|On the Meaning of the German-Jewish Identity
Source : Eva Reichmann, C.V Zeitung , 31 May 1934
One of Man's greatest follies is the wish to be able to know everything before it happens. Man who is the most minuscule of particles in the whirl of events, a powerless plaything at the hands of higher forces, once made harshly aware of his own smallness through the mighty thrust of world history - will immediately claim he knew it all in advance! Shock, surfacing from the depth of comfort, is unworthy in his eyes. As soon as he overcomes the shock and laboriously picks himself up, he exclaims with an indifferent air that everything happened exactly as he had predicted it would It is important for us to explain loudly and clearly that this sort of complacency and numbness is objectionable to the Central Association (CV) of German Citizens of Jewish Faith. The Central Association (CV) has been in existence for over 40 years. It is a product of the Emancipation and its shortcomings. It was founded with the aim of turning the equality by law of German Jews into true equality. Along its path toward this objective, it has suffered many fates: successes and setbacks, recognition and ostracism, approval and suspicion It became an organisation whose aim it was to foster a Jewish self-consciousness embedded in German patriotism, and thereby became a unique phenomenon among Western emancipated Jewry Only when a great deal of time has passed will one be able to look back justly upon this epoch, which has come to a close, and then ¯ retrospectively - will the merits and accomplishments of the Central Association (CV) be apparent to all. But the time for such an undertaking and its fulfilment is behind us. We must face the new times and the fundamentally changed questions that have arisen with the open-mindedness which we have taken upon ourselves. The CV is now struck by an odd contradiction: the importance of the CV 's practical work for the protection of German Jewish existence is now more uncontested than ever before. Never has the need for it been so great and universal; never has its work been so all-encompassing; never has it been appreciated in such a grateful and unreserved manner... And yet there is no doubt that the concept of the CV has never been so hotly disputed as in the present time. What was the relationship between the concept and the work of the CV in the past?
The completion of the Emancipation, which as we have stated above, was the impetus for the founding of the CV , determined its practical work - legal protection, defence against anti-Semitism, education regarding Judaism and the German Jew. This work was clearly and coherently consistent with the concept of the CV ... This relationship suffered severely when the CV 's practical work was forced, by the new realities, to shift its emphasis to legal defence, despite the wish to adhere to the original line of thinking. This work, though a part of our idea, which is as valid today as it was in the past - of safeguarding our rights in the framework of the legal system ¯ is still unchanged and clearly consistent Its illuminating power, its potential to inspire people by merely calling on them to work for their rights, is lost The people are trying to define their German-Jewish Identity and many of them - those who ponder over their present predicament - feel something like this: The age of the Emancipation is over. Our spiritual security is shattered. Emancipation has made us apathetic, all too self-confident and complacent. Indeed, there was never a lack of hostility towards Jews, but we hardly allowed it to penetrate our consciousness and pressure us. We adopted a much too one-sided view of history, not believing that real upheavals are possible. Looking ahead now, it is difficult to imagine that true equality will ever exist again for German Jews as it did before. But if it is not reinstated, we will be locked out forever of the nation which we have considered with indescribable devotion as our own, and which we painfully still consider to be so. Even in this time when we have been uprooted in our very souls we still have an internal anchor: our Jewishness. In the course of our social advancement, we neglected our Judaism much too much. Who among us still knew anything about our holy books? Who knew Jewish history? Who still practices our beautiful, pious, old customs? Who viewed his Judaism, if he still knew anything about it, as anything other than an unalterable, tired fate? Who still considered it a productive and creative force? Along this path of searching for inner composure and self-communion, on this return-path to Judaism - which we approve of and see as one of the greatest blessings of our time - on it stands at a crossroads the luring and enticing idea of Zionism. After such events as those of 1933 Zionism's attraction must be great. After all, we have just now seen how people agonisingly woke up to the fact that their country, which they had up until then loved as their homeland, denied them this right to love; we have seen them suddenly beginning once again to experience their Jewishness... The Zionists...attempt to help the Jewish people overcome the shock of this blow by belittling all these things which they have lost; and so they decry the period of Emancipation. They disparage the past era as full of lies, hypocrisy and perversion, by portraying the emancipated people as stupid and spineless; they lead the weak and the wavering towards the only remaining mainstay: Palestine as a physical, or at least a spiritual homeland...
A German-Jewish Future - Yes or No? It is our task to confront the Zionist attempt at a solution with our own proposal, that is, the German-Jewish position. We do not possess prophetic powers that would enable us to predict whether at any time in the future the Jews will be granted living-space in Germany. But we certainly have no grounds to be pessimistic or to complain that they will certainly not obtain it. This question remains open . To answer this, at least on an intellectual level we will have to be satisfied with the overwhelming likelihood that a considerable number of German Jews will be able to live in Germany. If we take this reasonable possibility of a continued Jewish existence on German soil as a given, there arises another question, namely, whether this existence, which is possible, is also desirable; in other word, is it worth wishing and striving for a continuation of German Jewish life in Germany?...
The Jewish Yes If we approach this question with the objective of Jewish preservation, then at first glance Palestine would indeed appear as the compensation for the loss sustained by German Jewry, as the answer to the problematic nature of Eastern and Western Jewry's. We, too, acknowledge and approve of Palestine, not only as a refuge in adverse times, but as a chance to fortify and secure Jewish existence. What we do oppose is the all-encompassing pre-tense with which Zionism dismisses any other Jewish way of thinking as un-Jewish, inferior and corrupt. Jewish history in no way justifies such a claim. The Jewish Diaspora has existed for two and a half thousand years. It was the source for the greatest spiritual and intellectual creations, which could not have come to existence in a national community... No one will claim - not even someone with an unshakeable faith in his Zionism - that the present re-building in Palestine is in less peril than any former Jewish communal presence in that land. The Jewish settlement in Palestine is not only subject to the politics of the British Mandate, and therefore obviously faces an imperialistic clash of interests in all matters of long-range expansion, but its growth is left to the mercies of environmental realities, which prove to be even more difficult to overcome than the externally-imposed hardships... At the same time there is the threat of a fateful change of direction and of content: the national idea...has a law of its own which will certainly drive it from the sphere of ideas to the domain of power politics... ...If it succeeds in making the Jewish community in Palestine into state, which is bound to the demanding legal system of a political entity; if it reduces it to a mere helpless plaything at the hands of real-politic power-groups, transforms it into 'a nation like all other nations' and forces it to suffer the same fate as all small states, then the idea of Palestine as the big Jewish breakthrough is doomed. National collectives blindly favour such developments. To offset the counter-productiveness that would ensue from such a struggle of power politics, there is a vital need for the counter-acting forces of the German-Jewish spirit. In this way, German-Jewry will serve as a guarantee against such Jewish degeneration .
The German Yes But we are not walking down the German-Jewish path for the sake of this Jewish meaning alone. We are following it in order to retain our whole being, part of which is our German being. Today, when the value of the German-Jew is being belittled by almost all voices in this country, we find it difficult to speak of this him as something worth defending. Nevertheless, the Germanness of our being remains for us an indestructible and invaluable asset. Other people may not appreciate this. But we alone, we who have battled and struggled for it, we who have clutched to it with all our hearts, we who have sacrificed ourselves thousands of times for the sake of our Germanness have not lost our courage to remain true to our double-faceted being Our love for Germany, hardened by pain, has grown still. But yet it exists and wishes to live on, and does not want to see its fertile stream drying up in the hearts of our children and of our children's children If we disregard the sometimes unpleasant marginal phenomena which some unjustly focus on as the true personification of the German-Jewish collective, and instead strive to arrive at the core of the matter, we will find a portrait of German-Jewry upon which any German-Jew may take pride: a lively Jewish consciousness of the highest intellectual degree; an excellence in Jewish learning which has clearly made Germany into the Jewish intellectual centre of the world, combined with German and general culture of substantial breadth and depth ; finally, strength through suffering, a strength which hasn't been undermined by earlier instances of good-living and pleasure. We logically discern: the opening of the ghetto gates, the gift of freedom that was granted to the German Jews with the Emancipation, was fateful, was dangerous, was full of hope. The German Jews survived the highs and lows of their fate. The danger lies with those who are weak and prone to fall; but those who resisted the temptation personify those German and Jewish strengths which together make up a humane and intellectual man, a man who has nothing to fear of history's judgement. Of all the emancipated countries, only Germany could, for various reasons, form such a fruitful synthesis.
The Ethical Yes Judaism needs Germany; it needs this painfully loved adopted-country that hosted its spiritual development. Judaism must exist in this world in order to serve as an eternal warning against the Mighty's coercion against the weak, as an eternal barrier, both within and without, against insolence and arrogant degeneration. In this way, it fulfils the mission of its religion, whose basic ethical norms have been temporally and philosophically improved upon by Humanism. Especially in such an era as today's, which believed itself to have surmounted beyond these once acceptable forms of Humanism, this function of the Jewish Diaspora - to preserve the everlasting value of human civilisation - should not be underestimated We Jews have got used to even harsher living conditions in the past, and when we learn our history we shall realise that the more difficult our struggle for existence has been, the better we have preserved ourselves. And so today's German Jews, when they grapple with and try to give a proud answer to the old question: 'Why is all this happening?', they will again feel new rushes of strength pulsing through their blood. It would be a disavowal of the German part of our being if we did not express the wish that the day will come when the [German] people itself will demand a different arrangement of our rights in Germany. In the name of the People's Will, which is the pivotal point to any national development, we are hoping for the impetus that will trigger a new Emancipation, and thereby lead to a final safeguarding of honourable living conditions for German Jewry. This will be achieved neither by rigidly demanding a return to previous circumstances, nor by accentuating our Germanness. Rather, our efforts should be directed toward once again making ourselves worthy for emancipation. This means that we should not remain in the position we were in on 30 January 1933, when the majority of the German nation pointedly broke with us. If we do not stop regarding all that is happening to us as mere senseless misfortune without trying to understand it, we will never regain the opportunity to rejoin the German path of development again. We will only find ourselves in a spiritual blind-alley.
But recovering the capability for Emancipation also poses a Jewish challenge. Of course we aspire for a new German future, but we do so as Jews. The disillusionment with regard to the first Emancipation did not disconcert us concerning our German identity, but it did make us better Jews, more capable of resistance. We now once again know what it means to be a Jew and to remain a Jew. Owning up to and taking pride in ourselves, upholding our dignity - of course! But also striving for knowledge and learning, fostering an awareness of history and seeing religion as a way of life, not only as an aspect for ceremonial purposes. In this respect, the Central Association carries out its duty. In this sense, this vast organisation for the protection of rights seeks to guarantee German Jewish existence. They do not further this cause as an end in itself, but strive towards it because they believe this German-Jewish way is the honourable way for Jewish people in Germany Today, we can only see the starting-point of this German-Jewish way, which we have decided to follow in the future. We do not have ready-made formulas with which to positively solve each question that might arise. To be sure, this way, encumbered also by a material struggle for existence - an encumbrance, which we all feel - will have its toll of sacrifices. For some it will entail sacrificing their Jewish fulfilment, for others their German fulfilment, because all in all, an individual's aspiration to shape his life will always clash with the dull necessities of the harsh reality. But we believe that this road we have undertaken, directed by a longing stemming from the boldness of our German Jewish ambition, this path must be taken. Only in this way will German Jewry succeed in stepping forth from a life of tribulations into a creative reshaping of the great destiny of our time.
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