Author, Social Critic & Anti-Militarist
The German author Bernhard Kellermann, popular for his socially critical novels, was born on March 4, 1879.
Kellermann was not Jewish, but all of his major novels and short story collections were huge bestsellers in many languages and all translated into Yiddish where they were extremely popular. Kellermann faced repression during the Nazi regime for the antimilitarism of his work.
Bernhard Kellermann was born in Fürth, Bavaria. When he was 20 years old he began attending the Technical University of Munich, but his interest quickly turned to the arts and he spent his time painting and writing.
His first novel Yester and Li (1904) was incredibly popular, going through more than 180 printings by 1939 when his early work was banned by the Nazis. Before World War One, Kellermann made trips to the United States and Japan, and the experiences of travel were important for the themes of international cooperation in his writing. After the war he again took a public role as an author and citizen, joining the Cultural Association of East Germany and serving in the state legislature.
4 March 1879 – 17 October 1951
Kellermann's work was popular in translation, especially among Jewish readers. Here is the title page of the Warsaw Yiddish translation of Ingeborg.
Kellermann’s most popular work was The Tunnel, published in 1913 and made into four film versions in 1915, 1933 and 1935 in two versions, German and French.
Kellermann’s most influential antimilitarist work became the justification for his repression by the Nazis after 1933. The novel was banned and burned publicly by the Nazis.
Kellermann’s status as an international bestseller was cemented with the publication of his second novel, Ingeborg, published in 1906. Among the more than 25 languages that Kellermann’s novels were translated into is Yiddish.
His early work was impressionistic, but he quickly turned to a more realistic style and social critical topics. The themes of internationalism and antimilitarism made them popular with Jewish audiences.
Kellermann’s most popular work was The Tunnel, one of the bestselling novels of the first half of the 20th century. Today it would be described as a work of science fiction, telling the story of a project to build an underwater tunnel connecting Europe with North America.
It deals with themes of progress, technological advancement, and the pitfalls and human cost of both these concepts. The 1933 film versions in German and French were directed by the Jewish director Kurt (later Curtis) Bernhardt, it was his last German film and gave Bernhardt the opportunity to escape Nazi Germany for France, from where he was able to leave for the United States.
The film was also shot in 1935 and shown here. It was directed by the prolific English director Maurice Elvey, and released with the title Transatlantic Tunnel.
Kellermann’s most influential work after World War One was his novel, The Ninth of November (1920). The novel criticized how soldiers and officers treated the civilian population during the war. The novel was banned and burned publicly by the Nazis. Kellermann remained in Germany for the duration of the war, supporting himself with non-controversial work.
After the war he resumed a public role in the GDR, becoming part of the Culture Association, chairman of the Society for German-Soviet Friendship, and serving in the Volkskammer, the people’s chamber of the East German legislature. His work in East Germany earned Kellermann another boycotting of his work, this time by West German booksellers.
Kellermann died on October 17, 1951.