Books: In the Lands of Broken Promises ; in the 1920s, British Officials Stumbled through an Ill-Planned Mission in Palestine While an Austrian Firebrand Fulminated about the Jewish `Problem' - and Its Solution. David Cesarani (Left) and Elena Lappin (Right) Explore the Pre-War Roots of Current Conflict in the Middle East
Lappin, Elena, The Independent (London, England)
The Wandering Jews
by Joseph Roth, trans. Michael Hofmann
Granta, pounds 12.99, 146pp
BROWSING IN a second-hand bookshop, I came across an unusual English- language edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf, serialised in slim volumes and sponsored, rather inexplicably, by the British Red Cross. The publication date was many years before the Second World War.
Inside, Hitler's writing was accompanied by a few photographs of bearded Jews in traditional Eastern European garb. Neither old nor young, they faced the camera with a straightforward earnestness, unaware that these innocent snapshots would serve to illustrate a book which would inspire their murderers. These people were, in the words of the author, "a problem". He would, eventually, propose a solution. But in the 1920s, the Jews in the photographs were still alive. They led real lives and, for another few years, it would be possible to maintain the illusion that they had not been sentenced to a mass death.
The lives of East European Jews constitute the subject of Joseph Roth's book of travel essays, The Wandering Jews, which happens to be accompanied by similar photographs. Written in 1926/27, it is now published for the first time in English in an impeccable translation, and with an intriguing preface, by Michael Hofmann. He not only introduces the context of Roth's interest in the awful plight of refugees and displaced persons in the aftermath of the First World War, but points out the strange absence of the author's own Jewish voice: "nowhere does he even say he is a Jew! I don't know why."
This is indeed a mysterious omission, especially given the fact that the book's itinerary reflects Roth's own wanderings - from Galicia, where he was born in 1894, via Vienna and Berlin to Paris, where he died in 1939. He was known primarily as a journalist writing, in tune with his changing views and fortunes, for left- wing publications and major newspapers, most prominently the Frankfurter Zeitung. His novels began appearing in 1923. They were rediscovered and translated, decades after his death, as the work of a uniquely multifaceted literary voice who captured the sadness and richness of the dying Central European culture.
The Wandering Jews is a good title for this collection, but there is a very slight nuance in the German original: Juden auf Wanderschaft, which could, in a more optimistic spirit, mean "Jews on the Move". For these are Jews on the move - from their poor and doomed home in the shtetl to Western Europe and America. Do these destinations hold a promise of hope and renewal? In this book, Roth is so pessimistic about America that he describes it as a place where the Jew will, as before, be "a peddler, once more fear the police, once more be bullied". The Jewish immigrant is looking at the Statue of Liberty and dreaming about his new life, but only "behind bars in his quarantine".
What about Europe? According to Roth, "there is no harder lot than that of the Eastern Jew newly arrived in Vienna"; "Berlin levels out differences and kills off particularities"; but "Paris is where the Eastern Jew begins to become a …
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Publication information: Article title: Books: In the Lands of Broken Promises ; in the 1920s, British Officials Stumbled through an Ill-Planned Mission in Palestine While an Austrian Firebrand Fulminated about the Jewish `Problem' - and Its Solution. David Cesarani (Left) and Elena Lappin (Right) Explore the Pre-War Roots of Current Conflict in the Middle East. Contributors: Lappin, Elena - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 13, 2001. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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