Academic journal article Shofar

The GDR and Anti-Semitism? A Comparison of Jan Koplowitz' Novel Bohemia, Mein Schicksal (1979) and Horst Seemann's Film Hotel Polan Und Seine Gäste (1981)

Academic journal article Shofar

The GDR and Anti-Semitism? A Comparison of Jan Koplowitz' Novel Bohemia, Mein Schicksal (1979) and Horst Seemann's Film Hotel Polan Und Seine Gäste (1981)

Article excerpt

This article will show that, contrary to Jan Koplowitz' novel that traces the history of a Jewish family from Bohemia through the first half of the twentieth century, Horst Seemann's film version of this text is very antisemitic. By making use of antisemitic stereotypes that show greed for making money and lust for political power to be the "essence" of being Jewish, the film, shown on GDR television in the early 1980s, may have dangerously reinforced latent antisemitic feelings in the East German population. It is an example that supports the claim of recent scholarship that racism was practiced in the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany).

Die Entwtcklung der Acombombe wind in der DDR nicht dem Juden Einstein angelastet, dafur muss der amerikanische Imperialismus herhalten. Wenn jedoch in den Zeitungen der amerikanische Imperialismus karikiert wird, dann hat er stets eine krumme Nase. / (In the GDR, they don't blame the Jew Einstein for the creation of the atom bomb, but rather the U.S. imperialism is to be blamed for it. However, when a newspaper caricatures the U.S. imperialism he always has a crooked nose.)1

This article is a contribution to the debate about whether or not there was antisemitism in the German Democratic Republic. In recently published literature, everybody agrees upon the fact that there was a latent antisemitism in the population as a result of the indoctrination during the Third Reich. However, the question of whether there was also antisemitism in the Communist Party and its follower, the SED, has been answered very differently. On the one side, the prominent GDR author Jurgen Kuczynski claimed, "There was not the slightest racism in the party."2 On the other side, Jeffrey Herf showed that due to the suppression of the public memory of Nazi anti-Jewish persecution and to the policy of opposition to Israel, there was a powerful strain of Communist antisemitism. This article argues that Herf is right. There was racism in the party.

On September 19, 2001, the East German Jewish writer Jan Koplowitz died.3 His son, Daniel de Souza, writes in his account of his father's last days "Tod eines Schriftstellers: Hommage an Jan Koplowitz" / ("Death of a writer: Homage to Jan Koplowitz") that his father, days before his death, had asked for a rabbi. De Souza went to a synagogue in Kreuzberg in a vain attempt to find one: "Anfanglich waren die Ältesten der Synagoge voiler Mitgefuhl und Hilfsbereitschaft, aber die Stimmung kiihlte merklich ab, kaum dass ich Jans Namen erwähnte" / ("First the elders in the synagogue were full of compassion and wanted to help. But the atmosphere cooled down considerably as soon as I mentioned Jan's name").4 Koplowitz died without having seen a rabbi. In de Souza's view, the negative attitude of the rabbis towards Koplowitz had to do with his work as a writer, although he does not specify a text. We can assume that it was Bohemia-mein Schicksal (1979)-the only one of Koplowitz' larger works that confronts Jewish issues.

In his study The Portrayal of Jews in GDR Prose Fiction, Paul O'Doherty refers to Koplowitz' novel and the film hotel Polan und seine Gaste, based on the text, which was produced in the GDR. He states:

The film script was written by Koplowitz and Günther Rücker. The director claimed that there was not enough action in the film, and pressed to have Koplowitz removed from the work, because he was, as a Jew and perhaps even a Zionist, not sufficiently objective'. Koplowitz was removed, but his name still appeared in the credits. In the film itself, a number of things were done which gave great offense to orthodox Jews, Koplowitz claims, such as allowing women to set foot in a Jewish graveyard.5

The consequences of this film, shown on GDR television in 1981, were such that Koplowitz tried to commit suicide. In an interview published after the fall of the Wall, the author explains:

Ich bin von sämtlichen jüdischen Gemeindezeitungen von New York bis nach Wien angeschuldigt worden, ein jüdischer Antisemit zu sein. …

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