Jewish-Gentile Intermarriage: Part I 1908 The Melting Pot

Jewish-Gentile Intermarriage:
Part I 1908 The Melting Pot

by

Howard Adelman

Just before my own teaching session on Shavuot that ended in the very early hours on Sunday (12 June), I went to hear Dr. David Weinfeld talk about the above topic as it is portrayed in popular American culture. Unfortunately, I could not follow the last one-third of the lecture, except in general outline, because the references were all to TV shows, none of which I had followed. But the first part on the past plays, movies, novels and musicals was very informative and insightful.

Before I get into the talk, a discussion of Liel Leibowitz’s very recent essay in Tablet is relevant. The piece is entitled, “No Matter Who Wins in November, the Jews have already lost.”

Clinton or Trump, stinging defeat or close call, divided house or clean partisan sweep—politics will change in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend but it will spell, in nontrivial ways, the end of a more than half-a-century-long American Jewish bloom… Steven Spielberg…was wrong to believe anti-Semitism was fading…The end of Jewish America is everywhere you look. Look rightward, and you’ll see the Republican leadership trying to rationalize away what, for Jews, ought to be the non-negotiable fact that bigotry must never be tolerated, no matter its targets and no matter the circumstances…With Trump at its helm, the GOP will no longer be the Party of Lincoln or of Reagan. It will be the party of those who think that keeping the Muslims out is fine, of those who cheer on calls to disqualify a judge because of his Mexican heritage, of those who gleefully tweet illustrations of gas chambers and quips about ovens. It will be a party of Huns led by a hardhead. No decent person should join such a party, but Jews have particularly resonant reasons for staying the hell away. Look leftward, and things are hardly better. There it’s the Rise of the Planet of the Progressives…Younger Americans… are slouching toward a more perfect progressive dogma, and the political constellations they’re likely to form will almost certainly not be hospitable to Jews.

Why that depiction of the left?

Progressivism…is powered by the twin, and seemingly contradictory, engines of consolidation on the one hand and diffusion on the other: Economically, its supporters champion the regulatory powers of the federal government, while culturally they advocate increased deference to the sensitivities of marginalized individuals. For at least six decades, if not longer, American Jews have traveled more or less in the opposite direction, championing a culture of consolidation that is a necessary backdrop for blending in while supporting moderately liberal economic policies that focused on individuals, not collectives…. This instinct, this genius for assimilation, this affirmation of an all-American identity that trumps the rougher, tribal one is precisely what progressivism now heatedly rejects. (my italics)

To repeat, since WWII, American Jews have traveled in the opposite direction compared to two major trends on the liberal-left. The liberal-left has moved towards deference to and recognition of the marginalized each as specialized categories of victimhood requiring state support versus the direction of the Jews towards consolidation (what was once called assimilation). Secondly, to most observers’ surprise, the liberal left has moved towards socialism and collectivism while Jews have increasingly made an economy based on individual effort, initiative and reward their touchstone. What is the challenge then for Jews? “Clowns to the left of us, and racists to the right, we American Jews may finally awaken from our 30-year nap and learn again how to be a community that grapples fiercely with big ideas.” (Leibowitz)

It is against this large social, political and economic backdrop that I want to discuss Jewish-Gentile intermarriage and “the genius for assimilation” as expressed in critical examples drawn from pop culture.

Weinfeld began his talk with an excursion into sociology before he made his foray into popular culture. He asked the audience what they believed to be the current rate of intermarriage. He was not clear at that point, at least as I heard and understood him (not the most reliable indicator), whether he meant the U.S. or/and Canada, and whether he meant the overall rate of Jewish marriages that involved intermarried parties in which one partner was a Jew or whether he was referring to the percentage of Jews who were currently intermarrying. It turned out he was referring to both, but his exclusive references in pop culture were American creations.

The official sociological definition of the intermarriage rate is the number of Jews who marry non-Jews in any one year in relation to the number of Jews who marry Jews. It also turned out that the guesses from the audience fell into a reasonable range of error. The numbers fell on either side of the figures cited and were not far-fetched. This indicated that those in the audience, at least those bold enough to shout out an answer, had some idea of the rate of intermarriage.

I thought in my head that this opening question was intended to demonstrate that the audience lacked any detail knowledge of statistics on the high rate of Jewish-Gentile intermarriage, particularly in the United States. If that was the intention, it was misguided, and, whatever the intentions of the question, my speculation about the results was misguided. As I said, the guesses were not far off. The key reference is an American one which he cited. A 2013 Pew survey showed the current rate of intermarriage to be 58% among all Jews and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews. The overall rate of intermarriage is about 44% and rising fast.

The changes have been dramatic. In the nineteenth century exogenous marriages outside the faith were very rare. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, in the United States the intermarriage rate had risen to 5%. It was at this point that Weinfeld first dived into pop culture by referencing a 1908 play by Israel Zangwill. (He was a colleague as well as a Zionist competitor of Herzl since he was a leading voice for the Uganda option for Jewish resettlement.) The title of the play, The Melting Pot, indicated to Weinfeld that it was an American Jew that forged the most famous phrase summarizing the concept of and metaphor for assimilation in the United States, but other scholarly authorities claim he merely made the phrase popular. The play made its debut in a year when Jewish immigration to the United States had reached the outstanding figure of 150,000 to join an American population that was just over 100 million.

As Weinfeld depicted it, the play was about David Quixano, a name deliberately chosen by Zangwill to connote both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardic background, even though he supposedly fled Russia and its anti-Jewish pogroms (the 1903 Kishnev pogrom more specifically in which his whole family were killed). David immigrated to the United States. He fell in love with another Russian immigrant, Vera, non-Jewish, who, it turns out, has a father who instigated the Kishinev pogrom and led the Russians in the slaughter. As Weinfeld said, the rivalry of the Capulets and the Montagues was nothing compared to the familial tensions in The Melting Pot.

The theme of the play is about how America differs from the “old country.” America is the place to end all ethnic tensions, not exacerbate them. David was a composer and wrote a successful symphony, “The Crucible,” which memorialized this aspiration for a cosmopolitan nation in which ethnic rivalries were all dissolved. As the symphony ends, David forgives Vera’s father when the latter confesses his role. Theodore Roosevelt, a champion of European immigration to the U.S., sat in the audience when the play first opened in Washington D.C. and David proclaimed in Zangwill’s overwrought prose:

DAVID: There she lies, the great Melting Pot–listen! Can’t you hear the roaring and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth [_He points east_]–the harbour where a thousand mammoth feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian–black and yellow- [Theodore Roosevelt may have winced at this last phrase, but, in the end, he shouted, “That’s a great play, Mr. Zangwill, that’s a great play.”]
VERA: Jew and Gentile.
DAVID: Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross–how the great Alchemist melts and fuses them with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God. Ah, Vera, what is the glory of Rome and Jerusalem [my italics] where all nations and races come to worship and look back, compared with the glory of America, where all races and nations come to labour and look forward!

Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers ended up dead. Zangwill’s couple end up leaving the stage at the end to intermarry and live happily ever after. Israel Zangwill himself was intermarried.

The beginning of the shift in attitude to Jewish-Gentile intermarriage when the rate was only 5% is marked by a popular, even if very schmaltzy, play. The statistics indicate that fiction was not a reflection of reality, but a significant factor in helping develop that shift from a primarily tribal culture to a broad acceptance of assimilation and intermarriage by the end of the century. But that shift was not simply a reflection, for the popular cultural underpinning of this new assimilationist ideology was current among Jewish thinkers and teachers.

In Arthur Goren’s 1999 study, The Politics and Public Culture of American Jews (Indiana University Press), he began with a 1907 quote from Israel Friedlaender, a scholar who had only arrived in the US from Europe four years earlier. He became a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In the talk the professor gave entitled, “The Problem of Judaism in America,” he challenged the prevailing conventional wisdom that American Jewry was fragmented and intellectually impoverished. In dealing with the challenge and attractions of equality and assimilation, with the achievement of civil and political rights, he prophesied the emergence of American Jewry’s leadership in the world and an example within America. “In the great palace of American civilization we (Jews) shall occupy our own corner, which we will decorate and beautify to the best of our taste and ability, and make it not only a center of attraction for the members of our family, but also an object of admiration for all dwellers of the palace…We see a community…blending the best it possesses with the best it encounters…adding a new note to the richness of American life.”

Zangwill’s play suggests that the cultural leaders, as distinct from the community intellectual leadership, were willing to emerge from that corner and broadcast to the wider American public this contemporary Jewish ideology of assimilation, of Jewish community preservation, but a community that was not separate and apart but inclusive and pluralistic. The twentieth century would witness the victorious success of this new ideology over against the doctrine of a community that is separate, distinctive and unique. Further, as Goren wrote, “The material and cultural achievements of American Jews, and the dramatic success of some, gave credence to the American promise of reward, recognition and accepting of the deserving individual.” (p. 13)

Seven years after Zangwill’s play, Horace Kallen advanced the doctrine of a democracy of nationalities,” what later Prime Minister Joe Clark of Canada would call a “community of communities.” In his 1915 essay, “Democracy versus Melting Pot,” Kallen argued for a Canadian version of multiculturalism, not assimilation but integration, the preservation of differences because of “ethnicity.” Religious continuity was but one aspect of that ethnic desire to preserve the tribe, but through a largely secular preservation (and cultivation) of unique Jewish cultural and ethnic traits, including the Hebrew language, while participating in the overall goal of advancing the American values of tolerance and respect from others’ differences. In 1910, Hebraism, this ethnic cultural mix was what, “Israel has stood for in history, the life of the Jews, their unique achievement – not as isolated individuals, but as a well defined group.” These two options to religious separatism would compete for supremacy throughout the twentieth century, total assimilation versus group ethnic continuity. Intermarriage was an integral part in determining the result. In 1909, Judah Leon Magnes would launch the New York Kehillah as an instantiation of the idea of a “Republic of Nationalities.” His effort to create a comprehensive congress of Jews based on democratic principles failed.

All this was taking place against a background of rapid and radical social, economic and political changes. When various type of socialists – Bundists, Marxists, Social democrats, Zionists – were major communal movements vying for victory, William Zamertkin in 1907 wrote in Yiddish that self-isolation was a sickness that can and must be cured. Samuel Peskin carried that message to its logical conclusion – “amalgamation in the cosmopolitan American nation.” The American Jewish Committee, a secular rather than religious creation to represent Jews, remained conflicted in determining the outcome of these battles as it tried to play the role of mediator and cultural expressions offered a leading edge in the debate.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Enjoying your blogs…most of them, when I have some time. Helpful to learn what people are thinking and therefore what is happening and why. Having been a commodities trader there are reasons to what people do and it is the very information passed around that people make decisions on…others like you perhaps are more in the think of it and has a grasp on history.

Politics is not my stronger suit…health is. Any where I see assimilation, I question. The Inuit peoples were driven to not live their ways because of the arrogance of thinking assimilation. Now small bands of people have left the towns to live in their original ways and the seal hunt is going to come back so they can have some of their own money to create a better future.

If you have watched any Star Trek in your days, it depicts how the collective doesn’t leave room for free thinking, critical thinking.

I know, such a small number of words that cannot begin to describe my thoughts but it will do.

Dr. Steven Greer shares it quite nicely. I am all for full disclosure, free energy and no more man provoked wars for power and greed.

Differences and further separation blown to the wind…time will heal and needed laws and rules to keep it on track.

Have a good day!

My Promised Land II: The End of the Nineteenth Century

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Zionism: The Core of a Tragic Vision

by

Ari Shavit

 

Part II The End of the Nineteenth Century

 

Ari Shavit is a sabra and heir to the Israeli aristocracy on both sides of his family. His great-grandfather was a prominent Jewish aristocrat whose father in turn had been a poor immigrant to Britain from Russia. The Rt. Honourable Herbert Bentwith first visited Israel in 1897 before the first Zionist congress in BaselSwitzerland. Drawn from his great-grandfather’s journals, Ari’s description of that visit makes up the first chapter of the book.

 

During that visit, Sir Herbert Bentwith was greeted by Dr. Hillel Yoffe, Ari’s other great-grandfather who pioneered in the eradication of malaria from Palestine, distinguished between blackwater fever (favism) and malaria and provided the groundbreaking study that allowed other researchers to identify the inherited characteristic of favism in Jewish males of Iraqi and Kurdish origins. (See Harry Ostrer Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People, OUP.) Dr. Yoffe escorted the visiting diaspoa Jews from the West to the French agricultural school at Mikveh Israel and showed them its pioneering efforts to bring modern science and technology to agricultural production in Palestine.

 

Why Bentwith and not Yoffe? Dr. Yoffe does not appear in the book again. Was it only because Bentwith wrote a journal? Why the romantic rather than practical Zionist? The answer is not simply because Ari is an anglophile. Perhaps because Bentwith was linked to the Balfour declaration.

 

Although an anglophile, Ari is an old style Zionist through and through. He believes that the Jewish diaspora is doomed to whither away in the face of the enlightenment, assimilation and the disappearance of the ghetto which protected Jews from this menace of progress. Ari is also  through and through an Ashkenazi Jew. He says Jew lives in ghettos. Ethiopian Jews did not live in ghettos. Indian Jews did not live in ghettos. Iraqi Jews did not live in ghettos. For Ari Shavit, if the Jewish people were to survive they had to be transformed from a people of the Diaspora to a sovereign self-governing people. Herzl Zionists foresaw this law of history. He realized that Jews were “faced with a radical problem: the coming extinction of the Jews.” Enlightenment = assimilation = extinction. The alternative? Enlightenment = rise of antisemitism = Nazism = extinction. Either path yields the same result. The only alternative is political Zionism: “if they are to survive, the Jewish people need the Holy Land.”

 

Since a reader is unable to distinguish between the author’s and Bentwich’s views, we can only assume that  they both share a propensity to being rigid and pedantic accompanied by arrogance, determination, self-assurance and non-conformity (in Ari Shavit’s own words), but the two agree on the future of the diaspora (none) and the absolute need of Israel if the Jews are to survive. The prosperous American-Jewish community is faced with a malaise. The ratio of Jews to non-Jews is shrinking rapidly. That this may mostly be the result of new immigrants who overwhelmingly are not Jewish is not considered. Extinction faces diaspora Jewry.  After all, the Jewish population of Great Britain has dropped from 400,000 to 300,000. But how much of that drop was a result of Jewish emigration after the war to North America and Australia? When Ari describes the evisceration of a thriving Jewish community in Brighton, my friend, Verne Shaw in Toronto from Brighton could attest to that. But my friends from St. Johns, New Brunswick could testify to the same phenomenon. The Jewish population has been consolidating from small towns and moving to larger cities.

 

But Ari is correct that Jews as a people are faced with the problem of assimilation. That problem has many answers, most having to do with changes required in the diaspora. Only one of them entails emigration to Israel. Further, unless there is a rise in antisemitism, the mass immigration to Israel is unlikely to take place and even from France it is little more than a trickle.

 

However, Ari does not have to get the diaspora issue right since his book is about Israel. But even  with Israel he arrives at some very questionable interpretations. He acknowledges that Palestine was viewed as an empty land, not because there were no Arabs, but because there was plenty of room for Jews and Arabs. But most of his message is that these future Israelis failed to pay attention to these Palestinians. Further, there was then “no cogent national (Palestinian) identity” wanting to express itself at the time.

 

Then why does Ari accuse his grandfather of not wanting to see, of mindblindness? Perhaps he was. But Ari seems just to be making this blindness up simply because his great-grandfather did not make notes on the Palestinians in the Arab towns through which he traveled. Between the vision of Zionist settlement and the vision of enlightenment progress and the advance or technology and urbanization, the vision may not include a continuation of “Palestinian peasants who stand by their olive and fig trees”. But that dilemma of the survival of the peasant village is a worldwide problem, one not specific to Zionists. Ari writes: “They will replace one people with another” just after he wrote that at the time there was no people in Palestine with a national identity and when he is writing that only Israel Zangwill perceived this “truth” of the need to cleanse the land of the Arabs, as if the expulsion of 720,000 Palestinians as refugees was foreordained. For Ari Shavit, of the 21 travellers who accompanied Bentwich, only Israel Zangwill was not naive.

 

But what about the numbers of Arabs that remained? And why insist that Bentwich never saw the Palestinian Arabs living in a myriad of towns and cities – there were a million when Bentwich arrived and Palestine included the much larger territory of Jordan? He surely did not mean “literally” did not see. He meant that his great-grandfather did not see the Palestinians as a political obstacle to a Zionist settler enterprise. Perhaps his great-grandfather did not but the Zionist tracts he read surely would have informed him. They would have discussed the various debates among Zionists about how the problem of the Arab and Bedouin inhabitants would be dealt with. 

 

This is but another literary conceit which distorts history. The Zionist forbears who saw a land without a people as ripe for resettlement are accused of ignoring the resident Arab population when they did not. The land was described as empty, not because there was no population on it, but because the land was so sparsely populated, especially in comparison to the period two thousand years earlier when Jews were a sovereign people.

 

The tragedy, for Ari, begins before the Zionists even arrive in Palestine in his construction. “The British Isles are not really ours.” Jews are an alien presence in other lands. Secondly, the land of Palestine is also not ours for it belongs first and foremost to the Arabs who already live there when the Zionists arrive. Neither conjointly nor separately is either proposition a given truth. There are four choices:

1. Jews have no rights to be anywhere;

2. Jews have rights to live in ancient Israel.

3. Jews have been granted rights to live in many countries.

4. Jews have rights to live anywhere, including Palestine.

 

Why does Ari adopt the first option except that it dooms Jews to having a tragic history and makes his case?

 

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman

Conversation – Instalment 2: Loyalty and Disloyalty

Assimilation: Culture & Economics; Family Politics and Cover-ups

by

Howard Adelman

 

My father came to Canada from Poland when he was six years old just after the end of WWI. One of his earliest memories was being in a parade in Warsaw when the Kaiser came and he waved a German flag. He always had a strong positive view of Kaiser Wilhelm, reflecting even the Ostjuden view of Germany as the leader of European enlightenment culture. In Jeremy`s first paragraph of chapter 1 of his biography of Albert Hirschman, he writes that Carl Hirschmann (Albert`s father) “was a patriot; he loved Beethoven, Goethe, and the values of the German Enlightenment, as well as the German nation. In the wake of the naval Battle of Skagerrak (known as Jutland in English, May 31 – June 1, 1916) he gushed to his wife, `What do you think of our victory at sea? How wonderful it would to have been there!`”

The problem is that the battle was not quite a victory. In the largest naval battle of the war and the only confrontation between battleships, both sides lost. When we were taught that battle in high school British history, I recall that as schoolboys we discussed whether the British admiralty were competing with the British generals of the ground forces for a medal for the worst performance, though we generally agreed that it would be hard to beat the British army officers in their horrific leadership.

Both the British and Germans wanted to lure the enemy`s fleet into a trap to destroy their capacity by sinking or damaging enough of the other`s warships, in the British case, to remove the threat to their mercantile navy and, in the German case, to break the British blockade and allow the German mercantile fleet to operate freely and open the supply lines to Germany. Using intercepts, the British learned of the German plans, sailed from Scapa Flow in Scotland when they learned the German fleet had left port and caught the submarines unprepared. However, the British were nevertheless caught by German Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper`s superfast five modern battlecruisers and drew them into a battle with the German High seas fleet. Before the British could get back to their own main fleet, they lost two battlecruisers in the battle between Hipper`s five fast ships and the British navy`s six battlecruisers and four battleships. In that sense, the navy battle was a victory for the Germans.

On the other hand, the Germans had been lured into an open battle of the fleets with 250 ships engaged altogether. Eleven German ships were lost but at great cost to the British who lost an additional twelve ships. Further, the Germans managed to escape their encirclement and return to port when the British failed to press their advantage. The British also lost far more sailors. Nevertheless, the British succeeded in deterring any future naval engagements by the Germans and the German fleet remained blockaded in port, but the process also tied down the British fleet and limited its protection of the Atlantic sea lanes.

As is usual in wartime, both sides claimed victory. The difference is that in Germany, the public believed the German military propaganda. In Britain, expectations had been high of another Trafalgar, but the British were not only disappointed that their great fleet had been unable to destroy the German one in open battle, but also at the greater losses on their side. They also learned of the design flaws in their own ships and even questioned the naval commanders` conduct of the battle as we as high school students had. In contrast, Carl Hirshmann, the German loyalist who secretly came from Ostjuden stock but named his son Otto after Otto von Bismarck, the Great Prussian chancellor and founder of modern Germany, accepted that the battle as a German victory and faithfully served the wounded and sick and even eventually the starving as the British blockade lead to cold, darkness, starvation and death in Germany. Carl Hirschmann in his self-deceit was unprepared for the overthrow of the German monarchy.

Jeremy summarizes the key events of the latter all too succinctly. After the flu pandemic which killed 5,000 in Berlin alone, “the Spartacist uprising a month later ended in savagery. Rosa Luxemburg`s body was dumped in the Landwehr Canal, Karl Liebknecht was shot in the back in the Tiergarten Park, and right wing thugs patrolled the city to stop the Soviet influence from crossing into German lands. From this mayhem was born the Weimar Republic, the political and cultural setting of Otto Albert`s upbringing.” What Jeremy does not write in his caution in not drawing forth generalizations unless clearly indicated by the evidence is that these key events not only reinforced the self-deceit and mindblindness of Carl Hirschmann on the political as well as personal level, but adumbrated the path of compromise and betrayal that would be the end as well as beginning of the Weimar Republic.

Although the thugs of the proto-Nazi Freikorps carried out the murders, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Chancellor Friedrich Ebert in particular, most probably ordered them. The SPD, now in government in league with the conservative party, was, like the Chinese government today, wedded to the rhetoric of Marxism but driven by the revisionist nationalist theories of Edward Bernstein which made loyalty to the German state a priority rather than international solidarity. The SPD backed the Kaiser`s war, turned on those leftists who had split away from the SPD and, in my conviction, specifically ordered the assassination that took place on 15 January 1919 of Luxemburg (who, incidentally, initially opposed Liebknecht`s call for an insurrection) and Liebknecht, the leaders of the breakaway faction of the socialists in Germany. The process legitimized thuggery as a political tool at the same time as it sewed deep schisms of distrust among leftists in Germany. Luxemburg`s call for “spontaneity” in revolution to which Albert Hirshman was initially attracted was left undeveloped and without her charismatic leadership. Perhaps this allowed AH to abandon Marxism long before his ideological sister was able to free herself.

Jeremy writes: “He (AH) carried throughout his life many of the precepts and values he had inherited as a boy and picked up as a young man in a vibrantly cosmopolitan, civil, bourgeois – republican – upbringing, steeped in the view that things could be made better, that out of the ashes of the old, new worlds could be made. But throughout his life, he knew equally well just how precarious this world could be.” (pp. 18-19) I would argue that he learned more than simply precariousness. Long before his participation in the Spanish Civil War, before he was even politically aware, his upbringing had been steeped not only in the values of civility, meliorism and republicanism, but in the absence of solidarity, loyalty and unity on the left. He had also learned that the resort to street violence was as integral a part of German culture as Goethe and Wagner. 

But German contemporary culture of Dada artists, Bauhaus architect, Berlin expressionists, and avant-garde filmmakers was perhaps the greatest influence on AH. Jeremy writes: “Berliners turned to culture…Perhaps best known was the flourishing of a distinct Berlin movement in theatre, film, and criticism, especially with the collaboration of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, whose Three Penny Opera presented industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin. Berlin`s first talking movie, The Blue Angel, made Marlene Dietrich famous around the world.” For Jeremy, the image of Dietrich of her memorable walk down a broad staircase in tuxedo and a top hat stands out as does the family lore told by Eva, AH`s young sister, of AH`s father, Carl Hirshmann, spotting Marlene Dietrich at a resort and then jumping up when an opportunity presented itself, draping Dietrich`s fur coat over her shoulder and whispering in her ear, `Meine beste Freudin,` the name of her hit recording from the film. In fact, the song was called, “Wenn die beste Freudin” and it did not come from the film, My Blue Angel, but from the duet she had sung in 1928 with Margo Lion from the musical revue, Es Liegt in der Luft. Since the song was not included in the 1964 albums of Berlin songs by Marlene Dietrich, it is not well known. However, the song can still be heard on YouTube and I personally heard many of them as my German teacher in high school played recording after recording. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSOvHdAcdHA.) The song became an anthem for the risqué lesbian movement at the time, but it is unclear whether Carl Hirschmann was being ironic when citing the song as he flirted with Marlene Dietrich.

More significantly, although the book is very long, I think it would have been helpful to briefly unpack those two splendid examples of avant-garde German culture to reveal the tensions between the passions and interests that so dominated Berlin cultural discourse at the time and remained ever present as a theme in AH`s thinking and was, of course, the name of one of his most important books. I wrote a theatre review for the Threepenny Opera (as we wrote out the title) in the early sixties and do not recall thinking of the musical as presenting industrializing London as an allegory for contemporary Berlin even though the plot was taken from John Gay`s The Beggar`s Opera, but rather as an interpersonal struggle set against a tale of ostensible class warfare between a peachy father and his daughter. The father is ironically named Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum who is a Fagin character running a troupe of beggars. He is governed solely by self-interest but, unlike Fagin, disguises his main occupation through respectability, civility and religious cant. His daughter, Polly, is a naïve creature driven by passion and desire who falls in love with a charming new thief, Macheath, hired by her father. Macheath has coated his pursuit of both self-interest and desire with an attractive quality of charm and goodwill that serves as a cover for the ruthless murderer beneath. The musical with its wonderful ironic music plays on the tension between two forms of ardent self-interest in juxtaposition to desire and various forms of cover ups for that tension so it would have been helpful to learn whether AH saw the musical when he was fourteen or, at least, how he regarded it, especially its deus ex machina ending when Macheath ends up with a pardon for all his crimes and a pension from Queen Victoria.

The Blue Angel, Germany`s first talkie in 1930, is such a contrast to Hollywood`s 1927 The Jazz Singer which told the story of the tension between tradition and modernity between a Jewish cantor`s son and his father loosely based on the life of its star, Al Jolson, my favourite singer as a kid. The Blue Angel based on Heirich Mann`s novel, Professor Unrat (garbage), is the story of a bourgeois, prudish and stuffy teacher in a gymnasium much like the one AH attended who goes to a cabaret to catch his boys watching the torch singer, Loa-Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich, and falls deliriously in love. It is a movie about passion overwhelming reason and common sense leading to the destruction of bourgeois values of civility as the professor is reduced to the humiliation of playing a clown in cabaret as Marlene Dietrich cavorts with her latest lover. The surprise is how well this trite and simplistic plot works so powerfully and how much more powerful the film must have been in Germany where the theme of the tension between unbridled passion and rationality has such a deep resonance. 

I know Jeremy`s book is very long, but I would have appreciated a bit more expansion on the possible effects of such German iconic cultural products on AH himself. I also missed some more unpacking of the tension within Albert between tradition and modernity set against the tension between self-interest and emotional attachments. We are told the parallel story of his very wealthy cousins who take self-interest to the extremes of hedonism and the implied rejection by Albert of those values. We are told of the family`s conversion to Protestantism along with another half million German Jews, but it was Lutheranism and not just Protestantism established by the ardently anti-Semitic Martin Luther to which they converted.  The family observed Christmas and although Albert was converted, he never took up his vows as a Christian. The family really worshipped at the altar of German respectability.

We are told of Carl Hirschmann`s rejection both as an applicant to become head of neurosurgery at a gentile hospital and his rejection as head of surgery at the Jewish hospital and the conviction by himself and his family that his conversion was the reason for the rejection. Other than a loss in status for Carl, especially in the eyes of Albert`s socially aspiring mother, we are not told of how the inner turmoil played out in the life of his father, or, more importantly, within AH other than the statement that Albert wore a “carapace of invulnerability” that even his daughter, Katia, who returned to Judaism, could not seem to penetrate. I wanted Jeremy to make a greater effort to penetrate that carapace that stood in such contrast to the themes of voice, of exit and of loyalty, for the lifelong drama seemed to have the smell of a son trapped, even if in a less auspicious way than his own father. I suspect that his daughter sensed that rather than simply accepting the inherited line that, other than in a sense of humour and a sense of compassion, his Jewish heritage was worn very lightly to be discarded at will with no consequences.

Further probing of Katia on this question would have been helpful in gaining a greater insight into AH. Though I am getting ahead of the story, in chapter 3, Jeremy quotes AH. “`The question of a `return` to Judaism never came up for me (ne s`est jamais posée por moi),` he explained many years later to his grandson Grégoire on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. `First of all, it was never instilled in my upbringing…and above all I would have sensed that an embrace of Judaism as a reaction, as something history imposed upon me which I then had to live (persecution), and for me the question was how not to submit to this miserable history created by Historic Laws (because there are none).`”

What a dramatic revelation written in a note to his grandson in 1989! But in chapter 1 and 3, Jeremy leaves the superficial and indeed silly explanations that simply dress up his carapace unexamined. Look at what he wrote. The history of the Jews is simply a “miserable” history and not a story of both mistreatment and glorious achievement. The issue is not whether the question of return to Judaism was relevant for him, but why return was viewed as a reaction and not a choice. Why was this option regarded as an imposition rather than an option? And what in any rational universe does the history of Judaism have to do with the issue of Historic Laws? Judaism is, if anything, in its deepest roots opposed to the conception of fate whether in the form of Historic Laws or any other expression. This is simply a statement of ignorance and prejudice unbecoming to a man of probing intellect so it raises questions about why stupidity prevailed in this area when AH was so brilliant and wise in so many other areas of his life.