The Pazifische Presse And German Exile Publishing In Los Angeles 1942-1948

By Victoria Dailey

werfelThomas Mann in Pacific Palisades? While Magic Mountain is certainly a popular Los Angeles theme park, could the celebrated German author of The Magic Mountain actually have lived in Los Angeles? Most people would say “certainly not.” But it is true. Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize-winning novelist and essayist, lived there for a decade. As with so many things about the City of Angels, facts often defy expectations. And when it comes to Los Angeles, there are always new facts to be discovered. Is it the smog blanket that covers up so many interesting activities? Do the twisting canyons conceal what goes on within them? Do the vast distances between places simply cause a kind of information inertia? Whatever the cause, Los Angeles is a place of mystery, whose past is little known–nor long remembered–even by those who claim to know the city well.

It still surprises people to learn that German culture flowered in Los Angeles, if only for a decade or so, and that leading German cultural figures managed to thrive there. They did so, in part, through the Pazifische Presse, whose existence I discovered through a circuitous route. My first job in the antiquarian bookselling world was as an assistant in the bookshop of Jake Zeitlin, where I worked in the early 1970s. Jake was an old friend of Saul Marks, the fastidious, and one of L. A.’s foremost, letterpress printers–Saul had printed many of Jake’s catalogues and books. Soon I came to know Saul and his wife Lillian, and visited them on several occasions to learn a thing or two about the printer’s craft. What I did not know then was that Saul had been part of an extraordinary endeavor, the Pazifische Presse. Years passed, and as my interest in Los Angeles’ literary and artistic history deepened, I began to collect books in these fields, among them, several Pazifische Presse titles. They were in German, so I could not really read them, my German being limited to one semester in school. But I sensed that these books were somehow unusual, important and overlooked, and since Saul Marks was involved, and because I knew him, I felt a direct connection to these books. I wanted to know more about how the press came to be, about the publishers, about the writers and what they all had intended. What was a German press doing in Los Angeles in the forties? Just when my curiosity was reaching a peak, I met Roland Jaeger, a German bibliophile and scholar, at the Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. (The Villa Aurora is another one of those hidden, special L. A. places, a German-American cultural center in the former home of writer Lion Feuchtwanger). I mentioned my interest in the Pazifische Presse to him, and discovered that he had been researching the press. We immediately agreed to undertake a project, which resulted in the publication of a book, New Weimar on the Pacific, published in 2000. I now know how the press came into existence and why the writers participated, as well as the bibliographical details of each book, and I am pleased to have brought out this book, because, in a sense, I have helped to solve another Los Angeles mystery, and a literary one at that.

The birth of the Pazifische Presse can be traced back to an advertisement placed in the October 1942 issue of Aufbau, the German-Jewish newspaper published in New York (and which still exists.) Two German émigrés in Los Angeles, Ernst Gottlieb and Felix Guggenheim, informed readers that they had established a private press in order to provide German writers in exile on the West Coast a forum to publish in their native language. They announced that seven volumes by noted authors would soon appear, and they asked for subscribers. The authors were internationally known, and included Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, Alfred Döblin, Bruno Frank, Leonhard Frank, Friedrich Torberg and Alfred Neumann. Besides their literary ambition, the publishers also announced their political intention as well, which was, in their words:

to give testimony to the eminent cultural force that was expelled by Hitler and which has found a future in America. In Nazi Germany war reports and propaganda are reported in “pseudo-German,” while here, on the Pacific Ocean, the majority of exiled German authors use the language of Goethe. We invite you to enrich your libraries with a few literary treasures, which you will still be able to enjoy when Hitler has long since become nothing more than a dark chapter in the book of history.

So it is clear that it was important to the publishers to provide a forum for the best of German culture at a time when it was being devastated from within. And by naming the press Pazifische, (that is, Pacific) they intended not only to indicate their location, but also to refer to the peaceful message of their activities. Many of the cultural leaders of the Weimar Republic had settled in Los Angeles, and it is somewhat astonishing to realize who was there in this New Weimar on the Pacific: in addition to the writers already mentioned, there were such literary luminaries as Lion Feuchtwanger and Bertolt Brecht; composers Arnold Schoenberg, Hans Eisler, Erich Korngold, and Ernst Toch; conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer; stage and film directors Max Reinhardt, Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Billy Wilder; actors Peter Lorre, Ernst Deutsch, and Oskar Homolka; and architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler. So a talented and creative group of émigrés landed, of all places, in Los Angeles, basking in the sun while making art.

The two men who founded the press, Ernst Gottlieb and Felix Guggenheim, were both German Jews who had immigrated to the United States when life for Jews in Germany became impossible.

Gottlieb was born in Munich in 1903 and from an early age was interested in music. However, he began a career in business, and fled Germany in 1938, arriving in Los Angeles, where he took up photography. He soon became a busy portrait photographer and counted among his clients many of the well-known émigrés in the area, including Thomas Mann, whose portrait was one of Mann’s favorite; Mann wrote of it: “Here is the best picture ever made of me!”

Gottlieb’s partner, Felix Guggenheim, was born in 1904, in Constance. He studied law and economics, earning doctorates in both fields, and began work as a journalist in economics for a leading Berlin newspaper, but soon joined a Berlin bank in 1926. Guggenheim came to know a leading Berlin printer and publisher, Seydel, who had also founded the prestigious German book club, the Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft. Around 1930, Guggenheim left banking and took over the directorship of both the publishing house and the book club. In 1938, realizing he had to flee, Guggenheim left for Switzerland with his collection of incunabula. He arrived in the U.S. in 1940, and because he did not like New York, he moved to Los Angeles, where, like countless other new California arrivals, he became involved in the citrus business. He used his profits from oranges and lemons to found the Pazifische Presse.

Gottlieb and Guggenheim had both known Thomas Mann in Germany, albeit slightly, but with all three in Los Angeles, it was inevitable that they should meet again. Thomas Mann, the celebrated novelist of such works as Death in Venice, Buddenbrooks and the aforementioned Magic Mountain, was the winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize for literature. Because of his anti-fascist writings, and because his wife was Jewish, he left Germany in 1933, settling in Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, he was denounced by the Nazis, who stripped him of his German citizenship in 1936. He accepted a position as lecturer at Princeton University in 1938, and moved to Los Angeles in 1941. The house he built in Pacific Palisades soon became a gathering place for the German literary community and his house was featured in the December, 1942 issue of California Arts & Architecture magazine, the leading forum for contemporary architecture during the 1940s.

Mann was perhaps the most celebrated German novelist in the world, and the Pazifische Presse treated him with special care. It was Mann who provided the text for the press’s first volume, a novella called Thamar, which was actually an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, Joseph the Provider. Immediately, the Pazifische Presse had the prestige of Mann’s name and reputation, and it helped greatly. Thamar appeared in 1942, and became the standard for all future Pazifische Presse books. Issued in a special Subscriber’s Edition of 150 copies signed by the author and bound in half leather, there were also 100 numbered copies of the Trade Edition bound in half cloth. This would be the typical pattern followed by the press in future editions.

Ultimately, the press published a total of eleven works, three of which were by Mann. After Thamar, the press published Das Gesetz in 1944 which Mann had written in 1943 as a contribution to an anthology based on the Ten Commandments; Das Gesetz was later translated into English as Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. Mann’s final contribution to the Pazifische Presse was Leiden an Deutschland, (Sorrow for Germany), which appeared in 1946. It is a compilation of Mann’s diary entries from 1933-34 chronicling the Nazi seizure of power in Germany and the resulting threat to humanity and culture. Upset with the McCarthy hearings and the political mood of the United States after the war, Mann moved back to Switzerland in 1952, where he died in 1955.

Although Mann was the press’s leading author, other notable writers contributed as well. Born in 1884, Lion Feuchtwanger, the master of the historical novel, fled Germany in 1933 after having been labeled by Goebbels as the “worst enemy of the German people.” He was also stripped of his citizenship, doctoral degree, and property, and found asylum in Southern France. In 1939-40, he was interned, but escaped from the internment camp in France and managed to get to Lisbon. He arrived in the U.S. in 1940 and in Los Angeles in 1941, where he settled, like Thomas Mann, in Pacific Palisades. His large house, the Villa Aurora, became a gathering place for émigré artists, and Feuchtwanger had his large library here. A passionate book collector, he had lost his first collection to the Nazis, but in Los Angeles, he assembled another vast book collection.

He wrote several of his important works while living in Pacific Palisades, among them, This is the Hour, a novel based on the life of Goya, and one based on the American Revolution, Proud Destiny. The Pazifische Presse published his play about the Salem witch trials, The Devil in Boston, (Wahn oder Der Teufel in Boston) in 1948.

Because he was so successful as a writer, Feuchtwanger was able to offer financial assistance to other of the émigrés who were less fortunate than he. When the Pazifische Presse published The Devil in Boston, they deviated from their normal run of 350 copies and published 1000 copies, knowing that Feuchtwanger’s work would be in demand. Ostensibly a play about the Salem witch trials, it was also a clever expose of the McCarthy hearings, and it predates Arthur Miller’s The Crucible by five years.

Feuchtwanger was one of only a few of the émigrés who remained in California after the war, living at the Villa Aurora until his death in 1958. His legacy continues, both at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC, and at his home, the Villa Aurora, which is now a German-American cultural center.

Bruno Frank was another of the press’s distinguished authors. Born in 1887, he left Germany in 1933 and arrived in the United States in 1937, settling in Los Angeles. Known for his novels, he also worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, and contributed to the screenplay for The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. He lived in Beverly Hills, and his home was another gathering place for German-Jewish refugees in Los Angeles. His work on further projects was terminated by his untimely death in 1945. He contributed a novella, Sixteen Thousand Francs, to the Pazifische Presse in 1943, a tale about a young German who steals the money of a fallen French soldier at the end of World War I. Driven by his conscience, he becomes a supporter of the Weimar Republic, only to become a victim of the Nazis after their seizure of power.

Finally, another important contributor to the press was the dramatist, poet and novelist Franz Werfel, who had emigrated from Vienna in 1938 and arrived in Hollywood in 1940, where he completed his acclaimed novel, The Song of Bernadette, in 1941. In 1942 he moved to Beverly Hills with his wife Alma Mahler Werfel and they were soon at the center of the active literary and musical community of Southern California. Werfel agreed to compile a selection of his poems for publication by the Pazifische Presse in 1945, but tragically, he died while reading galley proofs. The volume was published the following year with a preface by his widow; it includes work dating from 1908.

Apart from its literary merits, the Pazifische Presse is also noteworthy for the artfulness of its productions. This was in large part due to the choice of printer: Saul Marks. Saul and his wife Lillian ran the Plantin Press in Los Angeles, one of the most renowned American private presses of its day. Marks, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, was born in 1905 (coincidentally, on the very same day in June as another exceptional Los Angeles printer, Ward Ritchie) and arrived in the United States, in Detroit, in 1921. Married in 1928, he and his bride arrived in Los Angeles in 1930 and founded the Plantin Press a year later. The volumes of the Pazifische Presse clearly carry Marks’ signature style: they were simply, elegantly and classically printed, and two of the volumes–the poems by Werfel and the play by Feuchtwanger– were selected for awards by the American Institute of Graphic Arts as among the fifty most beautiful books of the year. Unfortunately, the unknown binder chosen by the press was not of the highest caliber, and many of the leather bindings have deteriorated over the years. The Plantin Press printed all eleven of the Pazifische Presse’s books.

As early as the spring of 1945, the publishers had foreseen that the Pazifische Presse would lose its historical significance with the end of the war. In a letter written in the spring of that year to Mary S. Rosenberg, their book distributor in New York, they mentioned that they were going to sell the rights to their books to major publishers in Sweden, who were then publishing the works of important German authors, and that the press’s role would soon be complete. Nevertheless, the press lasted until 1948, when both publishers redirected their professional interests: Gottlieb became an antiquarian bookseller and Guggenheim, a full time literary agent.

Gottlieb’s long-time interest in music and books led him to become a rare book dealer specializing in music books. He opened a bookshop in Beverly Hills with a partner, Dr. Kurt Schwarz, another émigré who had arrived in Los Angeles in 1947. Gottlieb learned his trade quickly, and was soon commissioned by many American libraries and collectors to acquire historical music books and sheet music. He published about forty catalogues, and among his clients were resident composers like Schoenberg and Stravinsky, as well as various opera singers and composers. Nevertheless, Gottlieb was disappointed by the overall lack of interest in the history of music, and in a letter of June 24, 1950, he complained to his friend Friedrich Torberg about the cultural scene in Los Angeles: “Believe me,” he wrote, “the intellectual emigration in Hollywood in nothing but a fairy tale. There is no intellect, there is no interest in intellectual issues. Do you really believe that some so-called intellectuals find their way to my bookshop which is so centrally located and has such a nice atmosphere above the roofs of Beverly Hills? It’s the young Americans from Long Beach, Redondo Beach and the small surrounding communities who come up here to browse. There are certain circles around the universities that are interested, and that’s it. I’ve offered everything from Leo Slezak’s works to Mozart to the Viennese in Los Angeles–in vain. It is more likely that a Viennese operetta sells to Bristol, England, that to sell Mozart’s letters in Hollywood.”

Despite these dispirited words, Gottlieb went on to publish a highly regarded series of books, the Facsimile Editions of Rare Books of Music, and he was active in various musicological groups. He relocated his business to Palm Springs, where he died in 1961 at the age of 58. His inventory was taken over by a young colleague, Theodore Front, whose business specializing in music literature still exists.

Felix Guggenheim, who had degrees in both law and business, and who knew a vast amount about publishing, was able to use these skills to become a full time literary agent. He represented Lion Feuchtwanger, Alfred Neumann, Arnold Zweig, Alfred Döblin and Heinrich Mann, and in 1950, Guggenheim started travelling to Germany on a regular basis in order to re-establish ties to publishers and printing houses. He also assisted authors in German-American copyright questions, among them, Erich Maria Remarque and Vicki Baum. In Los Angeles, he advised the legendary movie agent, Paul Kohner, a Viennese émigré, in legal and financial matters, and he assisted many European authors regarding the movie rights to their works. In 1966 he was awarded the Order of Merit, First Class, by the Federal Republic of Germany for his work in re-establishing German authors in the international book market. Guggenheim was also a well-known collector of incunabula, medieval Judaica and Chinese art. He died in Beverly Hills in 1976.

In a note of gratitude to Felix Guggenheim, Dr. Henry Hausner, a New York subscriber to the Pazifische Presse, wrote in 1944: “With its limited editions, the Pazifische Presse has accomplished a cultural feat.” Defying troubled times, the publishers of the Pazifische Presse made a modest yet significant statement for humanity. On the shores of the Pacific Ocean, they provided a forum for exiled German authors in the belief that their voices deserved, in fact needed, to be heard. Their small venture was a direct challenge to the immense, crippling force of Hitler, and they were right to predict in 1942 that bibliophiles would still be able to enjoy their books when Hitler had long since become nothing more than a dark chapter in the book of history. The contribution of Ernst Gottlieb and Felix Guggenheim, both to world literature and to the literary history of Los Angeles, deserves greater recognition. Their struggle for artistic integrity and freedom was an act of courage during a dark time, and in an unlikely place.