December 27, 1896: Birthdate of German writer and playwright Carl Zuckmayer who did not think of himself as being Jewish until the rise of Hitler. His mother was the daughter of a Protestant church councilor who had converted from Judaism. This made him Jewish in the eyes of the Nazis and no doubt accounted for his fleeing to the United States where he spent World War II. (Mitchell Levin)
Born in Nackenheim in Rhenish Hesse, he was the son of Amalie (née Goldschmidt) and Carl Zuckmayer. When he was four years old, his family moved to Mainz. With the outbreak of World War I, he (like many other high school students) finished school with a facilitated “emergency”-Abitur and volunteered for military service. During the war he served with the German Army’s Field Artillery on the Western Front. In 1917, he published first poems in the pacifist journal Die Aktion and he was one of the signatures of the Appeal published by the Antinational Socialist Party after the German Revolution of November 9, 1918.
His first ventures into literature and theatre were complete failures. His first drama Kreuzweg (1921) fell flat and was delisted after only three performances, and when he was chosen as dramatic adviser at the theatre of Kiel, he lost his new job after his first, controversial staging of Terence’s The Eunuch. In 1924 he became dramaturg at the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin, jointly with Bertolt Brecht. After another failure with his second drama Pankraz erwacht oder Die Hinterwäldler he finally had a great public success with the comedy Der fröhliche Weinberg (“The Merry Vineyard”) in 1925, which won him the Kleist Prize.
In 1931, his play Der Hauptmann von Köpenick premiered and became another success, but his plays were prohibited when the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 (Zuckmayer’s maternal grandfather had been born Jewish and converted to Protestantism). Zuckmayer and his family moved to their house in Austria, where he published a few more works. After the Anschluss, he was expatriated by the Nazi government, and the Zuckmayers fled via Switzerland to the United States in 1939, where he first worked as a script writer in Hollywood before renting Backwoods Farm near Barnard, Vermont in 1941 and working there as a farmer until 1946. In 1943/44 he wrote “character portraits” of actors, writers and other artists in Germany for the Office of Strategic Services, evaluating their involvement with the Nazi regime. This became known only in 2002, when the approximately 150 reports where published in Germany under the title Geheimreport.
Zuckmayer had been granted numerous awards, such as the Goethe Prize of the city of Frankfurt in 1952, the Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern in 1955, the Austrian Staatspreis für Literatur in 1960, Pour le Mérite in 1967, and the Austrian Verdienstkreuz am Band in 1968.
Germany issued a stamp in 1996 (Scott No. 1950) commemorating Zuckmayer’s 100th birthday: