Franz Werfel (1890 - 1945)

Franz Werfel born 1890 died 1945Franz Werfel was born a German-speaking Jew in Prague in 1890, and became well known as a gifted playwright. In the 1930s in Vienna, he commenced writing popular satirical plays lampooning the Nazi totalitarian regime until Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Already exiles in France when the Germans invaded in 1940, he and his wife Alma (Gustav Mahler's widow) tried unsuccessfully to cross into Spain and, after much tribulation, found refuge at last in the little town of Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

It was there, in her native town, that Franz Werfel became acquainted with the strange and beautiful story of Bernadette Soubirous. Hunted by the Gestapo throughout this time, Franz Werfel and his wife were experiencing excruciating anxiety, not only for their own safety, but their presence was endangering their hosts if they stayed too long. In their hour of need, a great number of families came forward, courageously taking turns in sheltering them and, from those families, they heard for themselves the moving events and the miraculous healings of Lourdes.

One day in great distress[1] Franz Werfel vowed that, if he and his wife escaped from their desperate situation, he would put off all tasks and 'sing', as best he could, 'the song of Bernadette'.

After many tribulations, eased by stout hearts in France and Spain and sterling work [2] by the British Ambassador in Lisbon (in persuading the Spanish Authorities not to return them to the Germans occupying France), the Werfels reached the safety of America and this moving and noble book is the result. In Franz Werfel's own words: 'This book is the fulfilment of my vow.'
He died in 1945 and the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, having obtained the family's permission, gave him a Christian burial. After the war, Franz Werfel was reburied in Vienna.

It is probably for the reasons that Franz Werfel was able to stay with so many families in Lourdes that The Song of Bernadette is such a treasure - not only containing information that Franz Werfel obtained first-hand from those families whose parents were with Bernadette, but also because of the many gems that are not in any other literary work on those miraculous happenings in Lourdes.

John Martin

John Martin, abridged version of The Song of BernadetteFranz Werfel's great classic The Song of Bernadette has been abridged by John P. B. Martin. In abridging this great literary work, it is hoped that many more will read and appreciate the immortal story of Bernadette of Lourdes. John Martin, one of four sons, was born in Gloucester in 1927 and educated at the Crypt School, Gloucester and Worcester College, Oxford.

His military service was in Airborne Artillery and then 16 years in the Special Air Service Reserve that was formed just after the War with war-time members of the 1st and 2nd S.A.S. He is a Chartered Accountant, practising with his partners in a firm, he founded, that stretches across King Alfred's and Thomas Hardy's Wessex.

He and his wife Sally have four sons - who were at Ampleforth, the Benedictine foundation in North Yorkshire - and, while they were in the sixth form, the four helped in taking sick pilgrims to Lourdes.


[1]. Having publicly ridiculed the Nazis so effectively while in Vienna over the years, it is understandable that Franz Werfel was in some distress, as the Gestapo were fervently hunting him as if he were a master spy. Anyone caught harbouring him and his wife would face the same fate of incarceration and execution. Apart from the leading citizens of Lourdes bravely closing ranks and maintaining tight security in sheltering them; another reason that the Gestapo failed to find the Werfels during the 5-6 weeks they were in Lourdes was that in 1940 the German High Command turned Lourdes into a Rest and Recuperation centre for Armed Forces involved in the push through France. Lourdes was teeming with German troops at the time, and it was the least likely place the Gestapo thought of looking for them.

[2]. The British Ambassador in Lisbon in 1940 was Sir Ronald Campbell who, according to the wartime Chief Rabbi, became 'a British Oskar Schlindler' saving the lives of 1,000 Jews in issuing visas for them to flee to Mauritius, a British colony in the Indian Ocean. The fugitives did not go to Mauritius but were offered sanctuary in Britain or America.

Praise for The Book

I have just finished reading the abridged Song of Bernadette for the third time. Every time I read it, I derive so much more benefit from that amazing story. So many times I actually had tears in my eyes as I read along. I very appreciated the splendid job in abridging the work, for I am sure I would never have delved into the original complete text. It just would have been too much.

The Reverend Leo J. Gorman, Pelham, New York 10803

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