European Film Fund
European Film Fund
Ich wohn in meinem neuen Haus –
doch schmeißt man mich auch dort heraus,
falls ich die Miete nicht bezahle.
So muß ich nun zum x-ten Male,
statt, wie ich’s möchte, selbst zu spenden,
mich wieder an den Filmfonds wenden.
Statt fünfzig zahl ich jetzt neunzig -
und ohne job. Der Fall ist einzig.
Erscheint Euch diese Dichtung gangbar,
dann wäre ich Euch äußerst dankbar,
von wegen Miete, Herz und Leber -
hätte ich’s vor dem ersten Feber.
[I’m living now in my new house –
but even there, they want me out,
if I fail to pay the rent
the outcome is that I’ll be sent
again and for the umpteenth time
to the Film Fund to get a dime.
Instead of fifty, they now want ninety –
I’m unemployed, but get no pity.
If this ditty speaks to you
my gratitude would indeed be great
if before the winter’s through
you could help put some meat on my plate.
Paul Schiller to the European Relief Fund (successor organisation to the European Film Fund), January 25, 1950
Language aside, getting by in America depended on contacts and most of all money for many people in the film industry. Only a small portion of German emigrants managed to make it onto the studios’ payrolls. In 1938, film agent Paul Kohner joined Ernst Lubitsch, Charlotte Dieterle, Liesl Frank and others to found the European Film Fund (from 1948 onwards, European Relief Fund) to help unemployed colleagues. Each week, solvent artists donated a proportion of their income to the fund and thus supported around 250 unemployed colleagues with relatively small amounts for years. Thanks to the efforts of Kohner and the European Film Fund, some life-saving contracts were signed with film companies in Hollywood. In the autumn of 1940, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM), Warner Bros. and Columbia gave authors such as Heinrich Mann, Leonhard Frank and Friedrich Torberg (Warner Bros.), Alfred Döblin, Walter Mehring and Alfred Polgar (MGM) employment contracts for a year. These guaranteed them a visa from the American consulate as well as weekly earnings of 100 dollars.
However, this act of charity did not offer any real perspective, and Döblin bemoaned that he and his colleagues in the film studios soon realised that the companies merely wanted to be charitable and didn’t take their work seriously. They could write what they wanted, he complained, as it was merely an industry and the producers’ mainstream taste and the barriers put up by the established professionals made all their hard work pointless. (Alfred Döblin: Schicksalsreise [Destiny’s Journey], 1949)