Franz Werfel

Franz Werfel (1890-1945), Austrian poet, modernist playwright, and novelist, was born in Prague, the son of a Jewish merchant. During World War I, Werfel served for several years on the Russian front as a soldier in the Austrian army. A friend of authors Max Brod and Franz Kafka, Werfel later moved to Vienna and Berlin. He was forced to leave the Prussian Academy of the Arts in 1933. His 1933 novel, Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh (The Forty Days of Musa Dagh), detailed the mass murder and expulsion of Armenians from eastern Anatolia in 1915 and received much attention in the United States. It stood as a warning against future acts of mass murder and won lasting respect from Armenian communities throughout the world.

Werfel's books were burned by the Nazis as those of a Jewish author who advocated pacifism, love for all mankind, and hostility to extreme nationalism and Nazism. Werfel had to flee Austria after the German annexation. He then escaped from France by hiding in the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, crossing the Pyrenees on foot to safety in Spain, and leaving from there for the United States. With gratitude for his sanctuary at Lourdes in mind, he wrote the best-selling novel, The Song of Bernadette. Though he remained a Jew all of his life, Werfel was attracted to many aspects of Catholicism.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is a 1934 novel by Austrian-Jewish author Franz Werfel based around an event that took place on Musa Dagh in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide in Turkey. The book was first published as Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh  in German in November of 1933. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh  achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution of the Armenians. The novel is a fictionalized account based on the real-life defense of Musa Dagh's Damlayik by Armenians who were facing systematic deportations and massacres put into effect by the Committee of Union and Progress central government.

Although written as a novel, the historical background content of the book has generally been accepted as fact. In the 1930s, Turkey pressured the United States State department to prevent MGM Studios from producing a film based on the novel. As William Albig writes: "In terms of the present capital organization and system of distribution the foreign market is very important to the American industry. The good will of foreign exhibitors and publics is often sought by changing the content of films, deleting offensive sections. It is reported that production of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was halted, in Turkey's interest."