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)

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).

Ample evidence that Lion Feuchtwanger’s work was much admired by fellow writers in exile from Nazi Germany, among them Thomas Mann, can be found in the Lion Feuchtwanger 60th birthday book.

(click on image for table of contents)

The Lion Feuchtwanger 60th birthday book was originally published on July 7th 1944, and excerpts were re-published in English by USC Libraries/Villa Aurora in 2014. On June 7th 1944 Thomas Mann sent the following letter for inclusion in the book:

Pacific Palisades, June 7th, 1944

“Dear Lion Feuchtwanger,

I find it rather amusing that I’m sending you greetings for your 60th birthday on this handmade paper via New York, since we are, after all, neighbours on this slightly unreal coast and I often have the pleasure of seeing you in person anyway. Actually there’s nothing to stop me visiting you at your castle by the sea on July 7th, so that I may shake my young colleague encouragingly by the hand (my God, I was already 60 at the point when Hitler was embarking on his sins). That will be better than writing to you. However, I do not wish to be absent, nor will I be permitted to be, when the literary world pays you collective homage and your richly blessed life is assembled between the handsome covers of a volume, even though on birthdays one would prefer not to be what one usually is—a writer required to formulate everything with great art and precision.

Allow me, then, to be brief and sincere! This will be more of a handshake than a birthday essay. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m fond of you, and am always eager to chat when we meet socially. This is easy to explain. You are a likeable, cheerfully communicative, and — if you’ll forgive the expression! — ingenuous fellow, whose Munich manner of speaking makes people comfortable; you are also a knowledgeable, experienced man from whom one can learn something; and behind your personality lies a body of work that is diverse, energetic, rich in characters, well researched, astute in its critique of our era, and felicitous. Since the beginning, your work has been well received in many parts of the world, first in Germany, then outside it in both East and West, and in Russia and the Anglo-Saxon countries. I heard it with my own ears in England: ‘It’s almost as good as Feuchtwanger’ was true praise indeed.

I have always admired your existence. You were born to happiness and success, and they will not desert you. You are a comforting example of how a cheerful approach to individual destiny can triumph over the gloom of circumstance. Our era has treated you badly, as it has all of us. You have suffered losses and affronts, been uprooted and endangered — yet I have never heard you talk about any of this without laughter in your voice. It has all turned out well for you. I believe you were the first of the emigrés to acquire a suitably impressive house: in Sanary-sur-Mer, where we spent those first few months following our discharge as German writers. I would have loved to have brought Goebbels to your house and shown him the view, to enrage him. Now, prolific as ever, as an honored guest of this expansive but cosy country, you are waiting for the mindless episode which refers to itself as National Socialization and which you have done, you may say, your best to avoid, to come to an end. You are only 60, you spry young thing. Unlike the undersigned you’ll be able to adjust gradually to what comes next. Whether I’ll be missing out on much need not be addressed here. Provided things turn out as anticipated, we will all live to see, and celebrate together, the ignominious end of the murderous lunacy that drove us out of Germany; and each of us, when the time comes, will leave this life safe in the knowledge that on this star with which we were briefly acquainted, though not everything is, to put it mildly, entirely flawless, the most idiotic, most despicable aspects lasted no longer than perhaps a dozen years.

Yours,

Thomas Mann”

Recent television re-runs of note:

On ARD: Michael Verhoeven’s film Menschliches Versagen (includes a part about the Feuchtwanger family):

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The photo above is of the passport held by Edgar at age 14.

And the re-run of Barbara Schepanek’s 2015 TV documentary Schatten über München, which uses Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel Erfolg (1930) as a springboard for its account of the beginnings of the Nazi movement in Munich:

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On 2nd June 2016 the New York Times ran a Books Section article (‘Edgar Feuchtwanger Bore Witness, Horribly Close to Hitler,’ to coincide with Edgar’s talk at the 92nd Street Y cultural center.

Edgar also appeared on CNN with Christiane Amanpour, June 23rd 2016. Minute 0.57: “If Hitler had known who I was, I wouldn’t be here to talk to you. My uncle Lion Feuchtwanger–who was very much a personal enemy of Hitler’s–had satirized him as Rupert Kutzner [in Erfolg], and if they had ever found out that we were the closest relations to Lion,  we would’t be here for sure.”

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And also on the world’s most visited English-language newspaper website Daily Mail Online on June 23rd: “A Jewish man and one-time neighbor of Hitler has revealed what it was like to live next door to the German dictator for nine years during his rise to power. Edgar Feuchtwanger’s incredible story is made the more improbable by the fact that his uncle, Lion Feuchtwanger, was a prominent novelist and ‘personal enemy’ of Hitler at the time.”

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Edgar’s memoir I was Hitler’s Neighbour (Bretwalda, London), written from his viewpoint as a professional historian, was published in the United Kingdom in 2015. (This memoir is not to be confused with Hitler, My Neighbor (New York: Other Press, 2017), which is a semifictionalization written from the viewpoint of Edgar as a child).

“Nine-year-old Edgar was strolling down the street in pre-war Munich when he glanced into a nearby garden. There, relaxing in a deckchair and dozing in the sun, he saw a neighbour who lived directly opposite him. Edgar, who was Jewish, felt no cause for alarm. Yet this fellow city dweller was none other than Adolf Hitler, then resident in Munich and on his way to becoming the most dangerous and fearsome tyrant of the 20th century.

And as such Edgar, now the 91-year-old distinguished historian Edgar Feuchtwanger, witnessed some of the most dangerous and notorious events in the run-up to war. Edgar’s family was well-known in pre-war Germany. His uncle was Lion Feuchtwanger, a successful author in the Weimar Republic who incurred the wrath of the authorities when in 1930 – the year of Hitler’s electoral breakthrough – he published a novel called Success, which lampooned the German leader as Rupert Kutzner, a garage mechanic with a populist touch, who founds a party called the Truly Germans.” Daily Express

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Bestselling novelist and International Feuchtwanger Society member Tanja Kinkel’s article ‘Villa Aurora’ is available from the Literatur in Bayern website.

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“[…] Ich zog in Marta Feuchtwangers früheres Zimmer ein und hatte drei Monate lang das Glück, in dem Paradies zu leben, das sich Lion und Marta, zwei Münchner im Exil, am Pazifik geschaffen hatten.”

Tanja Kinkel has acknowledged the influence of Lion Feuchtwanger on her novels, and her doctoral dissertation was entitled Naemi, Ester, Raquel und Ja’ala–Väter, Töchter, Machtmenschen und Judentum bei Lion Feuchtwanger (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1998).

On Lion Feuchtwanger’s skills as a novelist, she writes (in Against the Eternal Yesterday, Essays Commemorating the Legacy of Lion Feuchtwanger (Los Angeles: Figueroa Press/USC Libraries, 2009), 94): “What draws me in every time are Feuchtwanger’s characters, who are richly ambiguous and rarely cut-and-dried, and his great gifts for describing places he knew intimately, like his hometown Munich, and places he didn’t know at all and never saw in his life, like Israel. I’ve lived in Munich since the winter of 1988, and it is sometimes amusing, sometimes slightly disturbing to find so much of the Munich–of the Bavaria–Feuchtwanger described in Erfolg still there.”

Professor Reinhard Wittmann, joint curator (with Dr. Vera Bachmann) of the 2014/15 exhibition on Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel Erfolg at Literaturhaus Munich, gave the following radio interview on Deutschlandfunk to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.

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In the radio interview, Professor Wittmann explained the main purpose of the exhibition, namely to place the novel in its social-historical context and to draw attention to the circumstances in Bavaria in the late 1920s when Lion Feuchtwanger was writing the novel, including the politicization of the judicial system and anti-progressive attitudes in many parts of society.

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Süddeutsche Zeitung has pointed out that the favourite book of the SPD mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter is Erfolg (also reported in Abendzeitung München):

“Es ist schon etwas abgegriffen, auch ein paar kleine Eselsohren findet man: Reiters Lieblingsbuch ist der Schlüsselroman “Erfolg” von Lion Feuchtwanger, der als einer der ersten die Gefahren durch Hitler und die NSDAP erkannt hat. Dem Buch sieht man deutlich an, dass Reiter es oft in der Hand hat. Es begleitet ihn seit Jahrzehnten. Damit es nicht irgendwann auseinanderfällt, hat Reiter sich inzwischen eine Taschenbuchversion gekauft, um sein Original-Lieblingsbuch zu schonen.”

Images from the International Feuchtwanger Society Conference 2013 in Berlin:

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 Edgar speaking at the Rotes Rathaus, recalling with mixed feelings his 1937 visit to the city

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IFS members Frank Stern, myself, and Jörg Thunecke: panel addressing the impact of various Lion Feuchtwanger works (in translation) in the US

Conference proceedings:

–> (from the jacket) Dieser Band vereint Forschungsbeiträge der 6. Konferenz der Internationalen Feuchtwanger Gesellschaft, die im Herbst 2013 zum Thema Lion Feuchtwangers Berliner Jahre 1925 bis 1933, seine Leser im Exil, in Deutschland und weltweit nach 1945 im Jüdischen Museum Berlin veranstaltet wurde. Die Konferenz hatte zum Ziel, die Bedeutung des Berliner Zwischenspiels im Leben Feuchtwangers im literarischen und soziopolitischen Kontext herauszuarbeiten, sowie eine Bestandsaufnahme der Rezeption seiner Werke im In- und Ausland zu erstellen. 

Neben Beiträgen zu den Romanen Jud SüßDie Geschwister OppermannDer Jüdische KriegGoya und Waffen für Amerika, zu den PEP-Gedichten und zu seiner Theaterarbeit beleuchtet dieser Band das intellektuelle Umfeld des Autors durch Aufsätze zu seinen Berliner Zeitgenossen Bertolt Brecht, Erich Kästner, Dorothy Thompson, Billy Wilder und Carl Zuckmayer. Vier der Aufsätze in diesem Band widmen sich weiteren Mitgliedern seiner Familie. 

Dem literarischen Erbe des Autors wird durch Beiträge zu seinem amerikanischen Verleger Ben Huebsch, zur heiklen Problematik der Übersetzungen seiner Werke sowie zur Frage seiner Einführung in den Bildungsbereich Rechnung getragen. Zwei Beiträge widmen sich dem damals wie heute kontrovers rezipierten sowjetischen Reisebericht Moskau 1937.

Durch seinen umfassenden Ansatz bietet dieser Band neue Einsichten in eine zentrale Periode der deutschen Kulturgeschichte und schließt eine Lücke in der Feuchtwanger-Forschung.