Emil Ludwig

Emil Ludwig. German writer and biographer of Jewish origin. Mainly known for his works on Beethoven , Goethe, and Napoleon . In 1932 he adopted Swiss nationality and in 1933 all his books were publicly burned . Thanks to his good financial situation, he helped many persecuted German writers and organized international protests against the Third Reich.


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  • 1 Biographical synthesis
    • 1 Career path
    • 2 Journalism
    • 3 Death
  • 2 Works
  • 3 Related Links
  • 4 Reference
  • 5 Source

Biographical synthesis

Born in Wroclaw, Germany , the 25 of January of 1881 , (part of the German Empire now Poland ). Baptized as Emil Cohn and born into a family of the Jewish high bourgeoisie. He studied Law and History in Heidelberg, Lausanne, Bratislava and Berlin, but soon discovered his interest in writing.

Career path

In 1904 he started working in a family business. However, in 1906, he left it to move to Switzerland and devote himself definitively to literature . During the 1920s, he achieved international fame for his popular biographies that combined historical fact and fiction with psychological analysis.

After Goethe’s biography was published in 1920 , he wrote several similar biographies, including one on Bismarck between 1922 and 1924 and one on Jesus Christ in 1928 . Goethe was followed by the biographies of Rembrandt (1923), Napoleon (1925), and Wilhelm II (William II, 1925). [1] Despite his constant confrontation with historyIn all his biographies, his political position is difficult to determine and from his earliest works he was considered the intellectual representative of the young Republic. After the murder of his friend Rathenau, he abandoned the Jewish religion in protest, although in 1902 he had already officially converted to Christianity.

He worked as a journalist at the Berliner Tageblatt in the period of World War I, and was extremely successful with his biographies and reports. After the triumph of Nazism in Germany , he became a Swiss national in 1932. It was a decisive stage in his life, since it allowed him to take an increasingly European and less nationalistic attitude. In 1933 Goebbels considered him a dangerous writer and all his books were publicly burned.


Emil Ludwig conducted several interviews: with Benito Mussolinia and Joseph Stalin in Moscow on December 13 , 1931 . The synthesis of this conversation introduces him in Stalin’s book on Lenin. He also exposes this interview in his biography of Stalin.

In 1940 he was appointed President Roosevelt’s manager for affairs with Germany. In the texts pronounced in relation to this office, his idea is reflected that fascism derived from the character of the Germans, at the same time that a transformation of this people was demanded. At the end of World War II, he marched to Germany as a journalist, finding Goethe and Schiller’s coffins, which had been lost from Weimar between 1943 and 1944 . In the 1940s, he went to the Dominican Republic , participating in intellectual circles in the home of the German couple Erwin Walter Palm and Hilde Domin. He returned to Switzerland after the war.

Emil Ludwig turned the biography of a simple compilation of data on the life of some character into an art form, with which, in his words, the modern biography begins.

“The biography should be a portrait that expresses the character of the subject and has as little to do with the tasks of the historical researcher as with the historical novel, which invents scenes between men who carry a historical name”


Of all the biographies he wrote, perhaps the best known is that of Napoleon , translated into other languages. Affordable reading that shows Ludwig’s strange ability to delight a lost period in simple prose.


After the war in 1945, he returned to Switzerland and died on September 17 , 1948 in Moscia, near Ascona.


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