Erich Maria Remarque was born into a working-class family in Osnabruck, Germany, on June 22, 1898. Remarque escaped the limited expectations of his background by attending the University of Munster, but his moment of opportunity was cut short by the German military draft. He was only eighteen when he was drafted and sent to war. During his military career, Remarque suffered both physical and psychological injuries. His traumatic experiences as a soldier during the first World War haunted him for the rest of his life, but they also equipped him to write his masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front.

While writing the novel he was employed as a teacher, a sports writer and at one point even a professional race car driver. His success in Germany was short-lived: just four years after publication of the novel, the Nazi leadership ordered the destruction of all Remarque’s work. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels publicly burned Remarque's works, claiming he was a descendant of French Jews. Goebbels declared that Remarque’s real last name was the Jewish-sounding Kramer, his original name (Remark) spelled backwards. The Nazis also alleged that Remarque had not seen active service during World War I. By then, Remarque had already moved to Switzerland.  He was stripped of his German citizenship in 1938, and emigrated to the United States in 1939. After the war, he returned to live in Switzerland until his death in 1970.

During World War II Remarque's sister, Elfriede Scholz, was arrested in Germany. She was found guilty of "undermining morale" by saying that she considered the war lost. The Court President declared, "Your brother has unfortunately escaped us  – you, however, will not escape us.” She was executed on December 16, 1943.       

Remarque wrote prolifically; 15 of his novels have been published.  He also wrote plays, and a screenplay about Hitler's final days.