Page 63 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 13

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and Homer or the mockery of Aristophanes and Voltaire. Scorn-
fully he wrote of those whose supreme achievement lay in fashion-
ing works of art out of brick and granite. He had learned to prefer
the Jewish artist Moses who built human pyramids, who carved
human obelisks, who took a poor tribe of herdsmen and formed it
into a people which was to defy the centuries, a great, eternal,
holy people, God’s people, which could serve as a model for all
mankind. He had found consolation for the loss of his German
fatherland in the rediscovered portable fatherland of his coreli-
gionists, the Bible. “A book is their fatherland, their estate, their
ruler, their joy, and their misfortune. Within the well-fenced
borders of this book, they live and exercise their inalienable rights
as citizens; here they cannot suffer expulsion or scorn; here they are
strong and admirable. Buried in the reading of this book, they
little noted the changes taking place in the real world about them.
Nations arose and perished, states blossomed and became extinct,
revolutions swept across the face of the earth. But they, the Jews,
sat bent over their book, unaware of the wild chase of time that
swept above their heads.”
On the centenary of Heine’s death, the Germans still regard
their finest nineteenth century poet, their wittiest prose-writer,
the continuator of their great Goethe, as a stepchild. But the
Jews view him, despite his aberrations, as their own, a wayward
child but still their child, flesh of their flesh and soul of their soul.
When Heine lamented that on his
no mass would be
sung for him and no
would be said for him, he was but
half right. No mass is being sung for him. But every Jew who has
survived the lure of alien hearths and who has come home to his
father’s fireside recalls with poignant sorrow this early victim of
a mirage that dazzled hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout
the past century, the mirage of Germanization, Russification,
Polonization, or assimilation to Anglo-Americanism, a mirage from
which Heine emerged crippled in body, wounded in his pride, but
clear in thought.
On Heine’s hundredth
ought to be said for
this son of Israel who left his father’s house but who saw the error
of his ways long before others did and who atoned by the creation
of great Jewish works, which will long be treasured among the
immortal products of Jewish genius.