1942 – Franz Werfel’s “The Song of Bernadette” is published

A Jew from Prague who fled the Aunschluss in 1938, Franz Werfel was also a playwright noted for his satirical plays about the Nazis (written before 1938). He and his wife Alma (the widow of Gustav Mahler) fled to Paris, where they were safe until the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 – when they fled once more, going into hiding and eventually reaching Portugal, from whence they took ship to New York. It was during this period, sheltered by assorted sympathisers, that Werfel learned the story of St Bernadette Soubirous, who had reported 18 separate visions of the Virgin Mary while at Lourdes. Some of this was told to him by people who had actually met Bernadette, although it is likely that their accounts were somewhat embroidered.

Werfel wrote the saint’s story largely as a tribute and thanks to the people who had helped them in France, Spain and Portugal (something he had promised them while fleeing the Nazis), and it was published in 1942 and spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list, including 13 weeks at the top of it. In 1943, it was adapted as a film which was nominated for 8 Oscars and won 4 of them.

Referenced in:

Alma — Tom Lehrer

1929 – Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler are married

Franz Werfel was husband number three for Alma Mahler. She’d already been having an affair with him and even living together for about a decade when they married. Unlike her other marriages, however, this one would last. Alma would stay with Franz until his death.

Along the way, she had a very beneficial effect on his career, inspiring him and promoting him, and she deservedly shared in the success of his most famous work, The Song of Bernadette. After the couple fled Austria in the wake of the Aunschluss in 1938, they settled in the United States, and when The Song of Bernadette became a Hollywood film, they became wealthy celebrities.

Referenced in:

Alma — Tom Lehrer