LION FEUCHTWANGER was
a famous German novelist who lived from 1884 to 1958. Known worldwide for his
historical studies of Benjamin Franklin, the Spanish painter Goya, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, and such subjects as the
Unlike many of his fellow emigrants
and escapees, Lion Feuchtwanger already had a large overseas audience for his
novels in translation. With the income from his writings he was able to assist
many other German-Jewish and anti-Fascist writers-in-exile. His lavish home in Pacific Palisades, called Villa Aurora today,
by Harold von Hofe, Prof. Emeritus, USC
In the fall of 1940 Lion Feuchtwanger, then internationally the most widely read novelist writing in the German language, arrived in the Excalibur in New York. He was accompanied by the Reverend Waitstill Sharp, who, with his wife Martha, was sponsored by American Unitarian Association to help refugees escape Nazi persecution. In Lisbon, crowded with thousands desperate to leave Europe, Feuchtwanger was able to obtain passage to New York since Martha Sharp gave him her ticket.
The name Feuchtwanger had become a literary by-word by 1926-1927 in England and America when his first major novel, Jud Süß, was brought out as Jew Suess by Martin Secker in London, and as Power by the Viking Press in New York. The stern London critic Arnold Bennett characterized the story about the eighteenth century Jewish courtier Joseph Süss Oppenheimer as a novel that enthralled while it broadened knowledge. The Londoner reported April 1,1927 that Jew Suess ran away with the season's plums. For the American critic Clifton Fadiman it was a historical novel of epical dimensions. Matthew Josephson wrote in the New York Herald Book Review that Feuchtwanger won an honored place among the foremost writers of Europe, for his novel was executed upon the large romantic canvas of a Dumas, filled with the cruel human details of a Tom Jones, and resembled in plan Stendhal's La Chartreuse de Parme and Le Rouge et le Noir.
The German-Jewish author of a novel, which incisively portrayed Jewish themes, was odious to National Socialists, whose party was growing in the twenties. His novel Success (Erfolg), on which Feuchtwanger started to work in 1927, was published in 1930 when the Nazis received 18.3 percent of the votes. In the eyes of Goebbels, Feuchtwanger became an un-German Jewish evildoer.
Success bears the subtitle "History of a Providence," i.e. Bavaria. Its action takes place in a Munich seemingly cosmopolitan, but essentially a provincial town spawning National Socialism. Years before Hitler's assumption of power Feuchtwanger created the fictional person Rupert Kutzner, who founded the party of "The True Germans."Kutzner "orated in a high and sometimes hysterical voice; the words flowed effortlessly from his broad, pale lips... . The system of capital and interest, the Jews, and the Pope were to blame for the wretchedness of the Germans. The international ring of the Jewish financiers was trying to destroy the German people, as a tubercle bacillus tries to destroy a healthy lung. Once the parasites were eliminated, a healthy society would be created. When Kutzner stopped speaking, his thin lips with the faint dark mustache and the sleek hair plastered over his head make his face look like a mask, but as soon as he opened his mouth, his face became curiously mobile with a hysterical vivacity...".
When Feuchtwanger observed in 1930 that Berlin was populated by future exiles, Goebbels added that Feuchtwanger had earned his place among them.
The writer arrived in the
States in November 1932 to begin a lecture tour; he did not foresee that he
would lose his house and library in Berlin and would never return to his native
Germany. On Monday, January 30, 1933 he was guest of honor at a dinner in
Washington, D.C. hosted by the then German ambassador Friedrich Wilhelm von
Prittwitz und Gaffron. At five o'clock on that day Hitler was appointed
Chancellor and presided over the first meeting with his Cabinet. On
Tuesday Prittwitz called Feuchtwanger to warn him not to return to Germany. Feuchtwanger foresaw that Hitler meant war, rejoined his wife Marta in Europe and found asylum until 1940 in Sanary, in the South of France. Prittwitz resigned at the time from the diplomatic corps; he was the only major German diplomat to do so. On August 25, 1933 the official Nazi Reichsanzeiger published its first list of those whose German citizenship was revoked because of "disloyalty to the German Reich and the German people." Lion Feuchtwanger's name was number six on the alphabetic list.
Meanwhile Feuchtwanger was completing the first anti-Nazi novel written by a German writer in exile, The Oppermanns, portraying the malevolent pressure exerted on the German-Jewish Oppermann family from November 9, 1932 to the summer of 1933. British Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald had commissioned Feuchtwanger to draft a script for an anti-Hitler moving picture, but changed his mind and decided "to swallow Hitler." Earlier that year, Feuchtwanger recalled, American politicians had suggested to him in Washington that "Hitler be given a chance."
The policy of appeasement prevailed until 1938. Feuchtwanger, however, resolved not to swallow the harassment of the Jewish people, including his brothers Martin, Fritz and Ludwig. With the publication of The Oppermanns he became a prominent spokesman for the opposition to the Third Reich. The final portion of the novel, entitled "Tomorrow," bears the motto: "It is upon us to begin the work. It is not upon us to complete it."-Talmud.
Within a year of the original publication by Querido, Amsterdam 1933, The Oppermanns provided insight into the harsh daily routine of 600,000 German-Jewish people in Hitler Germany. Within a year it was made available to readers of ten other languages: Czech, Danish, English, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish.
In Southern France he wrote The Pretender (Der falsche Nero), 1936, in which he traced a similarity between two mediocrities: a Roman upstart claiming to be Nero and Adolf Hitler, and the topical novel Paris Gazette (Exile), 1940 depicting the disastrous as well as the ludicrous sides of the German exiles' life in Paris at that time.
After spending several months in the Soviet Union, he wrote Moscow 1937, a book disputed to the present day. Feuchtwanger has occasionally been characterized as a Marxist writer or as a writer who was a Marxist. His leftist friends Brecht and Becher were convinced that he was neither.
The East German Feuchtwanger biographer Joseph Pischel, however, squeezed Marxist thinking out of numerous passages that are unpolitical. His conclusions cannot stand up, for there is unappreciable evidence of socialist thinking in Feuchtwanger's novels. His Moscow 1937 does, however, contain data in support of the Soviet Union as a state whose socioeconomic structure is based on rational principles of the Enlightenment. Just as important, it was steadfastly anti-Nazi at a time when Chamberlain of England and Daladier of France were appeasers.
In France Feuchtwanger completed the trilogy, begun in Berlin, on the life and work of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived in superficially friendly Rome in the first century A.D. Wishing to transcend his Roman affiliation as well as his Jewish nationalism, he aspired to world citizenship. The "Psalm of the World Citizen" is at the core of the trilogy. Josephus sought an undivided cosmopolitan world but, again and again, was thrown back to his Jewish origins. At the end of the final novel Josephus realized that he had sought global scope too soon, but that The Day Will Come, as the title reads.
World War II broke out while Feuchtwanger was working on the last chapters of Josephus. Feuchtwanger and thousands of other anti-Fascists were interned in France. German exiles were Germans and potentially dangerous. During the Sitzkrieg, la guerre drôle, he was released after a short stay in the interment camp Les Milles, but when the Wehrmacht invaded France in 1940 he was interned once more in Les Milles on May 21. Some inmates fled, but a portion of the others were later shipped to Auschwitz.
A concatenation of events, unpredictable from day to day, the American consular corps, the American Rescue Committee and the Unitarians constituted a many-colored setting in Southern France.
After the signing of the armistice June 22, 1940 by Pétain, the French equivalent of Hindenburg in 1933, it was rumored in Les Milles that German troops were moving in. A portion of the inmates was wedged into a trains-characterized as "The Ghost Train" in Feuchtwanger's The Devil in France. It traveled as far as Bayonne, several kilometers at a time, before returning and discharging its prisoners at Camp St. Nicholas near Nîmes, about sixty-five miles west of Marseilles.
In Marseilles Marta Feuchtwanger began to orchestrate an escape. She walked to the head of the line at the American Consulate claiming, falsely, that she was a friend of Deputy Consul Miles Standish (sic). Standish, familiar with the name of Feuchtwanger, introduced her to Hiram Bingham, the official in charge of visas. When she shed tears-"Americans can't stand seeing a woman cry"-Bingham offered to give her shelter in his home.
Marta took the second step by suggesting to Standish that Nanette Lekisch, wife of a physician interned with Lion Feuchtwanger, could guide an American consular official from Nîmes to the camp at St. Nicholas and engineer an escape.1 Standish volunteered. Since prisoners bathed in a small river near Nîmes in the middle of the afternoon, Mrs. Lekisch was convinced that an escape had chances of success at that time of day.
Several days later, Miles Standish rode in a chauffeur driven car to Nîmes, met Nanette Lekisch, found Lion by the river clad only in shorts and showed him a note from Marta: "Don't ask anything, don't say anything, go along." Lion got into the car. On the back seat Standish helped Lion into a woman's overcoat, put a shawl over his head an gave him dark glasses When French police officers stopped the American car and asked Standish who the lady was, Standish replied that it was his mother-in-law.
Lion Feuchtwanger joined his wife at Bingham's villa on the rue du Commandant Rollin in the outskirts of Marseilles. Bingham had arranged to have a picture of Feuchtwanger standing behind a barbed wire fence at Les Milles sent to America. Ben Huebsch of Feuchtwanger's publisher, Viking Press, had friends show the photo to Eleanor Roosevelt. She and her husband got out word that an emergency visa be issued, unofficially; career diplomats, some in all likelihood anti-Semitic, had conducted their affairs in keeping with the official American policy of neutrality. Bingham, whom Feuchtwanger characterized on July 22, 1940, in his unpublished diary, as an awkward but dutiful man of good will, found conversations with his knowledgeable guest to be an animating intellectual experience, however. They even felt conspiratorial rapport when they were visited by the American Consul General Abbott, who was apparently hostile to German émigrés.
Bingham made contact with Varian Fry, member of the American Emergency Rescue Committee, which was established with the tacit approval of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fry helped Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler Werfel, Heinrich Mann and the latter's nephew Golo, son of Thomas Mann, flee to Spain but he was intimidated by the name Feuchtwanger, archenemy of the Nazis. Through the intervention of Mrs. Roosevelt, however, the Reverent Waitstill Sharp, minister of the Unitarian Church in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, appeared unexpectedly in Marseilles and nervously introduced himself to Feuchtwanger: "I am here to help you leave France."
Sharp, his wife, Bingham, Fry and Feuchtwanger conceived a venturesome project. Mr. and Mrs. Sharp-under-estimated to the present day-carried out the preparatory portions. Martha Sharp rented a room at the Marseilles hotel, only seemingly adjacent to the station but actually built into it; a tunnel led from the hotel to the train ramps. Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger went to Mrs. Sharp's room after dark, slipped through the tunnel and were joined on the platform by the resolute Reverend Sharp. They boarded a train to Cerbère, a fishing village at the foot of the mountains. Feuchtwanger's emergency visa was made out in the name of Wetcheek-feucht = wet, Wange = cheek-, a pseudonym he had used in the twenties. Marta Feuchtwanger's carte d'identité was made out in her own name.
Knapsack on their backs, Wetcheek-Feuchtwanger and Marta walked from the village through vineyards and up the boulders-strewn mountains to the Spanish custom office. Wetcheek entered first and was checked through. When Marta followed she held out her carte d'identité and simultaneously dropped numerous packs of cigarettes on the desk. She had just learned, she explained, that duty on cigarettes was to high for her to pay. Could she leave them here? The carte was hastily stamped as the officials stuffed scarce cigarettes into their pockets. The word cigarettes attracted their attention more than the name Feuchtwanger.
In the Spanish Port-Bou the
Feuchtwangers, Waitstill and Martha Sharp took a train to Barcelona. Short of
money for passage to Lisbon, the resourceful Waitstill Sharp obtained a modest
sum at the home of the American Consul in Barcelona-it was Sunday-so that he
could purchase a third class ticket for Marta Feuchtwanger, and for Lion first
class where police checked personal papers in a casual manner, if at all. Lion,
whom Dr. Sharp had given a briefcase marked "Red Cross," had an alarming
experience on the train when he and a Nazi officer were about to enter a men's
room. They exchanged amenities about the Red Cross in
English, the officer speaking with a Prussian, Feuchtwanger with a Bavarian accent. Feuchtwanger had observed years before that the Nazis could take away his citizenship but not his Bavarian accent.
At the Portuguese border, passengers had to leave the train. On the platform an American journalist asked Marta if it were true that Lion Feuchtwanger was among the passengers. As Marta Feuchtwanger inquired who Feuchtwanger might be, an irritated Waitstill Sharp reprimanded the journalist: "Shut up. Someone might lose his life."
In Lisbon the Feuchtwangers and the Sharps checked in at the Hotel Metropole, where Dr. Charles Joy of the Unitarian Service had an office. Joy urged Feuchtwanger to leave Lisbon immediately; the Nazis were abducting refugees. Mrs. Sharp gave up her berth; Feuchtwanger and Waitstill Sharp boarded the "Excalibur" for New York. Marta Feuchtwanger obtained passage two weeks later.
Upon arrival in New York October 5, 1940 Feuchtwanger was questioned by numerous reporters. The New York Times printed an article October 6 quoting Feuchtwanger: "Author, Here on Liner, Says It Is `Mathematically Certain' That Germany Will Lose." An anonymous interpreter, cited in the FBI file on Feuchtwanger, commented that the author seized every opportunity to make "venomous attacks against the Nazis." Antifascism was still premature in the fall of 1940.
In New York Feuchtwanger was welcomed by fellow refugees from Europe, among them Lotte Lenya, Maurice Maeterlinck, Somerset Maugham, Erich Maria Remarque, Otto Preminger, Jules Romains, Kurt Weill, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler Werfel.
Before leaving for
California in 1941 Feuchtwanger had completed the notable memoirs of his
experience in Les Milles, subjective by design, published as Unholdes
Frankreich (Ungracious France) by El Libro libre in Mexico 1941-later Der
Teufel in Frankreich. The Viking Press edition of The Devil in France
appeared in the fall of 1941. The French Devil was to Feuchtwanger not the
savage Satan of Nazi Germany; he was that which the French term "Je m'en
thoughtless, bureaucratism, conventionalism, do-nothingness.
Once settled in Southern California Feuchtwanger helped Brecht escape from Europe in 1941 by placing at his disposal funds that he, Feuchtwanger, had in Moscow. Brecht crossed the Soviet Union to Vladivostok and boarded a boat to San Pedro, harbor of Los Angeles, where Marta Feuchtwanger met him at the dock and found him a place to live.
When Brecht read The Devil in France, he pronounced it to be Feuchtwanger's "schönstes Buch." Brecht's enthusiasm led to their working together 1942-43 on Simone, a play with a Joan of Arc theme in occupied France. They collaborated despite their dissimilar principles in creating plots and characters. Brecht had no taste for Feuchtwanger's notions of empathy and physical motivation, while alienation was literally alien to Feuchtwanger. According to their common friend, the composer Hanns Eisler, Feuchtwanger said to Brecht when the latter started, for the hundredth time, to explain his doctrine: "You know what you can do with your epic theater." (The German sentence is more gross than the English translation.) They nevertheless worked together and completed Simone, for Brecht thought of the older man as his mentor, as the only "Lehrmeister," that is teacher and guide, in his life. Simone ultimately consisted of two versions. Feuchtwanger made it into a novel dealing principally with the psychological problems of the teenager Simone; "special interests" were incidental. Class interests are the thematic core of Brecht's play The Visions of Simone Machard, which has the by-line: "Written by Bertolt Brecht with the collaboration of Lion Feuchtwanger."
From the middle forties to the early fifties Feuchtwanger dealt with political themes springing from the American and French Revolutions: Proud Destiny (Waffen für Amerika), 1947, the novels on Goya in Spain, 1951 and Rousseau in France, 1952.
When Feuchtwanger commented on Proud Destiny, he stressed that Progress was the hero, not any one person. The conception is not as unsophisticated as it seems, for he knew very well that twentieth century thinkers have been skeptical about the onward, forward development of mankind. Ours is of course not the best of all possible worlds but, like Candide, Feuchtwanger was convinced that capacity for Progress is inherent in the sociopolitical structures we create. Worldwide human rights, freedom and cosmopolitan brotherhood, only partially brought into existence in the revolutions of the eighteenth century, would ultimately became reality, he was convinced.
Feuchtwanger distinguished, as Max Brod did in Heldentum, Christentum, Judentum, 1921, between noble, unchangeable and ignoble, remediable misfortunes. Love unrequited, bereavement, personal ambitions unrealized and longings unfulfilled are intrinsic components of human destiny. Suffering from cold, hunger, inadequate housing, illness untreated and victimization by group aggressiveness are not, however, irrevocable parts of our fate.
The plot of Proud Destiny deals on the surface with Benjamin Franklin's successful efforts to gain French aid for the new United States of America. What course the new independent nation would chart is a more consequential question than the maneuvering of Franklin in Paris. Franklin pictured America as a cosmopolitan force supporting the advance of human rights everywhere; he envisioned an epoch when men and women could set foot anywhere on the planet and be able to say: "This is my country." To John Adams, Franklin was an unrealistic ideologue who did not sense the trend of the times. Adams foresaw the expansion of an American Empire whose citizens would confer their form of liberty and happiness on other inhabitants of this globe.
Proud Destiny, published during the Cold War in 1947, evoked a notable response in the Soviet journal Novy Mir, Moscow, June 1948. The author, R. Miller-Budinskaya, maintained in her critique "Cosmopolites in `Literary Hollywood'," that Feuchtwanger wrote his work in order to advance Anglo-American global hegemony. What considerations spawned Ms. Miller-Budinskaya's conclusion?
While the late forties and early fifties were the era of McCarthyism in the United States, Shdanovism ("Shdanovshtina") prevailed in the Soviet Union. Andrej Shdanov, propaganda chief of the Central Committee, initiated at the time a policy of rigid regimentation for writers and artists. Cosmopolitans were prominent among the victims of Shdanov's witch-hunt.
In Western thinking, cosmopolitanism signifies world wide concern about harmonious relations and possible amalgamation among ethnic and national groups. To Shdanovites, however, it was an imperialistic product of the capitalistic system. In the Meyer encyclopedia, a standard work of the then German Democratic Republic, it was unambiguously defined: "Cosmopolitanism is a reactionary concept of the imperialistic bourgeoisie, whose aim is the establishment of hegemony in the world by powerful capitalistic nations."
The Novy Mir article was widely read in Eastern Germany. The communist writer Johannes R. Becher, who had returned to Berlin from exile in Moscow to become president of the Marxist Kulturbund (Federation of Culture) wrote Feuchtwanger December 5, 1949: " Don't be concerned about charges that you are a cosmopolitan. We all know that there's nothing of that sort in your writing and thinking." Becher was right in the communist sense, but Feuchtwanger had repeatedly characterized himself as cosmopolitan (in the Western meaning of the concept) since the twenties. That may have been the reason why Feuchtwanger's works were not published in the Soviet Union from 1946 to 1955.
At the time of the Cold War, even Western publishers, however, felt that the title of the novel about America, Waffen für Amerika (literally Arms for America) was unpropitious. Feuchtwanger changed it to Füchse im Weinberg (Foxes in the Vineyard) based on the words in the Song of Solomon 2:15: "Take us foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes."
The Rousseau novel
illuminates the far-famed, but misleadingly worded sentence in the Declaration
of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all me are
created equal." It signified that a limited group of free white men, British
subjects in the Western hemisphere, were equal to those residing in Great
Britain. The Rousseau disciple Fernand learns that equality was of restricted
scope even to French liberals in the wake of the French Revolution. When Fernand
maintained that equal rights be given not only to whites but also to blacks
under French rule, the affluent but liberal Monsieur Robinet declared that he
and fellow open-minded
advocates of the Revolution would make concessions, giving franchise to men of mixed race for example. It must be understood, however, that "if you serve café au lait you must be prepared to serve black as well." He, Robinet, was no more conservative that the liberty lovers in Philadelphia but "like gentlemen in America, he would be willing to give blacks certain rights but not until the turn of the century, not until the following century. Haste makes waste." When the National Assembly in Paris did pass a bill extending rights to blacks, Fernand was informed that the law was meant to be a warning to planters in the West Indies but that it was "purely academic"; it could not be enforced.
Goya was inspired by the French Revolution-and McCarthyism. He started in the summer of 1948 after McCarthyist scrutiny, and interrogations, of suspected left-wingers, including Feuchtwanger, had begun. The work on Goya portrays a turning point in the development of Goya and marks a turning point in the transformation of the author. As activist, both were sociopolitically late bloomers.
Until Goya reached his fifties, he was a talented artist whose flattering portraits of royalty and aristocracy were uncritically acclaimed. When Charles IV of Spain appointed him court painter, Goya enjoyed the peak of recognition while keeping in mind the motto of the peasants from whom he had sprung: "Look, listen and keep your mouth shut."
With his "Caprichos" and "Los Desastres de la Guerra," Goya changed from a self-seeking artist savoring fame and pleasure to an impassioned painter committed to help overcome the people's apathy to ignoble misfortune. A careerist became an activist supporter of goals animating the revolutions of the eighteenth century.
Feuchtwanger's own views as
a creative write underwent a comparative mutation. Formerly he had taken the
position: "If you explain the world plausibly enough, you change it quietly by
the operation of reason. Only those who can't explain it plausibly try to change
it by force." He had been a spectator-author who contemplated and delineated. At
the end of Proud Destiny he has Franklin admit, however, "that without a
modicum of violence it will not be possible to establish
freedom and better cosmopolitan order in the world."
The author addressed the issues of racism, intolerance and (military) strife-mindedness in Raquel, The Jewess of Toledo, 1955. The novel is a modern, expanded adaptation of the parable of the three rings related in Boccaccio's Decamerone and dramatized by Lessing in Nathan der Weise, 1779. In Raquel the Jewish Yehuda, Muslim Musa and Christian Rodrigue concur that the time of religious monopoly is over since each has validity. Musa formulates religious self-assurance and respectful, active tolerance: "I am a believer in three religions. Each of them contains good and each of them teaches articles of faith that reason refuses to accept. So long as I am convinced that my people's faith is not inferior to that of any other people, I would consider my own action odious if I left the community into which I was born."
Religious, racial respect is
a sine qua non, but is there room for soldiering in multicultural, cosmopolitan
world? In the twelfth century Spain of Raquel, a pars pro toto in time and
space, military aggressiveness is chronic, the warrior is revered, the odor of
victory sweet, armor is shining. The jezer hara, the evil urge, causes man to
beat, hack, slay and be glorified as a brave, fighting man. Raquel was attracted
by the seductive aura of the adventurous feudal world but sensed its
Men and women have laughed at Don Quixote but have not been convinced that he is ridiculous; they have not seen the lunatic lurking in "gallant" warriors. "Theoreticians have chronically debated," Feuchtwanger reflected about a systematic phenomenon in the epilogue to Raquel, "whether it was permissible to forestall an enemy attack by attacking first."
Will the best conceivable realization of sociopolitical goals central to the American and French Revolutions bring about a cosmopolitan planetary society without soldiery? Not without the employment of force! Feuchtwanger had Benjamin Franklin declare: "... without a modicum of violence and injustice it will never be possible to establish freedom and a tranquil order in the world." Will there be an era in which we can set forth on any place on this earth and say: "This is my country"? The Franklin-Feuchtwanger statement will be right when the time is right. "Ça Ira." That is: "We shall make it eventually." It is the title of the last section in Proud Destiny.
It is not the best of all possible worlds but Feuchtwanger built into the transposition of Progress in his works the notion that the road to worldwide cosmopolitan is infixed in humankind's development.
In conversation with Feuchtwanger and Ludwig Marcuse in the fifties we spoke, after the European Economic Union was created in 1957, of a United Europe. "The world will have to beware of European chauvinism," said Marcuse. Feuchtwanger, who never raised his voice and always, so seemed to me, smiled, remarked: "Europe is an intermediate stage."
Paperback editions of Feuchtwanger's novels, published by S. Fischer in Frankfurt, have sold close to a million copies from the late seventies to the present day. "In my thirty years of experience as an editor," wrote Wolfgang Mertz of S. Fischer, " I have never seen a renaissance comparable to that of Feuchtwanger."