11. April 15, 2023
Zooming in on a WW2 timeline in Europe. My German Jewish grandfather Walter F. Wanger, President of the Academy in Hollywood (1939-45) & Lion & Marta Feuchtwanger's Escape from Nazi Occupied France.
I want to bring more of the full horror of world war, imperialism and fascism to bear on the discussion of Ukraine and Taiwan by pausing the Timothy Snyder discussion to zoom in on World War 2 in Europe and specifically, my family’s experience of it both in Europe and America. While my grandfather, Hollywood film producer, Walter F. Wanger (shortened from Feuchtwanger) was President of the Academy from 1939-1945, my grandmother, actress, Joan Bennett, starred in more anti-Nazi films than anyone else in Hollywood. (I discussed one of those films in an earlier post featuring Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang.) My grandparents were doing all they could to rescue Jews from Europe and support America to end the war.
Meanwhile, in Europe my grandfather’s cousin, Lion Feuchtwanger (1884 - 1958), the eldest of nine children born in Munich to a Jewish factory owner, became a well-known writer who tried to warn the world about the dangers of Hitler and the Nazi party. As early as the 1920s, he predicted many of the Nazis’ crimes in his book “Conversations with the Wandering Jew.” He wrote many articles for European newspapers in the 1930s with fearless criticism of the Nazi regime, exposing their ideological bankruptcy in his novel Success (1930), a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of the Nazi Party.
The timeline below is taken from Lion Feuchtwanger’s book “The Devil in France” (which the hyperlink takes you to a pdf of) his memoir of exile and internment during World War 2. Published in 1941, his account blends vivid descriptions of the Les Milles internment camp with the cosmic apathy of the French officials, the absurdity of his situation and his will to survive. I’ve annotated the timeline with some significant dates for my grandparents, Joan and Walter in their efforts to end the war.
JANUARY 30, 1933
Adolf Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany. At the time, Lion Feuchtwanger is on a reading tour in the United States where he meets with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. While in the U.S. he learns of the ransacking of his house by government agents who steal or destroy many items from his extensive library, including invaluable manuscripts of some of his projected works (one of the characters in his novel “The Oppermanns” undergoes an identical experience). The German ambassador in Washington warns him not to return to Germany. Later that year, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels calls Feuchtwanger “Enemy Number One of the German people” in a radio speech.
Following the ambassador’s advice, Lion meets his wife Marta in Austria, where she had been vacationing. Together, they move to southern France.
MAY 10, 1933
Led by the Nazi-affiliated German Student Association, university students burn more than 25,000 “un-German” books—including the works of Feuchtwanger—during the following weeks.
AUGUST 23, 1933
Lion Feuchtwanger’s German citizenship is revoked for “disloyalty to the German Reich and the German people.”
The Feuchtwangers purchase Villa Valmer in Sanary-sur-Mer, France, where they join a growing community of German-speaking émigrés.
MARCH 12, 1938
Austria is annexed to the German Reich.
Lion Feuchtwanger is interned for the first time in the camp at Les Milles near Aix-en-Provence. He is released after 10 days.
1939 or 1940
Feuchtwanger’s American publisher Ben Huebsch receives a photograph from an unknown source showing Lion Feuchtwanger behind barbed wire during his first internment at Les Milles.
Huebsch contacts Eleanor Roosevelt, who helps to initiate plans for Feuchtwanger’s rescue.
MAY 10, 1940
Germany invades Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.
MAY 15, 1940
The Dutch army surrenders to Nazi forces.
MAY 19, 1940
German troops besiege Amiens, France, while Rommel’s forces surround Arras, and other German units reach Noyelles.
MAY 21, 1940
Feuchtwanger is interned for the second time at the camp near Les Milles.
MAY 25, 1940
The French troops at Boulogne-sur-Mer surrender to German forces.
MAY 26, 1940
The troops defending Calais surrender to German forces.
MAY 28, 1940
Belgium surrenders to Germany; King Leopold III is interned.
JUNE 3, 1940
The German Luftwaffe bombs Paris.
JUNE 10, 1940
Italy declares war on France and the United Kingdom.
JUNE 11, 1940
The French government relocates to Tours.
JUNE 14, 1940
German troops occupy Paris, and the French government moves again— this time to Bordeaux. The same day, Feuchtwanger reports the news of Paris’ occupation in his diary.
JUNE 16, 1940
After Paul Reynaud steps down, Philippe Pétain becomes prime minister of the French government. One day later, Feuchtwanger reports hearing rumors of an armistice.
JUNE 21, 1940
The Franco-German armistice negotiations begin at Compiègne. The Italian army invades France through the Alps and along the Mediterranean coast towards Nice.
JUNE 22, 1940
France and Germany sign an armistice agreement. Feuchtwanger and other Les Milles internees are transported by train towards Marseille. On June 23, the train continues from Cette in the direction of the Pyrenees.
JUNE 24, 1940
The Franco-Italian armistice is signed. Feuchtwanger and the other internees continue from Toulouse to Bayonne.
JUNE 25, 1940
France officially surrenders to Germany at 12:35 in the morning. Because of a false report that the Germans were just two hours away from Bayonne, the train with the Les Milles internees turns back towards Lourdes. The next day, it arrives in Nîmes. Feuchtwanger and his fellow internees continue on foot to the camp at San Nicola.
JUNE 27, 1940
Feuchtwanger learns of the armistice and the news that prisoners can be surrendered on demand to German officials.
JUNE 28, 1940
General Charles de Gaulle is recognized by the British as the leader of the Forces Françaises Libres (or Free French Forces).
JULY 1, 1940
The French government moves to Vichy, from which it administers the “free zone” of southern France, while the German army occupies northern France.
JULY 18, 1940
Marta Feuchtwanger visits Lion in the camp at San Nicola.
JULY 21, 1940
Nanette Lekisch hands Lion a note from Marta while he is bathing in a river near the camp. Following its instructions, Lion steps into a waiting car with U.S. Vice Consul Miles Standish. He arrives at the home of U.S. Consul Hiram Bingham in Marseille and is reunited with Marta. Known as the “Angel of Nîmes,” Lekisch provided refuge to countless German émigrés during the Vichy period.
AUGUST 2, 1940
Charles de Gaulle is sentenced to death in absentia by a French military court.
AUGUST 9, 1940
Joan Bennett starrer, “The Man I Married” her first of many anti-Nazi films is released. It is based on a short story by Oscar Schisgall, “I Married a Nazi,” directed by Irving Pichel, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, with Francis Lederer and Lloyd Nolan.
AUGUST 11, 1940
The Feuchtwangers make plans to escape to North Africa in a smuggler’s boat anchored in a harbor near Marseille. They are joined in Marseille by Heinrich, Nelly, and Golo Mann, as well as Franz and Alma Mahler-Werfel.
AUGUST 13, 1940
On Adler Tag (or Eagle Day), Luftwaffe Commander Hermann Goering starts a two-week assault on British airfields in preparation for the German invasion of Great Britain.
AUGUST 18, 1940
Bingham issues Feuchtwanger a U.S. entrance visa under the pseudonym of Wetcheek.
AUGUST 29, 1940
After their boat is discovered by Italian authorities, the Feuchtwangers abandon the plan to leave France by sea. Instead, they make plans to cross the southern border into Spain.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1940
Germany’s Jewish population is ordered to wear yellow stars for identification.
SEPTEMBER 11, 1940
Feuchtwanger reports that the Manns and the Werfels plan to cross the Pyrenees with help from Varian Fry of the U.S. Emergency Rescue Committee. The Feuchtwangers cannot join them without endangering the others.
SEPTEMBER 14, 1940
Feuchtwanger receives a telegram confirming that his friends have made it safely across the Spanish border.
SEPTEMBER 18-19, 1940
With the help of Reverend Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha of the Unitarian Service Committee, the Feuchtwangers travel by train from Marseille to Cerbère. From there, they must climb the Pyrenees to enter Spain illegally. After arriving in the Spanish city of Portbou, they meet up with the Sharps again. They proceed by train to Barcelona, where they board another train to Lisbon, Portugal.
The German forces in Warsaw begin plans to confine the Jewish population to the Warsaw Ghetto. In November, they wall it off from the rest of the city and post armed guards.
OCTOBER 2, 1940
The bombing of London continues throughout the month.
OCTOBER 4, 1940
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet at the Brenner Pass to discuss war plans.
OCTOBER 5, 1940
Lion Feuchtwanger and Reverend Sharp arrive in New York on the S.S. Excalibur.
OCTOBER 18, 1940
Marta Feuchtwanger arrives in New York on the S.S. Exeter.
JANUARY 28, 1941
The Feuchtwangers leave New York for Los Angeles.
FEBRUARY 4, 1941
Movie producer and Academy president, Walter F. Wanger, invites President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) to speak at the 13th Academy Awards ceremony and three weeks later, the President gives his remarks.
FEBRUARY 9, 1941
The Feuchtwangers officially enter the United States from Mexico by walking across the border at Nogales, Arizona. They live in Los Angeles with friends and in apartments while searching for a new home.
FEBRUARY 27, 1941
FDR is the first President to address the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at their annual awards celebration which takes place on Joan Bennett’s 31st birthday. FDR recognizes the power of movies to influence public opinion both in the United States and around the world. His address is carried live during the ceremonies which are broadcast from the Biltmore Bowl in Hollywood. The President speaks from the White House via radio. He commends the motion picture industry for its role in advancing democratic ideals in an era of authoritarianism and war, a provocative perspective considering many isolationists believed Hollywood was actively promoting interventionist and pro-war sentiments.
For more on that subject, I highly recommend Rachel Maddow’s podcast series ULTRA. “It is about members of the United States Congress, the America First movement and a paid agent of Hitler's government working to weaken democracy and spread Nazi propaganda in a plot to overthrow the US government. Insurrectionists criminally charged with plotting to end American democracy for good. Justice Department prosecutors under crushing political pressure. Ultra is the all-but-forgotten true story of good, old-fashioned American extremism getting supercharged by proximity to power. When extremist elected officials get caught plotting against America with the violent ultra right, this is the story of the lengths they will go to… to cover their tracks.”
History forgotten is history more easily repeated!
JUNE 20, 1941
Joan Bennett stars in anti-Nazi film, “Man Hunt,” directed by Fritz Lang, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck with Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders and Roddy McDowall.
JUNE 22, 1941
During Operation Barbarossa, Germany and other European Axis nations—joined by Finland—invade the Soviet Union.
Viking Press of New York publishes “The Devil in France”, Feuchtwanger’s autobiographical account of his internment. In 1942, El Libro Libre of Mexico publishes the first German edition under the title “Unholdes Frankreich.”
DECEMBER 7, 1941
The Japanese navy attacks Pearl Harbor.
DECEMBER 12, 1941
Joan Bennett stars in anti-Nazi film “Confirm or Deny” with Don Ameche and Roddy McDowall, directed by Archie Mayo who took over from Fritz Lang, based on a story by Samuel Fuller and Henry Wells.
JANUARY 26, 1942
The first U.S. forces arrive in Europe.
APRIL 28, 1942
Joan stars with Franchot Tone in “The Wife Takes a Flyer” an anti-Nazi film directed by Richard Wallace based on a story by Gina Kaus.
APRIL 30, 1942
More than twenty Hollywood stars are invited to the White House by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt before opening their musical revue extravaganza that during the next two weeks plays in fourteen cities and nets $800,000 for Army and Navy relief funds. The “Hollywood Victory Caravan,” travels cross country in a special train, performing songs, dances, skits, playlets, operatic pieces, and spectacular ensemble numbers. The production, emceed by Bob Hope and Cary Grant, was considered by the New York Times to be “the most ambitious money-raising project ever staged by the theatrical world.”
FEBRUARY 10, 1943
Joan stars with Otto Preminger and Milton Berle in her last anti-Nazi film, “Margin for Error” directed by Otto Preminger, based on a play by Clare Boothe Luce adapted by Lillian Hayward and Samuel Fuller.
JUNE 26, 1943
My mother, Stephanie Wanger, is born.
OCTOBER 25, 1943
The Feuchtwangers move into their home at 520 Paseo Miramar in Pacific Palisades. The house, later called Villa Aurora, becomes a meeting place for European writers and artists during the war.
JUNE 6, 1944
On D-Day, the Allies invade northern France and later push south, leading to the defeat of the German Army in France. Paris is liberated by the French resistance.
APRIL 4, 1945
The U.S. 89th Infantry Division overruns Ohrdruf, a subcamp within the larger Buchenwald concentration camp. It is the first camp liberated by U.S. troops.
MAY 8, 1945
V-E Day marks the official end of World War II in Europe.
DECEMBER 21, 1958
Lion Feuchtwanger dies at Mount Sinai Hospital at the age of 74. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. Shortly afterwards, Marta bequeaths the Feuchtwanger estate to USC and is appointed the first curator of the newly established Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at their home in Pacific Palisades. She devotes the remainder of her life to promoting the work of her husband.
JUNE 5, 1980
Marta receives an honorary doctorate from USC.
OCTOBER 25, 1987
Marta dies at the age of 96 in Santa Monica. She is buried next to her husband at Woodlawn Cemetery.
AUGUST 31, 1995
A new space is dedicated for the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library inside Doheny Memorial Library on the USC campus, preserving the rare books from Feuchtwanger’s collection. It endures as a testament to the Feuchtwangers and Lion’s literary legacy.
DECEMBER 1, 1995
The Feuchtwangers’ former home opens as an international artists’ residence operated by the Friends and Supporters of the Villa Aurora in Berlin, which purchased the home in 1990 and oversaw its historic preservation. Villa Aurora displays rare books and artwork on loan from the USC Libraries, and the two organizations collaborate on a variety of cultural programs related to Feuchtwanger and writers in exile.
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