When a man of the eminence of Lion Feuchtwanger reaches the half-century mark, the occasion is of more than passing interest, and of more than passing interest, to many others beside his private circle of friends. Yesterday it used to be said that a prophet is without honor in his own country, but today we have to say that a man of brilliant gifts and independent mind has to be a refugee from his own country, if that country happens to be east of the Rhine, and since the events of the past week, refugees are finding themselves among strange bedfellows.
It is typical of Hitler Germany that the man who was one of its greatest living novelists had to celebrate his fiftieth birthday, as Feuchtwanger did yesterday, on French soil, at a place on the Riviera so small that I have never before heard of it, Sanary. and be grateful perhaps that he was present at the celebration with body sound and mind sane, even if somewhat poorer in the world’s goods through confiscation of his German home, bank accounts and other possessions. And from the other side of the Alps, in Switzerland, let us trust, another refugee, one Thomas Mann, lifted a glass in silent toasting of that confrere in letters nine years his junior.
Amsterdam, Holland, is the second European center toward which and from which will radiate expressions of homage to Dr. Feuchtwanger, for the Querido Verlag of that city is now the publisher of the original editions of most of Germany’s exile authors, and toward Amsterdam, from many parts of the world, have been despatched expressions of gratitude and honor. Since New York helped Thomas Mann celebrate his fifty-ninth birthday, it is no more than fitting that Amsterdam and a little-known town in France should help Feuchtwanger mark his fiftieth birthday. If thinkers, poets and novelists cannot have honor in their own country, there is no reason to despair while other countries do not fail in hospitality.
THE GREATEST HOSPITALITY
And the greatest hospitality that any country can extend to a poet, or dramatist, or story-teller is to entertain his ideas, to read his books, to be persuaded by his statements of facts and his eloquence. A writer must measure the extent of a nation’s hospitality not by the amount of food consumed in his presence (and presumably in his honor) nor by the volume of eulogy, but by the number of men and women and maybe children who have read, and been affected by, what he has written.
In that sense, then, many nations have joined together to do homage to Lion Feuehtwanger, without reference to birthday parties. That kind of homage is important not only because it helps hold up Feuchtwanger’s arms in the sight of his enemies but also because it helps restore to him some part of that private estate which the Nazis took from him when they proscribed him and confiscated his possessions. The book published in the United States under the title of “The Oppermanns” has been published, and read, in eleven languages other than English and although its reading in Germany was “verboten,” no less than 20,000 copies were bootlegged into Germany, so that it is not fantastic to assume that approximately 100,000 persons read this book in Germany. These 20,000 do not, of course, include the copies of the original edition read in the countries encircling Germany, and wherever else there may be Germans who have not yet been coordinated.
PROCLAMATION OF HIS RACE
I first came to recognize the entity, Lion Feuchtwanger, when I read “Power,” which is also known as “Jew Suess,” the protagonist, the court Jew of a medieval German duchy, in whose amazing fictionized biography the author proclaimed his Jewishness and his Jewish heritage. Then I read “The Ugly Duchess,” a work slight and unsatisfactory after “Power” and then the topical “Success” in which the origins of the Nazi movement are depicted and satirized. Had not that devastating novel been written, the Nazis would not have singled out the author as the particular object of their spitefulness and revenge, and wreaked upon his possessions the hatred they could not wreak upon his body.
We are least familiar, on this side of the ocean, with Feuchtwanger’s manifestations as poet and dramatist. There has been published, in translation, “Two Anglo-Saxon Plays” but the American public rarely reads plays, except Shakespeare’s, until it has seen them. Soon, however, another volume of his plays will be brought out in an American edition, one of the three dramas in it being “Prisoners of War,” which the authorities of post-war Germany refused to allow on the boards. The tens of thousands who have read “Power” perhaps may be the more interested in the news that a moving picture version of that powerful historical tragedy will soon be put on the screen. Even if it is a bad version, it cannot fail to send some of those who see it to the splendid book from which it was made, and if it is a good version, so much the better.
At the turn of the half century mark, Lion Feuchtwanger finds himself at the height of his power, with a public as vast as any writer using one tongue could hope to muster. After he has made good the gap caused by the Nazis’ confiscation of the notes and rough draft of the second volume of “Josephus” and after he has completed the story, and the justification, of that unhappy Jewish traitor, he should proceed to the fulfillments of new intellectual chores, for no man is better fitted to put into fiction and drama, the amazing events of present-day Germany. “The Oppermanns” was not written in vain, but it need be a preface to the next work about Hitlerian Germany Feuchtwanger will write.