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JEWS AND GERMANS

GERSHOM SCHOLEM

O SPEAK OF Jews and Germans and arbitrariness, self-contradiction, and incoherence.


T their relations during the last two The relationships I am discussing are too various
centuries is, in the year 1966, a melancholy enter- and unique to be covered by any blanket assertion
prise. So great, even now, is the burden of emo- that could not be countered by a different and al-
tions, that a dispassionate consideration or analysis most equally defensible one. And yet, fully aware
of the matter seems almost impossible; we have all as I am of these difficulties, I wish to make clear
been molded too strongly by the experience of what it is that moves me about this theme-cer-
our generation to permit any such expectations of tainly one of the themes which have most agitated
detachment. Today there are many Jews who re- the Jewish world in the past hundred-and-fifty
gard the German people as a "hopeless case," or years.
at best as a people with whom, after what has In 1948, Alfred Doeblin, a Jewish writer who
happened, they want nothing to do, for good or had converted to Catholicism in his old age, wrote
for ill. I do not count myself among them, for I to another Jew that he should take care, when ad-
do not believe that there ought to be such a thing dressing a German audience, to avoid using the
as a permanent state of war among peoples. I also word "Jew," for in Germany it was still a term of
deem it right-what is more, I deem it important- abuse; only anti-Semites would be pleased by its
that Jews, precisely as Jews, speak to Germans in use. According to Doeblin, anti-Semitism was
full consciousness of what has happened and of deep-seated among the Germans and more mali-
what separates them. Upon many of us the Ger- cious-in the year 19481-than prior to 1933. In-
man language, our mother-tongue, has bestowed deed, I myself can testify that in 1966 many Ger-
the gift of unforgettable experiences; it defined mans who would like to dissociate themselves
and gave expression to the landscape of our youth. from the Nazis (occasionally rather as an after-
Now there is a kind of appeal from the German thought), to a certain extent still confirm the
side-both from the reaches of history and from a validity of Doeblin's remarks by their evident
younger generation that is coming to the fore- aversion to calling any Jew a Jew unless he abso-
and precisely because this appeal is so uncertain lutely insists upon it. After having been murdered
and irresolute, indeed embarrassed, something in- as Jews, the Jews have now been nominated to the
heres in it which many of us do not wish to shun. status of Germans, in a kind of posthumous tri-
To be sure, the difficulties of generalizing, as umph; to emphasize their Jewishness would there-
when we say "the Germans" and "the Jews," in- fore be a concession to anti-Semitism. To such a
timidate the observer. In times of conflict, how- perverse point has the effort to avoid facing the
ever, such all-embracing terms prove easy to ma- realities of the Jewish-German relationship come
nipulate; and the fact that these general categories -and all in the name of progress. But it is pre-
are vulnerable to questioning has never prevent- cisely the facing of those realities which I consider
ed people from using them vociferously. Never- to be the task of both Germans and Jews, which
theless, many distinctions should be made here. means that when we speak of the fate of Jews
For not all "Germans" are Germans and not all among Germans, we cannot speak emphatically
"Jews" are Jews-with, of course, one appalling enough of Jews qua Jews. The atmosphere be-
exception: when power was in the hands of those tween Jews and Germans can be cleansed only if
Germans who really meant all Jews when they re- we seek to get to the bottom of their relationship,
ferred to the Jews, they used that power to the and only if we employ the unrestrained criticism
best of their ability to murder all Jews. Since that the case demands. And that is hard: for the
then, those who survived this murder, or were not Germans, because the mass murder of the Jews
exposed to it because of the accidents of history, has become the greatest nightmare of their moral
find it somewhat difficult themselves to make the existence as a people; for the Jews, because such
proper distinctions. The dangerous pitfalls that clarification demands a critical distance from
accompany any generalization are well-known: crucial phenomena of their own history. Love, in-
sofar as it once existed, has been drowned in
GERSHOM SCHOLEM, who is generally considered to be the blood; its place must now be taken by historical
foremost Jewish scholar living today, is the author, among knowledge and conceptual clarity-the precondi-
other works, of Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and On
the Kabbalah and its Symbolism. Mr. Scholem, a frequent tions for a discussion which might perhaps bear
contributor, is professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Hebrew fruit in the future. If it is to be serious and un-
University. The present essay, translated from the German demagogic, such a discussion must be approached
by Werner J. Dannhauser, was adapted from an address on a level beyond that of the political and eco-
before the plenary session of the World Jewish Congress,
held in Brussels this past summer.
nomic factors and interests that have been, or are,
under negotiation between the State of Israel and
31
32 COMMENTARY/NOVEMBER 1966

the German Federal Republic. I am lacking in come evident at the time Moses Mendelssohn set
any competence in this area and at no time will I out upon his career as a kind of conservative re-
refer to it. I am not even certain that it can help former among German Jewry. With him, and
us at all in posing the right questions or in at- above all with the school which he inspired, there
tempting to answer them. began among Jews a conscious process of turning
toward the Germans, a process subsequently
II graced and furthered by mighty historical forces.
There began a propaganda campaign for the

U NTIL THE latter half of the 18th cen-


tury, and to some extent even be-
yond that time, the Jews in Germany led essen-
Jews' resolute absorption by German culture, and
shortly thereafter, for their absorption by the
German people itself. There also began the strug-
tially the same existence as did Jews everywhere. gle of the Jews for civil rights, a struggle which
They were clearly recognizable as a nation; they extended over three or four generations, and
possessed an unmistakable identity, a sharply de- which was finally won because-let us not deceive
fined awareness of themselves, and a millennial ourselves about it-it was conducted on their be-
history of their own. However they themselves or half by a decisive and victorious stratum among
the peoples around them may have assessed that the non-Jews.
history, the Jews participated in a religious order This struggle for civil rights, which was fur-
that forced its way with extreme intensity through thered no less by the French Revolution than by
their very pores and into their life and culture. the German Enlightenment, initiated a momen-
To the degree that the influence of the German tous change in German Jewry. At first the change
environment-and such influence was never en- was hesitant and uncertain, just as the Jews
tirely absent-penetrated into the Judengasse, it undergoing it often displayed uncertainty and em-
did so not because the Jews deliberately turned to barrassment. They still had a strong sense of their
it and embraced it, but in large part through a peoplehood as Jews, though frequently not of the
barely conscious process of osmosis. To be sure, meaning of this peoplehood, which had been or
German cultural values were frequently enough was in the process of becoming lost to them. But,
transformed into Jewish values (and, linguisti- to put the case explicitly, they also began casting
cally, into Yiddish). Moreover, two groups at the those infinitely yearning and furtive glances at
extreme poles of Jewish society maintained con- the realm of German history-as a possible re-
tact (albeit a special and perilous one, at the placement for the Jewish realm-which became so
mercy of the slightest change in political or social characteristic of them in their relation to the
conditions) with the Germans: the economically Germans for the next hundred years and more.
strongest element-as it was represented in the Those elements of German Jewry which joined in
phenomenon of the Hofjudentum-Jewish man- this process only with the greatest reservations-
agement of court finances-and the group at the especially the once preponderant and still very
bottom of the social ladder which touched on the strong circles of the traditionally pious-were
underworld. Nevertheless, the conscious relations marked off from their more enthusiastic fellows
between the two societies as a whole remained so by nothing more distinct than an oppressed si-
delicate during the two centuries preceding the lence, broken only rarely among them by direct
period of emancipation that nothing would be voices of warning; it is as if they were recoiling
more foolish than to speak of an intimate attach- from their own suffering. In any event, up to
ment between German Jews and Germany in that about 1820, when the Jews of Germany are men-
age. Not a single pre-condition existed for such tioned, it is almost exclusively as the members of
an attachment, either among the Jews, whose re- the Jewish nation in Germany. In the next two
ligious culture was for the most part self-contained generations, however, linguistic usage alters com-
and alien to the German world, or among the Ger- pletely; terms such as "Mosaic persuasion," and
mans. Both parties knew that the Jews were in similar phrases favored by Jews and Germans
exile, and whatever their respective views of the alike, now begin their career.
meaning of that exile, there was no doubt as to its The furtive glances cast by the Jews toward the
enduring significance for the social condition of Germans were from the very outset attended by
the Jews. considerable dislocations, which at a later stage of
On the other hand, while the overwhelming the process were to lead to bitter problems. As the
majority of Jews lived within the mold of tradi- price of Jewish emancipation, the Germans
tion, a mold cast by their material and spiritual demanded a disavowal of Jewish nationality-a
history during the long ages of exile, there is no price the leading writers and spokesmen of the
mistaking the fact that in the latter half of the Jewish avant-garde were only too happy to pay.
18th century, a grave weakness at the core of their For what had begun as furtive glances soon turned
Jewishness became visible. It was as if they had ar- into a passionate involvement with the realm of
rived at the nadir of one phase of their historical German history; and the objects of enlightened
existence and were no longer certain where the toleration not infrequently became ardent proph-
road would lead. This weakness had already be- ets, prepared to speak in the name of the Germans
JEWS AND GERMANS 33

themselves. The attentive reader of German reac- the Jews threw themselves so passionately (it is
tions to this process and its acrobatics soon per- easy to see why) necessarily increased the dangers
ceives a recurrent note of astonishment, and an which grew out of heightened tension. Added to
irony that is partly amiable, partly malicious. this was the fact that there was something "dis-
With the renunciation of a crucial part of Jewish ordered"-and in a double sense-about the Jews
existence in Germany, the ground was prepared who were exposed to this new encounter with the
for what appears to many of us to have been a Germans: they were "disordered" by the personal
completely false start in the history of modern re- and social consequences of the undignified condi-
lations between Jews and Germans-even though, tions under which they were forced to live; and
given the conditions of 1800, it possessed a certain they were "disordered" by the deep insecurity that
immanent logic of its own. began to hound them the moment they left the
ghetto in order, as the formula had it, "to become
'WHEN THE Western nations emancipated the Germans." This double disorder of the German
people of Israel, they did not, to quote Jews was one of the factors which retarded, dis-
Martin Buber, "accept it as Israel, but rather as a turbed, and eventually brought to a gruesome end
multitude of individuals." Among non-Jews, the the process-or trial-that now began in such ear-
most stalwart fighters for the cause of the Jews nest. The refusal of so many German Jews to rec-
were precisely those who most consciously and ar- ognize the operation of such factors and the dia-
ticulately counted on the disappearance of the lectic to which they bear witness, is among the
Jews qua Jews-who, indeed, like Wilhelm von saddest discoveries made by today's reader of the
Humboldt, considered the disappearance of the discussions of those times. The emotional confu-
Jews as an ethnic group a condition for taking up sion of the German Jews between 1820 and 1920
their cause. The liberals hoped for a decisively is of considerable importance if one wishes to
progressive Jewish self-dissolution. The conserva- understand them as a group, a group character-
tives, however, with their greater sense of history, ized by that "German-Jewishness" (Deutschju-
had reservations about this new phenomenon. dentum) many of us encountered in our own
They began to chalk up against the Jews an all- youth and which stimulated us to resistance.
too-great facility for renouncing their ethnic con- At the same time, however, and in the very
sciousness.- Thus a sinister and dangerous dialectic midst of this insecurity, something else unexpect-
arose. The self-surrender of the Jews, although edly happened: the long-buried creativity of the
welcomed and indeed demanded, was also often Jews was liberated. It is true that by entering so
seen as evidence of their lack of moral substance eagerly into a new world, the Jews relinquished
and thereby contributed to the disdain in which the security their ancient tradition had once be-
they were held by so many Germans. For what stowed upon them, and would frequently contin-
could a heritage be worth if the elite of its chosen ue to bestow in a frequently impressive way upon
heirs were in such a rush to disavow it? those who held fast to it. But a loss of security
As for the socialists, Karl Marx's grotesque and can result in an outburst of productive energies.
disgusting invective in On the Jewish Question And so it was with many Jews who threw them-
may be taken as a sign of their frivolity and igno- selves into the exciting "adventure" of assimila-
rance; they were completely at a loss before the tion: they found that it awakened qualities in
issues involved in this new turn of events, and them that under the old order had long been dor-
could do no more than press for the dissolution mant or forgotten. Here we have the positive as-
of the Jewish people and its historical conscious- pects of the process we have been examining-the
ness, a dissolution to be completed by the advent aspects that were to become so meaningful to the
and victory of the Revolution. They could see no Jews, even those living far beyond the borders of
sense whatsoever in considering the Jews an active Germany; it is fitting that we examine and clarify
participant in any meaningful encounter. them at this point.
Such, then, was the dangerous dialectic of the
whole process. The Jews struggled for emancipa- THE Jewish passion for things German is connect-
tion-and this is the tragedy that moves us so ed with the specific historical hour in which it was
much today-not for the sake of their rights as a born. At the moment in time when Jews turned
people, but for the sake of assimilating themselves from their medieval state toward the new era of
to the peoples among whom they lived. By their enlightenment and revolution, the overwhelming
readiness to give up their peoplehood, by their act majority of them-80 per cent-lived in Germany,
of disavowal, they did not put an end to their Austria-Hungary, and Eastern Europe. Due to
misery; they merely opened up a new source of prevailing geographic, political, and linguistic
agony. Assimilation did not dispose of the Jewish conditions, therefore, it was German culture that
question in Germany; rather it shifted the locus of most Jews first encountered on their road to the
the question and rendered it all the more acute, West. Moreover-and this is decisive-the encount-
for as the area of contact between the two groups er occurred precisely at the moment when that
widened, the possibilities of friction widened as culture had reached one of its most fruitful turn-
well. The "adventure" of assimilation, into which ing-points. It was the zenith of Germany's bour-
34 COMMENTARY /NOVEMBER 1966

geois era, an era which produced an image of mans of a later day, Jewish enthusiasm for Schiller
things German that, up to 1940, and among very seemed merely comic or touching. Only rarely
broad classes of people, was to remain unshaken, was there a German who was stirred by the idea
even by many most bitter experiences. Thus a that here, for once, there could have been much
newly-awakened Jewish creativity, which was to common ground.
assume such impressive forms after 1780, im-
pinged upon a great period of German creativity. III
One can say that it was a happy hour, and indeed,
it has no parallel in the history of Jewish encoun-
ters with other European peoples. The net result
THE FIRST HALF of the 19th century was
a period in which Jews and Germans
was the high luster that fell on all things German. drew remarkably close. During this time an ex-
Even today, after so much blood and so many traordinary amount of help came from the Ger-
tears, we cannot say that it was only a deceptive man side, with many individual Jews receiving
luster. It was also more, both in fact and in cooperation in their stormy struggle for culture.
potentia. There was centainly no lack of good-will then;
To the Jews, Germany was defined and symbol- reading the biographies of the Jewish elite of the
ized by the names of Lessing and Schiller-espe- period, one again and again finds evidence of the
cially Schiller, whose significance for the forming understanding they encountered, even in decided-
of Jewish attitudes toward Germany was almost ly Christian circles like the Moravians. But in
incalculable, and seldom appreciated by the Ger- keeping with the inner dynamics of the process we
mans themselves. For to generations of Jews with- have been examining, things did not remain at the
in Germany, and almost to a greater extent to level of a mere struggle for culture. The Jews
Jews outside Germany, Schiller, spokesman for were at a point of radical transition from the tra-
pure humanity, lofty poet of the highest ideals of ditional way of life, which still held sway among a
mankind, represented everything they thought of, majority of them, to Germanism. In the effecting
or wished to think of, as being German-even of this transition, according to one contemporary
when, in the Germany of the last third of the 19th source, "the German national education of the
century, his language had already begun to sound Jews and their participation in the general inter-
hollow. To Schiller, who never addressed them di- ests of human beings and citizens appears as the
rectly, the Jews did indeed respond, and for many most essential task, to which everyone who ex-
Jews, their encounter with him was more real pects anything of himself must be dedicated."
than their encounter with actual Germans. Ger- The formulation is by Moritz Lazarus, a most pris-
man romanticism meant something to many Jews, tine representative of the very tendency he advo-
but Schiller meant something to all of them. He cated, who himself completed the transition from
was a factor in the Jewish belief in mankind. He pure talmudic Judaism to the new German-Jewish
provided the most visible, most impressive, and way of life in a mere five yearsl The unending
most resounding occasion for the idealistic self- Jewish demand for a home was soon transformed
deception engendered by the relations of the into the ecstatic illusion of being at home. It is
Jews to the Germans. For the new Jew who had well-known, and easy to understand, that the
lost his self-confidence, Schiller's program seemed speed of this transformation, which even today
to promise everything he so fervently sought; the amazes the observer, the haste of this breakup of
Jew heard no false tones in it, for this was music the Jews, was not paralleled by an equally quick
which spoke to his depths. The collapse of this reciprocal reaction on the part of the Germans.
dialogue perhaps contains one of the secrets of For the Germans had not known they were deal-
the general collapse of relations between Jews and ing with such deep processes of decay in the Jew-
Germans. After all, Schiller, to whom their love ish tradition and in Jewish self-consciousness, and
clung o passionately, was not just anybody; he they recoiled from the whole procedure. While
was the national poet of Germany, regarded as they would have approved of the eventual result
such by the Germans themselves from 1800 to of the process-which accorded at least with the
1900. prevailing liberal ideology and to a considerable
In this case, then, the Jews did not, as has hap- extent with the prevailing conservative one-they
pened often enough, "have the wrong address." In were altogether unprepared for this tempo, which
this case a bridge had really been built between struck them as overheated and whose aggressive-
them and the Germans, built out of the same ness set them on the defensive. Sooner or later this
boundless passion that induced a number of Rus- defensiveness was to combine with those currents
sian Jews, who were, by contrast, seeking the road of opinion which from the very beginning had re-
to humanity among the Jewish people itself, lit- acted to the whole process with antipathy and
erally to adopt the name of Schiller as their own; which, since the post-Mendelssohn generation,
one of the noblest figures of the Zionist movement, had never lacked for eloquent spokesmen.
Salomo Schiller, is a notable example of this prac- It made good sense to speak of a "host people,"
tice. Unfortunately, however, the task of building whose guests the Jews were. Even in the best of
bridges was pursued by the Jews alone. To Ger- circumstances, it was a matter of a guest being ac-
JEWS AND GERMANS 35

cepted into the family, but subject to dismissal if his own alienation from the Jewish ground that
he did not live up to the requirements. This be- had nourished him, from his own history and tra-
came especially clear where the liberals were con- dition, and was blamed even more for his aliena-
cerned. The talk one occasionally hears today of tion from the bourgeois society which was then in
a fusion which would have made excellent prog- the process of consolidating itself. The fact that
ress had not the advent of Nazism come between he was not really at home, however much and em-
the great majority of Jews and the "citizens of a phatically he might proclaim himself to be-the
different faith" (the phrase was used in print by "homelessness" which today is sometimes account-
a Jew in the Germany of 19651)-such talk is noth- ed to his glory, in that it is taken as an image of
ing but retroactive wish-fulfillment. Without the condition humaine-constituted, at a time
doubt, the complete submission to the German when alienation was still a term of abuse, a power-
people of so many individuals who in their auto- ful accusation. And it is in keeping with so distort-
biographies (which are available in abundance) ed a state of affairs that the great majority of Jews,
characterized themselves as being "of Jewish de- and especially those who had the highest degree
scent"-because they no longer had any other of awareness, concurred in this judgment of their
inner ties to the Jewish tradition, let alone to the situation; this is why, in the very teeth of the
Jewish people-constitutes one of the most shock- skepticism which was a part of their German en-
ing phenomena of this whole process of alienation. vironment, they aspired to or claimed a deep at-
Infinitely long is the list of Jewish losses to the tachment to things German, and a sense of being
Germans, a list of great and frequently astonish- at home.
ing Jewish talents and accomplishments that were
offered up to the Germans. Who can read without
emotion the history of those who to the point of
suicide maintained the claim that they were bet-
T HE JEw's ENTRY into German society, how-
ever, was a many-sided process. It is, for in-
stance, an important fact that during the genera-
ter Germans than those who were driving them to tions of entry, the Jews to a great extent lost their
their deaths? Today, when it is all over, it is no own elite through baptism and mixed marriages.
wonder that there are many who wish to recog- Yet this fact also points to marked variations in
nize this claim as just. These people made their the process, because not all Jews were by any
choice and we should not contest the Germans' means prepared to go so far. It is true that very
right to them. And yet it makes us uneasy, for broad segments of German Jewry were ready to
even in their complete alienation from everything liquidate their peoplehood, but they also wished-
"Jewish," something is evident in many of them, in differing degrees, to be sure-to preserve their
from Karl Marx and Lasalle to Karl Kraus, Gustav Jewishness as a kind of heritage, as a creed, as an
Mahler, and Georg Simmel, that was felt to be element unknowable and indefinable, yet clearly
substantially Jewish by Jews as well as by Ger- present in their consciousness. Although this is
mans-by everyone, indeed, except themselves. now often forgotten, they were not ready for that
No one has more profoundly characterized this total assimilation which the majority of their elite
breaking away of the Jews from themselves than was seeking. Their feelings may have been un-
Charles Peguy, who had an insight into the Jewish certain and confused, but the flight of their own
condition rarely attained, let alone surpassed, avant-garde was more than they were willing to
by non-Jews. To him we owe the sentence: "Etre accept.
ailleurs, le grand vice de cette race, la grande These continuous bloodlettings, through which
vertue secrete, la grande vocation de ce peuple."* the Jews lost their most advanced elements to the
This "being elsewhere" combined with the des- Germans, constitute a crucial-and, from a Jewish
perate wish to "be at home" in a manner at once perspective, most melancholy-aspect of the so-
intense, fruitful, and destructive. It is the clue to called German-Jewish symbiosis, which is now
the relationship of the Jews to the Germans. It is being discussed with such pleasure and profuse
what makes their symbolic position so alluring carelessness. It was the petite bourgeoisie, the
and so gripping to today's observer, and it is also most ordinary citizens, who made up the main
what at the time caused them to appear disgust- body of the German-Jewish community during the
ing, to be working under false pretenses, and to 19th century and from whom a wholly new class
be deliberately provocative of opposition. No of leaders had to be brought forth in every gener-
benefit redounded to the Jews of Germany from ation. Rarely does one find any descendants
what today, under very different circumstances, among 20th-century Jews of those families which,
invests them with positive significance for an im- after 1800, led the "breakup" in favor of things
portant part of the world and brings them special German. On the other hand, the lower classes
consideration: I am thinking of the widespread were almost entirely retained within the bounda-
current appreciation of Jews as classic representa- ries of Judaism, albeit a Judaism now watered-
tives of the phenomenon of man's alienation from down-or rather dried-up and emptied: a Judaism
society. The German Jew was held to blame for composed of a curious admixture of the "religion
"Being elsewhere, the great vice of this race, the great of reason" with strong, frequently disavowed,
secret virtue, the great vocation of this people"-ED. strains of feeling. The attitude of these Jews to-
36 COMMENTARY/NOVEMBER 1966

ward the deserters fluctuated greatly, as is indi- tween two cousins of the Borchardt family. One of
cated by their response to the singular phenome- them, the writer Georg Hermann, depicted the
non of Heinrich Heine: it rariged from sensitive 19th-century Berlin Jewish bourgeoisie in a man-
rejection to almost equable indifference. Heine, to ner never surpassed-critically, ironically, but at
be sure, was a borderline case. He could say of the same time lovingly. The other cousin, the ex-
himself that he had never returned to Judaism be- orbitantly gifted Rudolf Borchardt, convinced he
cause he had never left it. had annihilated everything Jewish within himself,
In all this, we must not fail to consider the became the most eloquent spokesman for a cultur-
inner tensions of Jewish society, which exercised ally conservative German traditionalism. He him-
no little influence on the relationship of Jews to self was the only person to read his work who was
the German environment. Germany, after all, was not alarmed by the paradox.
the scene of especially bitter arguments between
the pious of the old school-the Landjuden and HE MAJORITY of German Jews, to repeat, was
their leaders-on the one hand, and the "neolo- not prepared to "go all the way," but searched
gians" or Reformers on the other, with the latter for a middle course. Only rarely, however, did the
quickly gaining preponderance, if not numerically, Jews benefit from their gifted progeny. The ex-
then socially and politically. The term "assimila- ceptions include such significant yet problematic
tion" was first used by its defenders in the positive figures as Leopold Zunz, the founder of "the sci-
sense of an ideal; later, when the Zionists threw ence of Judaism" (Wissenschaft vom Judentum),
the word back at them in derision and as a form Ludwig Steinheim and Hermann Cohen, the two
of abuse, they were doubly indignant at being most distinguished German-Jewish religious think-
called "assimilationists." The tendency toward as- ers, and Abraham Geiger and Samson Raphael
similation, which manifested itself in many forms, Hirsch, the great polar opposites of the German
was certainly significant. Yet one cannot unequiv- rabbinate. Most of the ablest Jewish minds, how-
ocally say just how far the advocates of assimila- ever, enhanced German society with an astonish-
tion were prepared to go at the time, and not all ingly profuse outpouring in the fields of econom-
instances of assimilation can be judged alike. In ics, science, literature, and art. In a famous essay,
any case, however, there existed on the Jewish side the great American sociologist, Thorstein Veblen,
a strongly critical stance toward Jews and tradi- wrote of the intellectual "pre-eminence" of the
tional Judaism, and it is well-known how often in Jews; it was this pre-eminence that was to spell
individual cases this stance was heightened to their doom in Germany. In their economic role,
those extreme forms we have come to recognize as the Jews had served as a progressive force in the
Jewish anti-Semitism. It is, after all, to a German development of 19th-century Germany, but long
Jew who had left Judaism-though, as he said, he after there had ceased to be a need for that, they
"of course knew that this was impossible"-that we continued to exercise-especially in the 20th cen-
owe what a critic once called "the most naked ex- tury-a cultural function which from the very be-
posures" of the Berlin Jewish bourgeoisie which ginning had awakened unrest and resistance, and
exist anywhere and which will endure as a sinister which never did them any good. That the Ger-
document of the German-Jewish reality; I am re- mans did in fact need the Jews in their spiritual
ferring to the monologues of Herr Wendriner, world is now, when they are no longer present,
written by Kurt Tucholsky. The anti-Semites took noticed by many, and there is mourning over the
pains to make the Jews look as bad as possible, loss. But when the Jews were there, they were a
but their writings are curiously overstrained and source of irritation (whether they wanted to be or
hollow. The hatred is there, but there is no not).
knowledge of the subject and no feeling for atmos- By the middle of the 19th century, the great ma-
phere. Small wonder, then, that it remained for jority of Germans had at last become reconciled
one of the most gifted, most convinced, and most to the political emancipation of the Jews, but
offensive Jewish anti-Semites to accomplish on a there was no corresponding readiness to accept
definitive level what the anti-Semites themselves the unrestrained movement of the Jews into the
were unable to bring about. ranks of the culturally active. The Jews, of course,
We often find representatives of extreme possi- with their long intellectual tradition, considered
bilities within the same family-for example, the themselves made-to-order for such an active
brothers Jacob and Michael Bernays (whose niece role among the German elite. But this is precisely
became the wife of Sigmund Freud). Jacob, a what stimulated a resistance that was to become
classical philologist of the highest rank, remained increasingly vigorous and virulent, and was finally
loyal to the strictest form of Jewish Orthodoxy, to prevent the process of their acceptance from
even to the point of neurosis; Michael left Juda- having any chance of fulfillment. By and large,
ism to venture on an even more illustrious career then, the love affair of the Jews and the Germans
as a scholar in the field of Germanic studies and remained one-sided and unreciprocated; at best it
as a foremost critical interpreter of Goethe. After awakened something like compassion (as it did
their split, the two brothers never spoke to each with Theodore Fontane, to name only one fa-
other again. A similar divergence occurred be- mous, but hardly unambiguous, example) or grat-
JEWS AND GERMANS 37

itude. But if the Jews did on occasion meet with or that it was exclusively a product of the after-
gratitude, they almost never found the love they math of World War I. Anti-Semitism could not
were seeking. have become as virulent as it did, or have re-
There were misunderstood geniuses among the leased all its murderous consequences, without a
Jews, prophets without honor, men of mind who long pre-history. Not a few of the 19th-century
stood up for justice, and who also stood up-to an tracts against the Jews read today like wholly un-
astonishing degree-for the great spirits among disguised documents of 20th-century Nazism, and
the Germans themselves. (Thus, almost all the perhaps none is more sinister than Bruno Bauer's
most important critical interpretations of Goethe Das Judentum in der Fremde ["Judaism Abroad"]
were written by Jewsl) But among the Germans, of 1869. Here one comes upon everything that was
there was never anyone who stood up for the mis- later preached in the Thousand-Year Reich, and
understood geniuses who were Jews. Nothing in in formulations no less radical. And this docu-
German literature corresponds to those unforget- ment came from the pen of one of the leaders of
table pages in which Charles Pguy, the French the former Hegelian Left. There was, moreover,
Catholic, portrayed Bernard Lazare as a true no lack of the more "sublime" varieties of anti-
prophet of Israel, and this at a time when the Semitism-the kind which, shortly after World War
French Jews themselves-out of embarrassment or I, found expression in works like Hans Bliiher's
malice, out of rancor or stupidity-knew no better Secessio Judaica. Such works, fluctuating between
than to treat one of their greatest men with dead- admiration and hatred, and embodying a degen-
ly silence. Nothing corresponds to this in the erate metaphysics in the form of genteel anti-
much-discussed German-Jewish dialogue-a dia- Semitism, provided a cue for the more murderous
logue which in fact never took place. At a time metaphysics to come. Perhaps nothing depresses
when no one cared a whit about them, no German us more today than the uncertain wavering of
stood forth to recognize the genius of Kafka, many Germans, including some of their finest
Simmel, Freud, or Walter Benjamin-to say noth- minds, in the face of this dark swell.
ing of recognizing them as Jews. The present, be-
lated concern with these great figures does noth-
ing to change this fact.
C AX BROD has spoken of the ideal of "distant
lM love" as that which should have governed
Only very few Germans-some of their noblest relations between Germans and Jews. The con-
spirits, to be sure-possessed that openness of true cept is a dialectical one: distance is meant to pre-
humanity which allowed them to see and accept vent an all-too-coarse intimacy, but at the same
the Jew as a Jew. One of them was Johann Peter time to create a desire to bridge the gap. This
Hebel, who valued the Jew for what he had to could certainly have been a solution for the pe-
give, rather than for what he had to give up. But riod under discussion, if only both parties would
it was precisely among liberals that unmistakable have agreed to it. Yet Brod himself admits that
reservations about Jews were frequently voiced. where there is love the feeling of distance disap-
When Fritz Reuter, a typical member of the North- pears-this was true of the Jews-and where there
German liberal intelligentsia, made a speech in is distance no love can arise-this was true of the
1870 to celebrate the unification of Germany, he main body of Germans. We may grant that with
could think of nothing better than to level "distant love" the two partners could have man-
charges against those "miserable Jewish rascals aged more kindness, open-mindedness, and mu-
like Heinrich Heine" who were supposedly lack- tual understanding. But historical subjunctives
ing in patriotism. The feeling was widespread that are always illegitimate. If it is true, as we now per-
the emancipation of the Jews heralded the ap- ceive, that "distant love" was the right Zionist
pearance of radical and subversive tendencies. answer to the mounting crisis in the relations be-
And indeed, during a century of prominence in tween Jews and Germans, it is also true that the
journalism, the Jews did play a highly visible role Zionist avant-garde hit upon it too late. For
in the criticism of German public affairs-a role during the generations preceding the catastrophe,
deeply grounded in their history as well as in their the German Jews-whose critical sense was as fa-
social position and function. In reaction to this mous among Germans as it was irritating to them
role, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism-to which -distinguished themselves by an astonishing lack
the Jews responded with peculiar blindness- of critical insight into their own situation. An
began to send forth its malignant tendrils. Anti- "edifying" and apologetic attitude, a lack of criti-
Semitism was to assume a sterilizing and destruc- cal candor, taints almost everything they wrote
tive significance in the years 1880 to 1930, a time about the position of the Jews in the German
of increasingly tense relations between the Jews world of ideas, literature, politics, and economics.
and the Germans. It is unnecessary to emphasize The readiness of many Jews to invent a theory
the specific social and political conditions under which would justify the sacrifice of their Jewish
which the most radical forms of anti-Semitism existence is a shocking phenomenon, and there are
eventually came to rule over Germany. But noth- countless variations on it. But nothing, it seems
ing is less tenable than the opinion that National to me, surpasses in sheer self-contradiction and
Socialism came, so to speak, from out of the blue, cravenness the formulation produced as late as
38 COMMENTARY/NO VEMBER 1966

1935 by Margarete Susman, in full awareness of other hand, they have experienced a material up-
the fact that the time had come of "the most fear- surge that has placed the past years in shadow.
ful fate ever to strike the Jews." She wrote: "The Between these two mountains, produced by a vol-
vocation of Israel as a people is not self-realiza- canic eruption, can there now be a bridge, how-
tion," as with all other peoples, "but self-surrender ever shaky?
for the sake of a higher, transhistorical goal." In The abyss which events have flung open be-
this case, the delusion goes so far that we are tween us can be neither measured nor fathomed.
asked to believe-in the name of the prophets, Unlike many in Israel, I do not believe that the
who indeed did not wish Israel to be a people only possible means of overcoming the distance
like all other peoples-that "the original meaning is to admit the abyss into our consciousness in all
of the Jewish idea is the absorption of this people its dimensions and ramifications. There is little
by other peoples." What is so terrible about comfort in such a prognosis; it is mere rhetoric.
this statement is not that it has been so dev- For in truth there is no possibility of comprehend-
astatingly refuted by history, but that it never sig- ing what has happened-incomprehensibility is of
nified anything except a perversion whereby its essence; no possibility of understanding it per-
Christian ideas-rejected by Jews unto their dying fectly and thus of incorporating it into our con-
breath-now presented themselves as the demand of sciousness. This demand by its very nature cannot
the greatest Jewish minds. Such solutions have be fulfilled. Whether or not we can somehow meet
been offered to Jews again and again, and from in this abyss, I do not know. And whether the
various sources. They bespeak a great inner de- abyss, flung open by unspeakable, unthinkable
moralization, an enthusiasm for self-sacrifice events, can ever be bridged-who would have the
which has necessarily remained wholly without presumption to say?
meaning for the Jewish community itself, and Abysses are flung open by events, bridges are
which no one ever took seriously except the anti- built by good-will and conscious thought. If the
Semites, who indeed understood this desire on the bridges are to endure, they must be firmly an-
part of the Jews to be absorbed by the Germans chored on both sides. The people of Israel has
as a destructive and singularly sinister maneuver suffered fearfully at the hands of almost all the
aimed at undermining the German people. To peoples of Europe. The bridges on which we meet
quote one of the many metaphysicians of anti- peoples other than the Germans are shaky enough,
Semitism in the years between 1830 and 1930 who even when they are not burdened with the mem-
never tired of repeating this theme: "The Jews ory of Auschwitz. But-is this memory not an op-
are the dark power of negation which kills what portunity? Is there not a light that burns in this
it touches. Whoever yields to it, falls into the darkness, the light of repentance? Fruitful rela-
hands of death." tions between Jews and Germans, relations in
This, in brief, is an analysis of what from the which a past that is both meaningful and at the
very beginning was a "false start" in the relations same time so horrible as to cripple communica-
between Jews and Germans, one which brought tion may be preserved and worked through-such
the elements of crisis inherent in the process itself relations must be prepared with great care. But it
to an ever riper development. is only through an effort to bring them about that
we can guarantee that official contacts between
IV the two peoples will not be poisoned by counter-

W HERE DO WE stand now, after the un-


speakable horror of those twelve
feit formulas and demands. Already the worm of
hypocrisy is gnawing at the delicate roots. Where
love is no longer possible, a new understanding
years from 1933 to 1945? Jews and Germans took requires other ingredients; distance, respect, open-
very different roads after the war. The most vital ness and openmindedness, and above all, good-
segment of the Jews attempted to build up its own will-on both sides.
society in its own land. No one can say whether A young German recently wrote to me express-
the attempt will succeed, but everyone knows that ing the hope that Jews, when thinking of Ger-
the cause of Israel is a matter of life and death to many, might keep in mind the words of Isaiah:
the Jews. The dialectic of their undertaking is "Remember ye not the former things, neither con-
obvious. They live on a volcano. The great im- sider the things of old." I do not know whether
petus they received from the experience of the the messianic age will bestow forgetfulness upon
holocaust-their experience of the German murder the Jews. It is a delicate point of theology. But
of the Jews, and of the apathy and hard-hearted- for us, who must live without illusions in an age
ness of the world-has been followed by a pro- without a Messiah, such a hope entails the im-
found exhaustion whose signs are unmistakable. possible. However sublime it might be to forget,
And yet the incentive generated by their original we cannot. Only by remembering a past that we
insight into their true situation is still operating will never completely master can we generate new
effectively. hope in the resumption of communication be-
The Germans have paid for their catastrophe tween Germans and Jews, and in the reconcilia-
with the division of their country, but on the tion of those who have been separated.