'Cooking up some "funny" bit of nonsense'

Döblin's Year in Hollywood

 For one year – 8 October 1940 to 7 October 1941 – Döblin was under contract to Hollywood’s MGM studio as a writer. He arrived in California after several gruelling months fleeing with his wife and teenage son from the war in France, in desperate uncertainty about exit permits, entry visas and funds for onward travel to the USA.

With many dozens of Germany’s cultural luminaries (writers, musicians, film and theatre people, scholars) gathering in southern California, some film studios provided paid jobs, partly out of charity, partly on the off-chance that useful script ideas would emerge.

Several letters written by Döblin during that year are preserved (Briefe, Walter-Verlag, Olten, 1970). Here they are, translated for the first time into English, with notes.

  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin [1] , 10.10.40 (Beverley Hills, address via Mrs Frank [2])

Dear Rosins,

Here we are in torrid California, having traversed the wastelands, deserts and mountainous regions you know so well. As planned we visited the Grand Canyon, and spent a day studying it closely. (I seldom join tour groups, I find them a torment, but the Canyon is of course quite extraordinary.) In Los Angeles, welcomed by Mrs Frank, [Charlotte] Dieterle [3] and A[lexander] G[ranach [4], a bunch of very nice concerned people. We stayed first in a hotel, then in a 2 or 3 room apartment to give us time to search. The search is still in progress, and is the opposite of a pleasure. For Los Angeles is a region, not a city. Along the coast, and here and there, a few centres have been created with houses and little buildings, and between them ‘in-between spaces’. As far as I can tell Los Angeles consists essentially of in-between spaces. In some gaps you find oil wells, in others wooded hills with lots of villas, sometimes all you see are just dumping-grounds. Wherever you want to go you have to pass through these places. It’s always as far as from Berlin to Prenzlau or Frankfurt an der Oder [5]. The species ‘pedestrian’ has therefore died out, or been exterminated. People come into the world as a driver. The city (I’m not joking) is empty of people; all you see are villas, little houses (without the slightest aesthetic charm – oh, what was New York!) and cars big and small, parked and moving. People are found in drug stores, little houses and shops. The women prefer to wear beach pants. In short, why keep quiet about it, Los Angeles is the opposite of a place I’d seek out as somewhere to live; for I simply love strolling among crowds of people, to observe them and get my money’s worth. But it’s not for fun I’m in this region they proclaim a paradise.

I saw the Pacific as well, the ocean, the other one. Well, it occurred to me, I’ve come far in my life; I thought I would stay cocooned in the Brandenburg marchland, and now I have to, or am allowed to, get to grips with the various oceans. I’m curious about the Red Sea, which blooms before me: could I make a pilgrimage through it dry-shod, like our forefathers?

Yesterday evening around ten the ground here seemed to sense my scepticism; there was an earthquake , my bed shook, the house made cracking noises. I didn’t allow this rude behaviour to change my mind; it soon stopped.

I’ve already made a start at Metro Goldw[yn] May[er], together with Herr Kurt Götz [6] (Lessing-th[eater] Berlin) and Wilhelm Thiele [7] (the ‘Filling Station’). The aim is to cook up a ‘funny’ bit of nonsense. I’ll write more about this writer-factory next time. Several dozen of us sit there, each one has his office, where he broods; you are seized with terror when you walk such corridors and listen: so many writers in there, on a weekly wage.

Once we have an apartment, Etienne [8] will go to school. Already we speak fluent German and French, and await English with patience.

Adieu for today, I am devoted to you both.

Your DDöblin


  1. To the Rosins, Hollywood 27/10/1940

Dear Rosins,

My wife has written on the new Royal machine. I, being conservative, write with a pen, as in May. The hot season here is over, we’ve entered the rainy season, and should really, like good Indians, betake ourselves to our winter huts higher up. But we let it rain on us. Every day it rains for 24 hours, and if there were 25 hours in the day it would rain for 25, and no doubt it will now and then. You can imagine how healthy the climate is. Polgar [9] has arrived here and had to take to his bed on the first day with lumbago; Bruno Frank [10] had to go to a spa for his rheumatism, and as soon as he came back the pains started up again.

The city, I mean Hollywood, I am getting to know better only in the immediate neighbourhood near our house, which is not far from Hollywood Boulevard. On that street you occasionally come across people, all of them of course continually avoiding cars. (The other streets of Los Angeles, as I wrote before, are empty and only there for driving through; there are also filling stations, and building plots for sale.) In Hollywood there are some very elegant businesses, all with narrow fronts and a great depth. And it’s astonishing: on the streets you meet so few people, but in the shops there are some, they try on shoes, they sit in the drugstores and eat. Although everyone has shoes they are always buying more. In the bookshops you seldom see anyone; I’ve only ever seen employees busying themselves with the accounts; clearly they’re tallying the still unsold stock and the size of the profits that are not coming in, so they can share the latter out among themselves. The ladies, as a matter of principle, even when it’s raining, wear long trousers under the raincoat, decorated with flowers etc. The trousers are often of silk, sometimes of artificial silk, and sometimes I think the ladies themselves are made of artificial silk. But they brighten up the street.

There’s really no way to tell where Hollywood ends, but it’s always starting up again. A quarter of an hour to left or right of us the desert begins, and just now you took the elevator in a skyscraper.

Georg Fröschel [11] was telling me yesterday (in Berlin he was an editor with Ullstein, now he too is a writer at MGM) that two weeks ago a friend of his drove on a Sunday excursion out of the city, after an hour and a half he (and his wife) suffered a breakdown, they were stuck in burning sand, they walked and walked, it was truly a desert, they were half dead with sunstroke when they were found six hours later.

Yesterday the yewish-german club put on a welcome evening for me in a church, Granach and Leo Reuß [12] read from my books, L[eopold] Jeßner [13] gave a welcome speech, finally I said a few words. Organ music before and after. Strange. Even the Rabbi was there, a Hamburger with a long beard and little twinkling eyes. And suddenly a cousin from Berlin greeted me, whom I’d never seen in 40 years in Berlin! That’s who he said he was, anyway, and he should know.

How goes it with you, dear Rosins? New York is so far away, it’s dreadful, we’re outside the world here. New York was the second emigration, but Los Angeles is the third. I’d be delighted to hear from you soon, I’m doing all kinds of work, about which more next time!

Cordially, your DDöblin.


  1. To Arthur Rosin, November 1940

[greeting is missing]

In 4 weeks or so the depiction of my experiences in France (‘Robinson in France’ [14]) will be ready, a little book; probably the last. You know I have the MS of the big second volume of the ‘1918’ book [15] lying around; I set great store by it, the development of the themes remains valid, I think, in these times. All that’s lacking, as ever, is a publisher.

As for Hollywood, at the moment I’m ‘working’ from home and only seldom drive out to MGM. I’m supposed to give my Producer outlines of some of my books; I’ve just finished Mountains Oceans Giants; what do you say, dear Herr Rosin, what material for a film would that be – the de-icing of Greenland and the Cretaceous upon us! [16] The Producer (who speaks French) was very interested in my oral sketches. I’ll make an outline of The Blue Jaguar [17] next.

That’s all. I’m learning English, slowly but surely; I already read the newspaper whenever possible. I’ll tell you more about Hollywood next time; there are any number of famous people here whom I never knew in Berlin.

Cordial greetings to your dear wife!

In friendship, your DDöblin


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, 4/12/1940. 1842 Cherokee Avenue, Hollywood CA.

Dear Rosins,

First, an explanation for the yellow paper. It is royal ‘MGM’ paper and lies in an enormous packet in the drawer of my desk here. ‘Here’ means in an office building at MGM in Culver City, where I now spend my days – or if I’m honest, my idleness. Like the others. I hoped we could go on as before, working from home, for I felt more comfortable there. But suddenly the overlords assigned Polgar and me to an existing team that has been working for six weeks to turn the book Mrs Miniver, by Struther, into a film (more precisely, into box office), and I was given an office. So here we are, a team of six, plus the Producer. I’ve read the book, it’s a best seller at the moment, and actually an interesting and occasionally lovely work, not a novel but a series of sketches that appeared in The Times, London conditions, London family idyll before the war and its transformation by the war. Mrs Miniver is a fine fictional invention, I thought we should make something of her, a kind of female Chaplin, but no.

Of the six, two are actual English writers [18]. Georg Fröschel is the link between the German and the English speaking team members (he was formerly an editor with Ullstein, a Viennese). I have to turn up around 10 and sit around until 5 or even 6 in my office (make an acte de présence). So – I write for myself, learn English. When someone has an idea he makes an animated phone call, has a lively discussion until nothing is left of the idea, and calls that ‘working’. (It’s a puzzle where the millions are earned; I’ll have to investigate.)

Dear Herr Rosin, I wrote at once to the agent you named to me; an answer is awaited. From Klaus [19] we have at last a more satisfactory letter, he is in Marseilles living in a furnished room, has acquired an electric cooker, is looking for a job, so far without success. Etienne, our Little Flag, now Master Stefan (pronounced ‘Steven’) has calmed down, and is growing enormously. My wife often has a difficult time with the boys, especially because of Wolfgang [20], her favourite; but she too is much calmer.

Dear Rosins, just a little report on our morale!

Your old  DDöblin

PS: We have just received your friendly letter, with answers to my wife’s queries. I knew that would be the case, but a mother never gives up! By the way, did you receive my little Confucius book [21] that I asked to be sent to you? The agent Harold Ober whom you named to me, dear Herr Rosin (40 E 49th Street) replied asking me for details: ‘Have you anything to offer now which we could see?’ etc. I thought he might enquire about me to you or Schermann. Anyway, I’ll write to him myself about my ideas. I’m still working on my ‘Robinson in France’. Facts and thoughts: I really don’t know what they’ll make of it here, but I keep writing.

It’s December, lovely weather, just starting to cool down and become a bit damper; apparently the rainy season is not far off. Wendriner [22] was here on a ‘lecture’ tour. He’s a tourist in the history of German literature.

Your old friend, DDöblin


  1. To Hermann Kesten[23], Hollywood 11/12/1940

Dear Kesten,

Well, what’s new in the world? I’ve just read in the Aufbau [24] that I’m working on a musical. But that’s been overtaken: I’m now the occupant, together with Polgar, of an office (i.e. each of us has his office), and every day from 10 we have to be on duty (exactly like L[eonhard] Frank, Heinr[ich] Mann [25] etc). The work day ends officially at 5, but I leave at 4. We do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Supposedly we’re working on something together, but so far that’s just a rumour. We deal with our correspondence, make telephone calls, read the newspapers, write our own stuff – whatever one can do under house arrest. Why so? It’s the way things are. Some are quite content with it. Some. Are you content? How are things with you and your wife? What are you writing? I hear it’s very cold over there, here it’s slowly starting to rain. Maybe a Deluge will develop, and engulf the film industry and its writers. Let’s hear from you before long!

Cordial greetings to you both, from your  DDöblin


  1. To Hermann Kesten, Hollywood 7/1/1941

Dear Herr Kesten,

Many thanks for your letter and for forwarding the telegram from Landshoff [26]. I am so glad that at last Landshoff – and I hope Landauer [27] too – will escape, and you’ll be able to welcome him over there in New York in a few weeks. Interesting, his plans for publishing. There is really a dreadful vacuum to fill. And even if someone or other quickly brings out a work in English, it’s after all still a translation, and the vacuum persists. It won’t be easy to bring this so necessary activity, so greatly desired by us all, under one roof. Or does Landshoff envisage a mainly English-language publishing house, with translations of German authors? Maybe, as an experiment, in parallel with the German original? That would be a lame solution, and probably wouldn’t succeed. Anyway it’s great that someone who has already taken so much trouble over the crisis of emigrant literature will soon be at it again. It’s essential to round up all the writers under one firm; the whole must not be lost sight of.

I’m toiling away on my own stuff, my main task at MGM is to draw the weekly paycheck. Write as soon as you can to tell me what our acquaintances are doing, Schwarzschild [28] in particular? Brecht [29] wrote to tell me he has a Mexican visa, maybe things are looking up.

Cordial greetings, to your wife as well.



  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, Hollywood 9/1/1941

Dear Rosins,

My wife has left me little space for writing, I’ll write with more soon. Here we have entered a slightly cooler period, it’s the not quite fully developed rainy season. From the newspapers we slowly gather generally more pleasant things: the African wedge that signals the end of Mussolini, and America’s attitude, a good start to the year. I am determined this year – in contrast to the last – to experience outstanding things of a political nature! I think you’ll join in!

MGM still makes only very tentative use of me. It’s tolerable; I can keep myself busy.

Kesten reports a telegram from Landshoff in London: he’ll soon set up his stall in New York. Shame that we’re so far apart on this continent!

Devoted to you both,  Your DDöblin


  1. To Peter Döblin [30], Hollywood 4/2/1941

Dear Petrus,

So you have our new address again (from 7 Feb on): 901 Genesee Street (Hollywood Calif.) Our telephone number is not yet fixed. It’s Mamma’s birthday on 13 February, don’t forget! The day before yesterday we received news (via Princeton) from the Red Cross regarding Wolf: he’s not on the lists they have at present, but those lists are not complete. Anyway, the letter wasn’t particularly encouraging for Mama, for it’s a long time from early June to December; but of course everything is possible. I’ll write more to you next time, because I’m going to make independent enquiries without your mother’s knowledge, and I’ll let you know the result. But I’ll write to you again about this, and you must not tell your mother.

Otherwise all is going well, very hot here, on 4 February! (From Klaus still the problem with the money that never arrives, at the moment not less than 110 dollars are on their way to him, and he receives nothing! At least he has Syngalowski [31] etc.)

All the best, cordially, Your D.


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, 901 Genesee Ave, Hollywood (Calif.), March 1941

Dear Rosins,

Please excuse the dreadful yellow paper, but it’s what MGM places in our office. (I find it’s the paper that puts you off paper.) I must now tell you a little of how it goes here.

First: we had a telegram from Klaus in Marseilles yesterday: he has secured Passport and Visa de sortie! Now for passage and transit; he relies for these on Herr Schwartz [32] of the ‘Joint’ in Lisbon. So we hope to see the youngster reaching Lisbon at least. This was a great joy, especially for my wife, as you can understand.

We were away from Hollywood for 8 days, on the Mexican border (Nogales, in Arizona, 20 hours drive from here, a real trial). There we obtained our ‘immigration’. It was, or is, horribly expensive (around 200 dollars and more for each person), of course not for the official but for lawyers etc. (Please don’t speak of this; we can be grateful that it just went well.) We still owe you 75 – what must you think of us? We had hoped to set aside half of the 100 dollars [i.e. weekly wage], but instead we only receive 70 (around 20 tax deduction, 10 to the agent) and it’s astonishing how little remains in the bank however little we buy.

Another topic: Landshoff was in Nogales as well, for the same purpose, we met together here, he’s travelling back today. My ‘France’ book is with Bermann [33] – they want to bring it out in German, Landshoff says; as for English, I’ll sort that out myself. Yes, it’s a shame nothing came of the translation of Land without Death with Lippincott; I thank you most cordially, Herr Rosin, for all your efforts! For the moment I have only my contract as a means of support; after that, God will help too.

For all of us the next weeks will be tense with the coming German offensives. I am certain that England will hold fast. This year will bring the beginning of Hitler’s downfall, and next year America’s help will be fully there! We’ll see the fellow laid out on the ground.

You wrote to me such kind words regarding Wolf. Yes, it’s hard to still hold out hope; but I’ve just heard at the studio that the son of a Baroness von Havatny, who works with us, is in the same situation, i.e. missing – and she learned through reliable personal contacts that he is alive and in Metz; he cannot give any sign of life! So, one possibility.

And how are you both? I would so much like to see you and talk with you! Frau Rosin was in Cuba? How do you feel, are you in good health?

With all best wishes, your  Alfred Döblin


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, Hollywood, 30/4/1941

Dear Rosins,

We’ve just come into the hot season; it’s deadly; I estimate around 30 – 32 C. How time flies! We’ve been here half a year already! The youngster is growing enormously and we – grow not at all. When I look back on this half year, I’ve done all kinds of work; but I can’t say yet whether anything will come of it. The ‘storys’ that one writes for the film probably go mostly unread; there’s a huge over-production of these, au fond hopeless for outsider like us. And my ‘Robinson in France’ – dear God: Bermann and Landshoff write me encouraging letters, but they have no publishing firm of their own, and two American firms who looked at it (Little Brown in Boston, and Harcourt Brace in New York) don’t want it; they already have something from France. So, our eyes are all on the political developments; it’s good that everyone is with Roosevelt, and Hitler’s triumph stands on feet of clay. Aside from that everything else is trivial, I think.

Shame that we are so far away! Eternal summer freshness here, that isn’t even fresh!

Cordially yours as ever,  DDöblin


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, 901 Genesee Ave, Hollywood (Calif.), 11/7/1941


Dear Rosins,

This is the first letter I have written on a machine, and in truth it’s more than a letter, it’s un travail. Here in my Office (which for the most part sits directly broiling under the sun) they’ve placed an enormous Remington, I look at it with amazement, and now begin to play with it, and it’s to be a letter to you – if I can manage it.

As you see I’m still with MGM, I have to be diligent, always be writing new ‘storys’, they flow to the inventory of the firm, are translated and wait for a Producer to pick them up. What I’ve learned: the story is the first thing, delivery is the second, and much harder. You have to understand how to ‘sell’ an idea. Sell means: suggest to one of the twenty producers of the firm that it has appeal. Very difficult for the son of my father. Along with that I belong to a team, which is turning James Hilton’s ‘Random Harvest’ into a film. Claudine West and Fröschel are on it too. It’s a bestseller, a deeply untrue book, but exciting and sentimental; a man first loses his memory through shell-shock in the war, and back home in England leads a life as someone else under another name, and through another accident regains his memory, but meanwhile has no memory of the intervening period during which he was happily married! And what does God, i.e. James Hilton, do? He has the wife turn up as secretary to the hero, who of course fails to recognise her, fails so far to recognise her that he – marries her for the second time, and then separates from her because (in his subconscious) he really loves another , namely – the woman from the intervening period! The point that it’s the same woman, now and in the intervening period, only becomes clear to him and to the reader on the very last page, with the very last word. But it’s not too late, as long as it will and must be a bestseller. And I’m to keep an eye on the psychiatry, oh lord.

Otherwise: Peter has just been with us, we were so happy with such a good son, he’s still hunting for a better paid job. Our Klaus is still in Marseille; now, when the travel funds are there, the earlier visas and affidavits are no longer valid, and he and my wife here must go through the whole dreadful grind again. I’m now deeply sceptical, even Washington’s agreement has to be secured again.

Strangely sunken life I lead here, have to lead. Streets without people, garden idylls, office; well, even this won’t last forever. My contract will soon be up, and then everything will change. And it’s all the war, and we can surely expect it to end. The war progresses slowly, but in its second phase now, a balance is forming, the third phase, i.e. the overpowering of Hitler, will be shorter than the first, and a rapid collapse is even possible. Anyway, we are just at the beginning of the second phase.

And how goes it with you, dear Frau Rosin and dear Herr Rosin? Such a shame, this long distance between us! What’s happening in my American home town, New York? Are you well? And your children, young Keins, Frau Guttmann, the young Rosin in Virginia? For sure they’re all developing like our Little Flag. Let me now close this letter. From the bottom of my heart, all the best. I squeeze your hands.

Your  [signed] Alfred Döblin


  1. To Hermann Kesten, Hollywood, 24/7/1941


Dear Kesten,

This is a typed letter, I’m practising, the machine sits in my office room, and so I type and you will excuse the mistakes. You’ve taken yourself off to the countryside and don’t feel happy there? You don’t give details, so I don’t know what you’re doing there on the land, in the New York heat? Land is almost always a horror, to be borne only by nerves of iron. Neurologists always send their patients there, to freshen them up. And you work hard and have no money – well, anyone can have no money, you don’t need to work extra for that, I think. For no money I wouldn’t work very hard.

Dear Kesten, are you at least working at something proper and to your taste? Now I think of myself: I have to sit here in the office and exercise predation on my brain and invent Storys, may God have mercy. And the contract is not indefinite, and one has to deliver something. Stupid baloney, and I can’t make it stupid enough. The gods here are a certain Reisch [34] and Fröschel is a bigwig too, and Franz Schultz [35]. (I hear nothing of Lustig [36]) All of us blunder around and can’t compete with the gods. Otherwise I do no work. I did write my Robinson in France book, it’s probably still with Bermann, but who’s going to print it these days – even though it turned into a purely personal book. I don’t believe one can serve both Mr Louis B Mayer and one’s own work at the same time. Voilá slavery. It’s not prostitution, for I am not present at this kind of fraudulent wordsmithery.

‘Little hope’, you write. Only Feuchtwanger [37] here declares hopes. He’s an ultra-optimist. Confusing. When I said to him recently that I reject all dictatorships, those on the left no less than those on the right, he gave his opinion that I needn’t worry, in a Left-Germany he and Heinrich Mann would decide what could be published and what not. So there’s a hope for you, dear Kesten.

Sometimes I see Marcuse [38] here, he runs a popular Philosophy course Mondays, he’s closing it down. When we recently celebrated H Mann’s 70th birthday at Salka Viertel’s [39], it was like the old days: Th. Mann rustled a piece of paper and congratulated from it; his brother then rustled a piece of paper and expressed printed thanks from it, we sat at dessert, around 20 men and women, and eavesdropped on each other about German literature. Also there were Feuchtw[anger], Werfel [40], Mehring, the Reinhardts [41], a few film people.

It looks like a very long war. I can’t predict, will Stalin make another treaty with Hitler, nothing is impossible.

Tell me more about your work. I’d like to be in New York. F Lion [42] is in Nice, his friends the Jakobi were here recently.

Heartiest greetings to you and your wife!

Your [signed] Alfred Döblin


  1. To Peter Döblin, Hollywood 14/9/1941

Dear Petrus,

We received your letter and are glad that you are working hard on the ‘Madonna’. You asked about my contract. It hasn’t been renewed. And practically speaking I, along with a number of other writer, am out. But the result is not yet so final. People are making démarches on our behalf. Whether anything will come of it, qui sait? In any case we have the wherewithal to survive for the next few months. In any case we’ve given notice on the house and want to lower the monthly rent from 60 to 40 dollars. If the annual contract is no longer valid (and annual contracts are very rare) I might be able to, and hope to, secure one of the weekly contracts for special tasks. That’s what I hope. But there’s no reason to worry just yet.

Regarding Klaus, we had news from Washington that everything has been resolved positively at that end, hence a recommandation. So a gleam of light. We haven’t heard from Klaus in quite a while.

Petrus, see to it that the MS of my France book comes back to me in due course. There’s no hurry.

We are all well, my novel is being transcribed, (the volume has 800 pages). I haven’t of course started on anything new. It’s hot summer weather. I’ve read the very interesting Churchill speeches, and am starting on the other book.

Dear Peter, all the best, and let’s hear from you soon!

Your Pappa!


 [Letter to Rosins 17/9/1941 – main text regarding AD’s rumoured conversion is omitted]

… (probably my last weeks with MGM; they probably won’t renew our contracts; Heinrich Mann is already dismissed)…


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, 901 North Genesee Ave, Hollywood (Calif.), 10/10/1941

Dear Rosins,

I must ask forgiveness for delaying so long my reply to such an attentive and delightful missive from you both. The reason is the simplest in the world: more exactly, two reasons. Firstly I have been working madly on a story that I wanted to hand in, and secondly a certain depression following my termination with MGM. My contract expired last week. It was simply not renewed. ‘We are not issuing any more annual contracts.’ That was all. Several gentlemen, including producers, spoke up for me, sans effet.

Ergo I am on the outside and ‘at home’. I cannot say I am languishing in boredom, but I have a sense of being en chômage [unemployed]. (and in fact in two weeks I shall start to draw unemployment support for the first time in my life – about 15 dollars a week, for 20 weeks.) This situation, which we expected (though I hoped to avert it by working hard) apart from the inward unease has all kinds of outward consequences. For example, looking for a place to live. Naturally we can’t keep the little house at 60 dollars a month; we must reduce to 40, maybe even less, 2 rooms. We have enough for a few months and must be absolutely certain to raise the amount we send to Klaus. You can imagine that for me, here in a strange land where I count for nothing, where I have no spiritual credit and my earlier productions really have no chance, everything is difficult. For my wife too, who feels constant strain on account of the boys, (We had news from France: extensive enquiries were made about Wolf, including among his regimental comrades, his name appears on no lists, his regiment suffered ‘sensibles pertes’ [substantial losses] during the retreat.)

Now I’m working through my big book about 1918, more than 500 pages have been transcribed. Bermann, who was here recently, (old Madame Fischer, 70 years old, has a manic-depressive condition, she lives here with her second daughter and their baby) took some of it away with him to look it over. I plan to enquire with Little Brown in Boston, who translate a lot. The book will be 800 pages printed.

Allow me to write another time, dear Frau Rosin, on religious and theoretical matters. My head is elsewhere at present.

My greetings, with all cordiality! Your  DDöblin


  1. To Elvira and Arthur Rosin, 5/11/1941

Dear Rosins,

First, our new address: 1347 North Citrus Ave, Hollywood (Calif.)

[details of problems furnishing the small unfurnished flat omitted.]

… One ray of light is the unemployment support, to which I will become entitled in two weeks, after being dismissed by MGM. It will last for 20 weeks. Heinrich Mann (we are often together, and I have a good understanding of him, an excellent man, serious, kind, and personally not at all ‘revolutionary’) is still in his apartment, he went to the employment office for the first time, had to wait for hours, very impatient and downcast; he is over 70 years old. …



[1] The Rosins– connoisseurs of art and literature – were old friends from the 1920s. He was a banker. They emigrated in 1934 to Rome, then in 1936 to New York. A great support to AD during his stay in the USA.

[2] Elizabeth (Liesl) Frank (1903-79): key figure on the Emergency Rescue Committee that helped several exiles arrive (and survive) in the USA. Née Pallenberg; daughter of operetta star Fritzi Massari; married the writer Bruno Frank; they conducted lively salons in Munich, and after fleeing in 1933, in Sanary-sur-Mer, where several exiled writers gathered pre-war. In USA 1937-1945.

[3] Charlotte Dieterle (1896-1968): actress and scriptwriter. Active on the Emergency Rescue Committee.

[4] Alexander Granach (1890-1945): actor on stage and screen; appeared in Die Liebe vom Zigeuner stammt [‘Love comes from the Gypsy’](1920), then in Murnau’s Nosferatu (1921), Arthur Robison’s Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination [‘Shadows – a night-time hallucination’](1923) und Jessner’s Erdgeist [‘Earth Spirit’] (1923). Exiled from 1933, he performed in Yiddish theatre in Poland and USSR, emigrated to the USA in 1938. In Hollywood he appeared with Greta Garbo in Ninotchka, in Fritz Lang’s Hangmen also Die, and on Broadway in A Bell for Adano. His German accent often had him typecast in Nazi villain roles.

[5] Prenzlau, Frankfurt: both towns are around 100 km from Berlin.

[6] Kurt Götz (1888-1960): Swiss/German actor/writer. Went to Hollywood in 1939 to study film-making, and was stranded by the war. Rejected a five-year contract from MGM following his success with the Garbo vehicle The Woman with Two Faces, on the grounds he’d seen enough of how it was done. He and his wife bought a chicken farm, becoming famous for their double-yoked eggs. In 1946 he returned to Switzerland and directed several well-received ‘screwball comedies’. Often compared to GB Shaw (a distant relation) and Oscar Wilde.

[7] Wilhelm Thiele (1890-1975): Austrian-American film director and scriptwriter. Pioneer of the German talkie/musical film with the 1930 Die Drei von der Tankstelle [‘The Three from the Filling Station’]. In Hollywood, directed The Jungle Princess (Dorothy Lamour, Ray Milland, Akim Tamiroff), and two Tarzan films.

[8] Etienne: AD’s youngest son Stefan (born December 1926), who accompanied AD and his wife on their arduous escape from Europe in 1940.

[9] Alfred Polgar (1873-1955): Austrian writer, critic and translator, key figure in the Vienna Modern. He translated Ferenc Molnar’s Hungarian play Liliom, the precursor of Carousel, and staged its first successful production in Vienna in 1913. He landed in Hollywood after a gruelling journey similar to AD’s.

[10] Bruno Frank (1887-1945): popular author, now forgotten, husband of Liesl Frank. In California 1937-45.

[11] Georg Fröschel (1891-1979): Austrian writer, scriptwriter, Oscar winner. Invited by Louis B Mayer to recommend three German-Jewish refugee writers, he secured one year contracts at $100 a week for Walter Mehring, AD, and Alfred Polgar. He headed the team scripting Mrs Miniver. But since AD had already left MGM, he was not one of those awarded Oscar in 1942 for best screenplay (Fröschel, James Hilton, Arthur Wimperis, Claudine West).

[12] Leo Reuß (1891-1946, in USA known as Lionel Royce): actor, had supporting roles in dozens of films. In mid-1930s Austria he could obtain theatre work only by pretending to be an unschooled Tyrolean peasant, in which guise he was a great success before being unmasked.

[13] Leopold Jeßner (1878-1945): innovative theatre and film producer in 1920s Germany. To USA in 1937, where he became a script editor for MGM.

[14] ‘Robinson…’: eventually published as Schicksalsreise, translated as Destiny’s Journey by Edna McCown (1992).

[15] 1918: eventually published as the three-part/four volume November 1918: eine deutsche Revolution (November 1918: a German Revolution).

[16] Mountains…: The core of AD’s 1924 dystopia is the melting of the Greenland icecap (after Iceland is destroyed for its volcanic energy), and the unforeseen resurgence of Cretaceous monsters that ravage Europe.

[17] The Blue…: the second volume of AD’s South American epic trilogy Amazonas.

[18] Two… writers: actually three were both English and writers: Arthur Wimperis, James Hilton, Claudine West.

[19] Klaus (a.k.a. Claude), AD’s 3rd son, born during an air raid in May 1917. Served two years in the French army, demobilised in July 1940, survived the war trapped in Marseilles,

[20] Wolfgang: AD’s second son, born March 1915. A gifted mathematician, he (along with Klaus) was conscripted into the French army, and was killed during the German invasion. (Military service of the two sons was a condition of AD’s acquiring French citizenship.)

[21] Confucius: AD compiled and introduced a selection of sayings The Living Thoughts of Confucius (Cassell 1942).

[22] Not identified. (Unlikely to be I.Wendriner, a member with AD (pre-1933) of the Union of Socialist Doctors.)

[23] Hermann Kesten (1900-1996): leading figure in the 1920s ‘New Objectivity’ literary movement. Like AD, fled Germany in 1933, in 1940 arrived in the USA and was very active in the Emergency Rescue Committee.

[24] Aufbau: German-Jewish monthly published in New York from 1934 to 2004. An important source of information and contact for the many German speaking refugees.

[25] Heinrich Mann (1871-1950): older brother of Thomas. Like AD was in exile from 1933 in France, made his arduous way to USA in 1940 where he lived until his death. In 1940-41 had a one-year contract with Warner Bros; thereafter depended on friends and relatives.

[26] Fritz Landshoff (1901-1988): German-Dutch publisher of exile literature; the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam published virtually all the well-known émigré German writers. Escaped to the USA via England and Mexico, set up a publishing house in New York.

[27] Walter Landauer (1902-44): publisher, colleague of Kesten and Landshoff in the Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag. Died in Bergen-Belsen.

[28] Leopold Schwarzschild (1891-1950): editor, sociologist. Founded emigré journal Das neue Tage-Buch in 1934. With AD and others formed the Bund Freie Presse und Literatur (Free Press and Literature League) in 1937, in reaction to the Moscow show trials and to oppose totalitarian tendencies both Left and Right. In USA 1940-49; he arrived on the same ship as AD.

[29] Bert Brecht (1898-1956): playwright, producer. In USA 1941-47, unable to find work or to stage productions, monitored by FBI, questioned by HUAC.

[30] Peter: AD’s eldest son, born October 1912. He worked as a book designer in New Jersey.

[31] Syngalowski: probably refers to Aron Syngalowski (1890-1956), leading figure in the Jewish ORT movement (‘Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural Work’), active in many countries, including France until 1942.

[32] Schwartz: Dr Joseph Schwartz, Lisbon representative of the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish-American charity. He engaged in illegal rescue and support activities in occupied Europe.

[33] Bermann: Gottfried Bermann Fischer (1897-1995): publisher, set up an exile publishing house in Sweden, moved to USA in June 1940 and continued publishing.

[34] Walter Reisch (1903-83): Austrian screenwriter and director. Under contract to MGM from 1937, he wrote scripts for all the major stars.

[35] Franz Schultz (1897-1971): screenwriter from Prague, where he mixed with Kafka, Werfel etc. In Hollywood from mid-1930s. American citizen from 1940; changed his name to Francis George Spencer.

[36] Jan Lustig (1902-79): Austrian screenwriter, arrived in Hollywood in 1940 and secured a contract with MGM. Scripted several successful films.

[37] Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958): famous author (Jew Suss), criticised for self-censorship on Moscow show trials. In exile first at Sanary-sur-mer, fled to USA in 1940. Had comfortable income from royalties and film rights.

[38] Ludwig Marcuse (1894-1971): writer, philosopher. In USA from 1939, taught at USC in Los Angeles.

[39] Salka Viertel (1889-1978) = Salomea Steuermann, Austrian actress and screenwriter, mentor to Greta Garbo. Helped set up the ‘European Film Fund’ that enabled several refugees to come to the USA.

[40] Franz Werfel (1890-1945): best-selling author from Prague; in 1929 married Mahler’s widow. In exile at Sanary-sur-mer, to USA in 1940 together with Heinrich and Golo Mann.

[41] Gottfried Reinhardt (1913-94): Austrian film producer/director. With MGM from 1932, worked on many successful films.

[42] Ferdinand Lion (1883-1968): Swiss journalist/writer. Edited the emigre journal Mass und Wert in 1930s. Spent the war in France.