German Jews in America

German Jews in America

Happy to share notes from another fantastic article from the Jewish Voice From Germany - “Live and prosper”:

European approaches with distinctly American modes. In the United States, emigre scholars and artists were once again outsiders. They had German accents and upbringings. They were new immigrants in a new land. They were often uncomfortable in their new settings, and they sometimes encountered prejudice or bias in America as well. Nevertheless, they managed to become active participants in American cultural and intellectual life. Their insider/outsider status helped to fuel their creativity and achievements, often blending European approaches and new American priorities.
— William H. Weitzer

Notes on Rafael Seligmann's Countering Populism

Notes on Rafael Seligmann's Countering Populism

Sharing some notes on the “Countering Populism” article by Rafael Seligmann in Jewish Voice From Germany. Read the full article by clicking here.

A Specter Called Populism:

Observing politics worldwide, some similarities emerge. These include the strategy of playing on the population’s fears and, where fears do not or hardly exist, of sowing them anew and even deepening them. This way, the psychological reflex of being curious about the unknown while exercising caution is reduced to simple fear. The native population is fed negative images of the putative threats emanating from minorities, migrants, and other states and told they are existential threats. Taboos are placed on the willingness to stand by one’s fellows. The commandment of compassion in all monotheistic religions is replaced by exclusion.
— Rafael Seligmann

Idealistic Philosophies:

Populism claims to be the authentic representation of the majority’s interests. The concerns of the minority are dismissed or even condemned as a threat to the majority. Populists claim to know the majority’s putative national, religious, economic and social interests. They determine the “enemy” and say how to fight it most effectively. … The transformation of perfidy and crime into beneficence is an invention of early fascism that the Nazis readily copied. Benito Mussolini, the “duce” of Italy’s fascists, was a fan of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was given to “philosophizing with a hammer.” Nietzsche aspired to the ideal of a “superman”. That was no racial or biological attribute, however. It was a call for intellectual integrity and moral rectitude. … Hitler and the Nazi‘s took up the fascist prescription and added a quasi-biological dimension, morphing it into a ‘master race.’ … Trump, Orbán, and Gauland are not Nazis. Yet the method of making the majority interest they themselves devised look valuable in the service of society, together with its ruthless implementation at the expense of minorities, is taken straight out of the fascist playbook of tactical manipulation. … Emotions are stirred far more readily by nationalist slogans and the alleged threat of foreign immigrants.
— Rafael Seligmann

Notes on “Not forgetting, redefining forgiving”

Notes on “Not forgetting, redefining forgiving”

November 10, 2017, The Jewish Standard published Dr. Dennis Klein's article on Holocaust memoirs called “Not forgetting, redefining forgiving.” Below are some notes on this thought-provoking publication:

Why did few Holocaust survivors tell their stories publicly until decades after the Shoah ended?

Why did some of the first stories trickle into print in the 1960’s?

Was it all psychological – survivors had to wait as their brains and nervous systems and will to live rewired themselves – or did external reasons contribute to the timing as well?

“They weren’t just telling a historiographical story. They had a strong moral purpose, that is called bearing witness.”

“…the counter narrative is the desire to “begin to resume to reconnect with their contemporaries.” That is, their German contemporaries. “They were yearning for a relationship with Germans. The country was eager to move on, to forgive and forget, to move forward.”

“It’s really counterintuitive and hard to grasp, but these two things are going on at the same time, and in contradiction to each other. The writers’ main goal was to disquiet their German contemporaries, but at the same time they were trying to find a way to reconnect with them.

The most obvious reconnection, it might seem, would be a quest for an apology, but Dr. Klein said that’s not exactly right. Instead, he said, “all three of them, in very different ways, engage in an act of unconditional forgiveness.

“They each do talk about waiting for the Germans to apologize, but they recognize that the Germans will  never apologize. So they engage in unconditional forgiveness.”

Does that sound Christian? “To some extent, there is a Jewish tradition of divine forgiveness.” The Germans were far from divine, but “unconditional means that they will forgive, even if they don’t receive an apology.”

So if they are, but are not, forgiving, what does that mean?

“What I have discerned in these memoirs, picking up on some of the language, is that they reject forgiveness as we conventionally understand the term. They are offering us another way to understand forgiveness.

“They reject the conventional idea of forgiveness, which is conditional. When you accept somebody’s sincere apology, you are obligated to forgive. That is something they cannot do.

“Conventional forgiveness means that you are forgiving both the criminal and the crime. What these writers do is decouple the crime and the criminal. They continue to focus on the crime, which they never forgive, but they do begin to rethink that criminal.

“They understand that it is a form of forgiveness to begin to recognize the humanity in the criminal, even though they condemn the crime.”

All that does sound like the Christian notion of hating the sin but not the sinner. “It is pretty conventional in Saint Augustine‘s thinking, but it is different,“ Dr. Klein said. Augustine‘s approach is to remember the sin but let it fade a bit; to concentrate on the sinner “to begin to form what he calls a common good, bringing society back together.“  Therefore, Augustine “downplays the sin part.“

But the survivors “never forget the sin, and they never downplay it. They can never get rid of it.

“It is the manifest narrative of their work.“

Still, though, “they still look for something in the criminal that they can reconnect with,” Dr. Klein said. “And to me that is a very honest way to forgive.“

He cannot say if the three men are typical, but he does know that they were very much of their time and place. “They talk about their loneliness so strongly,“ he said. “They are so resentful toward their contemporaries“ – the Germans, who are able to leave the war behind them. The Jewish survivors, on the other hand, “are trying to find a way out of the trap of resentment.

“For about 20 years, they had been feeling loneliness and isolation.“ First, like most survivors, they had lost most if not all of their families. Second, “there was a more existential loneliness. They had lost their anchor in the world.

“Before the Holocaust, they had had so much. They had been so ambitious.“ They had been very much part of the outside world – in fact, these three men, all intellectuals, were able to rejoin that world eventually, Wiesenthal as the well-known Nazi hunter, Amery as a successful writer, and Vladimir Jankelevitch as a musicologist at the Sorbonne.

Overall, Dr. Klein said, “the great narrative of these memoirs isn’t as much about destruction as it is about betrayal.“ And like many people who are betrayed, on a level perhaps beneath the rage was “the longing for acceptance that they still retained.“

They know that their neighbors betrayed them – the neighbors with whom they thought they shared basic assumptions and values, who they at time thought of not only as acquaintances but also as friends – and “they knew that they couldn’t go back,“ Dr. Klein says. What they were feeling was not nostalgia. “Nevertheless, they want to form relationships. And I conclude that what they present to us is the conception of a society after atrocity. A society where it is important both to be suspicious of the neighbors and to long for a relationship.  

“That’s what I call a negotiable society. It means that we have to be constantly vigilant in our world, but we cannot give up on it. We cannot be innocent or gullible but we must reconnect.“