He Tried to Reinvent Himself as a Catholic. The Germans Still Saw Him as a Jew

Living in exile in Los Angeles during World War II, Alfred Döblin stunned his fellow German émigrés with his conversion to Catholicism – the main theme of his 1949 memoir. But after returning to his homeland, he failed to reinvent himself

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A statue of the pope at the cathedral in Mende, France. While passing through the war-torn country, Döblin visited the cathedral daily, contemplating the meaning of his fate in front of a crucifix.
A statue of the pope at the cathedral in Mende, France. While passing through the war-torn country, Döblin visited the cathedral daily, contemplating the meaning of his fate in front of a crucifix.

In an undated letter from the early 1950s, Erna Döblin sought to confront her husband, the celebrated modernist writer Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) and author of the renowned Weimar-era novel “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” with the unpleasant facts of his “homecoming” to postwar West Germany.

“You have always been a Jew. You will never be able to deny this fact since your racial affiliation is written on your face. You consider yourself a Christian, instead of admitting that you were born a Jew and as such it is your obligation to remain faithful to your people,” she wrote. “You were forced to flee in ‘33 so as not to be killed by the Germans. You then had to flee from the Germans again to America in ‘40. You were able to return to Germany and work there after the war solely by virtue of your French citizenship. You are published thanks only to your official position. Most Germans don’t even know your name. Everything you have now, you owe to the French. The Germans could well have been your murderers, just as they murdered your son, your brother and millions of others… I am horrified that you don’t understand this.”

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