Barbara [by] Franz Werfel
Translated by: Dr. Soma, Braun
[Budapest, 1933] Nova. 551 p. First, the Hungarian edition.
Publisher’s cloth binding.
Signed “Franz Werfel Bpest 1934” items.
Franz Viktor Werfel (1890 – 1945) was an Austrian-Bohemian novelist, playwright, and poet whose career spanned World War I, the Interwar period, and World War II. He is primarily known as the author of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933, English tr. 1934, 2012), a novel based on events that took place during the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and The Song of Bernadette (1941), a novel about the life and visions of the French Catholic saint Bernadette Soubirous, which was made into a Hollywood film of the same name.
With the outbreak of World War I, Werfel served in the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Russian front as a telephone operator.
In the summer of 1917, Werfel left the frontline for the Military Press Bureau in Vienna, where he joined other notable Austrian writers serving as propagandists, among them Robert Musil, Rilke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Franz Blei. Through the latter, Werfel met and fell in love with Alma Mahler, widow of Gustav Mahler, the former lover of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, and the wife of the architect Walter Gropius, then serving in the Imperial German Army on the Western Front. Alma, who was also a composer, had already set one of Werfel’s poems to music, reciprocated despite Werfel being much younger, shorter, and having Jewish features that she, being both anti-Semitic and attracted to Jewish men, found initially distasteful. Their love affair culminated in the premature birth of a son, Martin, in August 1918 . Martin, who was given the surname of Gropius, died in May of the following year. Despite attempts to save his marriage to Alma, with whom he had a young daughter, Manon, Gropius reluctantly agreed to a divorce in 1920. Ironically, Alma refused to marry Werfel for the next nine years. However, Alma, more so than with her first two husbands and lovers, lent herself to the development of Werfel’s career and influenced it in such a way that he became an accomplished playwright and novelist as well as poet. They married on 6 July 1929.
In April 1924, “Verdi – Roman der Oper” (Novel of the Opera) was published by Zsolnay Verlag, establishing Werfel’s reputation as a novelist. In 1926, Werfel was awarded the Grillparzer Prize by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and in Berlin, Max Reinhardt performed his play “Juarez and Maximilian”. By the end of the decade, Werfel had become one of the most important and established writers in German and Austrian literature and had already merited one full-length critical biography.
A journey in 1930 to the Middle East and encountering starving refugees inspired his novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh which drew world attention to the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman government. Werfel lectured on this subject across Germany. The Nazi newspaper Das Schwarze Corps denounced him as a propagandist of “alleged Turkish horrors perpetrated against the Armenians.” The same newspaper, suggesting a link between the Armenian and the later Jewish genocide, condemned “America’s Armenian Jews for promoting in the U.S.A. the sale of Werfel’s book.”
Werfel was forced to leave the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1933. His books were burned by the Nazis. Werfel left Austria after the Anschluss in 1938 and went to France, where they lived in a fishing village near Marseille. Visitors to their home at this time included Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. After the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of French Jews to the Nazi concentration camps, Werfel had to flee again. With the assistance of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee in Marseille, he and his wife narrowly escaped the Nazi regime, finding shelter for five weeks in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes. He also received much help and kindness from the Catholic orders that staffed the shrine. He vowed to write about the experience and, safe in America, he published The Song of Bernadette in 1941.
Fry organized a secret crossing over the Pyrenees on foot. They went to Madrid and then Lisbon where they boarded a ship for New York, arriving 13 October 1940. Werfel and his family settled in Los Angeles, where they met other German and Austrian emigrants, such as Mann, Reinhardt, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. In southern California, Werfel wrote his final play, Jacobowsky and the Colonel (Jacobowsky und der Oberst) which was made into the 1958 film Me and the Colonel starring Danny Kaye; Giselher Klebe’s opera Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1965) is also based on this play. Before his death, he completed the first draft of his last novel Star of the Unborn (Stern der Ungeborenen), which was published posthumously in 1946.
Franz Werfel died in Los Angeles in 1945 and was interred there in the Rosedale Cemetery. However, his body was returned in 1975 to Vienna for reburial in the Zentralfriedhof.