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The Jews and Germany: From 'Judeo-German Symbiosis' to the Memory of Auschwitz.

The Jews and Germany: From the 'Judeo-German Symbiosis' to the Memory of Auschwitz. By ENZO TRAVERSO. Trans. by DANIEL WEISSBORT. (Texts and Contexts, 14) Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 1995. 215 pp. 32 [pounds sterling].

Publications in the field of German-Jewish literary history have become legion in recent years. After decades of neglect and repression the rediscovery of all aspects 'Jewish' in German literary history is not only fashionable and politically correct but has also produced remarkable results, new insights, that is, into literary texts and their contexts. In his extensive essay on The Jews and Germany Enzo Traverso explains this recent interest in all things Jewish as an attempt by post-Auschwitz Germany to reclaim and reappropriate the Judeo-German heritage, in order to 'fill the spiritual void of a postwar era, as economically prosperous as it is intellectually impoverished' (p. xxi). However, in the chapters devoted to post-war German history, Traverso argues that the main current of German public opinion, particularly since reunification, is a repression of the memory of the Nazi past, which was replaced by a posthumous anti-Stalinism: 'It is not hard to understand that behind this apparent desire to break radically with Stalinism, in fact, lies the desire to free themselves from the Nazi past. The GDR is just the latest scapegoat for the insuperable German Schuldfrage' (p. 159). And: 'Reunified and amnesic, Germany is far from having overcome its past, which remains a cultural and political consideration for the future of the nation' (p. 161). Such a statement on Germany today is followed by a thorough discussion of several issues that have occupied the German public in the last decade, particularly, but not only, in the so-called Historikerstreit. Traverso strongly attacks the revisionists around Ernst Nolte, and convincingly reiterates the arguments why the annihilation of European Jewry at the hands of Nazi Germany should never be relativized or historicized; he fears, however, that political expediency has favoured an undifferentiated concept of totalitarianism, in which the NSDAP and SED regimes are mostly mentioned in the same breath and their similarities unduly stressed, which in turn served slowly to erode the public consciousness of the uniqueness of Auschwitz

The first part of Traverso's book is devoted to dismantling the myth of a Judeo-German symbiosis. He claims that the so-called Judeo-German dialogue was actually nothing but an inner-Jewish monologue, and that the Jews in German-speaking Europe remained outsiders, no matter how hard their assimilatory efforts. According to Traverso, the prototypes of Jewish outsiderdom are those of the pariah and the parvenu. In this context he discusses literary figures and well-known scholars, authors, and other historical figures: a whole chapter for example, is devoted to Joseph Roth, the proverbial pariah, who quite clearly enjoys the author's sympathy, whereas people such as Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Leo Baeck, Ernst Kantorowitz, Walther Rathenau, and Theodor Herzl, quite indiscriminately denounced as parvenus, receive a good share of criticism. Traverso arrives at his conclusions using a method and terminology that can be described as the investigation of national psyche (Volkerpsychologie), and obviously this approach is given to generalizations. On the whole, this book is a provocative, poignant, in its generalizations often polemical essay that achieves what it intends to achieve: to provide Zakhor, remembrance (see p. 161). However, some of the mistakes in the book are plainly annoying; for example: to suggest that the English 'respectability' equals the German 'Sittlichkeit' (p. 16) is simply wrong; to misspell the anti-Semite Wilhelm Stapel 'Stepel' in text, bibliography, and index (pp. 19, 165, 214) is inexcusable; to indicate that the English title of Joseph Roth's Juden auf Wanderschaft is Flight without End (p. 70) and to claim that Oskar Ehrenberg in Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie wants to work for a 'Christische Anzeiger [sic!]' (p. 82) suggests that neither author nor translator knows the works in question; to imply that Rosa Luxemburg actually corresponded with Rahel Levin-Varnhagen (p. 64) is simply ludicrous.

Matthias Richter's doctoral thesis is quite different in tone and argument: in his meticulously argued and documented study he traces the interrelation between Yiddish and High German throughout the two centuries of Jewish emancipation and assimilation (1750-1933), and in particular its representation in literature. Using a wealth of material, the author first explains the linguistic background to the literary texts with Yiddish elements in the Figurenrede: for example, the slow change within the Jewish community from using Yiddish as their vernacular to the adoption of High German. He then discusses the omnipresence of Yiddish, though no longer widely used, in German society until this century, and the prejudicial and even stigmatizing effect ascribed to this Judendeutsch or Jargon. In another comprehensive introductory chapter he outlines the difficulties and pitfalls in dealing with the use of Yiddish in literature, a kind of literary Yiddish (Literaturjiddisch), which cannot be regarded as a realistic representation of the language as actually spoken or be given an unequivocally negative quality, even though an affirmation of anti-Jewish prejudices was probably the most widespread function of Literaturjiddisch. The specific nature of any literary character's Yiddish language can be appropriately understood only when it is interpreted in the context of other components of the text, as part of what Richter calls Ensemblewirkung: 'Handlung, Konzeption und Konstellation der Figuren. Themen der Figurenrede, die Gedankenwelt und--dies alles umgreifend--die Haltung des Autors insgesamt' (p. 131), not forgetting the cultural, socio-political, and literary environment of any particular text. In the main part of the book Richter analyses the Figurenrede of Jewish characters as part of this Ensemblewirkung in eight representative texts. These range from Gottlob Stefanie's play Die abgedankten Offiziers (1770) to Joseph Roth's novel Hiob (1930). One strong point of the study is the author's attempt, whenever possible, to cite documents on the reception of the pieces discussed, and particularly of the Jewish figures, which enables him to measure his own findings on the function of certain features against the effect they apparently had on contemporary audiences. In so far as this can be achieved at all, the author manages to answer his own question: 'Die empirische Frage, welche der Haltungen bei der Wahrnehmung judischer Spracheigentumlichkeiten an den Tag gelegt wurden, gutmutige und harmlose oder bosartige und gefahrliche' (p. 153). His presentation of what could have become a potentially dry linguistic analysis thus offers balanced and judicious new interpretations of such important books as Freytag's Soll und Haben, Schnitzler's Professor Bernhardi, and several lesser-known works from Jewish ghetto fiction to anti-Semitic pamphlets, and makes for positively exciting reading.

The volume Kabbala and Romantik contains the fifteen papers (five in English and ten in German) presented at two conferences in Kassel and in Jerusalem in 1991 and 1992. It is one major purpose of this volume to redress Gershom Scholem's verdict that 'die Welt der Kabbala war der judischen Auf klarung des 19. Jahrhunderts in der Tat verschlossen' (p. 1), and to investigate the sometimes obscure ways in which cabbalistic thinking entered the philosophy and theology of nineteenth-century scholars, both Jewish and gentile. In this respect, most contributions revolve around two central points. First, the role of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling is assessed: 'Schelling and his school were like a bridge between their own world [Gershom Scholem's and Franz Rosenzweig's] and the ancient Jewish sources of Kabbala' (p. 247). We are shown his role as a teacher who influenced a generation of thinkers, several of them Jews who attended his Munich lectures and later went on to Rabbinical positions and incorporated Schellingian ideas into their own theological and philosophical exploits, and his role as a student of cabbalistic ideas (chiefly the writings of the 'Christian' cabbalist Franz Josef Molitor) is discussed. Secondly, attention is drawn in several contributions to the fact that traditionalist Jewish thinking survived well into the nineteenth century, while at the same time the majority of the Jewish community was engaged in the process of auto-emancipatory reform, acculturation, and assimilation. Contrary to widely-held beliefs the proponents of the traditionalist movement were by no means all staunch reactionaries, out of touch and unable to change with the times. Some, who none the less tried to take account of contemporary intellectual tendencies by, for example, receiving a non-Jewish education before taking up their positions as Rabbis, were simply more cautious towards radical reform and complete assimilation: their writings reflect 'a balanced amalgam or modified compromise between Rationalistic and Romantic impulses' (p. 280). In the writings of such thinkers, Schelling's influence can again be seen, but so can traces of other intellectual currents of the time: for example, Mesmerism. Even though a number of interesting personalities are presented, the findings on the themes of the volume on the connection between cabbalistic and Romantic thought remain often quite vague, probably necessarily so, as very little concrete evidence for continued active pursuit of cabbalistic ideas can be cited. On firmer ground are those studies that try to reconstruct 'scientific' attempts to understand cabbalistic concepts, partly complementary to, and partly in crass contradiction to the rational historical approach adopted by the fledging Wissenschaft des Judentums in the 1820s and 1830s. The majority of the articles will be of interest to experts on Schelling and on non-reformist and non-assimilatory Jewish tendencies in the first half of the nineteenth century, but not to the general student of German literary Romanticism. In order to get a general idea of the theme of this volume it is enough to read Christoph Schulte's excellent introduction, which outlines clearly and systematically its main aspects.

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Author:Krobb, Florian
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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