On the Jewish Criticism of pre-WWII German Society by Shmuel Hugo Bergman

On the Jewish Criticism of pre-WWII German Society

from an interview with Professor Shmuel Hugo Bergman


Ehud Ben Ezer

from the book

Unease in Zion

"Israeli Synthesis of Humanism and Religion"
pages 88-91
published by
Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.
Jerusalem Academic Press
printed in Israel by Jerusalem Academic Press
(This part of the interview was published in Moznayim, May, 1966)


BEN EZER: Are we not paying too high a price for the realization of Zionism—the price of losing our sensitivity, our sense of humor and satire, our Jewish intellectual "outsiderness," of that "fecund uprootedness" that characterizes the status of the Jewish intellectual in the Diaspora?


BERGMAN: If you are asking about my opinion of our situation in the Diaspora, and about the "price" we have paid, I am obliged to say that I do not at all see our role as intellectuals in the Diaspora in the same way that your question implies. Our role was a parasitic one. I have in mind all of those Jews who were working in Germany before World War I, and especially after it, in the 'twenties. Perhaps they had, certainly they had, a stimulating function vis-à-vis the German people at that time. But as an expression of a people, of the Jewish people and as a contribution to human culture, it seems to me that the sum total is extremely negative. Our role in Germany then, and apparently in America and England today (though I am not a specialist in this) does not make a positive impression on me at all.


It is difficult to explain this to someone who did not live in that period, which was given striking expression, inter alia, in Schwarzschild's journal, Tagebuch, and in Seigfried Jakobsohn's Weltbühne, from whose pages, week after week the Jews injected negation and anger into the bloodstream of the German people. They, the Jews, saw a great deal, and owing to their irresponsible position they could afford to expose all the negative aspects of the life of the German people. And they could laugh at the German officer, at the German bourgeoisie and at the German home—and expose all their negative aspects. It started as far back as Heine.


It may be that for the German people this was an invigorating, salutary potion, with its mixture of pain and raillery. But it seems to me that we Zionists were repelled by this role. Of course there were people, among the Gentiles as well, who saw in this role a mission of the people of Israel. But if our talent is only sufficient for that—I prefer the smallest positive contribution that we are making, or hope to make, here, to all that world-shaking stuff.


Avinarius, who was editor of Kunstwort (a journal that also played an important role in Kafka's development and is now frequently mentioned in his biography), once wrote: "The Jews are the administrators of German literature." And it was true. A great portion of German literature was dependent on Jews. In Prague, my birth-place, there was a German theater whose manager was a Jew (an inspired man named Angelo Neumann). The greater part of the actors were Jewish and the audience was almost entirely Jewish, for there were in fact not many Germans who went to the theater. There was a standing joke in the city: The manager is a Jew, the actors are Jews and the public is Jewish—but it is called a "German national theater."


And it was a very bitter joke. To the Czechs it was painful that a German theater, and especially one on a high level, should exist in the capital of Czechoslovakia. The Jews in this way were performing a national service for the Germans, and, of course, were disavowing outwardly and inwardly, the fact that they were Jews. The theater in this case was a positive contribution, but the overall contribution made by the Jews was one of criticism (as it seems to be in American literature today) and in actual fact there was something parasitic about it.


BEN EZER: Does that mean you feel there is an analogy between the cultural position held by German and Czech Jewry and the role of Jewry in the United States today?


BERGMAN: As far as I have read and know, it seems to me that the analogy is considerable. And if you ask whether we haven't paid too high a price in renouncing this function—the role of critics of the Gentiles—upon arriving in the Land of Israel, I feel that the price has not been so great, though of course the world is far more aware of our previous role than it is of our work here in Israel. Moreover, this so-called "function" fostered in the Jews of that time (and I am not certain if this is true in America today) a kind of conceit and feeling of superiority to the Gentiles, even though in fact we were benefitting from their physical and spiritual work. The fact is that in Germany at that time there was a Gentile German literature that the Jews did not read at all—even though we depended on the language. There were writers who depicted the life of the German peasants—something which did not interest the Jews at all. Actually there were two literatures: one in which the Jews were interested and another which they ignored. And what was unhealthy and dangerous in this relationship between the Germans and Jews was that the Jews owned the big newspapers and publishing houses and thus were in control of German literature.

About the Participants

Professor Shmuel Hugo Bergman: Born in Prague in 1883, he was a childhood friend of Franz Kafka. He studied at the Universities of Prague and Berlin and received his doctorate in Prague in 1905. From 1907 to 1919 he was a librarian at the University of Prague, and was active in a student Zionist organization named Bar Kochba. It was at this time that he met Buber and A. D. Gordon, who had considerable influence on his Jewish thinking. In 1919 he moved to London, where he served as Director of the Cultural Department of the Zionist Federation. In 1920 he came to Israel and from then until 1935 was Director of the National and University Library in Jerusalem. A member of HaPoel HaTsa'ir, he attended the founding convention of the Histadrut federation of labor. In 1925 he was one of the founders of Brit Shalom, a society for Jewish-Arab rapprochement. In 1928 he was appointed lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the Hebrew University, and became a full professor in 1935 and Rector of the University, 1935-38. His humanistic-religious approach was of considerable influence in Jewish life, and he is widely known for his moderate approach to Jewish-Arab problems.

In 1903 he began publishing papers in philosophy, Jewish affairs, Zionism and Hebrew literature. For many years he has contributed to newspapers and literary symposiums. The following of his books have been translated into English: Faith and Reason, B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation, Washington, D. C. 1961. The Philosophy of Solomon Maimon, Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1967.

The Quality of Faith, the Youth and Hechalutz Department of the World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem 1970.

Together with Prof. Nathan Rottenstreich he translated into Hebrew Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Judgment. He has trained generations of teachers and pupils of philosophy, and his books and translations are mainstays of modern Hebrew philosophic literature.

Ehud Ben Ezer: was born in 1936 in Petah Tikva where his family has been rooted since 1878 when that first Jewish colonly in the country was founded. He is a former member of Kibbutz Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea shore, and was a teacher in new settlements of oriental immigrants. He read Philosophy and Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since 1966 he has been living in Tel Aviv.

His writings include a variety of short-stories, poems, critical pieces, radio plays, lectures and essays on Hebrew literature, children's stories, and a weekly column in the Ha'aretz newspaper on rare Hebrew books. His novels The Quarry (1963), The Peole of Sodom (1968), Nor the Battle to the Strong (1971), and a children's book A Night in the Sleeping Vegetable Garden (1971) have been widely circulated in Israel.

Table of Contents and Paragraph Index








Further Reading on Jewish Cultural Criticism and Subversion

A Real Case Against the Jews, Part 1. by Marcus Eli Ravage

The Jew: Commissary to the Gentiles, Part 2. by Marcus Eli Ravage

The Frankfurt School of Social Research and the Pathologization of Gentile Group Allegiances by Kevin MacDonald

And although widely considered a forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (and it's earlier translation, The Jewish Peril), provides perhaps the most integrated account of purported Jewish cultural subversion and intended multi-national domination.

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