12c 1934 A FRIENDLY TALK WITH DR ELSTER
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Franz Werfel on holidays in an Italy, sitting in a coffee house in Santa Margherita. He is writing into his notebook. February 1934.
WERFEL Buon Giorno, Rosetta!
RESERL Ah, Signore Werfel!
WERFEL Come stai?
RESERL Va bene, grazie. Mi dica?
WERFEL Si, un cafe...
RESERL (interrupts:) Un cafe solo e un aqua minerale con gas.
e un cornetto.
RESERL Mi puo dedicare una piccola frase? Lei adoro Signor Werfel.
WERFEL Ti scrivo qualcosa. Un dedica.
RESERL Darmelo, darmelo...! - Grazie!
WERFEL Di niente
Dr. Hanns Martin Elster appears.
WERFEL Hanns? I can't believe it! What a surprise! What brings you to Santa Margherita?
ELSTER you, of course. - No, relax, I'm joking. I'm on my way back to Berlin. It's pure chance that I stopped here.
WERFEL Why don't you come and have a coffee with me? - Rosetta, un altro caffè, per favore!
ELSTER But what are you doing here, if I may ask?
WERFEL Well, I'm trying to work.
ELSTER To work?! You must be joking! I'm sure your new novel will make of you a millionaire in American dollars!
WERFEL It hasn't been translated into English yet .
ELSTER Believe me, with the large Armenian community in the United States it's only a matter of time. I can already see a Hollywood movie based on your book. »The 40 Days of Musa Dagh«! By the way, the title is excellent. Brilliant! I'm sure you'll become the national hero of the Armenians in no time.
WERFEL Yes, it's true I'm getting very touching reactions from the Armenian readers. But to tell you the truth, I'm much more concerned with the reactions to the book in Germany. After all, I'm a German writer before anything else.
ELSTER Oh, sure! Of course, of course!
WERFEL Isn't it curious? I haven't gotten an answer yet to my application for membership in the German Third Reich Authors Union.
ELSTER Oh, you haven't, have you? How curious!
WERFEL Maybe it's because I'm a Czechoslovakian citizen?
ELSTER Oh, that could be a reason...
WERFEL Though I took care to emphasise that I'm a Viennese resident, and that I belong to the German minority in Czechoslovakia.
ELSTER When did you send the letter of application?
WERFEL I sent it shortly after the publication of Musa Dagh, almost three months ago.
ELSTER Yes! That's almost three months ago -
WERFEL Did they get in touch with you?
ELSTER Why should they?
WERFEL For a recommendation.
ELSTER Oh! For a recommendation... No, as a matter of fact, they didn't.
WERFEL Why not ?
ELSTER I don't know!
WERFEL After all I'm not an anonymous writer...
ELSTER Oh no, you're surely not an anonymous writer. You are Werfel!
WERFEL Yes! My novel got a very strong and unanimously favourable reception in the German literary press, and very good notices abroad as well, from Amsterdam to Madrid! I'm sure this book is a major contribution to the prestige of contemporary German literature. Don't you think so?
ELSTER Oh yes, yes! Of course. - By the way, how did you get the idea to write this book? I mean, after all, the Armenians... Who knows about them? Who cares?
WERFEL I do.
ELSTER Yes, that's very nice, but what was it that inspired you to write the book? It wasn't commissioned by some American Armenian sponsors, or was it?
WERFEL Oh no! Of course not. - I was on a visit to Palestine...
ELSTER Oh, you were on a visit to Palestine! Really?
WERFEL Yes, in 1929. Five years ago. With Alma. It was our honeymoon.
ELSTER How lovely!
WERFEL But that was already my second visit to Palestine. The first time went there was ten years ago.
ELSTER How did you find the place?
WERFEL Palestine? Ahhh! Wonderful. Just wonderful! Amazing! It's unbelievable how much the country's developed in the last years. You have to see what they've achieved! In matters of agriculture, education, health, industry, construction, trade unions -
ELSTER You mean, the Jewish immigrants.
WERFEL Of course. They are working miracles ! It's outstanding!
ELSTER And you never think of settling there?
WERFEL I'm not a Zionist.
ELSTER No. But you are a Jew! Don't you want to be part of that miracle your People are working these days?
WERFEL No, I -
ELSTER Shall I tell you the truth? I don't understand you. Aren't you a patriot of your People?
WERFEL I am a patriot of my People. I am a patriot of my country. I'm German.
ELSTER You are German? But then I still don't understand what gave you the crazy idea to write a book about the Armenian People: »The 40 Days of Musa Dagh«. As a German patriot I just don't understand it, Franz, I'm sorry.
WERFEL Look: from Palestine we went on to Damascus. And on the road to Damascus we met some Armenians. Survivors of the massacre the Turks carried out among the Armenians. You've heard about that, haven't you?
ELSTER Yes, yes.
WERFEL And there they told me their story. It was
unbelievable. Horror upon horror! A nightmare. The Turks massacred an entire People! It's unimaginable!
ELSTER Hmm. Have you heard the Turkish version?
WERFEL No! Why should I care about the murderers?
ELSTER Well, they happen to be our allies... at least during the war.
WERFEL What has that got to do with my book?
A Turkish journalist complained to the German authorities that your 40 Days is prejudiced against the Turks in a very offensive manner.
WERFEL That's ridiculous! In comparison with the Turkish crimes...
ELSTER Yes. But that's not what the German authorities thought.
WERFEL What do you mean?
ELSTER Franz, I'm afraid I have to inform you that according to paragraph seven of the Chancellor's regulation for the protection of the German People, your book is banned and forbidden for sale throughout the entire German Reich.
WERFEL My book is what?! Are you kidding?
ELSTER The press unanimously praised the decision.
WERFEL The press did what
? That can't be true!
ELSTER (produces a heap of press-clips:) Here, see for yourself.
WERFEL But... my application
ELSTER Franz, are you crazy? Are you stupid? Did you really expect to get an answer to your application?
WERFEL Why not?
ELSTER Let me tell you this: you are not going to get an answer. Not even a negative one.
WERFEL Why not?!
ELSTER Because you are a Jew!
WERFEL But I'm a German writer!
ELSTER Franz! Franz! Franz! Honestly, are you out of your mind? How can you be so blind? So stupid?! You Jews
! You're supposed to be clever People, aren't you? Know-it-alls. ! You can't be that ignorant , Franz! Hasn't any one told you about the nature of the National Socialist revolution?! Or have you just misunderstood it? Do you have to be kicked in the ass, and thrown out of the country to understand that there's no place for you there anymore? You are no longer wanted in Germany! Do you understand? Neither as a community, nor as individuals. - Franz, you have visited Palestine. You were there! Why, for God's sake, didn't you stay?!
WERFEL I... I don't understand... Is that an official message, or what
ELSTER Listen, Franz. I didn't come here by chance. I came here to warn you. As a friend. And this is friendly advice: go back to Palestine! You hear me? Go! Go! As quickly as possible. I beg you! There is still time to abandon Germany. Go while you are still allowed to leave German territory with the clothes on your back ! Don't stay in Europe. Just go! You hear me? Go! Go!! Go!!! And don't wait until you get an »official message«. Because such an »official message« will not come in a letter, it will come in the shape of a bullet in the back of your neck. Do you understand? Now listen: we haven't met. You haven't seen me. This conversation has not taken place. Do you understand? We never met. We don't know each other. And something else: Don't write me any more letters , and don't expect me to interfere in your favour in any official or unofficial matters. Is that clear? You'd be risking your life - and mine. Adieu, Franz!
WERFEL Signora! Signora!! Una telefonata a Vienna 6-0-7-6-0-5
RESERL (picks up the phone:) Signorina, una telefonata a Austria! Si, Grazie.
WERFEL (takes the receiver:) Alma? Listen! I will tell you everything when we meet. All I can say now, is that I am standing on the ruins of my identity . My books are banned in Germany. I have been written out of the book of the living. And since I am still a German author, I am now literally hanging in empty space...
RESERL Signore Werfel, Signore Werfel! Cosa Che? Cose che? ! Non ti senti bene? Che disturbi hai? Dov'e che ti fa male? Signore Werfel, mi puoi sentire?
ALMA I'm leaving everything in Vienna. I'm coming to be with you at once. . Wherever you go, I'll go with you. Don't be afraid. I love you, Franz. We will overcome this madness.