All Quiet on the Western Front

Publication and reception

From November 10 to December 9, 1928, All Quiet on the Western Front was published in serial form in Vossische Zeitung magazine. It was released in book form the following year to smashing success, selling one and a half million copies that same year. Although publishers had worried that interest in World War I had waned more than 10 years after the armistice, Remarque's realistic depiction of trench warfare from the perspective of young soldiers struck a chord with the war's survivors—soldiers and civilians alike—and provoked strong reactions, both positive and negative, around the world.

With All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque emerged as an eloquent spokesman for a generation that had been, in his own words, "destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells." Remarque's harshest critics, in turn, were his countrymen, many of whom felt the book denigrated the German war effort, and that Remarque had exaggerated the horrors of war to further his pacifist agenda. The strongest voices against Remarque came from the emerging National Socialist Party and its ideological allies. In 1933, when the Nazis rose to power, All Quiet on the Western Front became one of the first degenerate books to be publicly burnt;[6] in 1930, screenings of the Academy Award-winning film based on the book were met with Nazi-organized protests and mob attacks on both movie theatres and audience members.[7]

However, objections to Remarque’s portrayal of the German army personnel during World War I were not limited to the Nazis. Dr. Karl Kroner (de) objected to Remarque’s depiction of the medical personnel as being inattentive, uncaring, or absent from frontline action. Dr. Kroner was specifically worried that the book would perpetuate German stereotypes abroad that had subsided since the First World War. He offered the following clarification: “People abroad will draw the following conclusions: if German doctors deal with their own fellow countrymen in this manner, what acts of inhumanity will they not perpetuate against helpless prisoners delivered up into their hands or against the populations of occupied territory?”[8][9]

A fellow patient of Remarque’s in the military hospital in Duisburg objected to the negative depictions of the nuns and patients, and of the general portrayal of soldiers: “There were soldiers to whom the protection of homeland, protection of house and homestead, protection of family were the highest objective, and to whom this will to protect their homeland gave the strength to endure any extremities.”[9]

These criticisms suggest that perhaps experiences of the war and the personal reactions of individual soldiers to their experiences may be more diverse than Remarque portrays them; however, it is beyond question that Remarque gives voice to a side of the war and its experience that was overlooked or suppressed at the time. This perspective is crucial to understanding the true effects of World War I. The evidence can be seen in the lingering depression that Remarque and many of his friends and acquaintances were suffering a decade later.[8]

In contrast, All Quiet on the Western Front was trumpeted by pacifists as an anti-war book.[9] Remarque makes a point in the opening statement that the novel does not advocate any political position, but is merely an attempt to describe the experiences of the soldier.[10]

The main artistic criticism was that it was a mediocre attempt to cash in on public sentiment. The enormous popularity the work received was a point of contention for some literary critics, who scoffed at the fact that such a simple work could be so earth-shattering. Much of this literary criticism came from Salomo Friedlaender, who wrote a book Hat Erich Maria Remarque wirklich gelebt? "Did Erich Maria Remarque really live?" (under pen name Mynona), which was, in its turn, criticized in: Hat Mynona wirklich gelebt? "Did Mynona really live?" by Kurt Tucholsky.[11] Friedlaender’s criticism was mainly personal in nature—he attacked Remarque as being ego-centric and greedy. Remarque publicly stated that he wrote All Quiet on the Western Front for personal reasons, not for profit, as Friedlaender had charged.[8][9] Max Joseph Wolff wrote a parody titled Vor Troja nichts Neues (Compared to Troy, Nothing New) under the pseudonym Emil Marius Requark.[12]

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