Marta & Lion Feuchtwanger

Lion Feuchtwanger
Lion Feuchtwanger on the bluffs of Pacific Palisades (Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC)

Lion Feuchtwanger was born in Munich in 1884. He studied German philology and history in Munich and Berlin and earned his doctorate in 1907. Feuchtwanger decided against pursuing a career in academics, because, as a Jew, he would not have been offered a professorship at a Bavarian university. As co-editor of the journal “Der Spiegel” and editor of Siegfried Jacobsohn’s theater magazine “Schaubühne”, Feuchtwanger addressed contemporary cultural-political issues through theater reviews and essays on the arts and literature. He became a successful playwright, but decided to concentrate on historical novels instead.

In 1909, Lion Feuchtwanger met Marta Löffler who also hailed from Munich. Marta was a passionate athlete and taught physical education from a young age. She was interested in literature, hosted a salon when the Feuchtwangers still lived in Munich and supported her husband as editor and critic. Lion and Marta were married in 1912; in September of that year, Marta gave birth to their daughter Marianne who died of Typhus at the age of two months.

The outbreak of World War I found the Feuchtwangers in Tunis. Lion had to escape an internment camp, was drafted, but soon rejected as unfit for service. In 1925, the year that saw the publication of Feuchtwanger’s most famous novel, “Jud Süß“(“Jew Suess“/ “Power“), Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger moved to Berlin. Five years later, Feuchtwanger released “Erfolg” („Success“), a roman à clef offering a shrewd analysis of the Nazi party’s rise to power in the Bavarian capital.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, Lion was on a lecture tour in the United States. The Feuchtwangers did not return to Germany but took up residence in Sanary-sur-Mer in the South of France – together with Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht and countless other German exiles. Feuchtwanger’s house in Berlin was expropriated and ransacked; numerous manuscripts were irretrievably lost, as was his valuable library. Propaganda minister Goebbels called Feuchtwanger “Enemy Number One of the German people.“ Consequently, his name was on the first list of “traitors to the people“ who were stripped of their German citizenship in 1933. That same year, Feuchtwanger’s works were among the books burned by students during their so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist“ (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit).

In 1937, Feuchtwanger traveled to Moscow where he met with Stalin. His account of the trip “Moskau 1937“(Moscow 1937) was to have far-reaching consequences, especially regarding Feuchtwanger’s application for American citizenship. Feuchtwanger was, and still is, accused of allowing himself to be used as a tool of Soviet propaganda. However, Feuchtwanger’s positive assessment of the Soviet Union was based less on the condition of the country as Feuchtwanger found it at the time than on the Soviet Union as a utopia. Since Western democracies were still pursuing a policy of appeasement, whereas the Soviet Union was vehemently opposed to the Nazi regime, Feuchtwanger was determined not to criticize Soviet leadership publicly, even though he did express criticism behind closed doors.[1]


With kind permission of the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, University of Southern California


Marta Feuchtwanger in the patio of Villa Aurora (Feuchtwanger Memorial Library / USC)

Back in France, Feuchtwanger was interned twice as an „undesirable foreign subject.“  With the help of American journalist Varian Fry, who coordinated the efforts of the Emergency Rescue Committee in France, American diplomat Hiram Bingham IV, as well as Unitarian pastor Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha, Feuchtwanger managed to escape. Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger crossed the Pyrenees Mountains on foot and reached Spain. They had originally planned to make this journey as part of a group consisting of Heinrich, Nelly and Golo Mann, as well as Franz and Alma Werfel. But since Fry suspected that the Germans would systematically search for Feuchtwanger, a sworn enemy of the Nazis, he had the Feuchtwangers travel alone. They took the train to Portugal where they each boarded a ship to New York.[2]

In 1941, the Feuchtwangers moved to Los Angeles, where large number of European artists and intellectuals were taking up residence, not least because of the film industry’s willingness to issue employment contracts that made it possible for them to legally enter the United States. Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger supported numerous German-Jewish and antifascist authors through affidavits and donations, usually without their knowledge. Feuchtwanger himself was well-off financially because his books sold well. In 1943, he was able to purchase a house in Pacific Palisades that is known as “Villa Aurora“ today. The Feuchtwanger residence became a meeting place for German-speaking exiles and their American friends.

After the war, Feuchtwanger was accused of „premature antifascism“, placed under surveillance by the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee and repeatedly taken in for questioning.[3] In 1948, the Feuchtwangers applied for American citizenship, but after several interviews, the request was not granted.  It was only after Lion’s death on December 21, 1958 that Marta received a letter stating that both Lion and Marta were approved to become American citizens. Marta was naturalized in 1959.

Marta Feuchtwanger continued to live at Villa Aurora. She had bequeathed the house together with the valuable book collection and Feuchtwanger’s archive to the University of Southern California. The University, home to the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library ( since 1995, bestowed an honorary doctorate on Marta and made her custodian of the house and the library. In 1969, Marta traveled to Germany at the invitation of German chancellor Willy Brandt. Together with Lion’s long-time secretary Hilde Waldo, Marta spent the following years organizing her husband’s estate and correspondence. She remained a fixture of L.A.‘s cultural life until her death on October 25, 1987. Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.

[1] cf. Anne Hartmann, “Der Stalin-Versteher. Lion Feuchtwanger in Moskau 1937”, in: Osteuropa, 11–12.2014, p. 59-80.

[2] Zu den Umständen der Flucht und der Rolle s. die zweisprachige Villa Aurora Publikation Fry, Bingham, Sharp. Die amerikanischen Retter von Lion und Marta Feuchtwanger/ The Americans Who Saved Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger von Manfred Flügge (Berlin 2016).

[3] Alexander Stephan, 'Communazis.' FBI Surveillance of German Emigré Writers. New Haven, 2000.


Further Reading (Selection)):

Marta Feuchtwanger interviewed by Lawrence Weschler, An Émigré Life, Los Angeles 1976

Marta Feuchtwanger, Nur eine Frau. Jahre – Tage – Stunden, München/Wien 1983.

Manfred Flügge, Die vier Leben der Marta Feuchtwanger, Berlin 2008.

Andreas Heusler, Lion Feuchtwanger. Münchner – Emigrant – Weltbürger, St. Pölten 2014.

Reinhold Jaretzky, Lion Feuchtwanger , Reinbek bei Hamburg 1984.

Wolfgang Jeske/Peter Zahn, Lion Feuchtwanger oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis, Stuttgart 1984.

Lothar Kahn, Insight and Action. The Life and Work of Lion Feuchtwanger, Madison, N.Y., 1975.

Joseph Pischel, Lion Feuchtwanger, Frankfurt/Main 1984.

Volker Skierka, Lion Feuchtwanger. Eine Biographie, Berlin 1984.

John M. Spalek, Lion Feuchtwanger. The man, his ideas, his work, Los Angeles 1972.

Wilhelm von Sternburg, Lion Feuchtwanger. Ein deutsches Schriftstellerleben, Berlin 1994.