The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

26 Fanny Lewald and Judaism: The Writer, the Woman, the Prussian, the Jew

HANNA B. LEWIS

Fanny Lewald was probably the best-selling and highest-paid German woman writer of the nineteenth century. She was also an example of the typical assimilated German Jew of that period. Although she converted for reasons of expediency, she never reconciled her conscience to the hypocrisy of that act. She considered herself basically a Spinozist, a deist, and thought that all organized religions only perpetuated the power of temporal absolute rulers. The ultimate pragmatist, she realized that faith without tangible proof was not possible for her. Ludwig Geiger said of her, "She did not want to believe, but to understand" ( Gefühltes und Gedachtes, xxii) [ Feelings and Thoughts]. 1 Ironically, this attitude could easily be attributed to her Jewish heritage.

Ethnically, she never denied her Judaism and was proud of the role her fellow Jews were playing and had played in Prussian history and world culture. She came from a family that already betrayed the ambivalent feelings so many Jews have had about their own identity-Jews are as good as (or even superior to) the average person, but socially, politically and economically, it is certainly inconvenient to be Jewish. Her paternal grandfather had been financially ruined because of an unjust accusation of counterfeiting during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm II. He was part of a group of Berlin Jewish bankers who had been asked to convert subsidy moneys from England into base coinage, and when the charge of counterfeiting arose, the government found it expedient to blame the Jews. The senior Markus was imprisoned. The unsubstantiated charges were later dropped and he was released, but not until his health and the finances of his family were totally ruined. Lewald's father, as a teen-ager, had to take over the family business and support his siblings.

Another family problem related to its religion was the marriage of Lewald's parents, in particular their long struggle to obtain the necessary permit that would let a Jew marry and continue to live in Prussia. A law introduced to limit the number of Jews there-only one permit was issued to each generation of a family-produced in Lewald's mother, a "very mild and gentle soul, a strong aversion toward Judaism and everything connected with it. She

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