A short biography of German-American anarchist Claus Timmermann, indefatigable editor and loyal supporter of Goldman and Berkman
“An ardent German anarchist…He had considerable poetic talent and wrote forceful propaganda…He was a likeable fellow and entirely trustworthy, though a considerable drinker”. - Living My Life. Emma Goldman
Born in Germany, Claus Timmermann emigrated to the United States around 1883. In St. Louis he edited and published Der Anarchist from 1889 to 1891. In the Brothers’ War (Bruderkrieg) that acrimoniously split the German-speaking anarchist movement he took the side of Josef Peukert and his associates around the paper Die Autonomie against Johann Most. In the summer of 1891 he ceased publishing the paper and moved to New York. In 1892 Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman contacted him during the Homestead strike and it was probably he that wrote the majority of the manifesto to the striking steelworkers, Labor Awakens. “It was a flaming call to the men of Homestead to throw off the yoke of capitalism, to use their present struggle as a stepping-stone to the destruction of the wage system, and to continue towards social revolution and anarchism”. Goldman, ibid.
He started the anarchist paper Brandfackel (The Torch) on 1 July 1893 and it continued until January 1895. It published the first essays of Emma Goldman. Claus was influenced by the turn of other German-speaking anarchists towards propaganda in English, and by the successful tour of English anarchist Charles Mowbray, which attracted English-speaking workers. He wrote:" It is a fact that here in America the anarchist publications in the German language significantly surpass those in English, even thought the latter are much more useful and necessary". During the 1890s he spent much time translating Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus into English and bringing them out as pamphlets.
Timmermann was one of the speakers at the 21 August rally in Union Square that was held to address the unemployment crisis in New York. The last speaker was Goldman. The speeches resulted in the trial and imprisonment of both Goldman and Timmermann. The police began searching for Goldman, and knowing that Claus was often drunk, they arrested him, hoping he would blurt out Goldman’s whereabouts. He refused to talk and was beaten unconscious. Timmermann was tried on 1 September 1893, and sentenced to six months on the charge of inciting to riot for his speech and for resisting arrest. He served the time at the prison on Blackwell’s Island. Whilst in prison the editorship of Brandfackel was taken up by Claus Niedermann. In spring 1895 he opened an ice-cream parlour in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with Emma Goldman and Edward Brady but this venture failed after three months.
He launched another anarchist paper in 1897, Der Sturmvogel (The Stormy Petrel) which lasted until 1899. He wrote most of the articles, as well as setting up the type, printing it and delivering it. He was forced to close Sturmvogel down because of high printing costs.
Claus very much liked a drink or three and he eventually became an alcoholic. Luba Benenson, the daughter of Modest Stein, friend of Timmermann, Goldman and Berkman talks about how he was admitted to Bellevue hospital after having swallowed wood alcohol. Hope was given up for him but he made a miraculous recovery.
He worked as a dishwasher in a boarding house in Ellenville, New York. He then became a handyman at Camp Greylock in Massachusetts. A fine carpenter, although he earned very little every time he got paid he sent money to France to support Goldman and Berkman in exile there.
He died at Camp Greylock in 1941.