The White Russian Countess: On Ilse Herzfeld Klapper and Her Marriage to William Burroughs

by Thomas Antonic

Excerpt from the book Amongst Nazis: William S. Burroughs in Vienna 1936/37 (Moloko Print, spring 2020)

His mid-1930s visit to Vienna has always seemed a brief but colourful episode in Burroughs’ biography, but Antonic’s study has turned it into a transformative chapter in the writer’s life. Based on meticulous and extensive historical research, Amongst Nazis not only gives the first detailed and accurate account of Burroughs’ experience there but offers new insights into its impact on his literary life, including the reasons why the city where Burroughs studied medicine was the birthplace of his most notorious character, Dr. Benway. — Oliver Harris

William S. Burroughs in 1937

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Richard Byrne, James Grauerholz and Simon Johnson, who provided me with important information, archival materials — partly previously unpublished results of their own intensive research on the topic — and suggestions, and who dedicated a large amount of their time in supporting me in this project.

It is not known how often Burroughs actually showed up for courses at the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna. The missing certificates in the university archives seem to verify the assumption that he didn’t take any examinations at the end of the semester. In February 1937 he could also see “that the situation in Vienna was now so unstable that he would never be able to complete his medical education there.” (Miles, 65) In the summer semester of 1937, Burroughs enrolled at the Consular Academy1 (today known as “Diplomatische Akademie” or “Diplomatic Academy”), which had a reputation as a training ground for careers for economic and political elites. The graduate course chosen by Burroughs, which included language classes (German and French), economics and lectures on international relations, would have been a useful training for joining the Burroughs Company founded by his grandfather, which later became the IBM computer group. But shortly afterward, Burroughs came down with acute appendicitis and had surgery at the private Sanatorium Hera in the 9th district. He was in hospital for 17 days, dropped out of the diplomatic school in April and left Vienna in early May for Dubrovnik to recuperate from the operation. In a conversation with Vojo Šindolić, Burroughs recalled being in Dubrovnik on May 6th, the day the Hindenburg zeppelin went up in flames over Lakehurst, New Jersey and crashed (cf. Šindolić).

In Dubrovnik he reunited with Ilse Herzfeld Klapper, whom he knew from his first visit there in the summer of 1936. Born in 1900, she came from a wealthy Jewish family in Hanover, who owned the biggest department store of the city, and had already been friends with the left-wing revolutionary socialist writers Ernst Toller and Erich Mühsam in Germany since 1919 — the first to become chairman of the Bavarian Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and proclaimed the Munich Soviet Republic with Mühsam, Gustav Landauer and others on April 7, 1919, and later to be imprisoned. In the early 1930s, most likely immediately after Hitler seized power, she moved to Dubrovnik with her husband, the doctor Heinrich Klapper, born 1891, who was “Aryan” but radically anti-Nazi. 

Before his emigration, Dr. Klapper had a reputable private gynecological practice in Berlin, was regarded as an “intimate friend” of the Dadaist and medical colleague Richard Huelsenbeck (cf. Huelsenbeck, 142) and was friends with a wide variety of artists from the left-wing scene, including George Grosz, Klaus Mann, Johannes R. Becher, Kurt Tucholsky and the scandalous dancer Anita Berber, at whose wedding, along with the American dancer Henri Châtin Hofmann, he acted as best man (cf. Gordon, 146). If one believes the writers in whose memoirs he is occasionally mentioned, the “eccentrically inclined” (Nenzel, 164) bohemian doctor Klapper was something of a bon vivant and socialite, in whose “hospitable apartment on Kurfürstendamm, after the theatre and well past midnight, many artists and dreamers ended up ‘drifting in’, meeting on an ‘island of the blessed’, where erotic fantasies come true,” as Max Herrmann-Neisse wrote in 1921 (Herrmann-Neisse, 585).

According to Wieland Herzfelde, he often wrote medical certificates to “make one or the other of us unfit for service” (Herzfelde, 335), and was known for his unbureaucratic help with unwanted pregnancies. This is probably one of the reasons why the actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, who among other things played the student Alan in the silent movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), called him an “amoral benefactor”. (Twardowski, 7). The actress Ilse Winter relates: “The big scraper [Auskratzer] and real patron was Klapper, […] and he was always sitting in Lunte, the bohemian restaurant, which was gay and lesbian and everything you could think of, and there was always Heinz Klapper sitting there and all the little whores and girls, he always examined them — that was a punishable offence — he always did, the whole sex business was always lively!” (Heim, 35)

Ilse Herzfeld and Heinrich Klapper probably met in Berlin in the early 1920s and separated in Dubrovnik in 1936 or before. While Herzfeld resided in a hotel in the city, Klapper lived and practiced as an unlicensed doctor in Zaton Mali, a village at the coast eight miles northwest of Dubrovnik. There he led a life that was far removed from the standards of his Berlin days. As a means of making a living he rode a mule to remote villages and hamlets in the mountains to treat patients (cf. Schlüter). His last known sign of life is a letter from January 1939 to Huelsenbeck, who had meanwhile moved to New York and was practicing as a psychiatrist there, and in which Klapper inquires “how one can still establish oneself as a doctor in the U.S.A. today, because in the long run it will hardly last here. I lead a rather happy and comfortable, but nevertheless quite modest life, without any chance of really making a living.” (Klapper) The emigration plans to the United States didn’t work out. Klapper joined a group of partisans during the war in 1943 and, according to rumors, died a few months later somewhere in Herzegovina of typhoid fever (cf. Huelsenbeck 142; Lonza, 6). Other sources mention that Klapper returned to Zaton Mali after the war and died there at some point in the 1980s, for which no further evidence could be found either (cf. Achenbach, 113).

Ilse Herzfeld Klapper’s life in Dubrovnik was similar to that of her ex-husband, with whom she remained in contact after the separation. She had no access to her family’s assets and had to live by teaching English and other small jobs. She also worked for Ernst Toller as a typist when he was in Dubrovnik on the occasion of the P.E.N. Congress in 1933, as is verified by a Toller letter signed “f./E. T. Ilse Herzfeld Klapper” (see Herzfeld Klapper 1933), which thus refutes Ted Morgan’s assertion that Herzfeld Klapper and her husband only moved from Germany to Dubrovnik in 1934 (cf. T. Morgan, 64).

Burroughs described her looks as “shrewd birdlike. […] Ilse was a terrific person. She wore a monocle. She was very straightforward and mannish. Partly a dyke but not really, she was much more into men. She told me a lot about her affairs.” (Miles, 62) Until now, not a single photograph by Ilse Herzfeld has been publicly available. After intensive research, Simon Johnson discovered three of her passport photographs, which he kindly made available for this book publication thanks to the assistance of James Grauerholz, and of which the one dating from 1971 is published here for the first time.2

Ilse Burroughs, passport photograph 1971

Ilse Burroughs, passport photograph 1971

Despite the rather precarious conditions in which Ilse Herzfeld Klapper lived, she was part of Ragusan high society, which is why in Budapest Burroughs and his travel companion Robert Miller were also encouraged to contact her on their arrival in Dubrovnik in the summer of 1936, as the Burroughs biographies indicate. However, Herzfeld Klapper’s role is not specified in more detail in those publications. Neither Morgan nor Miles has more detailed information about her. In Call Me Burroughs we merely learn that she was friends with Kurt Weill and Lilian Gish (to which there are no references in their papers). So who was this lady of high society who had such prominent friends but of whom almost nothing is known? In addition to her contact with Toller, her marriage to Heinrich Klapper allows us to reconstruct at least part of the social environment in which she lived in Berlin in the 1920s.

Moreover, in the papers of the writer Friedrich (a.k.a. Fritz) Walter in the German Exile Archive 1933-1945 of the German National Library, three letters by Herzfeld Klapper could be found, from which it emerges that she was the sister of the 1891 born author Franziska (also Fränze) Herzfeld, who studied philosophy and literature, at first under Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg and later, around 1920, in Munich, and who occasionally published in magazines such as Der Querschnitt or Jugend (and not only her own texts, but also translations, among others of poetry by Paul Valéry [cf. Valéry]) and in 1922 the dissertation Über den Begriff der erkenntnistheoretischen Evidenz im Anschluß an Descarts [“On the concept of epistemological evidence following Descartes”] (cf. Benjamin/Scholem, 213).

Fränze Herzfeld, Ilse Herzfeld Klapper's sister and William S. Burroughs' later sister-in-law, Palestine, circa 1935

Fränze Herzfeld, Ilse Herzfeld Klapper’s sister and William S. Burroughs’ later sister-in-law, Palestine, circa 1935

This results in an extensive networking with the intellectual elite in the environment of the Räterepublik on the one hand and with protagonists of German-language exile literature on the other. Fränze Herzfeld was in close contact with the sociologist and philosopher Siegfried Kracauer, the writer Max Rychner and the philosopher Ernst Bloch, was known to Klaus Mann, Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, among others, and was married to Fritz Walter in the last years of her life (from 1937). The author Herbert Schlüter, who was a close friend of Klaus Mann, dedicated his novel Nach fünf Jahren (After Five Years), which was written in 1933 on Mallorca but only published after the war, to Fränze Herzfeld. Having become friends, Schlüter and Herzfeld left Berlin together in April 1933 and, after brief stops in Zurich, Paris and Barcelona, settled on the Spanish Mediterranean island, which they chose as their exile (Herzfeld until 1935, Schlüter until 1936). In his correspondence with Benjamin, Scholem describes Fränze as a “grotesque-looking lady […] … so I talked to her about Bloch’s literature, and she did not make any stupid remarks.” (Benjamin/Scholem, 213). From 1935 to 1937 she lived in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but couldn’t stand Palestine at all and moved to France in 1937, where she worked in Maxéville near Nancy at the École normale d’institutrices as an assistant lecturer in the German faculty.

In September 1939, after Friedrich Walter learned that he was to be locked up as an “enemy alien” in one of the French internment camps that France filled with German anti-Nazis, and Fränze was to remain behind without money, the couple decided to end their lives together by taking poison. The painter and caricaturist Eva Herrmann, who was the partner of the German writer Johannes R. Becher from the early 1920s (later also Lion Feuchtwanger’s lover) and another close friend of Klaus and Erika Mann, wrote in a letter to Becher on October 19, 1939: “Fränze Herzfeld committed suicide. […] [Friedrich Walter] regained consciousness in a hospital, from where he was taken to a camp. You can imagine how he must have felt. The incomprehensible thing is that the French treat these people as if they were Nazis.” (Herrmann)

In the 38 letters from Fränze Herzfeld to Kracauer, which are housed at the German Literature Archive Marbach and contain little more than trivial chats, Ilse is hardly mentioned. On June 11, 1935, however, in her letter to Kracauer, Fränze encloses a card from Ilse to her indicating that Ernst and Karola Bloch had visited her in Dubrovnik: “[…] they’re going to Paris, he’ll be coming back in the fall, then she’s going to Palestine. He’s grown to be very dear to my heart” (Herzfeld Klapper 1935), Ilse writes to her sister. Another letter also states that Herzfeld Klapper was still in contact with Bloch in New York in 1939.

Postcard from Ilse Herzfeld Klapper to Fränze Herzfeld, 1935

Postcard from Ilse Herzfeld Klapper to Fränze Herzfeld, 1935

At their second meeting in the spring of 1937, Burroughs found Herzfeld Klapper consumed with worry, as her Yugoslavian visa was about to expire and she couldn’t go back to Germany because the Nuremberg Laws were already in effect, excluding German Jews from German citizenship. “She could see what was coming. She asked Bill to marry her. For her it was a matter of life and death, whereas for Bill marriage meant nothing; he knew he was gay and unlikely ever to want to marry. […] Bill was twenty-three and she was thirty-eight, but they were genuinely good friends so, as he said, ‘I was doing it to be a nice guy.'” (Miles, 65) Most likely not only Herzfeld Klapper but also Burroughs was aware in what direction the situation in Germany and Austria would develop. Unlike his friend who resided in Dubrovnik, he had been an eyewitness in the epicenter and had made experiences in Vienna, at the university, in Salzburg. Moreover, it wasn’t difficult for him to imagine himself in her situation as a Jewess, since as a homosexual he also was aware of what it meant to be a victim of persecution.

Burroughs and Herzfeld Klapper went to Greece and the American Vice Consul in Athens, Henry Beck, according to Burroughs a “well-known queer” (Ted Morgan Papers, Box 5, Folder 6), arranged all the paperwork with no trouble so they could get married. The marriage occurred on August 2, 1937. Contemporary witness Miller relates a bit of a different story than Burroughs’ biographers. According to him, Burroughs went one more time to Vienna after his recovery, where he received a letter from Herzfeld Klapper asking him if he “would find her some American who was willing to marry her” because her visa was expiring and it wouldn’t be renewed. So she didn’t ask Burroughs directly if he could marry her himself. Yet “Bill turned around, went to Dubrovnik, took her out, and married her in Athens,” says Miller (ibid., tape no. 180), which probably saved her life — and which tends to be forgotten or is unknown to many who know Burroughs as the author who shot his (second) wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mexico City in 1951.

William S. Burroughs and Ilse Herzfeld Klapper, Certificate of Marriage, 1937

William S. Burroughs and Ilse Herzfeld Klapper, Certificate of Marriage, 1937

What is almost certainly incorrect about this version is that Burroughs went from Dubrovnik back to Vienna. Rather, in the summer of 1937, he set off from Dalmatia on a trip to Albania before returning to Dubrovnik and embarking with Ilse on a ship to Athens. Miles dates this trip in the company of “a German” (Miles, 63) to the summer of 1936, before Burroughs began his medical studies. Through Reinhard Andress’ book Der Inselgarten: Das Exil deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller auf Mallorca, 1931-1936, we learn that this German is none other than Herbert Schlüter, who was compelled to leave Mallorca in July 1936 due to financial hardship and the invasion of Franco’s troops.

Schlüter’s second exile movement led him first to Genoa, from where he wrote a long letter to Klaus Mann on August 22, reporting on his plight. Another letter to Mann from Genoa is dated September 2, 1936. In his chapter on Schlüter, Andress writes: “From Genoa, Schlüter’s path led to Fiume and on to Dubrovnik, a time during which he continued to be miserable. […] At times his situation was so precarious that he thought of suicide. Things improved with the financial help of the American Beat Generation writer William Burroughs (born 1914), with whom he travelled for four weeks through Montenegro, Albania and Corfu.” (Andress, 152) It seems evident that Schlüter visited Ilse Herzfeld, the sister of his exiled friend Fränze, in Dubrovnik. However, according to the registration archive of the City of Vienna, Burroughs was again registered at the Hotel König von Ungarn from August 21, 1936, after an absence of several weeks. So how could he have travelled the Balkans south of Dalmatia and Corfu with Schlüter when the latter was still in Genoa on September 2, 1936?

A look into the Klaus Mann Papers at the Monacensia in Munich can answer this question. They contain five letters from Schlüter to Mann from Dubrovnik. The earliest is dated December 6, 1936, and the last November 9, 1937. They reveal that Schlüter actually stayed with Heinrich Klapper in Zaton Mali for the first months and only occasionally visited Ilse in Dubrovnik, but later in the course of 1937 moved to the same hotel in which Ilse Herzfeld lived in Dubrovnik. In any case, he stayed for at least eleven months (probably much longer) in Dalmatia before continuing his journey and making the Italian island of Ischia his next place of exile, where he lived from June 1938 to May 1941. During this time, through the intervention of Klaus’ father Thomas Mann, he received financial support from the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom, which was founded in 1935 by Hubertus Friedrich Prinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg. Herzfeld apparently introduced Schlüter and Burroughs to each other after the latter’s second arrival in Dubrovnik in May 1937, and so it’s quite easy to conclude that the two men travelled together for a month until Burroughs and his future wife left for Greece at the end of July. A photograph found in the Schlüter Papers at the Monacensia in Munich shows the 23-year-old Burroughs with Schlüter in Dubrovnik.

Herbert Schlüter (left) and William S. Burroughs (right), Dubrovnik, summer 1937

Herbert Schlüter (left) and William S. Burroughs (right), Dubrovnik, summer 1937

After the wedding Burroughs travelled back to New York; Ilse Burroughs, as she now was calling herself most of the time, had to stay in Dubrovnik for the time being, due to the lengthy process to receive her visa for the United States. She only arrived in New York on January 19, 1939 and shortly afterwards became Ernst Toller’s secretary. The writer had already emigrated to the USA in 1936. Burroughs and his wife met only occasionally in New York. But if the Burroughs’ biographer is to be believed, he took her to lunch on May 22, the day Toller took his own life in his room at the Mayflower Hotel in Central Park. Burroughs himself tells in a conversation with Andy Warhol, Marcia Resnick and Victor Bockris: “She was working as his secretary and she always kept very regular hours, getting back at exactly one o’clock after she’d gone out to lunch. On this day she met an old refugee on the street, someone she knew from the old Weimar days, so they had a coffee and she was delayed about ten minutes. When she got back she sat down at the typewriter, ‘and then,’ she makes a gesture, ‘I get it up the back of my neck and I know he is hanging somewhere.’ So she goes to the bathroom and finds Toller is hanging on the other side and manages to get him down. But he was already dead. He’d attempted suicide several times before but always arranged it so someone got there in time to turn off the gas, or call an ambulance. The old refugee did him in.” (Bockris, 41–42) That doesn’t sound as if the couple had met for lunch that day, as Burroughs might have mentioned it in such a conversation.

A letter to the Ernst Toller expert John Spalek from September 1979, who asked Ilse Burroughs — that’s how she still signed her letters in the 1970s — via Marita Hasenclever (Walter Hasenclever’s sister) for an interview, documents that she no longer wanted to be reminded of Toller: “You obviously didn’t quite notice my rejection — whether directly or indirectly, for every mention of E[rnst] T[oller] is totally unpleasant to me … Forgive me — but it makes me sick to think about it and please, please, don’t mention it any more (I immediately experience headaches and anxiety).” (Hasenclever)

Ilse Burroughs (formerly Ilse Klapper and Ilse Herzfeld), Petition for Naturalization, 1942

Ilse Burroughs (formerly Ilse Klapper and Ilse Herzfeld), Petition for Naturalization, 1942

The playwright Richard Byrne wrote about the relationship between Burroughs, Herzfeld and Toller in the play Three Suitcases, which premiered in May 2019 in New York in a reading production. Byrne, who did intensive research for his play himself, describes two fictional meetings of the three very different personalities. Byrne’s Toller offers to introduce Burroughs, who at the time of this encounter was making his first literary attempts, to Erika Mann and W. H. Auden, which the budding writer rejects because, as he argues, he still hasn’t published anything (cf. Byrne). The fact that Jack Kerouac in On the Road describes Herzfeld as a “White Russian countess” that Burroughs (Old Bull Lee) married in Yugoslavia “to get her away from the Nazis” (Kerouac 1997, 143), whom he never saw again after the wedding, is, by the way, a good example of how much fiction there is in that autobiographical novel that has been read again and again as an authentic factual report and still is. In the “original scroll” of On the Road, first published in 2007, she is still described as a “German countess” (Kerouac 2008, 244). Burroughs suspected that for Kerouac a Russian countess simply conveyed a more romantic impression than a non-aristocratic German Jewess (cf. Burroughs 1982).

After Toller’s death, Ilse Burroughs worked for the emigrated Austrian actor Kurt Kasznar, at whose exuberant parties the Burroughs couple occasionally appeared together, and later also for Klaus Mann’s anti-fascist magazine Decision, and for the librettist John Latouche. In 1940 Ilse accompanied William to the Bellevue hospital, after he had cut off the outermost part of his left little finger with a pair of poultry scissors — out of desperation that a young man named Jack Anderson had refused to return his affections (cf. Grauerholz 1998b, 9). In addition to such caring assistance, Ilse, who, as mentioned above, had numerous contacts with renowned Weimar Republic artists and intellectuals, could also have played an important role as a mentor for the young Burroughs. According to James Grauerholz, in the summer of 1939, for instance, she possibly suggested that he travel to Chicago to attend five lectures by Alfred Korzybski, whose work Science and Sanity would have a great influence on him (cf. ibid., 8).3

William and Ilse Burroughs dissolved their marriage in 1946. After her retirement as an employee in a travel agency — which she perhaps preferred as a quiet workplace after her turbulent and traumatic experiences with writers — she moved back to Europe around 1970 and died in 1982 in Lucerne, Switzerland (cf. Social Security Administration), not far from the Ticino town of Muralto on Lake Maggiore, where Richard Huelsenbeck settled in 1970, also returned from the USA, and died in 1974. Ilse Herzfeld Burroughs was in contact with Huelsenbeck’s widow Beate until her death. William S. Burroughs never again returned to Vienna. Yet his stay in the 1930s has certainly made an impact on his literary oeuvre, which will be revealed in the following chapter.


1. Founded in 1754 by Empress Maria Theresa, the institution called the “k.k. Oriental Academy” (at the end of the 19th century re-named “Consular Academy”) was the oldest diplomatic school in the world. During Burroughs’ time in Vienna, the school was located at Boltzmanngasse 16, and today the building is the home of the US Embassy.

2. Another photograph of Ilse Herzfeld Klapper can be found in her visa application for a non-quota visa in 1938 to live in the USA. However, the acquisition of this photograph is such a time-consuming procedure that, despite intensive efforts, it was not yet available when this book went to press

3. This information refers to the first edition of the hardcover edition of the book Word Virus: “In late summer 1939, perhaps on Ilse’s recommendation, Burroughs went from New York to Chicago to attend five lectures given by a Polish count named Alfred Korzybski […]” (Grauerholz 1998a). In the paperback edition, Burroughs had already come across Korzybski in his Harvard years and “on Ilse’s recommendation” is deleted: “Burroughs had read Science and Sanity, a book by a Polish count named Alfred Korzybski, while at Harvard. In August 1939, Korzybski gave a weeklong seminar on his newly minted Theory of General Semantics, and Burroughs traveled to Chicago to attend the lectures.” (Grauerholz 1998b) It is possible that Grauerholz came across such references after the first publication and before the paperback edition went to press. In the imprint of the latter, however, there is no indication that the content of the book was revised.

List of Works Cited

Achenbach, Marina. Ein Krokodil für Zagreb. Hamburg: Edition Nautilus, 2017. Print.

Andress, Reinhard. Der Inselgarten: Das Exil deutschsprachiger Schriftsteller auf Mallorca, 1931–1936. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001. Print.

Benjamin, Walter, and Gershom Scholem. Briefwechsel 1933–1940. Ed. G. S. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1980. Print.

Bockris, Victor: With William Burroughs. A Report from the Bunker. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996. Print.

Burroughs, William S. “William Burroughs on Jack Kerouac at the 1982 Naropa Conference.” The Allen Ginsberg Project, 14. Sept. 2014. Web.

Byrne, Richard. Three Suitcases. Unpublished manuscript [pdf file, 2019-11], courtesy of the author.

Gordon, Mel. The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber. Weimar Berlin’s Priestess of Depravity. Port Townsend: Feral House, 2006. Print.

Grauerholz, James. “The Name is Burroughs.” William S. Burroughs: Word Virus. The William S. Burroughs Reader. Eds. James Grauerholz, and Ira Silverberg. Introduction Ann Douglas. New York: Grove, 1998, 3–14. [first edition, hardcover] [1998a]

———. “The Name is Burroughs.” William S. Burroughs: Word Virus. The William S. Burroughs Reader. Eds. James Grauerholz, and Ira Silverberg. Introduction Ann Douglas. New York: Grove, 1998, 3–14. [paperback edition] [1998b]

Hasenclever, Marita. Letter to John M. Spalek. 27 Sept. 1979. John Spalek Papers at the Ernst-Toller-Society, Stadtarchiv Neuburg an der Donau. Unpublished.

Heim, Gabriel. Ich will keine Blaubeertorte, ich will nur raus. Eine Mutterliebe in Briefen. Berlin: Quadriga, 2013. Print.

Herrmann, Eva. Letter to Johannes R. Becher, 19 Oct. 1939, written on board the Conte di Savoia. Akademie der Künste, Johannes-R.-Becher-Archiv, Korrespondenz, No. 42, Berlin.

Herrmann-Neisse, Max. Schattenhafte Lockung. Frankfurt/Main: Zweitausendeins, 1987. Print.

Herzfeld Klapper, Ilse [signatory]. Letter by Ernst Toller to [Mirko] Kus-Nikolajew. 17 Aug. 1933. Private archive John M. Spalek, digital copy (approved by Spalek) by courtesy of Richard Byrne. Unpublished.

———. Postcard to Fränze Herzfeld. 13 June 1935. Siegrfried Kracauer Papers, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Sign. No. 72.3493 (Mikrofiche-No. 6038) Unpublished.

Herzfelde, Wieland. Zur Sache: geschrieben und gesprochen zwischen 18 und 80. Berlin: Aufbau, 1976. Print.

Huelsenbeck, Richard. Mit Witz, Licht und Grütze. Auf den Spuren des Dadismus. Hg. v. Reinhard Nenzel. Hamburg: Edition Nautilus 1991. Print.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. [1957] New York: Viking, 1997. Print.

———. On the Road. The Original Scroll. Ed. Howard Cunnell. Intr. Howard Cunnell, Penny Vlagopoulos, George Mouratidis, and Joshua Kupetz. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.

Klapper, Heinrich. Letter to Richard Huelsenbeck, Zaton Mali, 3 Jan1939. Richard Huelsenbeck Papers, Sign.-No. A:Huelsenbeck, 84.592. Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. Unpublished.

———. Call Me Burroughs. A Life. New York: Twelve, 2014. Print.

Lonza, Tonko. “Dr. Heinrich Klapper i drugi.” Novi Omanut 20:20 (2013): 6. Print.

Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. London: Pimlico, 1991. Print.

———. Ted Morgan Papers 1983–1988. Sign. MS SC MOR. Arizona State University Library, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Tempe, Arizona.

Nenzel, Reinhard. Kleinkarierte Avantgarde. Zur Neubewertung des deutschen Dadaismus. Der frühe Richard Huelsenbeck. Sein Leben und sein Werk bis 1916 in Darstellung und Interpretation. Bonn: Nenzel, 1994. Print.

Schlüter, Herbert. Letter to Klaus Mann, Zaton Mali, 2 Jan 1937. Klaus Mann Papers [Nachlass Klaus Mann], Stadtbibliothek München / Monacensia, Munich, Germany. Unpublished.

Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File “Ilse Burroughs”. Courtesy of Simon Johnson.

Twardowski, Hans Heinrich von. Der rasende Pegasus. Berlin: Juncker, 1920. Print.

Valéry, Paul. “Erkenntnisse.” Transl. Fränze Herzfeld. Jugend 36:51 (1931): 805. Print.


1: Ilse Burroughs. Archive of the US Department of State, by courtesy of Simon Johnson. Previously unpublished.

2: Fränze Herzfeld. Max Rychner Papers [Nachlass Max Rychner], Sign. Nr. HS001774446, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Germany. Previously unpublished.

3: Postcard from Ilse to Fränze Herzfeld. Siegfried Kracauer Papers [Nachlass Siegfried Kracauer], Sign. No. 72.3493 (Mikrofiche-No. 6038) Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, Germany. Previously unpublished.

4: William S. Burroughs and Ilse Klapper, Certificate of Marriage. National Archives and Records Administration, USA, American Consular Services, Athens, Greece, August 2, 1937 (Service No. 3616), by courtesy of Richard Byrne. Previously unpublished.

5: Herbert Schlüter and William S. Burroughs, Dubrovnik 1937. Herbert Schlüter Papers [Nachlass Herbert Schlüter], Sign. HS F 1, Monacensia, Stadtbibliothek München / Munich. Previously unpublished.

6: Ilse Burroughs, Petition for Naturalization. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Archive: U.S. District Court, Southern District, New York, Petition No. 422420 [1942], courtesy of Richard Byrne.

Written by Thomas Antonic and published by RealityStudio on 1 March 2020.

6 thoughts on “The White Russian Countess: On Ilse Herzfeld Klapper and Her Marriage to William Burroughs

  1. Fascinating. Ms. Klapper’s role in WSB’s life is often overlooked. A shame, since it helps even up the female scales overall in his existence. He saved one, and he killed one.

  2. Brilliant and beautiful colouring in to the detail of Burroughs’ life. Looking forward to reading the whole book. I wonder how many other Americans married Jews in Athens on the same escape route with Henry Beck as the facilitator?
    And that photograph with Herbert!! What a found moment! Herbert shorter, hands in pockets, right leg turning, Bill left leg turning, both with shirts open-necked but Bill with thumbs belt loop hung. Just a suggestion of the stoop that all those over 6-foot develop.
    And the tesselating Sommerville infinity ivy behind.

  3. I really have to second these comments, especially about the photograph.. Burroughs was a very handsome younger man.. Wonderful..

  4. Very glad to read that she lived a long life. She survived Corporal Adolf in spite of the Nazis thugs. a Gift from Bill. Bless him always.

  5. Interesting to know about Ilse. There have been but scarse remarks about her in litterature. Been often thinking that Burroughs probably saved her life.

  6. I am curious where you got the information about the Herzfeld family owning the biggest department store in Hanover. Ilse was the sister of my grandfather Arnold and no one ever mentioned this. This seems like something we would have known. We understood his family was of modest means.

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