Franz Werfel

WERFEL, Franz (1890-1945), Austrian author, born in Prague. He attended the University of Prague and served in the Austrian army in World War I. Writing, however, was Werfel's major interest; his first play appeared in print in 1910. By the end of the war he had established his reputation in Austria and Germany as a novelist, poet, and dramatist. Werfel settled in Vienna until fear of Nazi Germany's expanding power forced him, as a Jew, to flee to France in 1938 and to the U.S. in 1940, where he spent the last years of his life.

Werfel was fascinated by the theater. Among his plays are Juarez and Maximilian (1924), which was the basis of the American film Juarez (1939); and Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1944), which was adapted into both a successful theatrical comedy, Jacobowsky and the Colonel (1944), and a film, Me and the Colonel (1958). Werfel also wrote several novels, one of which, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (1933; trans. 1934), an epic tale of Armenian resistance to Turkish invaders, had a remarkable success in the U.S. In The Song of Bernadette (1941; trans. 1942), which became a popular American film (1944), Werfel shows his sympathy with Roman Catholicism as he recounts the incidents leading to the elevation of a young girl to sainthood.