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Emil Ludwig (25 January 1881 – 17 September 1948) was a German-Swiss author, known for his biographies and study of historical “greats.”
Emil Ludwig (originally named Emil Cohn) was born in Breslau, now part of Poland, on 25 January 1881. Born into a Jewish family, he was raised as a non-Jew but was not baptized. “Many persons have become Jews since Hitler,” he said. “I have been a Jew since the murder of Walther Rathenau [in 1922], from which date I have emphasized that I am a Jew.” Ludwig studied law but chose writing as a career. At first he wrote plays and novellas, also working as a journalist. In 1906, he moved to Switzerland, but, during World War I, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt in Vienna and Istanbul. He became a Swiss citizen in 1932, later emigrating to the United States in 1940.
During the 1920s, he achieved international fame for his popular biographies which combined historical fact and fiction with psychological analysis. After his biography of Goethe was published in 1920, he wrote several similar biographies, including one about Bismarck (1922–24) and another about Jesus (1928). As Ludwig’s biographies were popular outside of Germany and were widely translated, he was one of the fortunate émigrés who had an income while living in the United States. His writings were considered particularly dangerous by Goebbels, who mentioned him in his journal.
Ludwig interviewed Benito Mussolini and on 1st December 1929 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His interview with the founder of the Republic of Turkey appeared in Wiener Freie Presse in March 1930, addressing issues of religion and music. He also interviewed Joseph Stalin in Moscow on 13 December 1931. An excerpt from this interview is included in Stalin’s book on Lenin. Ludwig describes this interview in his biography of Stalin.
Ludwig’s extended interviews with T.G. Masaryk, founder and longtime president of Czechoslovakia, appeared as Defender of Democracy in 1936.
At the end of the Second World War, he went to Germany as a journalist, and it is to him that we owe the retrieving of Goethe’s and Schiller’s coffins, which had disappeared from Weimar in 1943/44. He returned to Switzerland after the war and died in his sleep in on 17 September 1948, in Moscia, a neighborhood, part of the commune of Ascona, in the canton of Ticino, which is the Italian part of Switzerland.