"Another Play on Salem Witch Trials": Lion Feuchtwanger, Communists, and Nazis


It is a little-known fact that the German-Jewish emigré writer Lion Feuchtwanger published a play about the Salem witch trials before Arthur Miller did. It was published in German under the title Wahn oder Der Teufel in Boston (Mania or The Devil in Boston) in 1948 in Los Angeles. Feuchtwanger scholarship tends to pass by this play as similar to Miller’s The Crucible but less “dramatic” and successful, because both take as their themes contemporary persecution of “un-American” activities and McCarthyism. This article investigates Devil in Boston as Feuchtwanger’s return in spirit to Germany. While staying close to historical facts, Feuchtwanger “translated” an American event into a veiled comparison to Germany’s not-so-distant past. In subtle ways, the play contemplates new beginnings after total surrender and the end of the Nazi mania. The play’s views on political mania and fanatic persecution avoid confrontation and are surprisingly placatory. Its favorable—but strangely low-spoken, uncontroversial, and short-lived—reception in both parts of Germany supports a reading of this play as a surprisingly conciliatory offer to his former persecutors, especially the next generation of Germans.

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