In case you have not watched the latest version of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, we would strongly recommend that you read Erich Maria Remarque’s book by the same name which was first published in 1929. Remarque, a German veteran of World War I, describes in the book the German soldiers’ extreme physical and mental trauma during the war as well as the detachment from civilian life felt by many upon returning home from the war.
A German film producer, Carl Laemmle, was responsible for the 1930 Oscar winning movie, the original ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. Laemmle, one of Hollywood’s founding fathers and the founder of Universal Studios, in turns out was a remarkable man. Other than making great movies, he was responsible for saving hundreds of German Jews from Hitler’s gas chambers as explained by this long read in the Washington Post:
“Laemmle’s life story…possesses all the ingredients of a Hollywood biopic. He was born in 1867 to a poor German Jewish family. At age 17, he sailed to the United States in search of the American Dream. But he didn’t find it right away. He toiled for years as an office boy, bookkeeper, newspaper hawker, salesman and store manager.
Finally, in 1906, he zeroed in on a million-dollar idea. Motion pictures had been invented just years earlier, and Laemmle was convinced they would be the next big thing. He opened two movie theaters in Chicago. People lined up to buy tickets.
Laemmle soon branched out and started producing his own movies, eventually becoming one of America’s foremost producers. In 1912, he co-founded Universal Studios in New York. Two years later, as World War I tore Europe apart, Laemmle moved the studio to California. Other producers followed, and Hollywood was born…”
Although Laemmle lived in America, it was the reception that greeted “All Quiet…” in Germany which alerted him to the dangers posed by the Nazis: ““All Quiet on the Western Front” was a hit in the United States and abroad. But it found itself in the crosshairs of the Nazis, then the main opposition party in Germany, who blasted it as anti-German propaganda. Since Laemmle was Jewish, the Nazis also branded it a “Jewish lie.”
…on Dec. 5, 1930, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels and his “brownshirts” crashed the Berlin premiere of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” They released mice in the theater, threw stink bombs at guests and screamed, “Jews out! Germany awake! Hitler is at the gates!” The German government got spooked and banned the film.”
Not one to sit around and indulge in angst ridden liberal handwringing, Laemmle swung into action when Hitler came to power: “When Hitler assumed power in 1933, he lived up to Laemmle’s worst fears and enacted antisemitic legislation preventing Jews from working in a wide array of professions. Laemmle knew the onslaught was just beginning. Driven by the conviction that Jews needed to flee Germany or eventually perish there, he pledged to bring as many as he could to the United States, regardless of whether he knew them personally.
But it wasn’t just a matter of booking them a one-way ticket. Getting German Jews into the country proved a bureaucratic nightmare. The State Department, which was in charge of processing visas, made it nearly impossible….
Following the 1924 National Origins Act, the State Department enforced a restrictive immigration system and assigned each country in the world a quota — the maximum number of immigrants who would be let into the United States each year. For Germany, that number was capped at around 25,000.
But that didn’t mean 25,000 Germans reached American shores each year. The actual figure was much lower because the State Department, amid broad anti-immigrant sentiment, was actively trying to curb immigration. In 1933, immigration officers were instructed to grant only 10 percent of the visas allowed under each quota. According to Erik Larson in “In the Garden of Beasts,” some high-ranking State Department officials were antisemites who had no intention of letting Jews into the United States….
Laemmle was well aware of the hurdles he faced in trying to bring German Jews into the United States, but he stuck to his motto: “It can be done!”
To immigrate to the United States, families needed a U.S. citizen to sponsor their application and sign an affidavit pledging to support them financially until they got a job.
Laemmle started signing affidavits. Despite being one of Hollywood’s biggest names, he was required to put up bonds to prove to U.S. authorities he was solvent. In Freedman’s documentary, a refugee who came to the United States as a child said the mogul had to put $1 million in escrow — more than $20 million in today’s dollars.
But Laemmle was determined to save as many lives as possible. According to historian Udo Bayer, he signed at least 300 affidavits over the course of the ’30s, bringing that many Jewish families to the United States….
Laemmle covered their travel costs, paid for their accommodation and helped them find jobs, including at Universal. As he told one Jewish woman whose visa he had sponsored, “You can absolutely depend on me to stand by you until you get on your feet.”
Laemmle was following his conscience. “It is the solemn duty of every Jew in America who can afford it,” he wrote in 1938, “to go to the very limit for these poor unfortunates in Germany. … I have never in all my life been so sympathetic to any cause as I am to these poor innocent people who are suffering untold agony without having done anything wrong whatsoever.””
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