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The Human Touch

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The other day Will Irwin, author and journalist and former president of the American section of the International P. E. N. Club, pointed out that Americans purchasing copies of translations of books by German authors, and even by refugee authors whose properties had been confiscated by the Hitler regime, might innocently be contributing to the coffers of the Nazi government.

For in many cases contracts by American publishers for the right to issue translations were made not directly with the authors concerned but with their German publishers, to whom American royalties are due and from whom the Hitler government may compel the surrender of royalties received-and especially so in the cases of those authors whose properties have been taken over by the present government.

According to Mr. Irwin-and he is extremely well-informed in such matters-the scheme would work in some such way as this:

Take the case of Thomas Mann. Although not a Jew, he is persona non grata. Early in June, Alfred A. Knopf will issue a translation of this author’s latest novel, under the title of “Joseph and His Brothers.” The contract for this translation was in all probability made with Mr. Mann, so that royalties go directly to Mann, wherever he may be. But take “Royal Highness,” which was published in 1909, or “Buddenbrooks,” Mann’s first international success, contracts for the translations of which were made, not with Mann, but with his German publisher, the S. Fischer Verlag.

If those contracts were still in force, the publishers of the American, the English, the French and other editions would bound to turn over to the Fischer Verlag all royalties due Mann, and from Mann’s royalty coffer the Hitler government can help itself to its heart’s content-that is, if Hitler government could help itself to its heart’s content. But Mr. Knopf assures me that he is paying no royalties to Germany on any of the books of Thomas Mann published by him and he informs me that “Royal Highness,” in its English translation, is the property of an English publisher. I quote from Mr. Irwin’s statement:

“Take Feuchtwanger as an example. His books are extremely popular in America. But every book of his sold in America carries a royalty not to the author, as it should, rightfully, but to the Nazi government. The author in America makes his own arrangements with respect to translations. But in Germany it is the publisher who makes these arrangements. So that all moneys that accrue to the author from royalties outside of Germany must be turned over to the German publisher, who, in turn, hands them over to the Nazi government.”


It would be just too bad if every time you bought a copy of a translation of a novel by Feuchtwanger you were making a contribution to the Hitler government.

But at the offices of the Viking Press, Lion Feuchtwanger’s American publisher, I learned that Mr. Irwin was right in his statement of fact, but wrong in the implications which he drew from it.

“Jew Suess” was the first of Feuchtwanger’s books to be published in the United States, under the title of “Power.” It was published in Germany under the imprint of the Drei Masken Verlag, of Berlin and Munich, with whom the Viking Press made its contract for the translation and to whom the author’s royalties were sent, up to February, 1933, after which no more American dollars due Feuchtwanger were despatched.

According to the Viking Press, Feuchtwanger had made claims for certain compensation to his German publisher, on two grounds, one of them royalties. His letters, I am informed, were ignored, whereupon he wrote to the Viking Press asking that sums due him be withheld from that German publisher, and those sums were withheld and turned over to Feuchtwanger directly, at his place of exile.

The author’s letters to the Viking Press asking that no more sums be sent to the Drei Masken Verlag subsequently took the form of an injunction. The other day the Viking Press received from Feuchtwanger a full statement of his claims against the Drei Masken Verlag, for use as defense data should the German house enter suit against the American for royalties not sent to Germany. Such a suit, I am informed, has been threatened by the German publisher, and the Viking Press informs me it will be only too glad to face the German band, so to speak.

All of which means, so far as Feuchtwanger is concerned, that you may buy all the copies of “Power,” as well as of the other books, you want and know that the money is going to the author-the practice in all civilized societies.


I have received the following letter, in answer to a few facetious remarks made on the subject of Yiddish literature, in my column of Sunday, May 13th:

“My dear Mr. Salpeter:

“In your column which you based on the Liebermann issue in my column syndicated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the Yiddish press, you questioned the existence of Yiddish literature.

“If it is ignorance that is the cause of your remark, I should like to refer you to a number of histories of Yiddish literature and in particular to the works of the Jewish historian, Professor Simeon Dubnow.

“If, on the other hand, your’s was merely a rhetorical question, I should like to refer you to your own columns mentioning Peretz and Sholom Asch (to name but two of the outstanding personalities in Yiddish literature) whom you read in English translation.

“It would probably interest you to know that Yiddish literature is a member of the International PEN Club, although it is not the literature of any particular country. It seems that the leaders of the International PEN, recognizing the “existence” and the importance of Yiddish literature, were anxious to have it in the family of literatures. Whereupon they took Yiddish literature in as representing “the country of Yiddish,” a country upon which the sun never sets.”

(Signed) ALEPH KATZ.

The discussion should end right here, but I cannot resist the temptation of pointing out that there may be good books written in a certain language without that language having a literature, in the common acceptation of that word. Besides, I do not know that Yiddish has, or has not, a literature. I simply expressed dubiety. Perhaps it is one of the unfortunate spiritual conditions of the Diaspora that all of the race’s potentialities for Yiddish literature are dispersed into a dozen tongues and a dozen lands-including, possiblly, the tongue of Hebrew in the land of Palestine.

Drop me another note, if you wish, Mr. Katz.

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