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, was a U.S. Book-of-the-Month Club main selection for June 1929, and was trans­lated into 25 lan­guages, making it the best-selling novel of the 20th century up to that time. The 31‑year‑old Remarque enjoyed, the French journal Nouvelles Littéraires speculated, “the largest audience in the world.”

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, along with 19 of his class­mates, was urged on by his school teacher to join the Kai­ser’s army shortly after the start of World War I. By the fall of 1918, only Baeumer remains alive. The movie ends with his 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 In 1938 his Ger­man citizen­ship was revoked.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 40-year-old sis­ter, Elfriede Scholz, who had stayed behind in Ger­many with her musi­cian hus­band and two children, was arrested by the Gestapo, Germany’s secret state police, in Octo­ber 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. Defeat­ism and poor morale had allegedly under­mined Imperial Germany’s war effort in 1919, and offenders of the peo­ple’s com­munity, or Volks­gemein­shaft, in Nazi Germany could expect “brutal liqui­da­tion” if neces­sary. Freis­ler told the de­fen­dant, “Your brother has un­for­tunately escaped us—you, how­ever, will not escape us.” Elfriede Scholz was guillotined on Decem­ber 16, 1943. Remarque did not learn of his sister’s death until 1946.

Anti-War Novelist Erich Maria Remarque and His All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970)Movie poster for Erich Maria Remarque’s "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.

Good Amateur Review of 1930 Film All Quiet on the Western Front