Author and former Lion-Feuchtwanger-Gymnasium teacher Peter Thalheim

The Lion Feuchtwanger collection in the school library at the Lion-Feuchtwanger-Gymnasium in Munich has recently been expanded and now consists of no fewer than 120 items, writes Peter Thalheim, former teacher of Germanistik and history at the school and author of Die Geschwister Oppermann Oldenbourg Interpretationen study notes.

— Reader providing a general introduction to the author:

Feuchtwanger and Judaism, History, Imagination, Exile, ed. Paul Lerner and Frank Stern (the conference proceedings of the International Feuchtwanger Society 2015 conference) has been published by Peter Lang, with an accompanying launch event at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library.

At the launch event

The Feuchtwanger and Judaism volume covers the Jewish themes that ran through Lion Feuchtwanger’s life, works and worlds. Beginning with a selection of Feuchtwanger’s unpublished writings, speeches, and interviews, the volume examines the author’s approaches to Jewish history, Zionism, Judaism’s relationship to early Christianity and to Eastern religions, and Jewish identity through his works, above all historical fiction.

The volume includes my conference paper ‘Caught Between Cultures: Lion Feuchtwanger’s Flavius Josephus’. Lion Feuchtwanger’s 1932 novel Der jüdische Krieg portrays Flavius Josephus as a young man caught between the conflicting cultures of Rome and Jerusalem and forced to make difficult choices. The novel also makes an implicit comment on the precarious position of European Jews in the early 1930s. In the paper I outline the principal elements and themes of the novel, and place it in the context of other German literary works of the period, in particular Hanns Johst’s Nazi play Schlageter. That play can fruitfully be lined up alongside Der jüdische Krieg since, like Feuchtwanger’s novel, it explores the psychology of a young man’s attitudes towards war and patriotism. Johst raises some of the same questions as Feuchtwanger, but from an early-Nazi perspective: should a young man’s loyalty to his country override all other concerns, or should loyalty to values matter more? What kind of values matter, and in what kind of a nation?

— For analysis specifically of Jud Süss, see earlier conference (University of Amsterdam) entitled ‘The Many Guises of Jud Süss, The Image of “The Jew”: Joseph Süss Oppenheimer via Feuchtwanger to Goebbels and Beyond’.

The 9th Conference of the International Feuchtwanger Society (Lion Feuchtwanger und München: Der junge Feuchtwanger—Dramatiker, Theaterkritiker, früher Romanautor) was held in Munich from 17th-20th October 2019.

My paper for the conference was entitled ‘Das Buch Bayern’: The Portrayal of Antisemitism and the ‘Wahrhaft Deutschen’ in Erfolg (and accompanying Powerpoint). Between 1920 and 1933 Lion Feuchtwanger published four works—one satirical short story and three novels—in which he addressed the subject of antisemitism in Germany. In the third of these works, Erfolg (1930), he exposed antisemitism in Bavarian politics and society, satirized the emerging Nazi Party, and drew attention to the increasing politicization of Bavaria’s judicial and penal system, as well as providing a compelling fictionalized account of the 1923 Munich Putsch.

Although the novel helped garner Lion Feuchtwanger a Nobel Prize for Literature nomination in 1930, it put him as well as other family members in the crosshairs of the Nazi press. After the war the novel endured a mixed reception, but nowadays it is highly regarded, especially in Bavaria.

In my conference paper I trace the theme of antisemitism in the novel, describe how the publication of the novel affected family members at the time, and point out that a comprehensive German Jewish studies interpretation of the novel would be a welcome addition to the existing secondary literature.

IFS 2019 Conference Program

Süddeutsche Zeitung 21st October 2019, Kultur section article about the conference

Edgar addressing the conference (top); and signing copies of his book Als Hitler unser Nachbar war (the German edition of Hitler, My Neighbor)

Recent scholarly publications in the field:
— Michael Brenner, Der lange Schatten der Revolution, Juden und Antisemiten in Hitlers München 1918-1923 (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag, 2019)

Lion Feuchtwanger’s diaries, recently published by Aufbau Verlag, have been reviewed in a very broad range of mainstream media — testimony to the sheer breadth of interest in his writings:

“Feuchtwanger ohne Filter.” Klaus Modick, author of Sunset.

Audio book link

Events:

Literaturhaus Munich, ‘Lion Feuchtwanger, Die Tagebuecher’ event, 25th November 2018
Image credit: Tanja Kinkel

“Lion Feuchtwangers Roman Exil im nostalgischen Dreissigerjahre-Look”. Süddeutsche Zeitung

A theatrical production of Exil was staged at Munich Kammerspiele in November 2017, with an accompanying reading of correspondence between Lion Feuchtwanger and fellow exiled Jewish author Arnold Zweig.

For detailed analysis of the novel Exil and Lion Feuchtwanger’s personal experience of exile from Nazi Germany, see Proceedings of the International Feuchtwanger Society Conference 2009.

Hitler, My Neighbor was published by Other Press (New York) in November 2017, with accompanying excerpts in Time (online) and People (online).

Covering the period 1929-39, the book is an account of the everyday life of Edgar’s family at their Munich apartment, directly opposite the private apartment of Hitler. Edgar watches as events unfold beneath his window.

“The title of this memoir says it all. A young Jewish boy growing up in Munich in the 1930s, Edgar Feuchtwanger writes about living across the street from Hitler, the future mass murderer he could see through his window.” New York Times Book Reviews, New and Noteworthy

“Edgar plays with toys, listens to his mother playing piano, and eavesdrops on adult conversations between his father (the director of an academic publishing house) and his famous uncle, author Lion Feuchtwanger. […] An exceptionally powerful and emotionally charged story.” New York Journal of Books

Television and film:

Further resources:

On the 80th anniversary of Lion Feuchtwanger’s 1937 visit to Moscow, and to accompany publication of Professor Anne Hartmann‘s new book (above), a conference entitled ‘Die revolutionäre Versuchung. Reiseberichte aus dem Exil: Auf nach Moskau! Der Fall Lion Feuchtwanger‘ was held at Literaturhaus Berlin (in collaboration with Freie Universität Berlin) on 8-9th December 2017 (with a subsequent book launch at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre).

To understand Stalin, asks Anne in her monograph – how feasible was that for a Western intellectual visiting him in the Soviet Union in the 1930s? What was it that Feuchtwanger grasped when he sat face to face with the dictator on January 8th, 1937? How far-reaching was his understanding of that radically different society?

Anne points out that in his travel report Moskau 1937 Feuchtwanger shows considerable appreciation for Stalin and his policies. He ends his book with a triple, enthusiastic ‘yes’ for the USSR, praising its social order and even justifying its show trials. The political reasons are obvious. Forced into exile, by the Hitler regime, the German-Jewish author hoped the Soviet Union would offer the fierce resistance to the National Socialists, which was sadly missing among the Western democracies.

But other motives may be worth mentioning, Anne goes on. There are irritations, contradictions and cracks detectable under the smooth surface of his travel log, and there is also the question of why Feuchtwanger stuck staunchly to his vision of the Soviet realities until his death in 1958.

In response, Edgar‘s line of argument is: “Looking at it from my perhaps rather superficial viewpoint, of course Lion was very wrong indeed about Stalin. But you have to remember that the situation at the time was desperate. That is evident from a document such as Thomas Mann’s ‘Bruder Hitler’. It seemed as though the Western powers were not going to put up any resistance. Lion got his understanding of Russian from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol. His assessment of Stalin was completely erroneous: a man of the people, well read, in extraordinarily jovial mood throughout the long interview. There are probably other factors involved—vanity, and not least Eva Herrmann, with whom he was in an extramarital liaison at the time.”

Edgar goes on: “I can remember when I was 13 (in 1937) my aunt Bella came to visit us in Munich from Prague. She had a Czech passport and could travel back and forth freely, which ultimately meant she perished in Theresienstadt. She told us about Lion stopping off to see her in Prague on his way back from the Moscow trip. She said Lion was already aware that there were Potemkin villages and that the golden taps in his hotel often produced no water. Allegedly Lion had said to Stalin: “How much pleasure does it give you that there’s a picture of you on every toilet seat in Russia?”, to which Stalin apparently replied “That’s how things work here”. My aunt Bella recounted this anecdote in her Bavarian accent and I can still remember it to this day. Bella was a very amusing person, and I subsequently took a trip with her to Berlin, which was the only time I travelled outside Bavaria as a child. In England during the war, no country was more popular than Russia after 1941. Even here in Hampshire we often had to get out of bed and go to the air raid shelter, but in May 1941 that suddenly stopped, for which we were very grateful to the Russians. It seems to me that Lion was always a man of the Enlightenment and reason, but that somehow came into conflict with his powerful imagination.”

My own contributions to the discussion can be found in ‘Russia’s Mythic Attraction: Lion Feuchtwanger in Moscow, 1937′, in Germano-Slavica 8 (1993); and in  ‘Lion Feuchtwanger and the Culture of Remembrance‘, in Against the Eternal Yesterday, (Los Angeles: Figueroa Press/USC Libraries, 2009).

Ludmila Stern’s Moscow 1937: The Interpreter’s Story’ (ASEEES Vol. 21, Nos. 1-2 (2007), 73-95) gives an insider’s view.

Further scholarly publications in the field:

The International Feuchtwanger Society Conference 2017, with the title ‘France as Host Country to German-speaking (in particular German-Jewish and Austrian-Jewish) Emigrés between 1933 and 1940: Forms and Media of Public Memory Culture’ was held in Paris from October 12th -14th 2017.

My paper for the conference was entitled  ‘Die Geschwister Oppermann: A German Jewish Family in Extremis’ (with accompanying image set). Die Geschwister Oppermann was written in Sanary-sur-Mer in 1933, at the start of Lion Feuchtwanger’s seven-year period of exile in France. It was the first novel by a prominent international author to provide readers outside Germany with a full account of conditions inside the Third Reich. Written as an act of resistance to the developments unfolding in Germany, it is an important and compelling work which won plaudits from reviewers and fellow authors at the time, and has been well received by critics and biographers ever since. The situation faced by the fictional Oppermann family mirrored that of the Feuchtwanger family as the Nazi dictatorship took hold.

The Oppermanns (English translation of Die Geschwister Oppermann) (London: Persephone Books, forthcoming Spring 2020)

IFS 2017 Conference Program (Conference proceedings forthcoming Spring 2020, Peter Lang)

In 1940, Lion Feuchtwanger was interned by Vichy France at the Les Milles camp (opening ceremony of the museum & memorial site at Les Milles). His account of internment, Der Teufel in Frankreich, was republished in English in 2009 by Figueroa Press/USC Libraries (click on image below for full digital edition).

— Recent scholarly publications in the field:
Magali Nieradka-Steiner, Exil unter Palmen, Deutsche Emigranten in Sanary-sur-Mer (Darmstadt: Theiss, 2018)

Some recent items in mainstream media discussing the quality of Lion Feuchtwanger’s works and their place in “the canon”:

Literaturpapst Marcel Reich-Ranicki rightly includes Höhenflugrekord, a classic of the Neue Sachlichkeit, in his influential Der Kanon–Erzählungen . In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2010, however, he argued that Feuchtwanger’s writing was sometimes “gaudy”.

Micha Brumlik, professor of education at the University of Frankfurt, writing in the Jüdische Allgemeine in 2013, values in particular the contemporary relevance of Der jüdische Krieg.

Bayerischer Rundfunk, on the occasion of its 2014 rerun of Dietrich Leube’s TV documentary Lion Feuchtwanger: Geachtet & geächtet, argued that it was with Erfolg that Lion Feuchtwanger staked his claim to immortality.

 

And Ian Wallace, Emeritus Professor of German at the University of Bath and former President of the International Feuchtwanger Society, writing for the Forgotten Gems section of the website New Books in German, admires Die Jüdin von Toledo for its portrayal of the mindset behind holy war (a matter of great concern today).

bibliothek

With Edgar at The Library of Burned and Banned Books at Munich’s new NS-Dokumentationszentrum. The Drei Masken Verlag first edition of Jud Süss (1925) is easily identifiable by its yellow jacket (top shelf). The total print run of the novel in German up until 1933 was 200,000; in other European languages (English, French and a dozen others), Yiddish and Hebrew it was 638,000.

bibliothek_shelves

Clip: In the Learning Centre at the NS-Dokumentationszentrum. Edgar watching his 60-minute Zeitzeugeninterview

Recent scholarly publications in the field:
— Volker Weidermann, Das Buch der verbrannten Bücher (Cologne: Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 2008)