The German-Jewish Dialogue Reconsidered: A Symposium in Honor of George L. Mosse

The German-Jewish Dialogue Reconsidered: A Symposium in Honor of George L. Mosse

The German-Jewish Dialogue Reconsidered: A Symposium in Honor of George L. Mosse

The German-Jewish Dialogue Reconsidered: A Symposium in Honor of George L. Mosse

Synopsis

Was there a German-Jewish dialogue? This seemingly innocent question was silenced by the Holocaust. Since then, it is out of the question to take comfortable refuge to a distant past when Mendelssohn and Lessing started this dialogue. Adorno/Horkheimer, Arendt, and above all Scholem have repeatedly pointed out, how the noble promises of the Enlightenment were perverted, which led to a complete failure of Jewish emancipation in Germany. It is against this backdrop of warning posts that we dare to return to an important chapter of Jewish culture in Germany. This project should not be seen, however, as an attempt to idealize the past or to harmonize the present, but as a plea for a new dialogue between Germans and Jews about their common past.

Excerpt

Was there a German-Jewish dialogue? This seemingly innocent question, which kept generations of historians busy, was silenced by the Holocaust. After the Germans under Hitler had first excluded the German Jews from cultural life, then expelled them from their soil, and finally exterminated them, there could be no more talk of a German-Jewish dialogue. Since the Holocaust, it is out of the question to take comfortable refuge in a distant past, when Mendelssohn and Lessing started a German-Jewish dialogue, and one cannot celebrate a one-sided reconciliation by staging Lessing Nathan the Wise, as was done in West and East Germany after 1945. Neither historicism nor nostalgia can help us to come to terms with our recent experience. What we can try to do is to build bridges across this abyss, which can reconnect us with the past--if we, at the same time, are aware of the abyss. This project should, therefore, not be seen as an attempt to idealize the past or to harmonize it with the present, but as a plea for a new dialogue between Germans and Jews about their common past.

THEODOR W. ADORNO andMax Horkheimer, in their book The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), were the first to contradict any conciliatory approach to this question. "Dialectic of Enlightenment," in the context of German- Jewish relations, meant a complete failure of Jewish emancipation and/or assimilation. For them, the roots of this failure can already be detected in the contradictions of the Enlightenment: the quest for tolerance and its limited success, the promise of emancipation and its protracted failure, the demand for social equality and its practical negation. These were the limits of the noble intentions and promises of the German Enlightenment.

For Hannah Arendt, who was born in Germany and studied there (under Heidegger and Jaspers), the German-Jewish experience and the failure of Jewish emancipation became the bifocal perspective of her political philosophy. Time and again she stressed the fact that circumstances in Germany forced the Jews either to assimilate or to become pariahs--and not even that would save them in the end. Culturally the Jews had been excellent German Bildungsbürger, but politically they were invisible. As . . .

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