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Feuchtwanger Tells of Escape from France; Sees Hitler Defeated

October 7, 1940
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

After a thrilling escape from a French concentration camp, Lion Feuchtwanger, the famous German Jewish author, arrived here yesterday on the American Export liner Excalibur from Lisbon, highly optimistic about Hitler’s defeat in the present war.

On shipboard he related a narrative as exciting as one of his own novels–evacuation of the interned refugees barely in advance of the oncoming German army, "abduction" by an American friend, concealment for weeks and escape across an obscure mountain pass into Spain with false documents until reaching Lisbon.

Safe now in the United States, where he has not visited since 1932, the author, emaciated from his experiences and from the effects of dysentery which he contracted in a French camp, looks forward to rest and recuperation. He awaits the arrival of his wife soon and hopes to arrange to bring out of France the incomplete manuscript of the third portion of his "Josephus" trilogy, which he wants to finish and have published.

Feuchtwanger was met at Quarantine by B.W. Huebsch, vice-president of Viking Press his publisher, and Leonard Mins, chairman of the Committee for Exiled Writers of the League of American Writers. The league and a publishers’ committee are arranging a dinner in the author’s honor at the Hotel Commodore Oct. 17.

Asked if he thought Germany would lose the war, he declared: "I think Hitler will not lose the war–because he has already lost." He said that with the failure of the attack on London, "the war is definitely lost, and lots of Germans recognize it."

In France, he said nine-tenths of the population oppose the Petain Government. At first they were willing to accept it, he said hoping that this regime could obtain concessions from the Germans but now they see that they are only giving concessions that the Germans actually rule the unoccupied zone as well as occupied France, and sentiment against the Petain Government is mounting.


"When the war broke out in September, 1939, I, like all German refugees, was taken into a concentration camp near Marseille. I was freed on Sept. 27, after ten days. It is indicative of the disorganization in France that after I was released several orders were issued to have my liberty restored. First Interior Minister Sarraut, then Premier Daladier–as late as Jan. 16 an order for my release was issued.

"With the collapse of Holland and Belgium all refugees were interned again. In June, only a few days after I had been received by President Lebrun as head of the anti-Nazi writers committee, I was placed in a concentration camp as a person suspected of Nazism. Despite the cabled appeals of English ministers I remained there. It is rather grotesque that at the moment that British planes were dropping leaflets on Germany containing quotations from my works I was being held as a Nazi suspect.

"I view this as a repetition of the Dreyfus case, in a way. As in the case of Dreyfus, the French general staff directed a drive against us in order to divert attention from their own shortcomings.

"We were held in the Les Milles camp, near Aix-en-Provence. There were 3,000 in this camp. Some 10,000 women were held in another camp, among them women of eighty. In that camp some children were born, and water was so scarce that when there was a birth the other women could get no tea or coffee because all the water was needed for the delivery.

"In Les Milles, our treatment was not bad, but the sanitary conditions were absolutely ugly. There were no latrines. You can imagine 3,000 people living without latrines. Disease broke out, and I myself was among those who became sick with dysentery. There were no newspapers, no communication with the outside world during the two months we were held there. We knew nothing of what was happening to our families. That perhaps was the worst thing.

"As the German army approached, we became alarmed. Among us were 42 persons on Hitler’s death list and we were helpless. We all prepared to commit suicide by taking veronal if the German army should come. We insisted that the French commander release us or take us away. Finally Hitler’s army was only 60 miles away. One writer, Walter Hasenclever, a clever playwright and poet, committed suicide. He died next day just as we were moved from Les Milles.

"We were loaded on a 50-car freight train, 2,600 of us, 60 of us to a wagon and we had to stand on our feet five days and five nights. The cars were locked and we could not get to toilets. Four or five days before the armistice we reached Bayonne. There we learned that the German army would arrive in a few hours. The French commander told us to stay on the train and he would try to save us. The train left Bayonne. At one point the train stopped in a tunnel while German motorized troops were passing overhead on that very spot. It was a very awkward moment.

"We arrived at Nimes and were interned anew. There we learned that the armistice had been signed giving Hitler the right to ask the French Government for the return of anyone he wished.

"Since there was a river three miles away, we obtained permission to go there to bathe once a week. Once on July 21, while 200 or 300 of us were returning from the river with only a few guards watching us a car drove up, driven by an American friend. He kidnaped me. He told me to get into the car and not ask any questions. He had with him different clothes for me to wear. He took me to a town where I was well hidden by another American for several weeks.

"My wife and I left with papers made out in the name of someone else and without an exit visa which was most difficult to obtain. We crossed the Pyrenees on foot, traveling in the noonday heat because the paths were less carefully watched during the day. I had no luggage but a knapsack and all my papers had been left behind in my villa at Sanary.

"We entered Spain with very dubious papers, but had no difficulty in obtaining an entrance permit because of the Sanish visa we had in someone else s name. There are lots of Germans in Spain, especially in Barcelona and Madrid and I was afraid some of them would know my face. It took us five days to cross Spain and finally we reached Lisbon. There I called at the American consulate, reassumed my real identity and there obtained an American visa."

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