May 10th marked the climax of spring 1933’s “Action against the Un-German Spirit” (Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist), an uprising of German students against professors who were political dissidents or Jewish, as well as ‘subversive writing’ (zersetzendes Schrifttum). We all know the images of the carefully prepared book burning in Berlin. Micha Ullmann’s memorial on today’s Bebelplatz responds to the notorious call to flames with a hauntingly quiet and empty library.
The Jewish Museum Berlin is now exhibiting some of the books which were taken off their shelves and thrown onto the pyre. The items on display are from George Warburg’s collection.
Viewing the bindings, the layouts, and the printing of these works is a pleasure in itself. We were all the more touched by George Warburg’s motivation for building his collection: in this video interview, he explains not only which works are his favorites, but he also describes his collection as an attempt, retroactively, to save the books which were burned, banned, and eliminated by National Socialists.
His “memorial to the idiocy of Nazi censorship” returns the volumes to daylight which are remembered in Ullmann’s subterranean library.
Mirjam Wenzel, Media
In the past, a number of literary texts on Jewish topics contributed to Jewish culture in various ways. Some documented and revitalized oral history and folk tales in an attempt to save them from oblivion (e.g. Martin Buber’s Tale of the Hasidim); others made Jewish topics palatable to the majority society (e.g. Sidney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family); and still others helped to build a Jewish community around shared experiences of ritual, emigration and persecution (e.g. Friedrich Torberg’s Tante Jolesch or The Decline of the West in Anecdotes).
Nathan Englander, one of the most sophisticated and provocative current writers, shares none of these intentions. His latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, is a collection of eight short stories loosely bound together under the title of (and a quote from) the first story, arising from a heated conversation about genocide; it refers to Anne Frank not as a historical figure, but as a metonym of victimhood. Accordingly, the stories reflect on the effect of Jewish themes, such as religion, the Holocaust and Israel, on modern Jewish identities. The author’s perspective is from within – he was born in 1970 to an Orthodox-Jewish family in New York – and critical. His gripping, intimate theatre-like episodes are fraught with tense dialog questioning the validity of Jewish cultural practice: Continue reading
In the archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin, there is a moving letter that Marianne Joachim wrote to her in-laws on 4 March 1943. That same day at the Berlin Plötzensee detention center, the young woman was executed.
Farewell letter from Marianne Joachim née Prager (1921 – 1943)
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe
What had happened? Marianne and Heinz Joachim supposedly joined a resistance group in 1941 led by Herbert Baum. A Jew and communist, Baum had been gathering like-minded friends around him since 1933 to generate resistance against the politics of National Socialism. On 18 May 1942, the group attempted to set fire to the anti-Soviet exhibit “The Soviet Paradise” in Berlin’s Lustgarten. Among the members jailed in short order and sentenced to death were Marianne and Heinz Joachim.
We learn from her letter that finding out that her husband had already been executed on 18 August 1942 in Berlin Plötzensee was the “heaviest stroke of fate” for Marianne. Her greatest concern was for her parents, Jenny and Georg Prager. They were deported in March 1943 to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt where they were killed. Marianne’s sister, Ilse, was able to escape on one of the last Kindertransports to England. Heinz Joachim’s father Alfons, died at the end of 1944 at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. His mother, Anna, did not have a Jewish background and therefore survived the National Socialist period, as did his brothers. Continue reading