A recording angel of the Great War, an enigma, a man rife with contradictions and contrasts are titles that could only fit the German author Erich Maria Remarque. Born in June 22, 1898, he was the third child of the family of four of Peter Franz and Anna Maria Remark. A member of the Gertrude Stein‘s “lost generation”, Remarque, in more ways than one, witnessed the cataclysm of the two world wars. On November 26, 1916, he drafted as a musketeer, or infantryman.
In July 15, 1917, Remarque’s company advanced to Flanders for some of the most savage fighting of World War I. With grenade splinters in his neck, left knee, and right wrist, Remarque exited the fray the next year. After medical treatment, he went back, only to be released four days later because of the armistice. After mustering out on a medical discharge in 1918, Remarque suffered postwar trauma and disillusionment, complicated by his regret over his mother’s death and his wounds that could end his career.
It was during this era that he evolved his pseudonym, replacing his middle name with his mother’s, and adopted his grandfather’s way of spelling his last name in order to distance himself from a sophomoric first novel. Concealing postwar trauma beneath a facade of wit and elitism, he began confronting his wartime torments, which incubated for a decade in thoughts and dreams. Within five weeks, keeping alert on strong coffee and tobacco, Remarque composed Im Westen Nichts Neues ( All Quiet on the Western Front) which sold a million and a half once published and was translated into twenty-nine languages.
His contemporaries were his way of exorcising his own postwar trauma by recreating the amorphous hell of the western front. Because Remarque was a sincere patriot, he was unable to ignore Germany’s attempts to start another war. Josef Goebbles, Hitler’s propagandist, cranked out a stream of lies, linking Remarque with bohemians, Jews, communists and charging him with removing money illegally from the country, concealing Jewish ancestry and more. That same year, All Quiet on the Western Front was burned in front of the Berlin Opera house.
In June 1938, Remarque was stripped of his citizenship. Throughout his life, Remarque remained sensitive about his nationality: “I had to leave Germany because my life was threatened. I was neither a jew nor oriented towards the left politically. I was the same then as I am today: a militant pacifist. ” Shortly before Hitler precipitated was by invading Poland, Remarque, too proud to accept the proffered German citizenship, entered New York as a literary star, with several books under his belt.
Even at this safe distance from Hitler’s menace, Remarque was not spared the beheading of his sister, fashion designer Elfriede Scholz, in a Berlin prison. An American citizen since 1947, he died because of an aortic aneurysm in St. Agnese Hospital, Locarno Switzerland on September 1970. His wife respected his wishes to be buried privately near Lake Maggiore, in the land that had become his home when Germany rejected him, and never disclosed to the public his private papers and journals. He left as a great author who inspired many.