The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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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.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): artists and writers | associations | Berlin
Letter from Julius Bab to Georg Hermann in Laren (northern Holland), Berlin, 24 November 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Georg Hermann Collection, AR 7074

Julius Bab

Opinions differed within the Cultural League regarding its purpose and mission. Julius Bab did not want the organization to promote only Jewish culture, but this was precisely the aim of the Nazi government as well as many of the Jews involved in the league‘s activities. These differences led Bab to resign from the league‘s board in 1934. However, as its dramaturgic director, the head of its lecture department and editor of its monthly journal, he continued to maintain close ties with the organization.

It was only after the November Pogroms that Bab decided to leave Berlin. In February 1939 he and his wife fled to Paris, where he wrote his reflections on German-Jewish history in a work entitled Leben und Tod des deutschen Judentums (Life and Death of German Jewry). Assisted by contacts such as Thomas Mann, the couple tried unsuccessfully to immigrate to the United States, where their three children were already living.

After the outbreak of war, Julius Bab was briefly interned by the French in a Paris suburb. In May 1940 he was imprisoned again in a camp near Bordeaux. After this camp was closed, Bab returned to his wife in Paris, which was now under German occupation. Anxious months followed and it was not until November 1940 that the Babs succeeded in leaving the French capital for Lisbon. In late December the couple escaped from there to New York, where Julius Bab tried to earn a living by giving lectures and writing articles for the German-Jewish émigré newspaper Aufbau. However, he was soon forced to sell his library and the few art objects still in his possession. In 1942 he began working as a critic for the German-language New Yorker Staatszeitung.

Julius Bab returned to Germany in 1951 and gave several lectures in the country. He visited a second time two years later. He died in his home on Long Island in February 1955, just two months after his seventy-fourth birthday.

Julius Bab, photograph by Roman Vishniac, Berlin, ca. 1932
Gift of Mara Vishniac Kohn