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Remarque to Rugby

By Staff | Sep 28, 2018

Submitted photo George Frein, as Erich Maria Remarque, will be the speaker at Prairie Talks today at 5 p.m. at the RHS Auditorium.

When George Frein will take the stage at the Tilman Hovland Auditorium at Rugby High School today, it won’t be as himself.

At least, not right away.

As part of a Chautauqua-style Prairie Talks presentation at 5 p.m., he will take the stage as German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, whose works include “All Quiet on the Western Front” a novel about the experiences of German soldiers during World War I.

Frein will portray Remarque at age 70, giving a lecture in which the story of “All Quiet” is recalled. He will then answer audience questions as Remarque before concluding the program as Frein. As Frein he will lead a discussion on “All Quiet” and similar books.

In order to become Remarque, Frein went by a simple theory: Reading Remarque’s works until Frein was able to determine what was going on in Remarque’s mind. Frein wanted to determine if when Remarque described trench warfare he was doing so patriotically, anti-patriotically, critically, or if it was a painful experience for him to describe.

“The mind of the reader is tricky sometimes,” said Frein, “the mind of the writer is trickier.”

At 18, Remarque was conscripted into the German Army during WWI. On June 12, 1917 he was transferred to the 2nd Company, Reserves, in the Western Front, which was the main theater of the war. After being wounded by shrapnel on July 31, Remarque spent the rest of the war in a German army hospital.

Ten years later, Remarque wrote “All Quiet,” which wasn’t published until 1929.

Four years after “All Quiet” was published, Remarque’s works were banned and burned by the Nazis for his criticism of warfare. Remarque died in 1970; he was 72 years old at the time of his death.

From 1968 to 1997, Frein taught in the department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Dakota. Frein said when he went to UND to teach, one of the biggest problems of teaching philosophy and religion was teaching about evil and how it was dealt with.

” [I] didn’t want to do just theories, [I] wanted to get a hold of it,” said Frein.

In reading works by Remarque and Elie Wiesel, Frein was able to find out about evil and war from those personal, in-depth experiences with them.

Frein did his first Chatauqua presentation in 1986, and in addition to Remarque he has done presentations as Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, and Dr. Seuss.

Frein said that while most of the presentations he’s done were for library and humanities projects, attendees have been “thoughful, really nice” and ask “really good questions.”

Frein recalled doing a program in Crosby and during question time an attendee discussed her experience during World War II as a nurse and her husband said she had not told him about the experience.

“These programs generate good questions, and that’s what I’m after,” said Frein.

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