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Fought With Words

They were born to lower middle class Roman Catholic families… both had joined the First World War without completing their studies… both were admitted to hospitals after receiving injuries in the battlefield, and then re-joined the war… the two had faced enemies without any fear, and also witnessed many a death! However, they chose different paths later in their lives. While the first one made an attempt to create an image of an efficient ruler, the other one dedicated his life to the peace-loving people by taking part in Anti-War Movements… The first one is Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889 – April 30, 1945) and the other is Erich Maria Remarque (June 22, 1898 – September 25, 1970). Another person, from a different country, deserves a mention in this case. Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910) – the Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time – had joined the War, too.

Remarque, the 20th Century German novelist and the author of landmark novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, decided to pick up the pen after the end of the WWI. His writings helped people comprehend the true picture of the devastating battlefield. His All Quiet on the Western Front was an international best-seller that created a new literary genre! In 2020, the lovers of literature across the globe marked the 50th Death Anniversary of Remarque.

Erich Maria Remarque

Remarque was born on June 22, 1898 in the German city of Osnabrück. While his father Peter Franz Remark used to bind books, mother Anna Maria was a housewife. Remarque was the third of four children of Peter and Anna. After the war, Remarque tried a hand at different types of profession, which included being a school teacher, librarian, businessman, journalist, and an editor. However, none of these jobs could make the freedom-loving Remarque happy. Finally, he joined the Continental Rubber Company – a German manufacturer of tyres – as a Technical Writer.

Remarque’s first marriage took place in 1925. To escape Hitler’s persecution, he purchased a villa in Porto Ronco, Switzerland, in 1933 and settled there. After the divorce with his wife Ilse Jutta Zambona in 1930, he had been in love with the German-American actress and singer Marie Magdalene ‘Marlene’ Dietrich; and their relationship maintained mostly through letters, cables and telephone calls from 1938 to 1940. A selection of their letters was published in 2003 in the book ‘Sag Mir, Dass Du Mich Liebst’ (‘Tell Me That You Love Me’). After being eligible for the American citizenship in 1947, Remarque lived in the US for some years. Then, he returned to Switzerland and tied nuptial knot with Paulette Goddard in 1958. Remarque died of heart failure at the age of 72 in Locarno on September 25, 1970. Even five decades after his demise, the turbulent world finds Freedom, Love and Friendship in his creations… and, these form the essence of Remarquian Philosophy.

Remarque’s history of becoming an Anti-War Campaigner is full of excitement. His experiences as a soldier helped him author the novels: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1928) and ‘The Road Back’ (‘Der Weg zurück’) (1931). The uncompromising attitude of Paul Bremer, the lead character of All Quiet on the Western Front, inspired the peace-loving people to bounce back strongly after the War. Gradually, they learned to recognise their own strengths, as well as limitations, and also found the key to safe living. The Great War ended Bremer’s school life, prematurely. Kantorek, the respected teacher of Bremer, filled his students’ heads with passionate rhetoric about duty and glory. His provocative speech inspired his students to leave for the battlefield in order to defend the Great Fatherland. In the fields of war, they were witness to many grievous and gruesome instances of pain, injury, bloodshed, and death! The young men, with the rifles hanging on their shoulders, arrived at the battlefields, leaving near and dear ones in the dark! Later, the innocent minds would painfully realise that the ambitions, narrow-mindedness and vested interests of the Warlords, and not the feeling of Nationality, were behind this Great War. These warlords play with the lives of innocent people…

A 1930 American epic pre-Code anti-war film, based on Remarque’s novel of the same name, made him famous. All Quiet on the Western Front won multiple Oscar Awards, including the Best Picture, the Best Cinematography, as well as the Best Director. Nearly 150,000 copies of the first German edition of the novel were sold. Within three years, it was translated into English, Russian, Spanish, Romanian, French and many other languages. The peace-loving people found the courage and support to understand the turbulent period in this novel. Hitler recognised his murderous appearance because of the intent in the anti-authoritarian writings of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Jack London and others. That is why their novels were banned, and set to fire! Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and The Road Back were banned, too! Remarque’s German Citizenship was revoked in 1938, although the author had left the country in 1933 and visited Switzerland, France, the US and Portugal. Remarque developed his own Philosophy on the basis of his experiences, which comprised of vested interests, ultra-racism, the secret desire to assert military power, to dominate the world trade and the sufferings of common people due to the warlords. His novels had narrated the multidimensional politics of the diseases transmitted during the Great War…

A scene from the movie

In a nutshell, after facing defeat in the WWI, Germany had experienced unemployment, inflation, bank failures, poverty, chaos, job shortages and recession. Between the two World Wars, the spread of anti-Semitism rocked the European nation. The former soldiers, who returned from the War, were isolated and alienated! For their survival, the agitated soldiers joined mass protests. Due to the contemporary political turmoil and deteriorating German economy, those young men were prompted to take up factory jobs, gambling, racing, etc. They also started working as restaurant waiters, concert assistants, and pianists. Meanwhile, the women became bar singers, receptionists, maids, sex workers, and nurses.

Remarque could see that the war-monger Fascist and Nazi forces were preparing various plans to defeat their opponents and to suppress their voices in the society. Believers in opposite ideologies and Prisoners of War were subjected to barbaric physical torture, such as electric shocks and poison gas. The Führer had his own intelligence officers, concentration camps, and extermination camps for torturing the innocent people. Humanist Remarque portrayed the turbulent period between the two World Wars in his novels ‘Spark of Life’ and ‘A Time to Love and a Time to Die’.

War is closely associated with some primitive instincts, like violence, bloodshed, murder, terrorism and occupation. However, migration and emigration took place on a large scale between 1918 and 1939. When the angry and frustrated mass started staging protests against the war-mongering States, they were sent to Concentration Camps! Hence, many people left their own country to take shelter in other places. Remarque’s ‘Arch of Triumph’ narrates the agony of emigration, the uncertain life abroad and struggle for life

Although Remarque was forced to join the Army, he wanted to win the hearts of his countrymen as a Champion of Peace. He used to believe that Peace would defeat Violence one day. That is why, Remarque’s Bremer said to one of his slain comrades: “Today you, tomorrow me. But if I come out of it, comrade, I will fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you, taken life and from me? Life also. I promise you, comrade. It shall never happen again.” In another chapter of the novel, Bremer stressed: “Comrade, I did not want to kill you… But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response… I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now, I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony – Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT 1930 Universal film with Lew Ayers at left

Once, Remarque was asked whether he liked the Jews. His reply was: “No.” After that, when he was asked whether he liked the Germans and the Americans, the soldier-turned-author answered: “No. I like my friends… and, they exist among all the people of this world!

Hitler managed to rule Germany for some years with the help of arms. However, not many did think of lighting candles on his reported 75th Death Anniversary; and, on the other hand, Remarque has won the hearts of the peace-loving people, by narrating, in his manner, the horrors of war and the history of barbarism of the Fascist Power! Although the world is not free of terror even five decades after his death, the Global Community is still searching for Peace and Love through the path shown by Remarque…

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