Armin Wegner Asked Franz Werfel Not to Write his ‘40 Days of Musa Dagh’ Part II
The California Courier will publish in a four-part series the exchange between the two historic figures Armin Wegner and Franz Werfel.
Already in 1915 I became friends with Johannes Lepsius. As I traveled by train, from Constantinople through Asia Minor to Baghdad, I witnessed the entire deportation. I repeatedly sent material to Lepsius for his collection. I have lived in close relationship with Armenians and Turks for several years, and have spoken their language, albeit very imperfectly. Hiding under my stomach bandage, I smuggled the pictures that I had taken of the horror scenes in the desert. I transported them, at the risk of death, across the border along with the refugees’ letters to the American embassies.
In 1919, in a public event in Urania [a scientific society in Berlin], with the help of Johannes Lepsius, I showed the pictures in a sensational lecture. As a result, almost a pogrom broke out between the immigrant Armenians and Turks. Soon afterwards I published my book, “The Road of No Return” (“Der Weg Ohne Heimkehr”), revealing personal experiences from that time. I related most of the experiences from the days of the deportation, for my Armenian novel.
At short intervals, two more books were published – “In the House of Happiness,” (“Im Hause der Glückselligkeit”) and my “Turkish Novels,” (“Türkische Novellen”) which also include two stories from the persecution of Armenians. At about the same time, in 1921, my novella “The Storm on the Women’s Bath” (“Der Sturm auf das Frauenbad”) – the description of an Armenian massacre – appeared in the Berliner Tageblatt. In the same year I published the stenographic report “The Court Case of Talaat Pasha” (“Der Prozess Talaat Pascha”), to which I was invited, along with Johannes Lepsius and others, as a witness.
In 1925, I began to write my Armenian novel, which I had already planned during the war. The first announcements of the work can be found around the same time in the Kirschner, and in Albert Sörgel’s history of literature, where the book had been announced with the title “The Expulsion” (“Die Austreibung”). But, as I set out to portray the vast epic of deportation and extermination of an entire race of people, I soon realized that my work would be piecemeal if I confined myself to describing only the end of this tragedy.
So the work grew under my hand, more and more, beyond what I originally had planned. The entire fate of the people, and the struggles of the peoples of the Middle East, should be presented in it. The antagonism of races, religions and classes were laid bare. It was not my will, but the inner nature of that work, which became a four volume novel. I’ll give you a short outline of the blueprint that I shared with the academy two years ago.
The first volume deals with the prehistory of the novel – the youth of the main hero, who was born in a small Asian town in 1890. In 1896, during the massacres of Abdul Hamid, he loses his parents and grows up an orphan in the Syrian orphanage in Jerusalem. The actual content of the first volume, then, describes life in a small Asian city, the contrast of the Turks and Armenians, their conflicting as well as common revolutionary activities, and it finally leads to Constantinople in the court of Abdul Hamid. This volume will be titled “In the Shadow of God.”
The second volume, titled “Eternal Hatred,” leads first into the mountains of an Armenian village. It shows the differences between Kurds and Armenians, and finally depicts the outbreak of the revolution of 1908 in Asia Minor and Constantinople, the removal of Abdul Hamid and the victory of the Young Turks, and ends in a general fraternization and reconciliation of Turks and Armenians in the age of the Constitution.
The third volume, which will probably carry the title “The Scream of Ararat,” begins with the outbreak of the World War. This volume will also contain the conversation between Lepsius and Enver Pasha, which Lepsius himself has so impressively recorded. The novel always shifts between the ruling classes, the leading authorities, and the people. The Young Turkish leaders, and the whole diplomacy of Europe, play their part. The book ends with the actual beginning of the deportation.
The fourth volume, titled “The Desert,” then brings the extermination of the Armenian people in the steppes of Mesopotamia. This part also contains the scenes of those two thousand refugees who had rescued themselves on a mountain and were then brought to Egypt by a ship of the Entente – scenes that I suppose to be the inspiration for the title of your planned book, “The Forty Days Musa Dagh.” An epilogue to the last volume describes the murder of Talaat Pasha in the streets of Berlin.
The entire work is expected to retain the repeatedly announced title “The Expulsion.”
Although I began writing the Novel as early as 1924, it was interrupted by my other poetic and journalistic works. In the years 1925 to 1927, the project matured to its full extent, and from the beginning of 1930, I had to start the whole work once again. In 1928 my novel “Moni” (the novel of a two-year-old child) was published in the “Berliner Tageblatt.” At the same time, I offered the book to the publishing house Zsolnay in Vienna (in March 1928), and declared my readiness for a contractual bond for my planned work in progress, the Armenian novel, as a great portrayal of people. But Zsolnay refused. I then signed a contract with the Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt in Stuttgart (in the spring of 1928), for my multi-volume novel on the Armenian deportation, and at that time I received a considerable advance.
The great economic hardship, the pressure to feed a family and the not quite satisfactory sales of my other books, slowed down my work. Driven by financial obligations, I had to accept extensive journalistic work, again and again, which required long trips to foreign countries. In 1930, Thomas Mann applied on my behalf to the Prussian Academy of the Arts (Section of Poetry), referring to my work. At his instigation, I submitted to the Academy a more detailed plan of my great Armenian novel. I enumerated the various stations of the above listed individual volumes. Fortunately, the academy gave me considerable support for this work. But unfortunately, all of these sums were not enough to allow me to labor on the huge work with peace of mind.
Article to be continued in the next issue…