Night in Lisbon is the thirteenth novel by Erich Maria Remarque. It was published in 1961. The plot is based on the favorite prose writer’s emigrant theme. By the time the novel was written, the author himself was forced to leave his native Germany, he lost his German citizenship and moved to Switzerland.
The leading themes of the work of Erich Maria Remarque, which sound like a leitmotif in all his novels, are the theme of emigration, pacifism, rejection of fascism, and mutual, but tragic love. “Night in Lisbon” is called the sunset novel by the German prose writer. He became a kind of synthesis of everything previously written. Just like the main character Joseph Schwartz, the author recalls the history of his literary life.
The central characters of Remarque’s so-called emigrant novels are people forced to leave their homeland and doomed to eternal wanderings and hardships. Most of them are apolitical, but due to natural honesty, justice, and healthy morality, they cannot put up with the ideas of fascism and remain, citizens of Germany, into which Nazism turned it. They live, fall in love, drink in bars, listen to music, and dream of building their quiet human happiness on the ruins of a mad world.
Remarque has always been consistent in his judgments. He never hid his own rejection of fascism, and when his anti-militarist novels became clearly objectionable to the Reich, the writer was forced to leave his homeland. He did not know how to dissemble and did not want to. At the same time, Remarque never went into deliberate moralizing; in his novels, one cannot find loud anti-fascist slogans, sonorous political eloquence, and pathetic pathos. He conveyed his ideas to the reader simply and clearly, describing realistic stories of people, representatives of the “lost generation”.
This simplicity and truthfulness provided the writer’s novels with unchanging readership even decades later, when fascism was long ago denounced and condemned by the whole world, including Germany.
Let’s recall the plot of one of the most outstanding anti-militarist novels by Erich Maria Remarque, Night in Lisbon.
Stranger on the wharf
Stranger on the pierPortugal. Lisbon. 1942 The Nazis occupied the Czech Republic, Poland, Amsterdam, and France, and penetrated the cities of Italy and Spain with fascist poison. Unfortunate emigrants from all over Europe are fleeing from this hopeless darkness. The only salvation, the real Ararat in the midst of the seething ocean, is America. However, the number of visitors is so great that the country cannot open its doors to everyone. A ferry ticket to the “promised land” is a real treasure. People are ready to give their fortune for him, to betray, to kill, to become crippled – if only to escape from the tenacious hands of fascism.
This late evening, the main character, a German emigrant, again came to the pier. He paced aimlessly up and down the embankment, peering greedily into the darkness. There stood a ship that would take hundreds of lucky people to America, but he would not be among them.
Exactly a week ago, he arrived with his wife Ruth in Lisbon. From here the ship was supposed to sail to New York. This is the last chance to leave Europe. The couple’s residence permit in Portugal was expiring in a few days. Deportation to Germany is tantamount to death. Now both are on the verge of despair – they have neither a visa, nor a ticket for a steamboat, nor money to purchase them. The ticket costs more than three hundred dollars. In an attempt to quickly earn money, the hero lost almost the entire modest family budget – fifty-six dollars. There are only six left.
They heard someone’s footsteps. “Policeman” – a terrible guess burned his mind. “What will happen to Ruth if he is arrested? The main thing is to get to residential buildings, where you can quickly get lost in the yards and hide from your pursuer.” However, the hero’s fears were in vain – the stranger turned out to be not a policeman. He bluntly stated this to a midnight passer-by, and then dumbfounded him with an offer, holding out two tickets for a steamboat to New York. Tickets for which others were ready to give their own eyes, this eccentric handed it out to the first comer free of charge.
Expecting a dirty trick, the man first refuses this royal gift, but the unknown benefactor insists. All he asks is that the stranger listens to his story.
The story told by Joseph Schwartz
In the story told by Joseph Schwartz, The narrator has no choice but to take the word of the eccentric and go with him to one of the taverns. The stranger introduces himself as Iosif Schwartz – the real name, the surname is fake. The documents belong to a long-dead Austrian subject. By nationality, Joseph is a German, one of those unfortunates who did not believe in the ideas of fascism for a second and was forced to leave the country at the dawn of the war.
Joseph had to part with his beloved wife named Elena, whose family idolized Hitler, his wife’s cousin Georg was a particularly devoted Nazi.
For endlessly long five years, Joseph did not see his wife. Finally, he manages to return to his hometown of Osnabrück. He, to his surprise, has changed beyond recognition. The ideas of Nazism completely poisoned the people of Germany. False propaganda was carried out on every corner. Knowing another truth, Joseph trembled with anger at the sight of official newspapers that depicted the whole world as “degenerate, stupid and insidious,” as if other nations had no choice but to submit to great Germany.
A doctor friend helps Joseph to arrange a meeting with his wife. The lovers spend the night in their former apartment. In the morning, Georg unexpectedly visits there. Fortunately, Joseph manages to hide. A convinced Nazi will not look at family ties, because it was he who betrayed his son-in-law to the authorities five years ago and doomed him to wander outside his homeland.
Georg and Elena plan an escape. To gain some time, the woman tells her brother that she is going to see a doctor, while she rushes to Switzerland with her husband.
Two fugitives A married couple lives first in Switzerland, then in France. When Georg brings them to clean water, Joseph and Elena are separated again and sent to internment camps. After a while, Joseph runs away. He manages to get to Elena’s camp. At a midnight secret rendezvous, the lovers agree to run away again. Elena persuades the local doctor to fake her death. Now for the whole world, she is dead and free. On the eve of the escape, the doctor confesses to Joseph that his wife is mortally ill.
For Joseph and Elena, a new series of wanderings begin. First, they settle in an abandoned castle in the vicinity of Bordeaux, then, when the Nazis occupy the castle, they take refuge in a boarding house. All this time, Schwartz has been busy with visas. First, you need to get to Portugal, where there are no fascists, and there you can earn a ticket to radiant America.
During one of his visits to the embassy, Joseph accidentally runs into George and his partner – a handsome Aryan – a fanatical killer and sadist. Georg takes his son-in-law to be tortured in order to knock out where Elena is. In the car, Joseph attacks his brother-in-law and stabs him with a blade, which he always carries with him just in case.
The body of a relative Joseph hides in the bushes and, taking the passport of the deceased, turns into Obersturmbannfuehrer Schwartz. With such documents, it costs him nothing to get a visa and go with his wife to Portugal.
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One way ticket
In Lisbon, Joseph is busy with the hassle of obtaining an American visa. Things are going well for the couple. Elena often visits the casino, she is, surprisingly, lucky, so there will be enough money for tickets and the first time of her life overseas. However, the woman does not entertain the hope of going to the promised land with her beloved, every day her illness makes itself felt more and more. She feels her days are numbered.
More than anything, Elena does not want to be a burden to her husband, so she keeps her feelings secret. On the day when Joseph managed to get tickets for the boat, he found his wife dead. She poisoned herself with poison her husband gave her in case they were captured by the Nazis.
Now Joseph Schwartz no longer needs America. He will devote his life (no matter how much he was given) to the fight against fascist evil spirits. He will deal with such scum as the blond handsome man who tortured him, like Georg, who betrayed loved ones for the sake of a cynical idea. Now Joseph would be glad to die, but he has no moral right to die. Let the steamboat tickets open the way to happiness for someone else.
After this long night in Lisbon, the narrator never met Joseph Schwartz again. He went with his Ruth to the States. True, the paradise country did not bring the desired happiness to the spouses. In America, they get divorced. Longing for his native land, after the war, the narrator returns to Europe.
Summary Remarque Night in Lisbon for the reader’s diary
The novel Night in Lisbon captivates the reader and also helps to physically feel the atmosphere of the book, which is filled with hope for salvation and happiness. The work moves the reader to 1942 in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. World War II was in full swing. The pinnacle of the persecution of representatives of national minorities by the Nazis who seized power in Germany. There was one last hope of saving people.
Here two people meet, in conditions of violence, fear, and life tragedies. One person was in great despair and hopelessness, and the second was filled with hope and desire to survive. The work is told by one man, the last chance for whose salvation a passenger ship appeared, this ship headed for America. The man hoped to get the money needed to get tickets for the rescue liner for himself and his wife, but the man loses the last money in the casino. Disappointed, the man came to the embankment to say goodbye to his own hope, but fate brought the man to one person who offered the hero the tickets that the man wanted to buy. The name of this extraordinary person is Joseph Schwartz. However, the person asked in return asks only not to leave him alone until the morning, to talk to him and listen, let him talk. In a conversation with Joseph, the tragedy of the lived fate of Schwartz fit in.
The man was an opponent of the Hitler regime and Nazi ideology, Joseph is persecuted and, thanks to the denunciation of his wife’s brother, ends up in a concentration camp. Joseph is forced to flee Germany to save himself. Due to deprivation, hunger, and lack of income, Joseph, like other thousands of emigrants, is forced to wander around Europe. However, Schwartz does not forget about his beloved wife, about whom he had no information since his own escape. As soon as the hero becomes the owner of a passport and money, the man quietly returns to his forbidden homeland to see his wife.
Then the wife met her husband with hostility, misunderstanding, and resentment, reproaching her husband for leaving and not taking his wife with him. However, also not being a supporter of the Nazi worldview, and hating her own relatives and brother, the woman calms down, forgives, and accepts her husband, then decides to flee Germany with him.
The Germans are working on the fronts, and the number of cities in Europe is becoming even more captive. But in spite of everything, Joseph and his wife inseparably hold on to each other in this raging ocean of war. Spouses believe that living away from the Motherland is good, even if they are wanted, without work and livelihood, then being slaves of the fascist regime.
The heroes became happy, despite the fact that they were hunted down by the brother of the wife, and the wife is mortally ill. Months of wandering and ordeal, life in abandoned houses, internment camps, escapes, and hunger. And the heroes managed to overcome it together. The couple managed to escape from their brother and get visas and tickets to America, but a day before the long-awaited rescue, Joseph’s wife, exhausted by illness, kills herself.
When Schwartz lost the meaning of life, the man refused to go to America and therefore gives tickets, passports, and visas to a young man who agreed to listen to Joseph about what happened to fate, and decides to become a foreign legionnaire and chooses the path of fighting the Nazi regime, which broke the lives of millions fate and his own.
Nazism, hiding behind the outer veil of care, cruelty, and abomination, filled the lives of millions of innocent people with horror and impotence. Love freed from the fear of death and gave hope for salvation. The novel makes one think about the priceless freedom of a peaceful sky, as well as such humane qualities as fortitude, courage, nobility, and the desire for victory, only thanks to which it is possible to protect humanity from aggression.
Thank you for such an inspiring and sensual story, Erich Maria Remarque. You have given the world such beautiful lines and such atmosphere in your books that I will forever be your fan. I believe that atmosphere is the main feature that should be in any work to be recognized as a work of art, for me it is something special when I open a book and sit down to read. It’s a really special event for me!