USC Libraries Host German Exile Scholars
During the 1930s and ’40s, as the horrors of Nazi Germany engulfed the European continent, Los Angeles became a sanctuary for some of Europe’s most celebrated artists and intellectuals.
Playwright Bertolt Brecht, author Thomas Mann and composer Arnold Schoenberg all made Southern California their home in the years surrounding World War II and – drawn by the region’s favorable climate and the economic opportunities afforded by the film industry – thousands of other German-speaking exiles joined them.
On Sept 14, historians, librarians and other scholars from around the world convened at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library for the fifth biennial conference of the International Feuchtwanger Society. The three-day conference explored one of the key decisions once faced by L.A.’s exile community: whether to remain in Southern California or return to Europe.
Thirty-five scholars representing several American institutions, as well as universities from Austria, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Scotland, Senegal and Spain, presented papers. Presenters included Marje Schuezte-Coburn, senior associate dean of USC Libraries, and Michaela Ullman, exile studies librarian. Karen Jungblut of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute also exhibited the institute’s visual history archive of nearly 52,000 testimonies by Holocaust survivors and witnesses.
Consul-General Wolfgang Drautz of the Federal Republic of Germany’s Los Angeles consular office welcomed the international group to the conference.
“The story of German exiles-émigrés is an important chapter in German-American relations,” Drautz said. “There is much to be learned, researched and studied about Lion Feuchtwanger and around the people who are sometimes called the ‘Weimar on the Pacific.’ ”
The USC Libraries first hosted the International Feuchtwanger Society conference in 2007. Dean Catherine Quinlan, who said it was particularly gratifying to host the conference a second time, explained the affinity between the USC Libraries and the society.
“So much of the society’s work touches on so many aspects of our libraries at USC,” Quinlan said. “Of course, we’re home to the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, which really is a point of pride for our university and an emblem of our libraries’ commitment to preserving and carrying forward the legacy of Lion Feuchtwanger. Our materials related to the experience and impact of German exiles in Southern California support creative explorations and scholarly investigations like those you have come here to share.”
Both the International Feuchtwanger Society and USC’s Feuchtwanger Memorial Library – housed on the second floor of Doheny Library – are named after the Jewish-German novelist.
Feuchtwanger was an internationally renowned historical novelist whose outspoken criticism of Hitler and national socialism made him an enemy of the state when the Nazis assumed power in 1933. Driven into exile in France, Feuchtwanger was imprisoned by French authorities at the outbreak of World War II – an episode that Feuchtwanger recorded in his memoir, The Devil in France. The USC Libraries recently published an updated edition of the book, available at library locations around campus and at usc.edu/libraries/devilinfrance
In 1940, Feuchtwanger escaped from an internment camp in Vichy France with the help of his wife Marta and several sympathetic Americans, who then smuggled the couple out of Europe. After a short time in New York, the couple decided upon Southern California as their new home. Their sprawling 6,000 square-foot house in Pacific Palisades, which they named Villa Aurora, became a hub of cultural fellowship among the émigré community.
Feuchtwanger was among the exiles who chose to stay in Southern California after World War II. He died in Los Angeles in 1958.
Others harbored more conflicted feelings about life in Los Angeles. Brecht, for example, often complained about the city’s perceived cultural and urban shortcomings. In 1942 Brecht, who lived in Santa Monica for six years, wrote that he felt like a “a chrysanthemum in a mine pit or a sausage in a hothouse.” Singled out for his leftist politics, he moved to East Germany on Oct. 31, 1947, one day after testifying to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain, also was among those who returned to Europe. Strongly opposed to Nazi policies, Mann left Germany in 1933 and – after several years sojourning elsewhere – arrived in Los Angeles in 1940.
At first Mann, whom The New Yorker proclaimed as “Goethe in Hollywood” in a 1942 profile, planned to make Los Angeles his permanent home.
He built his own estate in Pacific Palisades, took U.S. citizenship and spent his years in Southern California productively, writing Doctor Faustus and The Holy Sinner. However, the draw of Europe’s Old World traditions eventually grew too strong. In 1952, Mann moved to Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1955.