24 November 1933
Letter from Julius Bab to Georg Hermann concerning the launch of a Jewish book club
Less than two months had passed since the Cultural League of German Jews had staged its first theatrical production—Nathan the Wise—at the Berliner Theater in Charlottenstrasse. This play had been followed by a variety of additional cultural events: a second theater production, several concerts and numerous lectures. Now Julius Bab (1880–1955), co-founder, board member and dramaturgical director at the Cultural League, had plans to launch a book club for German Jews. In a letter to the writer Georg Hermann (1871–1943), who was living in Dutch exile, he announced his intentions, explaining that the club would not be founded “directly by the Cultural League, but with its active support and based on its example as an undertaking by all the major German Jewish organizations.”
A few months earlier, Bab had recruited Hermann to serve on the Cultural League’s honorary board. Now he hoped to win his support for the undertaking. Bab thought that the best way to start the club was with one of Georg Hermann’s novels. He expected disagreement on this matter, but believed it could be overcome. He wrote that he and Hermann could discuss sales details and other important questions once he had received Hermann’s manuscript.
Not long after Bab sent his letter, the establishment of the German Jewish Book Society (Buchgesellschaft der Deutschen Juden) was announced in the second December issue of the Cultural League’s monthly journal. Conditions of membership were also included: for one mark a month, members were eligible to receive four books a year, together with a list of titles that “due to their particular interest for Jews are no longer available in public bookstores.”
The enterprise officially commenced operations in 1934. Now called the Jewish Book Association (Jüdische Buch-Vereinigung), it was regarded as unwelcome competition by many Jewish publishing houses. The company was managed by the publishers Erich Lichtenstein (1888–1967) and Erwin Loewe (1895–1974), who had founded the private book association mentioned in Bab’s letter. The following month, the Jewish Book Association brought out its first publication, Hermann’s novel Eine Zeit stirbt (The Death of an Era). This work was the last in a series of five books describing the changing world of an assimilated Jewish family in Germany from the imperial period to the mid-1920s.
In 1935 the Jewish Book Association had nine thousand members. By the time it was forced to close down in August 1938, it had published a total of nineteen works, including additional novels, a new German translation of the Torah, a history of the Jews in Germany and an illustrated book on Palestine. Among its authors were three other members of the Cultural League’s honorary board: Ismar Elbogen, Arthur Eloesser and Jakob Wassermann.
Cultural League of German Jews
Berlin SW 68
Dönhoff A7, 7735
National Director: Dr. Kurt Singer
National Secretary: Dr. Werner Levie
Herr Georg Hermann
24 November 1933
Dear Georg Hermann,
I am writing to you concerning the following matter: a Jewish book club is in the works, to be founded not directly by the Cultural League, but with its active support and based on its example as an undertaking by all the major German Jewish organizations (a private Jewish book association already exists, which we will very probably take over). The driving force behind this project is yours truly, but naturally I will have to enter into discussions with many of our co-religionists and reach some kind of agreement. I believe the best way to start this undertaking is with your novel, but it is obvious that certain other people will be of a different opinion and their opposition will have to be overcome. In any case, we need to acquaint ourselves with the manuscript. Can you send a copy to my home address!? The book club will not be officially established until next week. I cannot rule out a merger with the International Library of Jewish Culture [Internationale Jüdische Kulturbibliothek]—although I do not know exactly what that is. Perhaps you could grant us the rights to the book within the borders of the German Reich or provide us with a specific number of copies.
However, we cannot discuss these matters until the most important question has been settled. So please send me a manuscript as soon as possible!!
With best regards
(Stamp of the Cultural League of German Jews)