GERMAN ANTI-WAR NOVEL DEBUTS

Berlin, Germany · January 29, 1929

On this date in 1929 Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (German, Im Westen Nichts Neues) debuted in book form after being seri­al­ized in a German news­paper in late 1928. In the story Re­marque, who was a con­script during the First World War, described the Ger­man sol­diers’ ex­treme physi­cal and men­tal stress in com­bat, graph­ically de­picted Ger­man and French boys and men butch­ering one an­other during battle, and exposed the detach­ment from civil­ian life felt by many of these sol­diers upon returning home. The novel was a searing in­dict­ment of the Great War. It sold 2.5 million copies within 18 months and was trans­lated into 25 lan­guages, making it the best-selling novel of the 20th cen­tury up to that time.

In 1930 the novel was turned into a mo­tion pic­ture starring Lew Ayres, who played Paul Baeu­mer, the novel’s cen­tral char­acter and nar­rator. The sensitive 19‑year‑old was urged on by his school teacher to join the Kai­ser’s army shortly after the start of World War I. The movie ends with Baeu­mer’s death and the Ger­man Army’s situ­ation report for that day: “All is quiet on the Western Front.” The movie cap­tured Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director in 1930.

On May 10, 1933, Adolf Hitler’s 3-1/2-month-old Nazi govern­ment, in­sti­gated by Minister of Public En­light­en­ment and Pro­pa­ganda Joseph Goebbels, banned and pub­licly burned Re­marque’s novel, banned the film after staging riots out­side movie houses that showed the picture (it remained banned in Ger­many until 1945), and pro­duced pro­pa­ganda claiming that Re­marque was a de­scen­dant of French Jews and that his real last name was Kramer, a Jewish-sounding name. Not sur­prisingly, Remarque left Ger­many, moving to Switzer­land. In 1938 his Ger­man citizen­ship was revoked. A year later he and his wife moved to the U.S. and became nat­u­ralized citizens.

Re­marque’s sis­ter, Elfriede Scholz, who had stayed behind in Ger­many with her hus­band and two children, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. After a short trial in the Volks­gerichts­hof, Adolf Hitler’s extra-con­sti­tu­tional “People’s Court,” pre­sided over by the no­to­rious Nazi jurist Roland Freis­ler, Scholz was found guilty of “un­der­mining morale” for stating that she con­sidered the war was lost. Freis­ler told the de­fen­dant, “Your brother has un­for­tunately escaped us—you, how­ever, will not escape us.” She was guillotined on December 16, 1943.





Erich Maria Remarque and His Anti-War Novel

Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970) Movie poster for "All Quiet on the Western Front," 1930

Left: Thirty-year-old Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970). Upon release of his book All Quiet on the Western Front and the movie of the same name, Remarque emerged as an elo­quent story­teller for “a gene­ration of men who, even though they may have escaped [its] shells, were destroyed by the war,” “living soldiers [i.e., the war’s sur­vivors] as old and dead, emo­tionally drained and shaken,” unable to fit into the postwar world.

Right: Cover of first English language edition. Design was based on a German World War I war bonds poster. The title of the book and the movie under­scored the cosmic insignif­i­cance of one person’s death (Paul Baeu­mer’s) in a war that took the lives of 16 mil­lion people (military and civilians) and wounded 20 million more.

Movie Clip from 1930 All Quiet on the Western Front