Earlier I wrote about the German exile community in New York City. The heart of the intellectual exile community during the 1930s and 1940s, however, was on the west coast, in and around Hollywood. An indispensible book on the period is Salka Viertel's The Kindness of Strangers (1969). The book has been out of print for decades, but I managed to find a copy in a library in northern Maine. A German translation -- Das unbelehrbare Herz --- was published in 1982 and can be found in antiquariat book stores. The book should be reissued, this time with an index of names, since it is a valuable historical document, and Salka Viertel was a pivotal figure in German exile literature.
The book can be divided roughly into two sections. The first half deals with her childhood in Poland and her early career as a stage actress in Vienna and Berlin. The recollections of the theater life during the difficult years after World War One are fascinating. Salka worked for the director Max Reinhardt, and she has interesting anecdotes about her first encounters with the famous man. In Vienna she meets one of the two great loves of her life, Berthold Viertel ( the other was Greta Garbo). Berthold Viertel was a protégé of the Austrian writer and iconoclast Karl Kraus, and we see Kraus at the height of his power in Vienna and Berlin. Through Kraus, Salka encounters the greatest artists of time, and she provides some tantalizing glimpses of Franz Kafka ("how healthy and tan he seemed") and Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1928 Berthold Viertel is offered the opportunity to work with the German film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau at the Fox Studios in Hollywood, and that is where the real story of The Kindness of Strangers begins.