Since January 30, 2013 you can find documents and photographs from our archival collections and those of the Leo Baeck Institute in our Online Showcase. We are, of course, not the only ones producing work online using historical sources as witnesses to the time of National Socialism. I have looked around and would like to use this post to make some recommendations:
An impressive example is Torkel S. Wächter’s project. The Swedish writer arranged together 32 postcards when he decided to investigate the history of his German-Jewish family. His father Walter Wächter fled to Sweden in 1938 and began regularly receiving postcards from his parents, who had remained in Germany. Torkel S. Wächter created the internet project www.32postkarten.com out of them and in 2010/2011 – 70 years later, to the day, after the card was written – he published these last life testimonies of his grandparents, annotated and placed in historical context. Wächter is now again presenting his longstanding engagement with his family’s history as an online project: www.onthisday80yearsago.com. In a literary form – with the aid of letters, notes from journals, and official documents, he tells the story of his grandfather Gustav Wächter, a tax officer who lost his job due to his Jewish heritage and office scheming. Torkel S. Wächter published the chapters from January 30 to July 2, 2013 in “simulated real-time”, as he calls it, rather like a re-enactment of the events of 80 years ago. A serialized novel, a weblog, and memory itself merge together harmoniously here. Continue reading
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