Franz Werfel

Austrian-Bohemian, 1890-1945

Franz Werfel was born in Prague to a well-off Jewish family. As a young man, he was involved with the burgeoning community of writers who frequented Prague’s Cafe Arco, including Max Brod and Franz Kafka. He published his first book of poems at the age of twenty-one and began working as an editor for Kurt Wolff’s publishing firm the following year.

Werfel’s talents as a writer and editor allowed him to avoid the frontline in World War I in favor of the Military Press Bureau, where he worked as a propagandist alongside other notable writers. The connections he made during this time allowed him to become one of Austria’s most renowned writers by the end of the 1920s. In the 1930s, however, the humanist, anti-genocide stance he expressed in works such as The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, as well as his Jewish heritage, attracted the censure of the Nazis. His books were among the many that were burned among accusations of conspiracy and decadence.

In 1940, Werfel fled to the United States via France and Spain and settled in Los Angeles. There, he wrote his final play, Jacobowsky and the Colonel. He died in Los Angeles five years later.