1879 - 1901
1901 - 1911
1911 - 1919
1919 - 1938
1938 - 1945
1945 - 1964

Gustav Klimt
Alexander Zemlinsky
Gustav Mahler
Walter Gropius
Dr. Paul Kammerer
Oskar Kokoschka
Franz Werfel
Johannes Hollnsteiner

Alma the composer
Kokoschka's Alma portraits

Alma Fetish

The Puppet
Reserl (Chamber Maid)
Emil Jakob Schindler, father
Anna von Bergen, mother
Carl Moll, stepfather
Maria Anna Mahler, daughter
Anna Mahler, daughter
Manon Gropius, daughter
Martin Carl Johannes, son
Berta Zuckerkandl
Max Burckhard
Bruno Walter
Sigmund Freud
Gerhart Hauptmann
Lili Leiser
Hanns Martin Elster
August Hess
Georg Moenius
  Alma & Venice
Alma & Lisbon
Alma & Los Angeles
Alma & Jerusalem
Alma & New York

1940, Lourdes

We were so rundown that even if sleep was imperfect, a roof over our heads seemed like a heavenly invention. After weeks in the same clothes, unable to wash properly, much less to bathe, we buried our vanity and lapsed into general indifference.

On the first morning there Werfel went to get a shave, and I went for a stroll along the bookstalls. I found a small book on the little saint of Lourdes and felt that, since we were there now, we ought to know her. I gave Werfel the book with the remark that this was something extraordinary, and he read it with a great deal of interest.
As time went by, I also bought all the devotional tracts about Saint Bernadette. Her grotto at Massabieille made a deep impression on us; with all due emotion we bravely drank the water from her spring, waiting for some stroke of luck to help us to get out of town. We were imprisoned in Lourdes, as in all of France; we not only needed visas to get out of the country but safe-conducts from the authorities to go from one village to the next. I do not know how many hours we spent at the police station of Lourdes, trying to wangle those precious slips from the men whose precursors in office had harassed the child Bernadette.



I wrote in my diary:
Franz Werfel's possible rescue, my rescue - everything lies in a clouded future that we know nothing about. The grotto of Lourdes has a healing effect on our souls while we are here; once we go away, this effect will cease, and our hearts will be burdened again ...

What matters, if I understand it right, is to cast out the galling criticism in ourselves. Today I was twice at the grotto - to morning Mass, and to an afternoon service with a sermon, music, and innumerable little Bernadettes (costumewise, at least). Suddenly I was so moved I had to cry and hide my face. It tore at my heart-strings for no visible reason - and that is what matters!'

After two weeks at our Hôtel Vatican we were moved into a better room with - thank God! – twin beds. Two more weeks passed, and the post office advised us of the arrival of our suitcases, which we had left in the ditch at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with the chauffeur's wife. We felt enriched, though not much so. Meanwhile, the hotel manager, whom we had told of our lost trunks, remembered knowing a friend of the Bordeaux station master. He wrote letter after letter, but got no reply as long as we were in Lourdes.

On 3 August we finally got our safe-conducts back to Marseille. With troop trains shuttling incessantly between the occupied and unoccupied zones, there had been no civilian rail travel in three weeks, and we were more or less the first to venture it. Once again, God's staging was perfect, with the heat near the boiling point. Food parcels with white bread, ham, hard boiled eggs, and pastry were tied with string and stowed in the horse-drawn cab with our few pieces of hand luggage. We rode out of the Avénue de la Grotte, passing all the little bistros and, the post office on our way to the station, where we had to stand at the ticket gate for two hours before the train carried us off through the green mountain country.
It was dark by the time reached Toulouse, where we were greeted by a stench of army boots and Armageddon. Senegalese soldiers lay sprawling on the tracks, fast asleep. We settled down in the grimy station restaurant and began to eat enormously, for no reason at all. There are no adjectives to describe the sanitary facilities at that railway station. The restaurant closed at ten. Ejected from its hospitable premises, the four of us, the Kahlers, Werfel, and I, sat on the platform on our suitcases, faithfully playing our parts in this supercolossal spectacular, 'World's End', until a train left for Marseille at dawn.

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The Cannebière was sun-baked early in the morning. We walked from the station, carrying our suitcases ourselves. In front of the Hôtel de Louvre et de la Paix six brand-new cars stood gleaming in the sun,- a long time had passed since we had seen a polished, shiny car. In the lobby we saw officers in field grey, with pistols and shaved heads. The Germans were in Marseille!

Our old friend the hotel manager told us under his breath that the German commission was going to leave in two hours; in the meantime we should use the rear lift and stay in our rooms. Had we spent seven weeks on this 'Tour de France” as Werfel termed our flight from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and back, only to run right here into the jaws of the Germans?

The next few weeks in Marseille were unbearable. Daily there were new rumours, every week a new commission to plunder and ship stocks of supplies to Germany - rice, noodles, oil, sugar, and so forth.

Hunger had come to Marseille in our absence. It was a poor city to which we returned: food was scarce and bad, soap and fat virtually unobtainable, butter a memory. And the daily pilgrimages to the consuls, where those gentlemen would let everyone feel their full power!

The city swarmed with refugees. They had been Germans, Austrians, Czechs, Poles; now most of them were stateless, many without passports, some without any papers, all wanting only to get out, to go far away. "Far from where?' was a joke of those days, when it seemed likely that Hitler would conquer the world.
Werfel was unnerved by the confusing rumours he brought daily from the Czech consulate. The armistice signed by the French obliged them to 'surrender on demand' all Germans (which then meant also all former Austrians and Czechs) named by the German Government. Werfel would hear from someone that he was 'first on the list', and would collapse in tears. I thanked God for letting me keep my head, at least, so I could calm him.

Despite our own fears we saw many others in the same distress. They helped to distract us from our troubles. Werfel's name was not supposed to be mentioned, but some refugees kept shouting it over the telephone: "Good morning, Herr Werfel! I can't tell you my name...”

The telephone was in the lobby of our hotel, where everyone could hear it. For a while the Gestapo occupied rooms on our floor; when they came, we were warned by the manager to keep out of sight. He would not let them see the hotel register, either.

When we did not have to stand in line at some consulate, we would take a cab out to the beach. There the sea gulls screamed, the salty smell of the haze over the water carried far, and good ideas came to mind. In those blessed hours we forgot that there was evil in the world, lying in wait for us.

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The French had promised us exit visas, but when time passed we did not get them, any more than others did, we began to think leaving without them. Crazy escape plans were hatched. One - to travel to a small border village, spend the night there, sneak up to a cemetery at 5 a.m. and meet someone who would be waiting behind a shack and would smuggle us through the cemetery and across the border - was rejected as too vague. Another plan was to seize a ship, man it with Czech refugees, and dress it up as a Red Cross vessel, with me as head nurse.


Werfels tschechischer Reisepaß
Werfels Mühen um eine Ausreise aus Frankreich sind in ihm genau abzulesen: Zunächst ist das erste U.S.-Visum eingetragen, datiert vom 14.Oktober 1938 in Marseille; eine französische Ausreiseerlaubnis nach Portugal via Spanien, Grenzort Hendaye, ausgestellt in Bayonne am 23. Juni 1940 (beide konnten nicht genützt werden); ein portugiesisches Transitvisum in die U.S.A. - ausgestellt in Marseille am 7. August 1940, im«halb von 30 Tagen zu benützen (verfallen); die spanische Durchreiseerlaubnis nach Portugal, datiert vom 8. August 1940 in Marseille; ein portugiesisches Durchreisevisum, ausgestellt in Marseille am 31. August 1940; eine Einreiserlaubnis für Mexiko, ausgestellt in Marseille am 27. August 1940; einen Stempel der "Nea Hellas", 4. Oktober 1940; das zweite Einreisevisum in die U.S.A. vom 22. März 1941 aus Nogales an der mexikanischen Grenze, in dessen Folge Werfel am 18. Juni die "First Papers" des Einbürgerungsverfahrens erhielt.


There was talk of a man being sent from America especially to help us all. We waited; the man did not come. But what came one day, out of the blue, alone, orphaned and tattered, was my little trunk with the scores of Gustav Mahler´s symphonies and Bruckner´s Third! The efforts of our kindly host in Lourdes had not been completely in vain, and I did not mind losing the rest of our possessions as long as I had what was most important to me.

A telegram carne from New York, advising us that our American visas had been cabled to the American consul in Marseille. The taxi ride to the consulate cost a small fortune. The waiting room was full of excited people; once again we sat around for hours, and when we got to see the consul, he knew nothing of a cable. It was only at our vigorous insistence that he managed to locate it.

No ships were sailing from French ports, and to embark for the United States in Lisbon, you needed Spanish and Portuguese transit visas. With the American visa in a Czech passport like ours there was no trouble about getting them; you just had to wait your turn. The refugees stood in line before the consulates from sunrise until closing time, if they did not faint in the glistening heat or leave, to keep from fainting. A man with Werfel's heart could die on the spot. But all applicants had to appear in person.

At the Spanish consulate I bribed the doorman to take our card in, and we were promptly called up out of turn and issued visas. I tried this on the Portuguese doorman, too, but there it did not work; the man returned the card to me as undeliverable. We went to the end of the line. It inched forward with maddening slowness. At high noon the pavement seemed to melt under our feet. Werfel kept mopping his brow. His eyes burned in his dripping face; he suddenly looked ashen. I was desperate and ready to give up when a young Austrian acquaintance of ours approached. 'That's impossible,' she said indignantly. 'Why should Franz Werfel stand in line like this?"

We knew Hertha Pauli from Vienna, where she had been one of Paul Zsolnay´s promising authors, and had met her again in Paris and recently in Lourdes. She had just happened to pass by; she could not hope for a visa herself, because she had no passport. I explained to her that our card had failed to go through. 'Wait a minute,' she said, and disappeared.


Franz Werfels Passierschein, gültig für einen Monat (25. August bis 24.September 1940)


In two minutes she was back beaming. 'Come,' she said. 'You’ll have to sit down, first of all. The consul expects you at four.’ I really had to sit down. Werfel kept mopping his brow. 'How did you manage that?' I asked. 'I called up,' she said simply. 'When I mentioned your name the consul came right to the phone. He is an old admirer of yours,’ she told Franz Werfel. Then she turned back to me. 'l hope you’ll forgive me but I had to call as Madame Werfel.' We laughed aloud, for the first time in weeks, and headed for nearest bistro. 'That calls for champagne,' I declared.

Punctually at 4 p.m. we got the visas. In exchange, Werfel had only to autograph the consul's Portuguese edition of Musa Dagh. (Subsequently, through the Czech consul, an angel of a man, Werfel got Czech passports for a score of stateless refugees, including Hertha Pauli, who had aided us.)

Soon after we got our visas, the much-talked-about American came to Marseille. He was Varian Fry, the representative of the Emergency Rescue Committee, which had been formed in New York for the purpose of bringing the political and intellectual refugees of unoccupied France before the Germans got them. Mr. Fry did the job, but his laconic manner and expressionless face made him appear to be doing it gruffly and grudgingly. He came to our hotel, had dinner with us, and then dragged out our departure for two more weeks in a wild-goose chase after a ship. This, of course, fell through, and on 11 September he finally told us to be ready to leave by rail the next morning at five, together with Heinrich Mann and his wife and nephew Thomas Mann's son Golo.

There was no time to lose. From Mr. Fry's hotel we rushed back to ours, where Werfel burned all his writings and drafts in a small ash tray while I was busy packing - for, as by a miracle, the rest of our lost luggage had also caught up with us. Our friend Frau Meier-Graefe stayed up with me all night until it was time to leave.

Mr. Fry and another young American got on the train with us. In Perpignan we waited several hours for another train, which took us to the border town of Cerbére by nightfall. The two Americans hoped that our American visas would get us through on the train, even without French exit visas. This gambit failed, unfortunately, so we took rooms at an otherwise deserted inn and waited for orders.

In the morning I rose early. Unable to stand it long at the eerie empty inn, I went to the station, where we had arranged to meet. There was no breakfast to be had, just tea. We held a war council. The police, the Americans told us, had repeated their refusal to let us cross the border on the train, so we came to the decision to try on foot although Heinrich Mann was seventy and Werfel had a heart ailment.
Mr. Fry, the only possessor of an exit visa, would go on the train with the luggage and await us at the Spanish border town of Port Bou, while his young colleague would guide us over the hills. We had to go soon - the Spanish sun was infernally hot at six o'clock already - but Golo, usually a most reliable young man, was nowhere to be found. Two valuable hours passed before he came back, refreshed, from a swim in the Mediterranean and we could set out to climb the Pyrenees.

In the village it suddenly struck Nelly Mann that it was Friday, the thirteenth. She wanted to turn back. Werfel and I walked ahead, to put an end to the hysterical squabble; we were supposed, after all, to be innocent excursionists. The village scarcely lay behind us when the young American turned off the road and uphill, on a steep, stony trail that soon vanished altogether. It was sheer slippery terrain that we crawled up, bounded by precipices. Mountain goats could hardly have kept their footing on the glassy, shimmering slate. If you skidded, there was nothing but thistles to hold on to.

After a two-hour climb the youth bade us farewell and hurried back to show this "road' to the Manns. We stood alone on the mountaintop. In the distance we saw a hut shining white on the white rock. This was the Spanish border post, where we were to present ourselves.

Laboriously we crawled downhill; trembling, we knocked on the door, which was opened by a dull-faced Catalan soldier who knew Spanish only. His understanding was somewhat improved by the packets of cigarettes we slipped into his pocket. He grew friendlier and motioned to us to follow him. At last we could walk on a passable road - but where was this idiot taking us? Back to the French border post!

We were brought before an officer. I was wearing old sandals and lugging a bag that contained the rest of our money, my jewels, and the score of Bruckner's Third. We must have looked pretty decrepit, surely less picturesque than the stage smugglers in Carmen. After the march in the broiling sun we felt utterly wretched. In a sudden burst of kindliness, the officer waved us through.

Tired, perspiring, we unsteadily retraced our steps, clambered over the dramatic iron chains that separate France from Spain, and continued our descent after the soldier had telephoned down to the custom-house. On the road I found half a horseshoe and picked it up; we took it for a good omen and walked more cheerfully. It had grown late in the day. The heat was unimaginable. In Port Bou we did not see any officials; they were probably taking their siesta. But the custom-house porters - whom we had approached with deference at first, mistaking them for Government functionaries - were oddly amiable, promised us good luck, brought wine, and cursed Franco and Mussolini. Catalonia was apparently still anti-fascist, and we took courage in spite of our great weariness.

At last, our travel companions arrived. We pretended to be mere casual acquaintances, though I hastily whispered to Golo to tip the porters, who had already been discussing the fact that there was a son of Thomas Mann in our group. When we had given them virtually all our French francs, they could not do enough for us, telephoned for the best rooms in town, and fought over our bags when we were finally summoned to the custom-house.

Then came the dreaded moment: the passport control. And, as always, it turned out that the really dangerous situations have to be faced quite alone. There was no American in sight, no one to help.

Like poor sinners we sat in a row on a narrow bench while papers were checked against a card index. Heinrich Mann, greatly endangered because of his leftist tendencies, was travelling with false papers, under the name of Heinrich Ludwig; Werfel, travelling under his own name, had heard in Marseille that Hitler himself had put a price on his head; Golo Mann was in danger as his father’s son. Yet Golo sat quite calmly reading a book, as if the whole business did not concern him. Nelly Mann had half carried her aged husband over the thistly mountainside, and her stockings hung in shreds from bleeding calves.

After an agonizing wait we all got our papers back, properly stamped, and were free to continue through Spain. When I think how many killed themselves up there on the hill or landed in Spanish jails, I see how lucky we were to have our American scraps of paper honoured by the officials at Port Bou.

Discharged, we found Mr. Fry, who had our luggage, and in gathering dusk we walked together to the hotel where the porters had reserved rooms for us. It had been almost completely bombed out in the civil war; only a primitive dining-room and three or four shabby bedrooms were still standing. The house looked like all of Spain, like one bleeding wound. Late that evening the mayor of the town performed a marriage ceremony in the dining room of the hotel, because the courthouse, also, had been pulverized.

We slept as if never to awaken. Then, with a shock, we were aroused at 4 a.m., for at six our train was to leave. I still do not know why all trains throughout our flight always left between three and six in the morning.

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We rattled to Barcelona, a war-devastated, starved, impoverished city that must have been beautiful once. In the afternoon Werfel and I sat before a café, and poor children licked the melted ice-cream off our plates. We paid with tattered old stamps. Everything was crumbling and desolate. But we began to breathe easier in the two days we spent in Barcelona, waiting for the first plane on which two seats to Lisbon were to be had. The seats went to the Heinrich Manns, as the most endangered, and we, with Golo Mann and Mr. Fry, travelled fifteen hours by rail to Madrid, once more jammed eight in a compartment.


Almas und Franz Werfels Meldezettel vom Grande Hotel d'Italia Estoril vom 18. September 1940. Als Nationalitär ist bei beiden "Tschecho Slowakei" angegeben. Bemerkenswert ist, dass Alma hier ausnahmsweise mit "Alma Werfel-Mahler" unterschrieben hat und nicht - wie ihr ganzes sonstiges Leben lang - mit "Alma Mahler-Werfel". Beide verwendeten zur Vorlage Reisedokumente des American Foreign Service. Die Abreise aus dem Hotel erfolgte am 18. Oktober 1940.
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From Madrid, Werfel and I flew to Lisbon. It was evening when we landed there at a new, unfinished, unlighted airport; as everywhere, we were kept standing around, senselessly, for hours. The passport examiner scrutinized a list of Werfel's works which had been added to a letter of recommendation by the Duke of Württemberg, a high-ranking cleric. When he came to the title Paul Among the Jews, the official frowned. "I see - you're of Jewish descent?”

Werfel did not say yes or no. In his confusion he merely pointed at me, and the official sneered, as if to indicate that Werfel's descent was obvious to everyone. Then he gave us the stamp that meant admission to Portugal.

I can never forget those first days of paradisiacal peace in a paradisiacal country, after the torment of the previous months!


"Danke für die zweite Lebensrettung" - Telegramm Franz Werfels aus Estoril an Rudolf Kommer vom 19. September 1940

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The "New Hellas”

Two more weeks had to be spent waiting at a hotel near Lisbon, until we got passage on the Nea Hellas, the last ship to make a regular run to New York. On the day of embarkation, when I went to pay our hotel bill, the clerk seemed to sense that it would leave me short of cash. "Never mind paying the bill,” he said. "I’II advance it for you, and you can send me the money from New York.”
"The kindness of a perfect stranger,” I wrote in my diary, "has reconciled me with mankind ...”


Die "Nea Hellas", das letzte offizielle Schiff von Lissabon nach New York 1940 mit der griechischen Flagge


The sea was dull. It always is; only the coasts are interesting, and those only if they are inhabited. We hardly went on deck. We spent most of the time in our cabins, reading and talking, took no part in the lifeboat drills, and wearily dragged ourselves to the shabby dining-room. On this voyage we were really 'lost to the world'.

Nothing from outside could touch us. We were overwhelmed by the pressure of past experiences and the anticipation of freedom. At sea we heard that the war had come to Greece. The report proved to be three weeks early, yet we felt that in all probability our old Greek ship was making her last crossing. Then we began to get radiograms, from New York. America was drawing near, and our strength returned. On 3 January, I94I, Franz Werfel started working. "Thank God,” I wrote in my diary. "How wonderful that he can concentrate again! It's Bernadette churning in his mind ... ”

Five months earlier, on our last day in Lourdes, he had disappeared for a while. I did not ask where he had been, but he told me himself. "I’ve made a vow,” he said frankly. "If we get to America all right, I’II write a book in honour of Saint Bernadette."

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New York

Since then, the Nea Hellas had brought us safely to New York. Feeling young and courageous, we disembarked on I3 October, I940. (Yes, on the thirteenth-!) At last we set foot on soil that was really free. If I had not felt embarrassed before the others, I should have kissed the American earth.


Oben: Alma beim Verlassen der „Nea Hellas“ in Hoboken, New Jersey am 13.Oktober 1940. Hinter ihr (tw. verdeckt) Nelly Mann, die Ehefrau Heinrich Manns.

Links: Zeitungsbericht der New York Times vom 14. Oktober 1940:
Die geflohenen Autoren, darunter Franz Werfel, Alfred Polgar, Heinrich und Golo Mann wurden noch am Pier interviewt. Sie beschrieben den Weg der Flucht nur ungefähr, um die zurückgebliebenen Personen, die die Flucht noch vor sich hatten, nicht zu gefährden.


The landing in New York Harbour was as grandiose an experience as ever. A mob of friends awaited us on the pier; all of them were in tears, and so were we. We spent close to ten weeks in New York - a time of rather too much commotion, but also of love, friendship, excitement, and blessed freedom.

Two days after Christmas we left for the West Coast.