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Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

In His Own Words

October 18, 2016 | by

Newly revealed letters from Heidegger confirm his Nazism—not that there was any doubt.

Illustration: Herbert Wetterauer.

Martin Heidegger never apologized for his support of the Nazis. He joined the party in 1933 and remained a member until the bitter end, in 1945. First, he spoke out enthusiastically in favor of a conservative revolution with Hitler at its helm. From about 1935, he found his own ambitions disappointed, and grew more silent. Yet, when he called his dalliance with National Socialism his greatest mistake after the war, he was upset not at his crime, but at the fact that he got caught.

Not that Heidegger has had to apologize, either. For the past seventy years, his many apologists and acolytes have gone to astounding lengths in trying to prove that his philosophical oeuvre exists independent of what was, they avowed, a mere weakness of character, an instance of momentary opportunism. In 2014, a group of French philosophers even tried to halt the publication of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, his philosophical diaries. But if antisemitic references in his philosophy are oblique and, as some would have it, coincidental to his critique of modernity, the Notebooks leave little room for such charitable reading. Even after the war he would bemoan the Jewish “drive for revenge,” with their aim consisting in “obliterating the Germans in spirit and history.” 

And yet, the Black Notebooks haven’t lain to rest one of the more irksome debates around continental philosophy. Perhaps that’s what the release of Heidegger’s correspondence with his lifelong confidante, his brother Fritz, will achieve. His heirs, having held back these letters for many years, have finally caved to the pressure that began to mount following the release of the Black Notebooks. The excerpts released in advance by Die Zeit and Le Monde last weekend show Heidegger for what, apparently, he was: the real deal, a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi who bought into Hitler’s ideology wholesale. And he wasn’t a particularly sophisticated one. In his letters, the forefather of deconstruction voices his impassioned belief in Volk and Führer, perpetual German victimhood, “world Jewry,” the threat of Bolshevism, and American decadence.

Perhaps it’s inconvenient, but it’s hardly shocking: Heidegger was not just a member of the Nazi party, but also a Nazi. Nor was he just a “metaphysical antisemite”—he also just really disliked Jews. Let’s hope this settles the matter. Read More »

The Book of Life

October 10, 2016 | by

Aunt Rose, right, et al., 1942.

In her book Playing Dead, Elizabeth Greenwood recounts how she faked her own death, staging a car crash in the Philippines. My great-aunt Rose did something of that nature—if, admittedly, in the less dramatic mode of an aged Jewish lady with used tissues tucked into her sleeve and sagging, off-color support hose.

Rose’s ride to a wedding in Newark from Paterson showed up as planned, and as confirmed by her the week before. Somebody’s nephew. Rang, rang the bell. —No answer. —Upturned an ashcan in the alley, climbed and, clutching at the window ledge, peered in. 

Aunt Rose was gone. Read More »

Women at Work: Irina Reyn and Emily Barton in Conversation

August 30, 2016 | by


From left: Irina Reyn, Emily Barton.

Last month, after her reading at the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, New York, Irina Reyn sat down for an onstage conversation with the novelist Emily Barton. Reyn had read from her new novel, The Imperial Wife, in which two women—Catherine the Great in eighteenth-century Russia and Tanya in contemporary New York—negotiate marriage and ambition, on two very different registers. Barton’s third novel, The Book of Esther, was also published this summer. It imagines a nation of Turkic warrior Jews transposed from the Middle Ages to World War II–era Europe and follows one woman’s Joan of Arc–style quest to defend her people. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly became a lively discussion about the writing of both novels, gender and work, and the standing of women in the current political climate. —Ed. Read More »

When Emperors Are No More

June 15, 2016 | by

Why did an intelligent Jewish scholar write an appreciation of a German tyrant?

From the paperback cover of Inventing the Middle Ages.

In 1992, a medievalist named Norman Cantor published Inventing the Middle Ages, a series of light, biographical sketches intended to show readers how a few historians from the twentieth century had brought the Middle Ages alive to the general public, with, as the flap copy put it, vivid images of wars, tournaments, plagues, saints and kings, knights and ladies.” One chapter, “The Nazi Twins,” was devoted partly to Ernst Kantorowicz, a Princeton scholar who’d written a magisterial study of sovereignty in medieval law, philosophy, and art. Cantor alleged that Kantorowicz—who was not only Jewish, but had spoken up against Hitler at great peril to his academic career, and whose mother has perished in a concentration camp—had “impeccable Nazi credentials”: an outrageous slander, in the eyes of his former students and colleagues. When The New York Review of Books ran a largely favorable essay on Inventing the Middle Ages, the magazine received a flood of angry letters. “Where is this Cantor [a] professor? Disney World?” demanded one reader. 

But “this Cantor” was not entirely specious in his claims. In 1927, when he was only thirty, Kantorowicz had written a seven-hundred-page biography of Frederick II, a Holy Roman Emperor from the thirteenth century. In lofty German that imitated the Latin style of Frederick’s time, Kantorowicz painted the Emperor as a redeemer of the German people who united the north with the Roman south and brought the barbaric East under his iron rule. Kantorowicz had a Hindu good luck symbol, the swastika, put on the biography’s cover, and on its dedication page he recalled laying a wreath on Frederick’s grave in Palermo. “That wreath,” he wrote, “may fairly be taken as a symbol that—not alone in learned circles—enthusiasm is astir for the great German Rulers of the past: in a day when emperors are no more.” Among the book’s enthusiastic readers was Hermann Göring, who gave Mussolini a signed copy for his birthday. Read More »

In Brief

April 3, 2014 | by


From the cover of Liana Finck’s A Binkel Brief.

Dear Editor,
I am a Russian revolutionist and a freethinker. Here in America I became acquainted with a girl who is also a freethinker. We decided to marry, but the problem is that she has Orthodox parents, and for their sake we must have a religious ceremony. If we refuse the ceremony we will be cut off from them forever. Her parents also want me to go to the synagogue with them before the wedding, and I don’t know what to do. Therefore I ask
you to advise me how to act.
J. B.

Answer: The advice is that there are times when it pays to give in to old parents and not grieve them. It depends on the circumstances. When one can get along with kindness it is better not to break off relations with the parents.

You have probably heard of “A Bintel Brief,” the famous Yiddish advice column that ran in Der Forvertz, guiding several generations of newly arrived Jewish immigrants through the confusions of the new world. Penned by editor Abraham Cahan, the column, which has been anthologized, makes for evocative reading. It’s often heartbreaking and sometimes funny; the tersely definitive responses are compassionate and generally wise.

It was with great pleasure, then, that I came upon a copy of Liana Finck’s new graphic novel, A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York. Finck illustrates a number of the “Bintel Brief” letters—from an educated young woman engaged to an old-world greenhorn; from a poor mother whose watch has been stolen by an even poorer friend; from a cuckolded husband—but she does more than that. She speculates about what might have happened to the writers. She illustrates unspoken byplay, read between the lines. She records her own reactions. In so doing, she brings an entirely new dimension to what has become, for modern readers, a portal into a world that feels impossibly distant. It is about nostalgia, yes—Finck would not have been alive when the column ran—but it is also about how we engage with the past. The letters alone feel like such an anachronism.

But are they? Funnily enough, I was reading through Finck’s book, which I have been meting out like a treat, when a friend sent me this. It’s gotten some exposure on Reddit, as one might expect.

There is one particularly moving letter that Finck chooses to illustrate, in which the survivor of a pogrom wonders whether to uproot his elderly father, now alone, and bring him to safety in America. Cahan wrote, “For various reasons we need to answer this heart-wrenching letter privately. The writer should send us his full address.”


Elijah Returns

March 25, 2013 | by

Passover-MatzohA holiday’s most assiduously followed rituals occur, usually, before the holiday itself: preparing the customary meal, shopping for the requisite gifts, configuring the most acceptable seating arrangements. So much must happen before the sun goes down and the first three stars appear in the sky.

During the month preceding Passover, my father spends several hours planning, revising, and rerevising his remarks for our family’s seder. It’s a tradition that began a few years ago, when his father, deaf and grumpy with age, decided to pass on the task of leading the premeal service. An attorney familiar with speaking in courtrooms, my father is meticulous with his preparations—offhand-seeming ums and you knows are carefully drafted; a stopwatch ticks as he practices his commentary. Generally his seders have been regarded as both witty and efficient, observing all the rituals while getting us quickly to the meal.

But last year didn’t go so seamlessly. As the holiday approached, he was nervous because, for the first time since their divorce, my mother had decided to host the seder. As she has no immediate family in Minneapolis (except her devoted, sympathetic son), this meant fourteen of her former in-laws would convene in her home—a home she shared with her new husband, Kevin, a Catholic from North Dakota whose existence my father was uneasy about.

“I’m not quite sure how to handle it,” he said to me the week before the seder. Read More »