
   Persuaded that the corruption of middle-class society around him was paralleled by corruption of the German language, he punctured hypocrisy and uncovered deceit wherever he found them. Although he was an admirer of the Habsburg heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, for his willingness to confront the cautious establishment of the Habsburg monarchy with his reform programs, he turned on the government and the middle-class press, which echoed the official line during World War I. A particular target of Kraus’s venom was Moritz Benedikt (1849–1920), the editor of the leading Viennese daily Neue Freie Presse, whom he accused of being far more interested in profit than in reporting the news. Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind (Die Letzten Tage der Menschheit), an epic drama published in Die Fackel in 1918 and 1919 and in book form in 1922, was a searing indictment of the perversion of the press in the interests of the powerful.
   Following the war, Kraus became increasingly critical of capitalism, though he never became a socialist. Marxists, he believed, were just as materialistic as the bourgeoisie for whom he had such a deep contempt. He eventually drifted into the camp of Austro-Fascism as a way of combating Nazism.
   See also Literature.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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