Erich Maria Remarque was one of German PEN’s most significant literary exiles. His most important novel Im Westen Richts Neues, published in 1929, was famously translated into English by A. W. Wheen as All Quiet on the Western Front.
He was an early member of Berlin PEN, which in the late 1920s was one of the largest PEN centres. Seen as leading the way in Germany’s cultural rehabilitation on the European stage, Berlin PEN was viewed as an important intellectual organisation and its activities were prominently reported and promoted in German newspapers.
By the late 1920s, the Berlin PEN centre, with 400 members, was second only to the London branch in size. It was also an outspoken, effective and active centre, instigating a widely reported protest against the suppression of the film of Remarque’s Im Westen Richts Neues, the pacificism of which was accused of being un-Germanic.
When the Nazis rose to power in the spring of 1933, Remarque’s writing was labelled as unpatriotic, was thrown into fires by Nazi students, and was banned in Germany, and in 1938 his German citizenship was revoked. Along with Ernst Toller, Remarque was one of the German exiles who attended the controversial 1933 Dubrovnik Congress when the Berlin PEN centre, which had been taken over by Nazis, was effectively thrown out of the PEN organisation.
Wells spoke passionately at this Congress about the need for PEN to adapt to the ‘novel conditions’ of the present political moment, and to revise what it was and what it stood for. It has been the profession of the PEN Club to ‘keep out of politics’ but can it, Wells asked, ‘when things are in this state?’
Remarque would continue to be connected to the German writers in exile centre, or the ‘Thomas Mann group’ as they were often called. He attended the 1939 New York PEN World’s Fair Event, which was attended by many writers in exile, and spoke under the title ‘How Can Culture Survive Exile?’