Award-winning adaptation of Remarque’s powerful anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque published his powerful anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front in January 1929.  By the end of the year, it had sold more than a million copies in Germany, 600,00 copies in Britain and 200,000 in the United States.

The book outraged both the German military and the German right, with the Nazis in particular condemning both the book and its author. It was an international success and was made into a Hollywood film the following year.

The film had its premiere in Berlin on 4 December without incident, but the following day’s performance was picketed by the Nazis’ street army the Brownshirts. A large Nazi contingent in the audience staged a violent demonstration. They denounced it as a “Judenfilm” and attacked anyone in the audience they thought looked Jewish. The showing was abandoned.

The Nazis continued with their violent protests over the next four days, culminating in a march with Hitler himself taking the salute. Instead of standing up to the Nazis, the German parliament voted to ban the film.

The success of the book enabled Remarque to get out of the country, going to live first in Switzerland and then the US. If he had not done this then he would have certainly been rounded up when the Nazis came to power and thrown into a concentration camp.

Within weeks of Hitler being installed as chancellor in 1933, the Nazi book-burning began. Owning a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front was made a criminal offence.

The Gestapo secret police prepared a report on Remarque, condemning him for clinging to “Jewish-Marxist ideas” and for only mixing with “emigrants, Jews and Communists”. Soon after, he was stripped of his German citizenship.

But Remarque did not at this time retaliate in his writing. He left another exile, Bertolt Brecht unimpressed. And the ferociously anti-Nazi singer and actor Marlene Dietrich, with whom he had a relationship, criticised his reluctance to take a public stand. As far as she was concerned “he had not sufficiently struggled against Nazism”. Remarque described himself as a “militant pacifist” at this time.

This began to change during the Second World War. Early in 1945 he started writing his A Time to Love and A Time to Die. It was a powerful update of All Quiet, exploring the horrors of German militarism and fascism on the Eastern Front.

But it was not until 1952 that he published his tremendous Spark of Life, a novel of survival and resistance set in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. Here he chronicles the mass killing of prisoners by hunger, overwork and casual murder.

The book is unremitting in its exposure of the brutality and cruelty of the elite paramilitary SS. And yet despite how they have been ground down, the prisoners revolt.

He dedicated Spark of Life to his sister Elfriede Scholz. She had been arrested for making defeatist remarks in September 1943 and sentenced to death. The presiding judge made clear that she was being executed in place of her brother, and she was beheaded on 16 December 1943.

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