Academic journal article German Quarterly

Ghetto Writing: Traditional and Eastern Jewry in German-Jewish Literature from Heine to Hilsenrath

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Ghetto Writing: Traditional and Eastern Jewry in German-Jewish Literature from Heine to Hilsenrath

Article excerpt

Fuchs, Anne, and Florian Krobb, eds. Ghetto Writing: Traditional and Eastern Jewry in German-Jewish Literature from Heine to Hilsenrath. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1999. 232 pp. $55.00.

An Irish-British-German collaboration of fifteen contributors addresses writing about the "ghetto" with an expansive definition of the term as "any location of traditional Jewish life" in "a real or imagined space" (3). This amplitude is necessary because for the Germanlanguage authors, in contrast to their Yiddish contemporaries in the East, there were no more ghettos, though some writers had early memories of the stetl. The editors observe that "all German-Jewish ghetto writing is characterized by intellectual, historical and physical distance towards the ghetto as a lived reality" (5). "Ghetto" itself is a retrospective term that was not used in its time. Eoin Bourke provides an overview of descriptions of the Frankfurt Judengasse from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, remarking briefly on Goethe, Bettina von Arnim, and Ludwig Borne. Ritchie Robertson rightly contrasts David Friedlander's radically assimilationist project of erasing the identity of Polish Jews with Heinrich Heine's ascription of authenticity to them, though Robertson may take Heine's sympathy too literally, eliding his employment of them as a stick with which to beat Uncle Salomon's Hamburg temple entourage. Florian Krobb attempts to apply a "post-colonial perspective" to Leopold Kompert's vision of unalienated community, with a common identity similar to a national identity resistant to the dominant culture. Jorg Thunecke thoughtfully discusses "philo-Semitic tendencies" in Wilhelm Jensen's debut, the historical novel of the medieval plague era, Die Juden von Colln (1869), without, however, considering that in the course of time Jensen became quite conventionally anti-Semitic despite his lovely half-Jewish wife. The best-known non-Jewish author of ghetto fiction, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, receives only passing mention in the volume.

Turning to modern writers, David Horrocks analyzes Joseph Roth's autobiographical memoir, Juden auf Wanderschaft, as a "sustained critique of Jewish assimilation" (127-28), and Michael Kane finds repression in Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "conspicuous absence of either Jews or Jewish subjects" (141) but also an effort in his work to compensate for the homelessness of assimilation with a search for "real life" and unalienated authenticity, leading to patriotism and conservatism. …

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