Page 117 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

Basic HTML Version

R
a b in o w ic z
— H
e r zl
t h e
P
l a y w r ig h t
1 0 5
squeezes them together like sheep in their fold. Here the wealthy,
here the rich, here the people of rank, and there and there the
poor. This has always been so. But new is the fact that the higher
classes now wonder what the lower will say. A new fearI”13
No wonder Herzl was called a “socialist” in the 1890’s.14 This
was a most damaging epithet in an Austria confronted by a grow-
ing underground socialist movement which only recently had in-
dulged in terroristic acts.15 To allow in 1898 the outcry on the
stage, “We are not beggars! We are workers!” as the mason in
Unser Kaethchen
spoke when offered alms, bordered on the
revolutionary. And his hero of another play, Jacob Samuel, did
not hesitate to promise help to coal miner Vednik for the workers’
effort to save their jobs, and thus avert a catastrophe in the
neglected mine whose funds had been dissipated by Schramm,
its owner. But when Samuel arrived at the mine the bodies were
already being carried away, followed by crying, groaning, lament-
ing women. “You are guilty,” said Jacob to the owner, “because,
while pursuing your noble passions, you permitted your slaves
to robot under earth . . . for miserable starvation wages.”16 This
is a moving protest against social injustice.
In sharp contrast to the criticism adverted to above, a leading
contemporary of Herzl, Eduard Poetzl, wrote in
Das Neue W iener
Tageb la tt
(February 6, 1899) after the performance of
Unser
Kaethchen:
“With untainted words, adultery and its consequences
are brought onto the stage . . . Contemporary realism (sic!) de-
mands the presentation of such problems in the theatre, or possi-
bly just this kind of problem without which a satirist, particularly
one of Theodor Herzl’s stature, could not live . . . The characters,
full of vibrant life, are selected courageously from so-called so-
ciety by a laboriously veiled painful earnestness that frequently
smiles out of the play’s gaiety. We understand and esteem the
author, the more pitilessly he contrasts the wickedness of a'
decadent society class with the primitive morality of lesser regard-
ed lower classes. .
To describe bourgeois society with such finesse as Herzl’s plays
did, presupposes a thorough knowledge and profound insight.
Due to this perceptiveness, Herzl was also able to grasp and
understand the problem of his own people. This was for him,
from a sociological point of view, a middle-class problem. “We
have developed remarkably in the Ghetto into a middle-class
people,” he stated in his
Judenstaat,
and as a result “we suddenly
stood, after the Emancipation, in the circle of the bourgeoisie
13
Was wird man sagen?
Act 2, p. 38.
14 In an official report of the Vienna districts5 governor, quoted in
Fraenkel,
op. cit .,
p. 105.
15 G. D. H. Cole,
Marxism and Anarchism 1850-1890,
London, 1954,
pp. 33Of, 341.
16
Das Neue Ghet to,
Act II, pp. 60, 67, 72-73, 83.