Weimar in Exile

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Jean-Michel Palmier’s Weimar in Exile: Exile in Europe, Exile in America documents the massive dislocation of human beings under the Weimar Republic, detailing the historical contexts for the collapse of Weimar culture and following the fortunes and often tragic fate of the exiles, people compelled to leave Germany for widely varied reasons in response to ever-shifting historical conditions between 1933 and 1945. While Weimar in Exile serves as a catalog of persons, organizations, publications, places, and various fates of the exiles, Palmier successfully structures the book’s narrative via the recurring stories of exemplary exile figures, while simultaneously developing his own arguments about the lasting significance of the exiles, their works, and their actions.

To begin with, Palmier argues that already existing patterns of political repression in the faltering Weimar Republic set the stage for worse to follow. He reminds readers that writers such as journalist Kurt Tucholsky had left Germany in the 1920’s, already unable or unwilling to work in the intellectual and political climate of Weimar. For all three of the largest, often overlapping, émigré groupsJewish Germans, political activists, and artists and intellectualsthe wobbly democracy of the Weimar era had left the political ground open for the Nazi rise to power. Many readers will be interested in this dimension of Palmier’s argument, especially in relation to ongoing debates about the successes and failures of the Weimar Republic.

Beyond its opening critique of Weimar culture, Weimar in Exile focuses primarily on the heterogeneity of the exile, showing the full political and cultural spectrum of people swept out of the country in the face of impending social marginalization, imprisonment, or political murder. As Palmier documents, the exiles included those from the active and perpetually conflict-racked German Left (Socialists, Communists, labor activists, pacifists, left-liberals) as well as Germans who were politically conservative (including some pro-Nazi critics of the “inadequacy” of Hitler) or who remained holdout monarchists. The “racial policy” exiles included thousands of German Jews, many of whom were politically active and intellectually or artistically committed to resisting Nazism and many of whom were, in contrast, highly assimilated into German culture and not politically active. Further, the exiles included German Protestants, Catholics, and atheists who were on record as opposing the Nazi regime.

In line with his emphasis on exile heterogeneity, Palmier documents in detail the enduring political and philosophical conflict among exiles: Some maintained a hopeful allegiance to a “true and better Germany” and tried to use exile as an external platform from which to launch opposition to Nazi rule. Other émigrés concluded that Germany was lost beyond recovery and became outspoken critics of German culture, history, and identity. Palmier also touches on the controversial category of “internal emigration,” those Germans who remained in the country during the 1930’s and 1940’s and who occupied, or retrospectively claimed to have occupied, an “inner space” of resistance. Palmier is careful to honor the possibility that such resistance was possible in the horrific crosscurrents of war, but he does not avoid the issue of postwar “magic de-Nazification,” wherein people who had opportunistically gone along with the Nazi regime to greater or lesser degrees claimed later to have participated in the internal German resistance.

Palmier’s underlying emphasis on the diversity of persons and experiences of the Weimar exile is nowhere clearer than in the remarkable detail with which he maps out the “geography of exile.” Weimar in Exile is divided into two parts, the first covering exile in Europe and the second covering exile in the United States and Latin America. Not surprisingly, given his own status as a scholar in France, Palmier pays special attention to the experience of German émigrés in France and does not mince words in his assessment of French complicity and collaboration with the Hitler regime. He also documents highly varied conditions of exile in former Czechoslovakia,...

(The entire section is 1745 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

London Review of Books 28, no. 19 (October 5, 2006): 29-30.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 22 (May 29, 2006): 52.