Donald G. Daviau – Friedrich Torberg’s Views of Hollywood, New York, Jerusalem and Vienna

TRANS: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 18. Nr. Juni 2011

Plenarbeiträge | Planary contributions

Donald G. Daviau (University of California, Riverside, USA) [BIO]

Friedrich Torberg’s Views of Hollywood, New York,
Jerusalem and Vienna

 Konferenzdokumentation |  Conference publication



The Austrian author Friedrich Torberg (1908–1979) escaped to the United States in 1941, rescued from certain capture by the Nazis in Southern France through the intervention of the American Emergency Rescue Committee, the PEN Club and some American friends like Willi Schlamm, a senior editor of Time Magazine in New York, the Hollywood film director William Dieterle, his wife Charlotte and Varian Fry, who saved numerous exiles. Torberg’s name was added to the list of Ten Outstanding German Anti-Nazi-Writers, and he was provided with an entry visa and a contract to work for a year at Warner Bros. in Hollywood. He was in such financial distress that he had to borrow the money to cover his ship passage.

We know every detail of Torberg’s life, for he was an indefatigable letter writer with a large array of correspondents. He was a realist – indeed I consider him a pragmatist – who was as frank and open about himself as he was about everyone and everything. His views on the cities he discusses clearly reflect these qualities. His biographer David Axmann, who together with Torberg’s widow Marietta edited  five volumes of his correspondence, only a small segment of the thousands of letters housed in the Wienbibliothek (Vienna City Library), describes how letter writing belonged to the author’s nature and formed an essential aspect of his being:

Das Korrespondieren war für Friedrich Torberg keine Marotte, keine Zwangsneurose, keine Schrulle, keine Manier; es war ein konstituierender Bestandteil seiner Natur, ein elementarer Drang, sich zu äußern, sich in Beziehung zu anderen zu erleben…. Es war ihm wichtig, sich zu allem, was geschah und was nicht geschah, zu äußern, und das nicht so sehr, weil er sich, sondern weil er seinen Standpunkt wichtig nahm.(1)

Axmann believes that on the basis of his letters alone Torberg would have been recognized as a major writer, even if he had never written anything else. The correspondence clearly shows that Torberg was a masterful wordsmith, who devoted considerable time and thought to his letters, which at times he invested with impressive literary quality.

I have dwelled so much on the importance of Torberg’s letters because they, together with various essays, provide his views of the cities that will be discussed here. It was characteristic of him to become fully engaged in whatever he undertook, including his correspondence. He had strong opinions, indeed all of his views, including his misconceptions and prejudices, were strongly held convictions. As will be seen, his letters  provide detailed descriptions of his life in exile, his inability to acclimatize and feel at home in either Hollywood or New York, indeed in the U.S.A. in general, his rejection of the American lifestyle and what he views as its lack of culture, his decision not to remain permanently in the U.S.A., his refusal to even visit Jerusalem, followed by his steadily increasing yearning to return to the only place he believes he can live a full and happy life: his „Heimat“ Vienna. The aim here is to present his views on Hollywood, New York, Jerusalem and Vienna by describing the experiences that served as the basis for his judgments and misjudgments. He does not so much describe the cities as a tourist would in terms of their attractiveness and attractions but presents them totally in the personal terms of his attitude toward them. For example, he loathed Switzerland and vowed he would never visit there again because after spending his first year of exile there, he was callously ejected, despite the danger to him of capture by the Nazis. Only the support of his friends, as seen above, saved him from that fate.

On 9 October 1940 Torberg sailed from Lisbon on the S.S. Exeter  to New Jersey, where he was met by a representative from Warner Bros who gave him money and a train ticket to Hollywood as well as by Schlamm and other friends who helped him get settled. After one pleasant week in New York, he had to travel to Hollywood to begin work at Warner Bros., which, as he discovered, had been pressured to hire him for a year as one of its hundred-dollar-a-week authors. Joining him at Warner Bros. were also Heinrich Mann, Leonard Frank and Alfred Neumann. Alfred Döblin, Alfred Polgar, Walter Mehring and Wilhelm Speyer went to Metro Goldwyn Mayer, while Franz Werfel and Leon Feuchtwanger declined the offer of a contract from any studio, since they had good connections to American publishers and could earn a handsome living from their writings.

Even though the Warner offer was vital to saving his life, Torberg showed no gratitude but dismissed the contract as merely a symbolic gesture of assistance, a cheap publicity stunt, rather than a genuine job. He hated the entire arrangement, for he was required to spend eight hours a day in his office with no real film project ever assigned to him nor any of his ideas ever accepted. The $100 a week sounds generous, but he complained to the Werfels in a letter on 27 September 1941 that by the time all the deductions were taken out, he had barely enough left to exist. He felt „ziemlich leer und schäbig zumut“ and blocked as a writer because, unable to create according to his own inclination, he felt demoralized and had produced nothing of significance in more than two years.(2) Hollywood, he discovered, was no dream factory, just a factory, where the owners made all the decisions. It was no place for a writer of his type, who needed to allow his imagination free reign.

Torberg also had the imminent end of his contract to depress him. Although ostensibly hired for a year, his employment actually concluded punctually and unceremoniously at the end of 40 weeks. Since the contract was self-terminating, the studio never bothered to notify Torberg officially that his services were no longer required. The discovery came the next day when the gateman refused him entry to the lot. He was furious because he interpreted his dismissal as being fired, as he wrote to Alma Mahler-Werfel: „Was mich eigentlich giftet, ist, daß ich ebenso unterschiedslos pauschal gefired wurde, wie die greisen Impotenzler, mit denen ich pauschal engagiert wurde.“(3) This treatment he received by the studio helps explain his bitterness and hostility to Hollywood, for otherwise he had a good and comfortable life, living in a bungalow on Yucca Trail in Laurel Canyon, happily driving around in his 1935 Ford convertible, and enjoying an active social life with the numerous notable Austrian exiles in Los Angeles, especially with the Werfels. However, none of these positive aspects could outweigh his negative feelings toward Hollywood which he eventually broadened to full-scale anti-Americanism. Although he had applied for citizenship, Torberg already knew while at Warner Bros. that he would never assimilate or remain in the U.S.A.

Released from his obligations to Warner Bros. in 1941, Torberg, at loose ends, wrote poems of yearning for his homeland, a series called “Hebräische Melodien” and two novellas: Der letzte Ritt des Jockeys Matteo and Mein ist die Rache, which Felix Guggenheim published in German in a bibliophile edition of the Pacific Press in 1943. The book never appeared in an English translation. In addition, he wrote a film script entitled Voice in the Wind, for which United Artists bought the rights and produced in 1943. The inexpensively made film turned out to be a “sleeper” and found unexpected success at the box office, resulting in well-paying, multi-year offers to him from various film studios. However, Torberg did not succumb to the lure because he had no desire to be trapped in the Hollywood system at any price.

Torberg felt only contempt for the city of Hollywood, which, in his view, consisted of nothing but super banks and supermarkets, while the hills around it were all topped with parking lots looking down on the town. The more his dislike of his environment grew, the greater became his yearning for Austria which he expressed in reminiscences in his letters and in poems such as „Sehnsucht nach Alt-Aussee.“ When his friend Victor von Kahler later in a letter dated 16 March 1944 chided him about his yearning for a world that no longer existed, Torberg defended himself strongly:

Was Sie meine „österreichischen Gefühle“ nennen, und wofür ich die Bezeichnung „österreichische Sehnsucht“ vorzöge – das habe ich und   hege ich ja nicht obwohl sondern weil es vorbei ist, weil es sich da um eine garantiert unerfüllbare Sehnsucht handelt, um eine garantiert nie wieder realisierbare Konzeption. Und das ist ein Haupttreffer. Denn   siehe die Beulen, damit mein Schädel bedeckt ist, als er anrannte wider die realen Mauern meiner republikanischen, demokratischen, sozialistischen, kommunistischen, zionistischen Wunschträume. Davor ist meine österreichische Sehnsucht gefeit – und Sie werden zugeben, daß das das weitaus Beste ist, was einer Sehnsucht passieren kann. (4)

What helped sustain him during this difficult time were the many Austrian social contacts, for Los Angeles had become home not only to exiles, but also to numerous earlier prominent emigrants such as Bruno Walter, Max Reinhardt, Erich Maria Remarque, Marlene Dietrich, Alfred Neumann, Gisela Werbezirk, Ernst Haeussermann, Georg Marton and Paul Kohner. Because of his hatred for Communism, which Torberg regarded as worse than Nazism, he avoided the Feuchtwanger group and even the left-leaning Salka Viertel, who made her home into an open house every Sunday, cooking and serving dinner for any and all exiles who cared to visit. Torberg preferred the guests at the home of Ernst Deutsch, and he also stayed in contact with the Hungarian group. His closest friends were the Werfels, and when Franz became sick, Torberg spent considerable time helping Alma care for him day and night. Werfel treated him like a brother, and the two even wrote a film script together, entitled „The Love and Hatred of Zorah Pasha,“ but it was never produced.

Despite his many friends and renewed, successful literary productivity, Torberg still remained unhappy in Hollywood, where he refused to assimilate and always felt uncomfortable and out of place. He describes his dismal life in Hollywood in a detailed, revealing letter to his old friend from the Café Herrenhof, Milan Dubrovic, on 29 January 1946 when he began his methodical campaign to reestablish connections with Vienna to prepare for his return:

In Hollywood, wo ich Ende 1940 ankam, hatte ich bereits nach ungefähr zwei Wochen eine sehr präzise Vorstellung von der Karriere, die ich   dort machen wollte:Nämlich auf einen Schlag genug Geld zu verdienen, um nach New York gehen zu können. Infolgedessen dauerte es bis zum   Juli 1944, ehe ich so weit war, – die Hollywooder Zeit muß ich zunächst   übergehen, weil ich von Dir unter den momentan angegebenen   Umständen nicht gut verlangen kann, für dieses Grauen Verständnis zu   haben. Einsichtsvoller Amerikaner nennen es eine Goldgräbersiedlungmit Ritz-Service, die Schauspielerin Gisela Werbezirk nennt es „Purkersdorf mit Palmen,“ und beides zusammen gibt Dir noch immer   kein Bild. Jedenfalls ermangelte es nach Abbüßung meines Vertrags nicht nur des nötigen Gelds sondern mehr noch der nötigen Energie, und es bedurfte erst eines unzweideutigen Anstoßes, um mich von dort   wegzubringen.(5)

Except for a few bright spots such as his enriching friendship with the Werfels, this Hollywood interlude

war in mancher Hinsicht weniger als das nackte Leben – denn zum Leben gehört bei mir z.B. die Arbeit, das Schreiben, das Schreiben in der Muttersprache, die Resonanz; und im Vakuum pflanzen sich erst gar keine Schallwellen fort (geschweige denn ein Echo). Ich bin also am   Bahnhof sitzen geblieben, und habe … auf den Gegenzug gewartet. Jetzt kommt er – und ich weiß nicht, ob ich einsteigen soll.

Kannst Du Dir das vorstellen, Milan? Das ist es nämlich was Du an meinem Schicksal  als tragisch zu empfinden hast – nicht etwa die Wanderung ins Ungewisse, nicht den Existenzkampf in einem fremden, unbarmherziges Land, Nicht die Flucht durch Frankreich immer ganz knapp vor den Nazi-Armeen, und nicht einmal, daß meine ganze Familie einschließlich meiner Mutter in Auschwitz umgekommen ist. Dafür kann ich nichts and dafür habe ich nichts einzukassieren. Aber noch weniger möchte ich mich dafür entschuldigen wollen, daß ich mein Leben nicht verraten habe.(6)

This letter gives a highly exaggerated view of his life in Hollywood, which was clearly never anything remotely approaching “das nackte Leben,” as he describes it. What motivated this distorted version of events? Torberg simply did not want his former close friends in Vienna to think, as they clearly did, that he had struck it rich in America and was living royally while they were suffering. Nor did he feel he should apologize to them for having fled to save his life. He wanted those who stayed in Austria to recognize that he had endured as much hardship in exile as they had been subjected to at home.

Torberg’s rescue from Hollywood came again courtesy of his good friend Willi Schlamm, who offered him a job in New York on 26 July 1944 to assist in producing a German edition of Time magazine. Torberg hesitated at first, saying that he would suffer terribly from the hot, humid, summer weather, but when Schlamm insisted that he come at once or not at all, Torberg obliged and did suffer, as he described in a letter to the Werfels on 4 August 1944:

Es steht für mich endgültig fest, daß dieser Kontinent nicht zur Bewohnung durch Menschen gedacht war, sondern  (von ein paar Hunderttausend Indianern abgesehen) höchstens fur Alligatore und Schuldkröten. Selten noch hat sich Geschichte so einwandfrei als „Sinngebung des Sinnlosen“ demonstriert wie hier. … „Goldrush“ und „Pioneertum“ und dergleichen sind nachträglichen Fälschungen, ähnlich etwa wie sich die Wiener so lange „Wien, Wien, nur du allein“ vorgesungen haben, bis sie nicht anders konnten als es zu glauben. Sonst wären sie sich ja wie die Idioten vorkommen. So mußten die Amerikaner sich irgend etwas erfinden, um die andernfalls völlig unbegreifliche Besiedlung dieses Kontinents zu rechtfertigen….

Das Ganze war ein Irrtum, einer der verhängnisvollsten der Menschheitsgeschichte, und jetzt haben sie die Bescherung. Jetzt müssen sie sich refrigerators erfinden und airconditioning und Coca   Cola. Der Untergang des Abendlandes beginnt in Bakersfield. Mit kecker, wenngleich schweißtriefender Stirn halten sie die Fiktion eines   normalen Betriebes aufrecht, gehen städtisch gekleidet, arbeiten tagsüber, wohnen in dünnwändigen Hochhäusern und verbieten sich und   einander, in öffentlichen Lokalen den Rock abzulegen, auch wenn er noch so zwetschkenblau ist….(7)

Despite the humorous exaggeration, the letter accurately conveys Torberg’s low opinion of the U.S.A.; such remarks appear frequently in other letters.

The Time project unfortunately did not proceed smoothly and after much rancor and arguing was finally cancelled at the end of 1944. On the positive side Torberg married the Austrian Marietta Bellak, and the couple’s “penthouse” apartment – really very modest quarters jokingly called a penthouse because they were on the top floor – became a central meeting place for Austrians in New York. Among the many visitors were Hermann Broch, Hermann Kesten, Ernst Lothar, Franz Molnar, Carl Zuckmayer, Hans Jaray and Walter Slezak. The most important regular guests were Alma Mahler Werfel – Franz had died after Torberg had left for New York – and Marlene Dietrich, with whom he carried on a lifelong friendship.(8) Torberg always claimed that one of the main reasons he liked Dietrich was for her cooking. His wife was also a gourmet cook, and he could acquit himself well in the kitchen too. Eating well always ranked among his highest priorities, and his letters frequently contain references to meals and food preparation. He added his ridicule of American cooking and fast food to the list of faults he found with the U.S.A., as in his letter of 31 May 1949 to Viktor von Kahler:

„Krapfen auf amerikanische Art,“ Pfui Teufel. Das geht nicht. Das ist unmöglich…Auf amerikanische Art, oh Gott. Es ist an dem, daß sie diese Krapfen als „amerikanische“ bezeichnet, ohne zu merken, was für ein Monstrum sie da in die Welt setzt. Auf amerikanische Art wird nichts zubereitet, was Menschen nachher essen sollen….Auf amerikanische Art wird überhaupt nichts zubereitet, sondern it is being readied, add water and there you are, serves four, und die essen ja auch nicht, sondern sie verrichten ihre Eßdurft.(9)

Torberg also ridiculed the American worship of money in a letter to Kahler on 31 July 1949 comparing the differing attitude of the little man in Austria with his counterpart in America:

Der Kleine Mann hat sich bei Kreuzersemmel, Bier und Bierhund “wie ein König” gefühlt – ohne indessen den Ehrgeiz zu haben, wirklich einer zu sein…Der amerikanische Gegenstück des Kleinen Mannes, auf der Fahrt im eigenen Auto einer Baseball-Übertragung im eingebauten Radio zuhörend, hat keinen König zum Vorbild sondern den Rockefeller, hat auch sehr wohl den Ehrgeiz, ein solcher zu werden, und mehr noch: er wird diesen Ehrgeiz mit einem bißchen Glück so verwirklichen (ohne zu wissen, daß er dann erst recht ein Dreck ist…) Er respektiert ausschließlich das Geld und die Fähigkeit, es zu verdienen. Und wie fühlt er sich dort, wo sein europäisches Pendant sich wie ein König fühlt? He feels like a million dollars.(10)

One reaction to Hollywood that remained and strengthened in Torberg was his anger over the growth of Communism he had observed there, and he resolved to fight against it. To do so, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which recruited German-speaking exiles such as Herbert Marcuse (ironically a Communist who wanted Brecht hired ) and others from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research as informants about the German and Austrian exiles for the denazification committee; their task was to establish whether each individual under investigation remained  an irredeemable Nazi or was someone who would contribute to the recovery. Torberg had hoped to be deployed in Germany in 1944, but his weak heart prevented his being sent overseas. He remained connected with the OSS as an informant, and the agency followed his suggestion to investigate the Communist cells in Hollywood and particularly Brecht and Hanns Eisler, the authors of the “Song of Solidarity,” which was adopted as the anthem of the Communist “Youth Organization in Germany.”(11)  When he did arrive back in Austria, Torberg continued to work with the American forces in Vienna, at first on the radio program Rot Weiss Rot, then as a writer for the newspaper Wiener Kurier and finally as editor of the journal Neues Forum. Both publications were sponsored by the U.S.A. for the purpose of presenting and creating a positive attitude toward America, a task that Torberg approached only half-heartedly.

Torberg could feel happier and more comfortable in New York because with its ethnic diversity it resembled a European city, and above all it was five thousand kilometers closer to Europe. He could earn enough from the OSS and various writings for exile publications to support himself and his wife, and in addition he could enjoy the company of a large, congenial group of Austrian and German friends. Among them was the German publisher Gottfried Bermann Fischer, who hired Torberg in 1948 as an advisor and author for the revived literary magazine Neue Rundschau. Their correspondence, which can be considered as a valuable literary-historical document, reflects their strong relationship, except for arguments over language usage and Torberg’s strong objections to what he considered the arbitrary editing of his texts. Among other things, Torberg prepared the Zehnjahrbuch 1938-1948 des Verlags Bermann-Fischer, for which the publisher commended him, saying that he had produced “ein literarhistorisches Dokument von Wert, das dem Verlag zu hoher Ehre gereicht.”(12) Despite the mutual benefits of their working relationship, including the publication in 1948 of two of his books, Mein ist die Rache and Die Begegnung, helping to revive his reputation in Europe, they parted ways when Torberg persisted in attacking Thomas Mann, the firm’s leading and most profitable author, for his communist sympathies expressed in speeches after his visit to Russia. Given the ultimatum of ceasing the attacks or leaving, Torberg, being Torberg, chose the latter and joined Langen Müller in Graz.

Although his life in New York had become outwardly comfortable, he still remained as discontent inwardly as he had been in Hollywood. The problem was not the particular city but the fact that in general Torberg held a low opinion of American culture and lifestyle, as he demonstrated in the satirical poem „Ballade des amerikanischen Lebens,“ parodying Hofmannsthal’s „Ballade des äusseren Lebens.“

Und Kinder wachsen auf mit Television,
Die von nichts wissen, wachsen auf und sterben,
und alle Menschen gehen ihre Wege.

Und Früchte sind gefroren zu erwerben
Und fallen in Refrigerators nieder
Und schmecken nicht und können nicht verderben.

Und immer tönt das Radio, immer wieder
Vernehmen wir und reden viele Worte
Und spüren nur die Müdigkeit der Glieder.

Und Highways laufen durch das Land, und Orte
Sind voll von Drugstores, Markets, Auto-Zeichen
Und Banken mit und Kirchen ohne Pforte.

Wozu sind diese aufgebaut und gleichen
Einander stets? und sind unzählig viele?
Was wechseln Filme, Titel, Stars und Leichen?

 Was frommen das alles uns und diese Spiele,
Die wir doch ewig Europäer sind
Und wandernd immer suchen irgend Ziele?

Was frommt’s, sich locken lassen und sich schröpfen?
Und dennoch sagt der viel, der „Business“ sagt,
Ein Wort, daraus Trübsinn und schauer rinnt,

Wie leere Phrasen aus hohlen Köpfen.(13)

Torberg’s postwar letters are filled with expressions of longing for everything from the coffee house and his friends in Vienna, to the culture, the landscape and the lakes in Austria. In short, everything there was better and preferable to anything he found in the U.S. He summarized his attitude succinctly in a letter to Alma on 2 December 1944, saying „Amerika gefällt mir ganz gut. Nur ich gefall mir nicht in Amerika.“(14) He repeated this same phrase to Alexander Inngraf on 12 September 1948.(15) The first half is not true but shows how he can at times readily sacrifice accuracy for cleverness. When he did return to Austria, he retained the American citizenship he had received in 1945 because he worked for the Americans. He had not grown to like Americans or working for them any better, but he had no prejudice against their money. The best thing he could say about the American way of life was that nobody forced him to accept it.(16)

Hostility toward America and the American lifestyle served as the major motivation for Torberg’s return, but nostalgia for the former life he had enjoyed in Vienna, especially the coffee house atmosphere and the yearning to be among his friends again, also played an important role. So too did the purely pragmatic reason that his future as an author lay there rather than in the U.S.A. As he wrote to Werfel on 10 September 1944, he recognized and accepted that at age 36 his future as an author lay in Europe, not in the U.S.A.:

…ich bin klar, daß das, was ich etwa an kompakter Leserschaft   besessen habe, nicht mehr existiert. Aber ich würde mich trauen, mir in   Europa und unter deutsch lesenden Menschen ein neues Publikum zu schaffen, und dazu fühle ich mich auch noch knapp jung genug. In Amerika trau ich mich das nicht und bin auch bei weitem zu alt dazu.(17)

This is a curious declaration at this point, for he had already resolved in 1941 that he would return to Austria, making the matter of an American literary career a non-issue. Moreover, he had no basis to claim that he could not build a literary career in America, since he never attempted to publish any of his works in English translation. Clearly they would have found a publisher, especially Auch das war Wien, the novel describing events in Vienna leading up to the Anschluss that he had written during his early exile in 1938 and 1939. He never published the work during his lifetime because he knew he would return to Austria, and, like other exiles that planned to go back, he did not want to appear critical. Such exiles never raised the issue of Austrian guilt for complicity with the Nazis, and there was no need to do so because Austria had been exonerated in the Moscow Declaration by the Allied leaders at the Yalta conference in 1943 officially designating the country as the first victim of Hitler.

While he knew for certain that he would return, Torberg continued to debate the matter of timing with his Austrian friends in letters until 1951, six years after the end of the war. He made no effort to rush back pall mall after the war, as did such leading postwar figures as Hans Weigel, Ferdinand Czernin and Ernst Lothar, each of whom played an important role in the postwar revival of the literature, theater and opera. For one thing, Torberg felt that since the Austrians had forced him into exile, the government should recall him and subsidize his return. For another, he did not have the funds to finance his return. The biggest hurdle, however, was that he, like many exiles, remained suspicious of the Viennese attitude toward Jews, and he had no desire to suffer another shock from their hostility and anti-Semitism. Thus from the time the war ended in May 1945, Torberg began seeking reassurance on every aspect of his return in letters to all his former close friends. Once he had established that they hadn’t changed and were still the same friends whose opinions he could trust, he began to request information about everything concerning the current life, conditions and culture in Vienna: news of families and mutual acquaintances, the atmosphere in the city, the attitude of the people toward returning Jewish exiles, the presence of anti-Semitism and the judgment of his correspondents about whether it would be a good time to return. He particularly wanted news about the state of literature, the theater and the opera, and requested books, newspapers, programs of the theaters and reviews as well as information about the performers such as Paula Wessely and Albert Bassermann. He wanted to immerse himself in the life of the city to be fully up to date when he appeared in Vienna.

On these matters he learned some details from Alexander Lernet-Holenia, who contacted Torberg on 21 February 1946, having received his address from Milan Dubrovic. Lernet mentions that he lives in St. Wolfgang and reports: „In Wien, höre ich, hat sich viel verändert, hier, im ‚amerikanischen’ Österreich, nicht viel.“(18) Austria had been divided into four sections, each administered by one of the Allies, and Lernet-Holenia lived in the American zone. Concerning the literary scene, he adds that nothing much is happening in Austria, so he is publishing his works and staging a play in Switzerland: “Eine seltsame literarische Lethargie, ganz unähnlich der lebhaften Bewegung nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg, scheint die Länder insgesamt zu haben. Verhält es sich in der Tat so, oder sieht es sich, von hier, nur so an?”(19) In general he sees „eine Verflachung des Landes, ohne die auch Hitler gar nicht möglich gewesen wäre, …und es stellt sich heraus, daß offenbar auch der Krieg, mit all seinen Zerstörungen, nur ein sichtbares Zeichen der inneren Zerstörung gewesen ist.”(20) Like most Austrians, he believes that Torberg must have struck it rich in America.

On 25 May 1946 Torberg expresses his pleasure over the letter and states that Oscar Karlweis, Ernst Deutsch, Hans Jaray, Dr. Horch and Ernst Lothar have all promised to write to Lernet, proving that there are exiles who maintain their connection to Europe. But he complains that there are also others who have acclimatized to America and assimilated.(21) In his view, any European author who can turn into an American writer was either no writer to begin with or is one no longer. He disabuses Lernet of the idea that he struck it rich, but he does agree that publishers and film producers don’t want to take any chances. (22)On 6 July 1946 Lernet replies with details of his publication plans and his favorable reaction to the novel Mein ist die Rache that Torberg had sent to him. Mainly he addresses the topic of the exiles who have decided to settle in America. Even if they want to forget Germany, Lernet does not believe they can forget Europe. Anyone who can do so isn’t worth worrying about. One has to wonder about his logic when one considers the millions who emigrated to America seeking a better life and more freedom. In his lengthy response on 15 February 1947 Torberg pours out his invective against those authors who have assimilated, calling them weak writers who claim to represent Austria. This, too, is strange when the enormous success of his best friend Werfel proves the opposite. In 1943 books by both Werfel and Ernst Lothar appeared on the New York Times’ Bestseller List. Vickie Baum produced one best seller after another. Of course, Torberg would never mention the tremendous popularity of Feuchtwanger’s books. Clearly Torberg’s view reflects his undiminished prejudice against America. He again encourages the like-minded Lernet to write, since he still doesn’t know when he will be returning so that they can engage in real conversation:„denn ich will mich auf kein Datum festlegen, solange man nicht klaglos die Einreise nach Österreich bewilligt bekommt. Und so weit ist es noch nicht. Hoffentlich bald.”(23)

While waiting for clarity about when he should return, Torberg continued his correspondence with numerous friends, requesting information and reminiscing about Austria. His letter to Dubrovich on 5 March 1946 is representative, showing Torberg’s sentimental side and how he indulged in nostalgia as well as pathos about the older authors:

Wir wollen ihn (Polgar) hegen und pflegen, denn er besitzt die eindeutige, unverwechselbare Patina einer Generation, die uns hoffnunglos und unersetzlich wegstirbt, und er ist in seiner Art ein ebenso garantiert Letzter, wie es jeder einzelne dieser vor ihm Weggestorbenen war, der Beer-Hofmann, der alte Korngold, der Roda Roda. Lauter Ein- und Letztmaligkeiten. Und wenn jetzt noch der alte Auernheimer formell stirbt …(24)

He rhapsodizes about how he can only live in Vienna in an atmosphere of Austrian newspapers, culture and good food. His friend Fritz Molden had offered him a job at the newly established newspaper Die Presse, the heir of the former Neue Freie Presse, but he declares that he wants to return as an author not as a journalist.

On 25 March 1946 Dubrovic responds enthusiastically to Torberg’s letter, mentioning that Ferdinand Czernin (25) has returned to help organize the recovery effort and is working hard to catch up on the past seven years. He then states that this brings them to the heart of the problem: “Man muß eben selber hier sein, man muß den Lokalaugenschein im Geistigen und Materiellen selber vernehmen, um das richtige Bild zu bekommen….Es haftet zu viel Gespenstisches, noch Unfassbares an der Zeit und ihrem Geschehen.”(26) Just as in March 1938 Vienna was transformed overnight into a completely different, strange city, so now it has changed again much too suddenly to grasp. “Wir müssen erst Distanz kriegen. Die meisten, auch die „Dringebliebenen“ machen den Fehler, glattweg an 1938 oder 1934 anknüpfen zu wollen und die dazwischen legenden Jahre aus ihrem Bewußtein wegzueskamotieren.”(27) Dubrovic tells Torberg that he cannot advise him about whether he should return or not, but he cannot imagine that he won’t come back, so that they can discuss everything, “was uns im Herzen brennt. Wann dies und wie dies geschieht, weiß ich nicht, aber daß es geschieht, fühl ich mit somnambuler Sicherheit. Basta.”(28)  All of the people in Austria to whom Torberg wrote concluded in the same way, namely, that he must come back and judge the situation for himself.

Torberg tells Dubrovic that he could manage to feel comfortable back among the Viennese by overlooking those that might not be agreeable. “Es ist Grund genug um nicht auszuwandern. Aber ist es Grund genug, um zurückzukommen?“(29) He has friends who are sick with yearning but do not return because they fear being exposed to hostility again. On 31 August 1946 he concedes that a continuation of their discussion “ist jetzt nur noch an Ort und Stelle sinnvoll, und Du kannst Dich drauf verlassen, dass ich das meinige dazutun werde, um sie so bald wie möglich zustande zu bringen.“ He needs no urging, for he feels for his friends there “eine törichte, sentimentale Buben-Sehnsucht, die weder mit Prinzipien noch mit materiellen Erwägungen das mindeste zu tun hat – und daß ich, wenn es nach mir ginge, schon längst drüben wäre…. “(30)

The date of his return was clearly up to Torberg himself, but one thing that held him back was his hope that the government would invite him back and  finance his trip. However, except in a few special cases like subsidizing Felix Braun to return from England and surprisingly supporting the return of the Communist sympathizer Hanns Eisler, the government had no desire and no plan or program to assist the exiles to return out of fear of the problems that would arise when they attempted to recover their confiscated property. On this matter, Viktor Matejka, Stadtrat für Kultur und Volksbildung in Vienna, stands out as one of the few government officials who favored assisting the return of important writers and artists, but lacking financial support, he could achieve little. The exiles who did the most to aid the cultural recovery such as Hans Weigel, Ernst Lothar and Ferdinand Czernin all returned on their own volition to work for the recovery of the culture without an invitation or funding from the Austrian government. Since Czernin worked for the OSS and Lothar was serving as an officer in the U.S. Army, their travel came courtesy of the U.S.A.

Among others, Torberg began corresponding with Max Brod in Palestine, which would have welcomed him as a resident. However, the thought of living there was never a possibility for Torberg, and he even rejected the idea of visiting Jerusalem, even though his sister Ilse lived there.(31) Instead Torberg discussed what he regarded as shameful conduct of the surviving Jews,

 die sich gerade und ausdrücklich mit jüdischen Motivationen ihrem   vermeintlichen Befreier und Beglückter Stalin in die Arme werfen, was im besten Fall, eine Kombination von Dummheit, Opportunismus und Kurzsichtigkeit…Stalin hat nichts gegen die Juden, folglich bin ich für ihn…Hitler hat uns bei lebendigem Leib verbrannt… Stalin anästhesiert uns und wir glücksen uns noch beseligt in die tödliche Operation hinein….ich bin vollkommen verzweifelt, und ich bitte Sie ernstlich, mir Ihre Meinung zu diesem Problem zu sagen…von Ihnen brauche ich jetzt direkten Trost….(32)

Brod responds on 6 July 1945, saying that the problem of assimilation exists also in Palestine. “Immerhin  geht der Zug des kräftigen Lebens über sie weg und man sieht sich eigentlich mit Menschen verbunden, die als Menschen wie als Juden zielsicher sind. Das ist der Trost, den ich ihnen zu geben hätte. Kommen Sie her, wenigstens für eine Zeit lang, und holen Sie sich ihn selbst.”(33)At the beginning of November 1945 Torberg relates to Brod what a shock the death of Werfel was for him. He regarded him as an older brother, and his friendship “war jedenfalls der große Trost in den vier der fünf amerikanischen Jahren, die jetzt hinter mir liegen, und war in gewissem Sinn (besonders in Hollywood) schlechtweg die Rettung vor ihnen.(34)

Although not one to attend the synagogue regularly, Torberg was nevertheless a profoundly dedicated Jew, who was proud of his heritage. He believed that suffering belonged to that heritage and, as just seen above, had nothing but contempt for Jews who were willing to compromise what he considered their chosen status in order to obtain an easier life. He himself tried to live a strictly Jewish life and made it clear that when he returned to Austria it would be as a Jewish, not as an Austrian author.

Torberg even broke off his friendship with his friend Hans Weigel, whom the Jewish authorities considered a renegade because he refused to demonstrate solidarity with the Jews and Zionists but insisted on remaining totally independent in his thinking. Throughout his life Weigel remained a free thinker who without exception resisted allegiances to any and all outside opinions and organizations. He only wanted to be a fully assimilated Austrian, “was ihm so viele Österreicher mosaischer Konfessionen übelnahmen und übelnehmen.”(35) When Weigel claimed to Torberg that he encountered no hostility or feeling of anti-Semitism in Vienna and that the atmosphere was unchanged from the pre-Hitler days Torberg did not believe his glowing report, for others had informed him about how hard life was in Vienna and had recommended that he delay returning as long as possible. In a letter to Weigel on 12 May 1946 Torberg states that he cannot accept his claim that there is no hint of anti-Semitism in Vienna because he himself considers it “einen integralen Zug des österreichischen Wesens. Es gehört so natürlich zu Österreich wie – nun eben: wie die Juden.“ However, since Austria, in contrast to Germany, was always a supranational land, he could feel completely at home there all his life. If he returned, it would be in terms of this symbiosis, namely, he would be returning as a Jew, not as an Austrian: “Ich glaube in der Tat, daß die Juden eher auf Österreich verzichten können, als Österreich auf die Juden.”(36)

Torberg also wrote to Heinz Politzer in Palestine that he didn’t want to Americanize because he found the country to be without charm or culture. Yet, despite the importance of Palestine for Jews, he explains his refusal to visit the country and his unwillingness to move there:

So wahr Palästina keine “Lösung der Judenfrage” biete,“ so wahr ist Palästina die einzige Position, die wir auf dieser Welt beziehen können, nicht die beste, sondern die einzige…Und ich bin eben der Meinung, daß   wir ohne Palästina nicht überleben können. Das heißt nicht, daß alle Juden nach Palästina gehen sollen. …Man muß nicht in Palästina sein.   Aber man muß, glaube ich, für Palästina sein…(37)

As for himself, he is committed to living a Jewish life, but he cannot live in Jerusalem because he is „europäisch geprägt.“ It turned out that Politzer himself was unhappy in Palestine and, in direct contrast to Torberg, found a home to his liking in America, ending his career contentedly as a Professor of German at the University of California, Berkeley.

Since Torberg was determined to return to Vienna, he disagreed vehemently with the standpoint of his friend Fritz Thorn that because of the Holocaust no Jew should ever live in Austria again:

Also, wie gesagt, wollte ich Dich z.B. noch fragen, ob Du also konkret dafür bist, daß dort, wo ihnen die Hitlerschmach widerfuhr, keine Juden mehr leben sollen? Ich frage das ohne jede polemische Sprungbereitschaft, glaub mir. Ich weiß es selbst nicht. Das heißt, ich weiß nicht, in welche Kategorie diese Frage zu entscheiden ist. Nerven? Charakter? Opportunität? Historische Verantwortung?(38)

He then painstakingly demonstrates the flaws in Thorn’s thinking, in particular the idea that that there was only one Hitler. Reaching back to the Bar Kochba uprising in the year 135, Torberg demonstrates that there was a whole series of Hitlers: “Hitler, bitte sei Dir doch darüber klar, hat nichts erfunden, gerade in Bezug auf die Juden nicht. Er hat nur bereits Erfundenes multipliziert, und er war, seinen zeitlichen und völkischen Voraussetzungen gemäß, gründlicher als die bisherigen Erfinder.“(39) He respects Thorn’s attitude that he doesn’t want to live in a land, where his parents died in the gas chambers, but if he accepts this standpoint, then consequently he cannot live anywhere,

wo oder von wo Juden in die Gaskammern gekommen sind, also auch nicht nach Prag (wo es meiner Mutter widerfuhr), also auch nicht nach Paris (wo es, meiner fundierten Überzeugung nach, mehr Nazis gegeben hat als in Wien), also nach dem größten Teil Europas nicht. Also: ich lass mir von einem nach knappen zwölf Jahren kläglich hinweggefegten Regime vorschreiben, wo ich den Rest meines Lebens zu verbringen habe. … Was ist damit? Vorbei? Wegen zwölf Jahren Hitler?(40)

If so, this means that Hitler has accomplished his goal to rid Germany and Austria of Jews. Everyone has to make this decision for himself, but for his part he strongly believes Jews should return to live and work in Austria, „weil ich mir eben mein eigenes Leben ohne österreichisches Theater und ohne österreichische Zeitungen nicht vorstellen kann noch will.”(41)

One warning that Torberg with his fond memories of his former life in Vienna heard from all of his correspondents was not to expect to find the Vienna that he had left. The city had changed and not just in terms of the physical damage from the bombings and the occupation. On 24 March 1946 Torberg asks yet another of his coffee-house friends Alexander Inngraf to describe how much Vienna has changed from what it once was: “Lassen Sie mich also wissen, wie weit alles das, was wir uns unter ‚Wien’ und ‚Österreicher’ vorzustellen liebten, seinem Zweck entfremdet wurde oder noch wird. Oder schon wieder wird. Und wie dem zu steuern wäre. Vielleicht gar: was unsereins dazutun könnte…”(42) This letter shows that he not only will return without  false illusions, but also that he wants to play a role and be able to contribute to the postwar revival. 

Inngraf replies that this is a difficult question to answer in a letter, and he can only refer to Thomas Wolfe: “Es führt kein Weg zurück! Auch nicht zu unserem Wien…Reservate wie das „Herrenhof“, Europe“ oder dergleichen wird’s wohl nicht mehr geben. Und wenn sich auch die Edlen zusammenfinden werden, die surroundings werden uns nicht freuen! Aber – kommen sobald als möglich – dies natürlich ist kein Rat sondern ein Wunsch.“(43) Like all other friends when asked the same question, Inngraf ends with the same conclusion that Torberg must return and judge the situation in Vienna and Austria himself.

On 15 May 1946 Torberg writes to Inngraf at length, saying he is not worried about the surroundings in Vienna or whether he would be sitting on the streetcar next to the murderer of his mother. He believes that there were more Nazis in Paris than in Vienna, and he will never return to Switzerland, which heedlessly and ruthlessly put his life in danger by forcing him to leave the country without any concern for where he could go. Be that as it may, Torberg says he recognizes that Vienna will have changed from the one he carries in his memory. He also accepts the idea that the only sensible course for him is to return and judge the situation for himself.(44)

To make sure that his friends in Austria did not believe that he was living a comfortable, easy life in exile, while they were suffering at home, he always described his life in dismal terms, as seen in the letters to Dubrovich and Lernet-Holenia, among others. In a letter to Inngraf on 18 January 1947 Torberg describes his life in New York similarly: he has no garden, his house is not nice, the area is not quiet, and nothing blossoms but only wilts. On a more serious note, he wants to see more Jews return to Austria but fears that “Jene glückhafte Symbiose, die zwischen jüdischem Dünger und wienerischem Humus dereinst bestand, ist für alle Zeiten dahin. Und sie war die einzige, die es gab.”(45) As far as the Austrians are concerned, he will decide who was a Nazi, not the Allied Control Commission.

Since fear of anti-Semitism in Austria remained Torberg’s greatest deterrent to his return, Inngraf on 7 April 1947 describes the situation in Austria as he sees it, trying as best he can to be encouraging:

Hier herrscht in gewissen Kreisen, wie nicht anders zu erwarten, ein latenter Antisemitismus, von einem aktiven ist nichts zu bemerken und wird nie etwas merkbar werden. …Oft denke ich, die undankbaren Österreicher hätten ihrer Juden vergessen. Jedenfalls 1936 etwa war es bedeutend ärger, und es gab nicht eine so breite philosemitische Bewegung wie jetzt.(46)

Particularly valuable are the correspondences with Richard Revy and Viktor von Kahler for providing Torberg the opportunity to demonstrate his wide range of knowledge over Austrian literature, culture, history and linguistics. These letters, genuine debates between intellectual peers, show how intertwined Torberg’s life was with Vienna, with Austria. Revy took the position of claiming the superiority of Germany, while Torberg defended the importance and greatness of Austria. With Kahler the subject is Austrian literature and language, with Torberg countering his views that Austria will never again rise to the heights it attained with Mozart and Hofmannsthal and is living on its past glories.

After six years of letters to numerous correspondents, exploring every aspect of exile and emigration, Torberg finally reached the point mentally, where he could not postpone his return any longer. He borrowed money to finance his trip back, leaving his wife behind until he could arrange for housing and an income in Vienna. Finally after eleven years he set foot in Vienna again on 1 April 1951, a date which caused him, with his usual wit and humor, to consider his return a great practical joke on Austria. All his fears, worries and indecision were immediately swept away, for he was warmly welcomed back by his friends, who had arranged a series of lectures and radio talks for him. From the beginning he was lionized as a celebrity, his popularity grew and he soon found his role as an influential figure in the literary scene. Vienna and Austria did not disappoint him but rather completely fulfilled the expectations he had built up during his eleven years of exile.



1 David Axmann, Marietta Torberg and Hans Weigel, eds. In diesem Sinne… Briefe an Freunde 
und  Zeitgenossen. München -Wien: Langen Müller, 1981, p. 7. Henceforth cited as In diesem.
Sinne. 2 David Axmann und Marietta Torberg, eds.,Liebste Freundin und Alma. Briefwechsel mit Alma Mahler-Werfel. München-Wien: Langen Müller, 1987,  p. 28. Henceforth cited as Liebste Freundin und Alma. 3  Liebste Freundin und Alma, Ibid. 4 David Axmann und Marietta Torberg, eds. Friedrich Torberg. Kaffeehaus war überall. Briefwechsel mit Käuzen und Originalen. München-Graz: Langen Müller, 2. Auflage 2002, p. 259. Henceforth cited as Kaffeehaus war überall. 5  Kaffeehaus war überall. pp. 98-99. 6  Kaffeehaus war überall, p. 101. 7Liebste Freundin und Alma. Briefwechsel mit Alma Mahler-Werfel, Letter of 4 August 1944. 8 Marcel Atze, ed. Schreib. Nein, schreib nicht. Marlene Dietrich / Friedrich Torberg Briefwechsel 1946-1979. Wien:Wienbibliothek, 2008. 9  Kaffeehaus war überall, p. 271. 10 Ibid., 281f. 11 Oliver Matuschek, “’Hals über sowieso.’ Friedrich Torberg im Exil (1938-1951).“ In: Marcel Atze und Marcus G. Patka, eds. Die Gefahren der Vielseitigkeit. Friedrich Torberg 1908-1979. Wien: Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, 2008, p. 91f. 12 David Axmann, Friedrich Torberg. Die Biographie, p. 176. 13 David Axmann and Marietta Torberg, eds. Friedrich Torberg, Eine tolle, tolle Zeit. Briefe und Dokumente aus den Jahren der Flucht 1938-1941. Wien-Munich: Langen Müller, 1989. p. 179. 14 Liebste Freundin und Alma, p. 156 15 Kaffeehaus war überall. p. 155. 16 David Axmann, Friedrich Torberg. Die Biographie, p.173. 17  Liebste Freundin und Alma., p. 136. 18 In diesem Sinne, p. 201. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid., p. 202. 21  In an excellent article about the life of Austrian exiles, Adi Wimmer reports that of the estimated 30,000 exiles and émigrés in the U.S.A. – it is impossible to fix the exact number because many Austrians were recorded by the government as being German – only 3.5% returned. Adi Wimmer, “Expelled and Banished. The Exile Experience of Austrian ‘Anschluss’ Victims in Personal Histories and Literary Documents.” In: Walter Höllbling and Reinhold Wagnleitner, eds. The European Emigrant Experience in the U.S.A. Tübingen: Günter Narr Verlag, 1992, p. 58. 22 In diesem Sinne, p.203. 23 In diesem Sinne, p. 214. 24 Kaffeehaus war überall, p.106. 25 Among other responsibilities Czernin supervised the activities of Ernst Lothar in reactivating the theaters and operas and also directed Lothar to recruit Raoul Auernheimer as former Vienna PEN Chairman to write reports on Austrian writers for the American denazification authorities, which he did. 26 Kaffeehaus war überall, p. 108. 27 Ibid., p. 109. 28 Ibid. 29 Ibid., p. 112. 30 Ibid., p.118. 31 After his return to Austria, the Zionist Torberg did visit Jerusalem and ultimately asked to be buried there.  Cf. Evelyn Adunka, “Der deutschen Sprache letzter ‘Jud vom Dienst.’ Friedrich Torberg und sein Judentum,” and Marcus G. Patka, „Ich möchte am liebsten in Jerusalem begraben sein. Der Zionist Friedrich Torberg.“ In Marcel Atze und Marcus G. Patka, eds. Die „Gefahren der Vielseitigkeit. Friedrich Torberg 1908-1979, S. 143-200. 32  In diesem Sinne, pp. 55-57. 33 Ibid, p. 58. 34 Ibid. 35 Elke Vujica, ed. Hans Weigel. In die weite Welt hinein. Erinnerungen eines kritischen Patrioten. St. Pölten: Literaturedition Niederösterreich, 2008, p. 78 and 121. 36 In diesem Sinne, p. 413. 37 In diesem Sinne, p. 302. 38 Kaffeehaus war überall., p. 169. 39 Ibid., p. 171. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid., p. 173. 42  Kaffeehaus war überall, p.128f. 43 Ibid., p. 130. 44 Kaffeehaus war überall, pp. 133-134. 45 Ibid., p. 138. 46 Ibid., p.139.


TRANS  Inhalt | Table of Contents 18. Nr. INST

For quotation purposes:
Donald G. Daviau: Friedrich Torberg’s Views of Hollywood, New York, Jerusalem and Vienna –
In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 18/2011.
WWW: Webmeister: Gerald Machlast change: 2011-06-17