Marta & Lion Feuchtwanger

© Florence Homolka

With kind permission of the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library,
University of Southern California

Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958)

Lion Feuchtwanger, the son of a Jewish factory owner, was born on July 7, 1884 in Munich. After earning his Ph.D. in German Philology and History from Munich University , he established the cultural magazine “Der Spiegel” (The Mirror) in 1908. In addition, Feuchtwanger worked as a theatre critic for the “Schaubühne", a weekly published by Siegfried Jacobsohn and moved in Munich Bohème circles. During this time, he published his first plays and novellas.

In 1912, Feuchtwanger married Marta Löffler. The couple was surprised by the outbreak of World War I in 1914 while travelling through Tunesia where Lion narrowly escaped internment by the French. He managed to escape to Germany and became actively involved in the 1918/19 Revolution.

In 1919, Feuchtwanger met Bertolt Brecht in Munich, who would become a close collaborator. In 1923, Feuchtwanger published Die häßliche Herzogin Margarete Maultasch (The Ugly Duchess), a historical novel about the Countess of Tyrol, who unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the stigma of her ugliness and outsider status. Feuchtwanger's first international success as a novelist came two years later, when he published Jud Süß (Jew Süss/ Power), a dramatic account of the life of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, financial advisor to the Duke of Wuerttemberg, who was sentenced to death and executed in a particulary cruel fashion in 1738. A distorted version of this novel was made into a Nazi propaganda movie during the Third Reich.

Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger moved to Berlin in 1925. In 1930, Feuchtwanger published Erfolg. Drei Jahre Geschichte einer Provinz (Success. History of a Province), his first contemporary novel outlining the history of Bavaria from 1921 to 1924 with a special emphasis on Hitler’s 1923 attempt to overthrow the Weimar government.

At the time of the Nazi takeover in 1933, Feuchtwanger was on a lecture tour in the United States. From afar, he learned about his expatriation and the burning of his books. The Nazis searched, looted and confiscated his Berlin home. Countless manuscripts were lost.

As a consequence, Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger did not return to Germany but took up residence in Sanary-sur-Mer in the South of France. Even though his books were banned from publication in Germany, the high circulation of translations, particularly into English, afforded Feuchtwanger a comparatively comfortable life in exile.

The fate of the Jewish people continued to be a dominant theme for Feuchtwanger. Disenchanted with Western appeasement policy in the 1930s, he began to feel a connection to Soviet Communism. His support of Stalin during this time would have serious repercussions later, when Feuchtwanger applied for American citizenship.

During this time, he wrote the novel Exil (Exile), a satirical reckoning with German intellectuals who chose to stay in Germany during the Third Reich.

During World War II, Feuchtwanger was interned at the camp Les Milles close to Aix-en-Provence, but managed to escape with the help of his wife and a number of American diplomats.

They lived in hiding in Marseille, until they were able to reach Portugal by way of Spain on foot. It was there that they boarded a ship headed for the United States. They moved to Los Angeles and bought Villa Aurora, which they turned into a meeting place of artists and intellectuals in 1943.

Lion Feuchtwanger was one of the few German writers who were able to cultivate an audience in exile. His novels Die Brüder Lautensack (The Lautensack Brothers, 1944), Die Jüdin von Toledo (The Jewess of Toledo, 1955), and most notably, Goya oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis (This is the Hour. A Novel about Goya, 1951) became bestsellers in the United States. Toward the end of his life, he revisited Jewish topics and became a proponent of the creation of a Jewish state as a place of shelter from persecution.

In 1953, Lion Feuchtwanger was awarded the National Award for Arts and Literature, First Class, of the German Democratic Republic) where he was held in high esteem as an antifascist with socialist and pacifist views.

In the McCarthy era, Feuchtwanger was scrutinized as a “premature antifascist” by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Fearing that he would not be allowed to return, he never traveled outside the U.S. again. After years of immigration hearings, Feuchtwangers application for American citizenship was finally granted, but the letter informing Feuchtwanger of the fact was not received until a day after his death.

In 1957, Lion Feuchtwanger was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Despite multiple surgeries, he died in 1958. He is buried at Wood Lawn Cemetery in Santa Monica together with his wife Marta.

Lion Feuchtwanger
Lion Feuchtwanger on the bluffs of Pacific Palisades (Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC)

Biography Marta Feuchtwanger

Marta Feuchtwanger is born as Marta Löffler on January 21, 1891 in Munich. Shortly before her 19th birthday, at a soiree, the Jewish daughter of a merchant meets Lion Feuchtwanger, a young Munich theater critic with a PhD in philosophy.

She later said in an interview, that she felt, her life began right then. Marta and Lion spend their first years of married life tramping around Southern Europe. They have limited funds but are enchanted by the foreign cultures and landscapes.

In Italy Marta gives birth to a daughter who dies shortly afterwards.

In 1925 the Feuchtwangers move to Berlin. His literary fame makes them financially comfortable, and in 1931 they purchase a house in the Grunewald. It remains their home for only two years. In 1932 Marta accompanies her husband on a reading tour, and afterwards goes skiing in St. Anton. It’s there, where they meet up after Lion returns from the U.S. in 1933. Neither of them is able to return to Germany. The Nazis have taken power, their property is seized and their bank accounts blocked. They live off of Lion’s royalties and advances from sympathetic publishers.

The first place of their life in exile is Sanary-sur-Mer in France. In October 1933, Lion, Arnold Zweig and Bertolt Brecht descend a steep hill to the Feuchtwanger’s house, when the brakes of their parked care malfunction and the vehicle heads towards them. Marta reaches into the rolling car, yanks at the steering wheel and saves the men from being run over. But the car overturns and buries her. Marta suffers from complicated fractures on her legs.

A few days after WWII breads out, Lion is ordered to report to an internment camp, but released due to influential friends. In May of 1940, when German troupes invade France, the emigrants are dispersed to various camps.

Marta works tirelessly to ease conditions for her fellow prisoners. She manages to escape from the women’s camp Gurs and gets Lion (in women’s clothes) out of the men’s camp, Saint Nicolas. In September of 1940, with the support of Varian Fry and the U.S. Vice Consul in Marseille, Hiram Bingham, Lion and Marta are able to join another group of exiles in crossing the Pyrenees on foot. They make their journey from Lisbon to New York on different ships. From there, they travel to Los Angeles, and in 1943 move into the Villa Aurora, which would soon become a focal point in the lives of many intellectuals and artists who had fled from Germany.

Lion Feuchtwanger’s death in 1958 plunges Marta into financial insecurity. She bequeaths the University of Southern California the library and the house in exchange for the life-long right to live in the Villa. She is appointed curator of the Villa and is politically and culturally active. The Villa becomes a social destination in Los Angeles.

In 1959 Marta becomes a U.S. citizen. 10 years later, Willy Brandt urges her to visit Germany. She had avoided the trip for fear to have to shake hands with a Nazi. In 1980 she receives an honorary doctorate from USC. In 1987 she dies at the age of 96.

„So, in my fiftieth year, I literally arrived in the U.S. on foot. Has that made me a U.S. citizen? Can a piece of paper change half a century of my life? I don’t believe it. Now, that I have only 10 years to complete the second half of the century, I feel, it is good to have the citizenship of a country that unites my German routes with the ones of many other nations. Being American is very close to being a citizen of the world."

Source: Marta Feuchtwanger: Only a Woman, Years Days Hours, Aufbau Verlag Berlin Leipzig, 1984

Marta Feuchtwanger
Marta Feuchtwanger at Villa Aurora patio (Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC)