German writer, who became famous with his novel IM WESTEN NICHTS NEUES (tr. All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929), which depicted the horrors of war from the point of view of the ordinary soldiers. In his works Remarque focused largely on the collapse of the old European world and values. Although his later novels also were successful, Remarque lived in the shadow of his "big" first book.
"It is just as much a matter of chance that I am still alive as that I might have been hit. In a bomb-proof dug-out I may be smashed to atoms and in the open may survive ten hour's bombardment unscratched. No soldier outlives a thousand chances. But every soldier believes in Chance and trusts his luck." (from All Quiet on the Western Front)
Erich Maria Remarque was born in Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, into modest circumstances. His ancestors were French, the family name was 'Germanized' early in the nineteeth century. Peter Franz Remark, Remarque's father, was a poorly paid bookbinder. Although Franz Remark did not show much interest in intellectual activities, except his interest in the occult, the family had a piano, and at one point in his life Remarque planned a musical career. In 1904, at the age of six, Remarque entered the Domschule (cathedral school), and four years later he moved to the Johannisschle. Remarque was "always the best in class", as one of his closest school friends later recalled.
For a time Remarque studied at the University of Münster, but had to enlist in the German army at the age of 18. Remarque fought on the Western Front and was wounded several times. After his discharge Remarque had taken a teacher's course offered to veterans by the government. He taught for a year in a school, and tried also his hand as a stonecutter and a test-cardriver for a Berlin tire company.
Remarque began his writing career as a sporting journalist, eventually becoming the assistant editor of Sportbild. Among his friends was Leni Riefenstahl, who later made the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935), and the two-part Olympia (1938), about the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Remarque's wife, Jutta Zambona, "tall, slender as a fashion model, and strikingly dressed", as Riefenstahl described Jutta in her book of memoir later inspired heroines in his books. The marriage was stormy, and they both had extra-marital activities. His longest, intercontinental affair Remarque had with Marlene Dietrich; they met first time in Venice in the late 1930s.
Fame came with Remarque's first novel, All Quiet on the Westerns Front, which touched a nerve of the time, and sparkled off a storm of political controversy. The book, which first had been rejected by one publisher, sold 1.2 million copies in its first year. H.L. Mencken called it "unquestionably the best story of the World War." Its sequel, DER WEG ZURÜCK (The Way Back), appeared in 1931. It dealt with the collapse of the German Army after the war, and the fate of the surviving heroes, Ernst and his friends.
All Quiet on the Western Front is the most famous novel dealing with World War I. The book starts in 1917 after a battle, in which half of Paul Bäumer's company has been killed. Bäumer is mostly the narrator and Remarque goes through his life in flashbacks. Paul and his classmates have been encouraged by their teacher, Kantorek, to enlist the German army. Bäumer's group includes some school fellows, and Katczinsky, an older man. The group goes through basic training and go to the front. Bäumer tries to understand what is going on. He realizes that back home "no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy." Paul visits home on leave, returns to the trenches, is wounded and sent to a military hospital. In the summer of 1918 German front is pushed back, and the soldiers are waiting for the end of the war. In October, when there is nothing much to report on the western front, Paul is killed, a week or so before the armistice. - The story is narrated in first person in a cool style, a contrast to patriotic rhetoric. Remarque records the daily horrors in the trenches, where machine guns killed millions, in laconic understatement. - "At the next war let all the Kaisers, Presidents and Generals and diplomats go into a big field and fight it out first among themselves. That will satisfy us and keep us home." (Katzinsky) Lewis Milestone's film (1930), based on the novel, is a landmark of American cinema. One of the best scenes is when Paul (Lew Ayres) returns to his school and tells new students the truth. "When it comes to dying for your country, it's better not to die at all." The film was denounced by Goebbels as anti-German, but the Poles banned it for being pro-German. Particularly effective were the tracking shots of soldiers attacking enemy lines. In France it was prohibited until 1962. The close-up of Paul's hand reaching for the butterfly at the end, is actually the hand of the director Milestone. - A sequel, The Road Back, was made in 1937.
With All Quiet on the Western Front Remarque became a spokesman of "a generation that was destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells," as he said himself. The German defeat inspired two major war films of the year 1930 - G.W. Pabst's Westfront 1918, adapted from a novel by Ernest Johannsen and Lewis Milestone's film based on Remarque's novel. Milestone was unhappy with the original script - he saw it changed the point of the book, and he hired his friend Del Andrews and George Abbott, a stage director, the shape the final script. The producer Carl Laemmle Junior and Milestone both hated the original ending of the book, in which Paul Baumer dies heroically. Karl Freund, the cameraman, put forward the idea of the hand stretching out toward the butterfly.
In the 1930s Remarque's books were banned in Germany by the government. All Quiet on the Western Front and The Road Back were among the works consigned to be publicly burnt in 1933 by the Nazis. Stores were ordered to stop selling his books. The film's premiere was disrupted by Nazi gangs; Remarque was accused of pacifism. It was not until the 1950s the film was shown again in West Germany. In 1938 Remarque lost his citizenship. He had moved to Switzerland in 1932 and in 1939 he emigrated to the United States, where in 1947 he became a citizen. In New York he spent much time at the Stork Club and at 21. In Hollywood he made friends with stars, including the actress Paulette Goddard (1911-1990), whom he married in 1958. Remarque had been married twice before, and to the same woman, Jutta Ilse Ingeborg Ellen Zambona, in 1925 and again in 1938. After the war Remarque settled eventually back in Switzerland, where he made his residence at Porto Ronco on the Seiss shore of Lake Maggiore. His play, DIE LETZTE STATION, about the fall of the Third Reich, was produced in Berlin in 1956. Remarque died at the Sant Agnese clinic at Locarno, on September 25, 1970. He had suffered for months from aneurysm.
"If things went according to the death notices, man would be absolutely perfect. There you find only first-class fathers, immaculate husbands, model children, unselfish, self-sacrificing mothers, grandparents mourned by all, businessmen in contrast with whom Francis of Assisi would seem an infinite egoist, generals dripping with kindness, humane prosecuting attorneys, almost holy munitions makers - in short, the earth seems to have been populated by a horde of wingless angels without one's having been aware of it." (from The Black Obelisk, 1956)
Remarque's later works, depicting the political upheavals of Europe from the 1920s to the cold war, did not achieve the critical acclaim of his first novel. However, his skill to create interesting characters, fascinating plots, and balancing between realistic and sentimental scenes made him a highly popular writer. DREI KAMERADEN (1937) received good reviews and was made into a film in 1938, directed by Frank Borzage. The screenplay was written by Edward A. Paramore and F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was determined to do a good job. Fitzgerald kept completely sober, for a while. However, his contract with M-G-M was not renewed. The final scene in which the two friends of the story are joined by their ghostly comrade, has still a strong emotional charge. Several of Remarque's later novels dealt with people struggling under Nazi rule. Arch of Triumph (1946) told a story about a German refugee physician and an actress. The work was adapted into screen in 1947, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. Remarque himself played the schoolmaster Pohlmann in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), based on his novel ZEIT ZU LEBEN UND ZEIT ZU STERBEN (1954). In the story a German soldier, Ernst Graeber, on furlough from the Russian front, falls in love with his childhood friend, Elisabeth. But he must return to the trenches. The German edition was censored for its "unnational" passages. Douglas Sirk's film version, beautifully photographed in CinemaScope, ends dramatically in Graeber's death.
Spark of Life (1952) was a fictional documentary about life in Nazi concentration camps. The Black Obelisk (1956) was a tragi-comedy, in which Remarque explored the chaotic Germany of in the 1920s. Remarque's screenplay The Last 10 Days for G.W. Pabst's film from 1956, was based Judge Michael A. Musmanno's book 10 Days to Die, a study of the death of Hitler in a Berlin bunker. DIE NACHT VON LISSABON (1962, The Night in Lisbon), in which two refugees from Nazism flee in Portugal, and SCHATTEN IN PARADIES, depicting refugees in the United Sates, were published posthumously in English in 1971.
For further reading: Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic by Hilton Tims (2004); Readings on All Quiet on the Western Front, ed. by Terry O'Neill (1999); Als wäre alles das letzte Mal by W. von Sternberg (1998); Opposite Attraction: The Lives of Erich Maria Remarque and Paulette Goddard by Julie Goldsmith Gilbert (1995); World Authors 1900-1950, vol. three, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmes (1995); All Quiet on the Western Front by R.A. Firda (1993); Understanding Erich Maria Remarque by Hans Wagener (1991); Erich Maria Remarque by U.H. Taylor (1989); Erich Maria Remarque: A Critical Bio-Bibliography by C.R. Owen (1984); Erich Maria Remarque by F. Baumer (1976) - See also: Lennart Meri - First World War in literature: Jaroslav Hašek: The Good Soldier Schweik; R.H. Mottram: The Spanish Farm Trilogy; Ford Madox Ford: Paradise's End; Arnold Zweig: The Case of Sergeant Grisha; Richard Aldington: Death of a Hero; Robert Graves: Good-bye to All That; Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms; Siegfried Sassoon: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer; Henry Williamson: The Patriot's Progress; Frederick Manning: The Middle Parts of Fortune; John Don Passos: Three Soldiers; e.e. cumming: The Enormous Room; Henri Barbusse: Under Fire
- IM WESTEN NICHTS NEUES, 1929 - All Quiet on the Western Front (tr. by A. W. Wheen, 1929) - Länsirintamalla ei mitään uutta (suom. Armas Hämäläinen, 1929; Leningrad: Kirja, 1931) - film 1930, dir. by Lewis Milestone, starring Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, Slim Summerville, John Wray. Academy Awards: best picture, Lewis Milestone as director. - "Clichés such as passing romances or over-emotional death scenes are avoided by low-key performances, with Lew Ayres to the fore. He is beautifully articulate, and his acting deserves to be remembered for other than the vital scenes - the one in the trench with the dying French soldier (Raymond Griffith); the pacifist speech at his school when he returns on leave, and the final shot with the butterfly - scenes like his rage as the boots of a dead comrade are dispassionately removed from the body, or the early sequence in which the recruits get to know the veteran soldiers with whom they have been billeted." (from The Hollywood Professionals: Henry King, Lewis Milestone, Sam Wood, by Clive Denton, Kingsley Canham, and Tony Thomas, 1974)
- DER WEG ZURÜCK, 1931 - The Road Back (tr. by A.W. Wheen, 1931) - Paluutie (suom. Felix Brofeldt, 1931) - film 1937, dir. by James Whale, written by R.C. Sheriff and Charles Kenyon
- DREI KAMERADEN, 1937 - Three Comrades (tr. by A.W. Wheen 1937) - Kolme toverusta (suom. Oiva Talvitie, 1947) - film 1938, dir. by Frank Borzage, screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edward A. Paramore, starring Margaret Sullivan, Robert Taylor, Robert Young, Franchot Tone. - Three disillusioned war veterans in Germany in the twenties find life hard. They meet a beautiful, a high-spirited girl, who is dying of tuberculosis but brings a glow to their lives. - "A very moving film, not because of the love between Taylor and Sullivan but because of the love between the men - although they, too, love Sullivan, Tone and Young are not jealous of Taylor but happy for him when he wins Sullivan's love. ... A wonderful final shot." (Danny Peary in Guide for the Film Fanatic, 1986)
- LIEBE DEINEN NÄCHSTEN, 1941 - Flotsam (translated from the German by Denver Lindley, 1941) - film So Ends Our Night (1941), dir. by John Cromwell, starring Fredric March, Margaret Sullivan, Frances Dee, Glenn Ford
- ARC DE TRIOMPHE, 1946 - Arch of Triump (tr. by Walter Sorell and Denver Lindley, 1945) - Riemukaari ( suom. V. Vankkoja, 1948) - film 1948, dir. by Lewis Milestone, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton. - An embittered refuge doctor falls in love with a girl with a past in Paris in WW2 France. - The story was remade for TV in 1984 with Anthony Hopkins and Lesley-Anne Down.
- DER FUNKE LEBEN, 1952 - Spark of Life (tr. by James Stern, 1952) - Elämän kipinä (suom. 1953)
- ZEIT ZU LEBEN UND ZEIT ZU STERBEN, 1954 - A Time to Live and a Time to Die (tr. by Denver Lindley, 1954) - Rakasta tänään, huomenna... (suom. Matti Karjalainen, 1955) - film A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1959), dir. by Douglas Sirk, starring John Gavin, Lilo Pulver, Keenan Wynn, Erich Maria Remarque. - During World War II, a German officer on his last leave solves problems at home but is killed on his return to the front.
- DIE LETZTE STATION, 1956 - Full Circle (play, adapted by Peter Stone, 1974)
- DER SCHWARZE OBELISK, 1956 - The Black Obelisk (tr. by Denver Lindley, 1957) - Musta obeliski (suom. Kai Kaila, 1957)
- DER HIMMEL KENNT KEINE GÜNSTLINGE, 1961 - Heaven Has No Favorites (translated by Richard & Clara Winston, 1961) - Taivas ei tunne suosikkeja (suom. Markku Lahtela, 1963) suom. Markku Lahtela - film Bobby Deerfield (1977), dir. by Sidney Pollack, screenplay by Alvin Sargent, starring Al Pacino, Marthe Keller, Anny Duperey. - A motor racing driver falls in love with a girl who has an incurable illness.
- DIE NACHT VON LISSABON, 1962 - The Night in Lisbon (tr. by Ralph Manheim, 1964) - Yö Lissabonissa (suom. Seppo Jokipii, 1964)
- SCHATTEN IM PARADIES, 1971 - Shadows in Paradise (tr. by by Ralph Manheim, 1971) - Varjoja Paratiisissa (suom. Leena Brummer, 1973)
- DAS UNBEKANNTE WERK, 1998 (5 vols.)