Austrian poet, modernist playwright, and novelist Franz Werfel, 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. 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 Werfel died of pneumonia at his home in Los Angeles on August 26, 1945. Since then, his popular standing has diminished. In Shearier’s view, “While his career had moved ineluctably from peak to peak, Werfel is largely forgotten today.
Courtesy Poetry Foundation / United States Holocaust Museum
Oh the slow fall of snow,
Its unending blanketing swirl!
Yet my mind's eye was giving shape
To what couldn't be kept hidden,
That in the white drifts each fleck
Is known, weighed, counted.
Oh you spinning dancing flakes,
Your tiny souls and personalities
Withstand gravity, weightlessness, wind,
In your coming and going
I see your destinies glide down,
Which you begin, fulfill, begin . . .
This one falls soft and like wool,
The next is crystal and tenacious,
The third's a clenched fist of struggle.
Yet their white realm disperses by morning,
Thus one doesn't die from the rest,
And they dissolve into the purest drop shapes.
Oh the world's slow falling snow,
That race's dense, blanketing swirl!
It perishes and not one fate melts alone.
We melt, but we are left behind
When death, the way spring wind thaws, overtakes
Us drops and comes together home in the womb.