Auerbach’s Efforts to Emigrate

Berlin-born Romance philologist, literary and cultural scholar Erich Auerbach (1892-1957), now considered the founder of the discipline of comparative literature thanks to Palestinian postcolonial thinker, literary scholar, and also exile Edward Said (1935-2003) 11Edward Said, “Introduction to the Fiftieth Edition,” in Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature – New and Expanded Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013) is probably the most famous of the German academics and their families who fled Nazi Germany to the young Turkish Republic after 1933. It became clear early on that flight from Germany was inevitable. So Auerbach began to mobilize his contacts abroad.

    Footnotes

  • 1Edward Said, “Introduction to the Fiftieth Edition,” in Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature – New and Expanded Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013)

Palazzo Ravizza

Pian dei Mantellinini 18

Siena

Tel. 20-402

Telegramm Ravizza Siena

12.9.1935

Sehr verehrter Herr Saxl,

Bitte nehmen Sie es mir nicht übel, wenn ich unsere kurze Bekanntschaft missbrauche, indem ich Sie mit diesem äußerst ernsten Brief überfalle. Sie können sich leicht vorstellen, worum es sich handelt: Ich glaube, dass meine Familie und ich (ich habe eine Frau und ein Kind von 12 Jahren) es in Deutschland nicht mehr lange aushalten. Ich bin zwar noch in meiner offiziellen Position, Kollegen und Studierende und andere Freunde benehmen sich anständig, viele hervorragend – auch das Kind hat keine unerträglichen Schwierigkeiten – aber es kann nicht mehr lange so weitergehen. […] Der Ruhestand, den ich notfalls antreten kann, würde die Situation nicht verbessern. Ganz im Gegenteil. Ich muss also versuchen, so schwierig es auch ist, etwas Geeignetes im Ausland zu finden, und das nun meinen Freunden, Kollegen und denjenigen, mit denen ich geistig verbunden bin, schreiben, damit sie mich beraten können, wenn sie etwas wissen. So kommen Sie zu diesem Brief, und ich bitte Sie, die Leute zu informieren, die der Warburg-Bibliothek nahe stehen. Aber das muss sorgfältig geschehen, denn es wäre unnötig, dass deutsche Beamte vorzeitig von meiner Abreise erfahren. Über mich sind Sie recht gut informiert; dass ich mehrere Jahre, von [19]23 bis [19]29, Bibliothekar an der Staatsbibliothek war, ist Ihnen auch bekannt. Eventuelle Beurteilungen von Kollegen und Vorgesetzten im In- und Ausland können auf Wunsch zur Verfügung gestellt werden. […] Übrigens hat das Academic Assistance Council in London mich im Dezember 1934 zur Bewerbung aufgefordert, und ich habe damals geantwortet, dass ich vorerst in Deutschland zu bleiben gedenke – halten Sie es für sinnvoll, sich an diese Institution zu wenden?

Ich bitte nochmals um Verzeihung für diesen Übergriff und grüße Sie herzlichst von Ihrem hochverehrten und sehr verehrten

E. Auerbach

Palazzo Ravizza

Pian dei Mantellinini 18

Siena

Tel. 20-402

Cable Ravizza Siena

12.9.1935

Sehr verehrter Herr Saxl,

Please do not take it amiss if I abuse our brief acquaintance by assaulting you with this extremely solemn letter. You can easily imagine what it is about: I believe that my family and I (I have a wife and a child of 12) cannot endure it much longer in Germany. To be sure, I am still in my official position, colleagues and students and other friends behave decently, many superbly – even the child has no unbearable difficulties – but it cannot continue much longer like this. […] Retirement, which I can take if necessary, would not improve the situation. On the contrary. So I must try, as difficult as it is, to find something suitable abroad, and which now to write to my friends, colleagues, and those with whom I have shared intellectual connections so that they can advise me if they know of something. That is how you come to this letter, and I beg you to inform those people who are close to the Warburg Library. But that must be done carefully, for it would be unnecessary for German officials to learn of my departure prematurely. About me you are rather well informed; that I was a librarian for several years, from [19]23 to [19]29, at the Staatsbibliothek is also well known to you. Possible evaluations from colleagues and seniors at home and abroad can be made available, if requested. […] Incidentally, the Academic Assistance Council in London invited my application in December 1934, and at the time I answered that I planned to stay in Germany for the time being – do you think it makes sense to contact this institution?

Once again, please forgive this assault and accept greetings from your most obliged and very devoted

E. Auerbach

Erich Auerbach was a German Romance philologist, literary and cultural scholar. As for countless others, his career in Germany was ended prematurely due to the racist “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,” ratified on April 7, 1933, which aimed at both the removal of Jewish civil servants and the dismissal of political “dissidents.” Since the so-called Frontkämpferprivileg (Privilege of Combatants) applied to him and he additionally even swore an “oath of loyalty of German civil servants” to Adolf Hitler in 1934, he lost his chair of Romance philology at the University of Marburg “only” at the end of 1935. 11All information according to the file Erich Auerbach in the State Archives Marburg Sign. 310, Acc 1978/15, No. 2261. cited in: Martin Vialon: Erich Auerbach. On the Life and Work of the Marburg Romance Scholar in the Time of Fascism. In: Jörg Jochen Berns (ed.): Marburg-Bilder. A Matter of Opinion. Zeugnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten (= Marburger Stadtschriften zur Geschichte und Kultur, 52 (vol. 1), 53 (vol. 2)). Rathaus-Verlag, Marburg 1996, pp. 394-395. More than foreseeable, however, he contacted colleagues in Italy, England, and other places already in the course of 1935 in order to find a suitable position, even far below the rank of professor. Thanks to the interdenominational and anti-racist self-help organization “Notgemeinschaft deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland,” founded in 1933 22Johannes Feichtinger: Wissenschaft zwischen den Kulturen. Österreichische Hochschullehrer in der Emigration 1933-1945. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 71. which from 1933 onward focused on emigration to Turkey, he finally followed the call to the İstanbul Üniversitesi. The latter had been founded in 1933 as part of the Kemalist program of Westernization and modernization, and one of its tasks was to recruit experts. In this way, several hundred German intellectuals and their families emigrated to Turkey, especially to the urban centers of Istanbul and Ankara, where they became involved in the work of the universities and ministries. Since Auerbach’s hopes of returning to a chair at a German university remained unfulfilled, he emigrated from Turkey to the United States in 1947, where he continued his academic career. He is still one of the most important representatives of his field today. His main work, written in Istanbul between 1942 and 1945, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature is one of the fundamental works of German Romance studies.

    Footnotes

  • 1All information according to the file Erich Auerbach in the State Archives Marburg Sign. 310, Acc 1978/15, No. 2261. cited in: Martin Vialon: Erich Auerbach. On the Life and Work of the Marburg Romance Scholar in the Time of Fascism. In: Jörg Jochen Berns (ed.): Marburg-Bilder. A Matter of Opinion. Zeugnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten (= Marburger Stadtschriften zur Geschichte und Kultur, 52 (vol. 1), 53 (vol. 2)). Rathaus-Verlag, Marburg 1996, pp. 394-395.
  • 2Johannes Feichtinger: Wissenschaft zwischen den Kulturen. Österreichische Hochschullehrer in der Emigration 1933-1945. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 71.

English transnlation of letters written by Erich Auerbach, Martin Elsky, Martin Vialon and Robert Stein, “Scholarship in Times of Extremes: Letters of Erich Auerbach (1933–46), on the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Death,” PMLA 122:3 (Mai, 2007): 742–762, 746.