Franz Werfel

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Franz Werfel, photographed by Carl van Vechten in 1940

Franz Viktor Werfel (born September 10, 1890 in Prague ; died August 26, 1945 in Beverly Hills ) was an Austrian writer of Jewish - German-Bohemian origin. He went into exile due to National Socialist rule and became a US citizen in 1941. He was a spokesman for lyrical expressionism .

His books were bestsellers in the 1920s and 1930s . His popularity is based primarily on his narrative works and plays, but Werfel himself wrote his poetry about them . With his novel Verdi. Roman der Oper (1924) Werfel became a protagonist of the Verdi renaissance in Germany . His two-volume historical novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh 1933/47 and The Song of Bernadette from 1941 were particularly well-known . His last novel Star of the Unborn from 1945 reveals Werfel's Dante reception.


Franz Werfel was born on September 10, 1890 in Prague as the son of the wealthy glove manufacturer Rudolf Werfel and his wife Albine, nee. Kiss, born. The family belonged to the German-Bohemian Judaism and regularly visited the Maisel Synagogue . The Catholic piety of his Czech nanny, the attendance of the private elementary school of the Piarists and the baroque catholicity of his hometown shaped the young Werfel. Werfel passed his matriculation examination in 1909 at the German grammar school Stefansgasse in Prague. He published poems even during his school days.

Memorial plaque on Werfel's birthplace in Prague

Werfel was in contact with the literary figures of the Prague district . Werfel was lifelong friends with the writers Willy Haas , Max Brod and Franz Kafka as well as the actor Ernst Deutsch and the literary agent Ernst Polak , his former classmate.

His younger sister Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (1896–1964) went down in music history as the lover of Alban Berg , while his youngest sister Marianne Rieser (1899–1965) became known as an actress.

Volunteer and lecturer

In 1910 Werfel completed a traineeship at a Hamburg freight forwarding company. In 1911/1912 he did military service as a one-year volunteer on the Prague Hradschin . From 1912 to 1915 he was an editor at Kurt Wolff Verlag in Leipzig . Under his joint responsibility, the expressionist series of publications, The Youngest Day, was published .

Werfel met Rainer Maria Rilke and made friends with Walter Hasenclever and Karl Kraus , with whom he later fell out. He published a. a. also in the Hungarian German-language newspaper Pester Lloyd .

First World War

From 1915 to 1917 Werfel served on the East Galician front. In 1917 he was transferred to the Imperial and Royal War Press Headquarters in Vienna. Werfel campaigned for the translation of Petr Bezruč's Silesian songs into German. In 1916 he wrote the preface for the translation by Rudolf Fuchs .

Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler-Werfel, b. Schindler (before 1899)

Werfel lived in Vienna for the next two decades and made friends there with Alma Mahler , Gustav Mahler's widow and wife of Walter Gropius . Under Alma's influence, he largely withdrew from public life, but often went on trips. B. to Breitenstein am Semmering , Santa Margherita Ligure and Venice . During his second trip to the Middle East in early 1930, he met survivors of the Armenian genocide during the First World War in an orphanage in Syria . This encounter inspired him to write his novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh , in which the fate of around 5000 Armenians is described who fled from the Ottoman army on Musa Dağı ( Mount Moses).

In 1918, while she was still married to Walter Gropius, Alma gave birth to Werfel's presumed son, Martin Carl Johannes, who died in 1919.

On August 7, 1929, Werfel married Alma Mahler, who had been divorced from Gropius in 1920. Friedrich Torberg described her in Aunt Jolesch's Heirs as “a woman with a tremendous understanding of art and art instinct. If she was convinced of someone's talent, she left no other path open for the owner - with an energy that often borders on brutality - than that of fulfillment. "

The Prussian Academy of the Arts led Werfel as a member in the poetry section. At the instigation of Gottfried Benn , Werfel was expelled in the spring of 1933.

At the height of his American bestseller successes, Franz Werfel said to his friend Friedrich Torberg: "If I hadn't met Alma - I would have written a hundred more poems and would have degenerated blissfully ..." According to Torberg, Werfel had "often and often talked about how unimaginable a one Life without Alma would have been for him ”.

In 1935 his stepdaughter Manon Gropius , who was suffering from polio, died ; Alban Berg composed his concerto for violin and orchestra Dem Income of an Angel for her .

Memorial plaque for the German and Austrian refugees at the tourist office in Sanary-sur-Mer
Former apartment of Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel in Sanary-sur-Mer. There is a memorial plaque there.


After the “Anschluss” of Austria in 1938, Werfel, who had already been abroad with his wife in the winter of 1937/1938 and did not return after the Anschluss, settled with Alma in Sanary-sur-Mer in southern France , where too other emigrants lived. In 1940, when the Wehrmacht occupied large parts of France , he found refuge in Lourdes ; Werfel vowed to write a book about St. Bernadette if he were saved .

He crossed the Pyrenees to Spain on foot with his wife Alma and Heinrich , Nelly and Golo Mann . The couple reached Portugal from there and emigrated in October 1940 on board the Greek steamer Nea Hellas to the USA , to Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara in California.

Werfel received American citizenship in 1941 . In 1943 his novel The Song of Bernadette with Jennifer Jones in the title role was filmed with great success .

Werfels honor grave (stone designed by Anna Mahler


Franz Werfel monument by Ohan Petrosjan in the Schillerpark in Vienna. The granite pillar bears the inscription: “With gratitude and respect. The Armenian people. "

In 1943, Werfel's angina worsened and he suffered two heart attacks . Werfel died of a heart attack on August 26, 1945 at the age of 54 . He was buried in Beverly Hills in Rosedale Cemetery .

In 1947, Theodor Körner , then Mayor of the City of Vienna and later Federal President, reserved an honorary grave for him in Vienna's Central Cemetery , and the grave site in Beverly Hills was upgraded to an honorary grave. On the basis of an initiative taken by the Cultural Office of the City of Vienna and the Austrian Society for Literature in 1974, Werfel's remains were transferred to Vienna in 1975 and buried on July 21, 1975 in the Vienna Central Cemetery ( honorary grave group 32 C, number 39). Werfel was granted Armenian citizenship posthumously in 2006.

Werfel as namesake

In honor of Werfel, his name was used after his death:

The Center Against Displacement awards the Franz Werfel Human Rights Prize .

The Austrian Exchange Service Society awards the Franz Werfel Scholarship to young university lecturers who focus on Austrian literature.

The Austria Library in the Armenian capital Yerevan , which contains around 1500 books , has also been named Franz Werfels since 2012.

Awards and honors


For a list of all works see Wikisource


  • 1911 The World Friend (poems)
  • 1911 the right way (poem)
  • 1913 we are (poems)
  • 1915 One another - odes, songs, figures
  • 1917 Chants from the Three Realms (selected Ged.)
  • 1919 Judgment Day (poems)
  • 1923 incantations (poems)
  • 1928 New poems
  • The good man


Showcase in the
Zizernakaberd Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan with the book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh open

Stories and short stories

  • 1920 Not the murderer, the murdered man is guilty
  • 1927 The death of the petty bourgeoisie
  • 1927 Secret of a Man (short stories)
  • 1931 Small proportions
  • 1933 Das Mrauerhaus In: Novellas of German contemporary poets . Edited by Hermann Kesten. Allert de Lange , Amsterdam; again Piper, Munich 1957
  • 1939 Weißenstein, the do-gooder
  • 1939 The bad legend of the broken gallows rope (filmed in 1977)
  • 1941 A pale blue women's font , originally published and printed in Buenos Aires; S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1955; Paperback 1990, ISBN 3-596-29308-1 , filmed in 1984 by Axel Corti
  • 1943 Géza de Varsany




  • Letter to a statesman . In: Das Ziel-Jahrbuch München, 1915 online at
  • The Christian broadcast , read online in Neue Rundschau 1917/1, pp. 92-104 at . Werfel contrasts a purely materialistic activism and political reform zeal with a Christian conversion and fulfillment.
  • Our way continues , read online in Aufbau Jahrg.6 (1940), Ed. 52, pp. 1 + 2 A brief analysis of current anti-Semitism : Israel gave the world a God who overstrains natural people, who defend themselves through enmity against the bearers of the Spirit of God ... Reprint in editions 12/2008 & 1/2009 He also interpreted the situation in 1942 no differently than in 1930: "A religious war" (in Structure 8.5 p. 13)
  • Another 177 locations in the digitized exile press

Posthumous publications

  • 1946 poems from the years 1908 to 1945
  • 1946 Between Above and Below (collection of essays)
  • 1952 Cella or the overcomers (fragment of a novel; written 1938/39)

Total expenditure

  • 1920–1923 poems by Franz Werfel , Leipzig, Kurt Wolff Verlag
  • 1927–1937 Collected Works , Berlin Vienna Leipzig, Zsolnay Verlag
  • 1946–1967 Collected works in individual volumes Ed. Adolf D. Klarmann, Amsterdam and Vienna, Bermann-Fischer and Frankfurt, S.Fischer
  • 1989–1993 Collected works in individual volumes Ed. Knut Beck, Frankfurt, S. Fischer


  • Karl Kraus - Franz Werfel. A documentation . Compiled and documented by Christian Wagenknecht and Eva Willms, (Janowitz Library series, edited by Friedrich Pfäfflin), Wallstein, Göttingen 2011. ISBN 978-3-8353-0983-8

Film adaptations

Radio plays


  • Amanda Baghdassarians: Franz Werfel's other modernity. Music aesthetic and art sociological concepts in Franz Werfel's novel "Verdi. Roman of the Opera". 2nd, corrected edition, Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg, 2019. ISBN 978-3-8260-6239-1 .
  • Norbert Abels : Franz Werfel. With testimonials and photo documents. (= Rowohlt's monographs; 472). 2nd Edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1993. ISBN 3-499-50472-3 .
  • Karlheinz Auckenthaler (ed.): Franz Werfel: New aspects of his work. Szeged 1992.
  • Frank Joachim Eggers : "I am a Catholic with a Jewish brain". Criticism of modernity and religion with Joseph Roth and Franz Werfel. Investigations into the narrative works. (= Contributions to literature and literary studies of the 20th century; 13). Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1996, ISBN 3-631-48649-9 .
  • Lore B. Foltin: Franz Werfel. (= Metzler Collection; 115; Section D). Metzler, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-476-10115-0 .
  • Gast, Klaus: Aspects of the Werfel novel "Verdi -Roman der Oper", Weilheim 1985
  • Volker Hartmann: Religiosity as Intertextuality. Studies on the problem of literary typology in the work of Franz Werfels. (= Mannheim contributions to linguistics and literary studies; 40). Narr, Tübingen 1998, ISBN 3-8233-5640-2 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  • Michael Schwidtal, Václav Bok (Ed.): Youth in Böhmen. Franz Werfel and Czech culture - a literary search for traces. Contributions to the international symposium in Budweis (České Budějovice) from March 12th to 15th, 1998. Edition Praesens, Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-7069-0102-1 .
  • Peter Stephan Jungk : Franz Werfel. A life story. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-596-14975-4 .
  • Wolfgang Klaghofer : Man and God in the shadows. Franz Kafka and Franz Werfel - Contours of the Exodus. (= Bohemia; 2). Lang, Bern a. a. 2000, ISBN 3-906764-40-0 .
  • Hendrikje Mautner : Kitsch becomes art. On the importance of Franz Werfels for the German Verdi Renaissance. (= Sonus; 6). Ed. Argus, Schliengen 2000, ISBN 3-931264-09-2 .
  • Wolfgang Paulsen: Franz Werfel. His way into the novel. Franke, Tübingen a. a. 1995, ISBN 3-7720-2147-6 .
  • Michaela Ronzoni: 610 Bedford Drive - A stage play. Thomas Sessler Verlag, Vienna 1997.
  • Klaus Schuhmann : Walter Hasenclever, Kurt Pinthus and Franz Werfel in the Kurt Wolff publishing house in Leipzig (1913-1919). A digression into the history of publishing and literature into the Expressionist decade. (= Leipzig - history and culture; 1). Leipziger Universitäts-Verlag, Leipzig 2000, ISBN 3-934565-83-2 .
  • Erich Sporis : Franz Werfel's political world concept. (= Aspects of educational innovation; 25). Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2000, ISBN 3-631-37089-X .
  • Hans Wagener: Of white stockings and motor people - Franz Werfel and national (social) ism. In: literature and political topicality. Amsterdam 1993, pp. 326–346, ( limited preview in Google book search).
  • Alfons Weber : Problem Constancy and Identity. Social psychological studies on Franz Werfel's biography and work - with special consideration of the exile stories. (= Studies on German literature of the 19th and 20th centuries; 8) Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1990, ISBN 3-631-40648-7 .
  • Wolfgang Nehring (Ed.): Franz Werfel in Exile (International Franz Werfel Conference, Los Angeles, Oct. 1990). (= Studies on modern literature; 22) Bouvier, Bonn a. a. 1992, ISBN 3-416-02329-3 .
  • Klaus-Gunther Wesseling:  WERFEL, Franz. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 13, Bautz, Herzberg 1998, ISBN 3-88309-072-7 , Sp. 786-832.

Web links

Wikisource: Franz Werfel  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Franz Werfel  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Exinger: Marianne Rieser . In: Andreas Kotte (Ed.): Theater Lexikon der Schweiz . Volume 3, Chronos, Zurich 2005, ISBN 3-0340-0715-9 , p. 1496.
  2. Friedrich Torberg : The heirs of Aunt Jolesch: Appendix: Obituaries: A memorial to themselves. In: Friedrich Torberg: The Aunt Jolesch and The Heirs of Aunt Jolesch (double volume ), Verlag Langen / Müller, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3- 7844-3139-0 , pp. 643f.
  3. ^ A b Transfer from Los Angeles to Vienna: Viennese grave of honor for Werfel . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung . Vienna August 17, 1974, p. 18 ( - the open online archive - digitized).
  4. Werfel's homecoming . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung . Vienna July 20, 1975, p. 7 ( - the open online archive - digitized).
  5. Udo Angerstein: The writer and genocide. In: Deutsche Briefmarken-Zeitung online . September 10, 2015, archived from the original on September 10, 2015 ; accessed on November 24, 2018 .
  6. ^ Armenia - Yerevan ,
  7. ^ Honorary Members: Franz Werfel. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 27, 2019 .