Erich Maria Remarque was born Erich Paul Remark on 22 June 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. A small medieval town near Münster in northern Germany, Osnabrück is remembered today, along with neighboring Münster, as the place where in 1648 - exactly 250 years before Remarque's birth - a peace treaty was signed that brought an end to the Thirty Years' War. Remarque's parents belonged to Osnabrück 's lower class, but his father, Peter Franz Remark, a gruff yet taciturn man, was a hard and conscientious worker who eventually succeeded in becoming an independent, licensed bookbinder and pressman. Peter and his wife, Anna Maria, had four children: the oldest, a son, died in childhood; Erna was born two years after Erich; and the youngest, Elfriede, was born in 1903. The few extant letters indicate that the Remarks were never a close-knit family.

Young Remarque was a loving and emotional child, but the Remark home did not provide an environment where he could take root. By the time he was eighteen, the family had moved ten times within Osnabrück - an experience that molded Remarque, who would spend most of his life looking for a home, for places both inside himself and outside, where he felt comfortable, loved, and where he belonged.