Hitler shook the trees and America picked up the apples.”
In this oft-quoted aphorism of unknown origin, the “tree” was the venerable tradition of arts and culture in Germany that had born rich fruit for centuries. The “apples” were the brilliant artists who were forced to flee Germany and Austria for their very lives.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, many of the greatest minds of their generation found themselves violently uprooted from their homes, history and national identity. Transplanted to the alien American soil, these creative geniuses promptly transformed the cultural landscape of their host culture.
Most of these apples were deemed rotten by the Third Reich simply based on the fact that they were Jewish, but some were banished because they were anti-Nazi, leftist, or otherwise suspect because of their modernist artistic sensibilities. Indeed, when these refugees hastily packed their bags, they threw in one precious item: the inclination toward artistic modernity.
Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht were notable non-Jewish artists who found themselves unwelcome, indeed in grave danger, in a Germany committed to art that reflected the Aryan values of the Third Reich. Peter Lorre, Fritz Lang, Otto Klemperer, Lion Feuchtwanger, Max Reinhardt, Hans Eisler, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Kurt Weill and Arnold Schoenberg were among the notable emigres who fled Germany and quickly began to wield enormous influence in America, primarily in talent-hungry Hollywood.
Although many of the best and brightest enjoyed success and lived luxurious lives in this “palm-tree purgatory,” they still felt caught between two worlds and longed for their European homeland. Many others were frustrated by their lack of options, stumbled over the language barrier, and never recovered their careers or lived up to their promise.
Some stories are fascinating tales of resilience and opportunity, but most are tinged with pain. Out of forced exile came a bitter revenge, the re-imagination of American culture.
Join Menorah as we explore the lives of artists who made their mark in film, theater, music, art, literature and dance in their adopted homeland. Kathryn Bernheimer will discuss “Artists in Exile” on Thursday, March 8 at noon at the Boulder JCC. Cost for lunch and learn is $8 at the door.