Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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T H E J EW I N P O S T W A R
GERMAN L I T E R A T U R E
B
y
L
o t h a r
K
a h n
T
h e J ew
in postwar German literature is lacking in flesh and
blood and is overendowed with symbols. He is of interest
to Germans only as a factor in their own national past and
future. He incarnates moral issues for those who like ne ithe r the
rampan t materialism and self-seeking individualism of the Bundes-
republik nor its convenient forgetfulness of past responsibility.
Frequently the Jew serves as the opposite pole of sp irituality to
current materialist emphases. T h e Jew is so much symbol tha t
he is often left nameless. Th is fleshless anonymity may be due
to the fact tha t this generation of young German writers has
known very few Jews. W ha t they know about Jews they know
from history—a history difficult to come by. By and large, the
novels in which the Jew appears are works of national self-
flagellation—in which the Jew as noble victim becomes a prime
instrument of flagellation. Th is latter tendency has become espe­
cially pronounced in the last decade, the first post-H itlerian
decade having been marked also by attempts to shift the gu ilt
from the individual to the leaders.
T h e combination of tool, symbol and abstract knowledge has
produced, especially in recent years, an idealized Jew who has
done no wrong, can do no wrong, and looks pallid if not inhum an
in the process. Perhaps German imperfections requ ired Jewish
perfections. Such perfection is sometimes achieved by endowing
the Jew with biblical and patriarchal dignity on the one hand
and a Jesus-like noble suffering on the other. Some of the fic­
tional Jews possess a supranatural wisdom and insights which
lift them clearly above the human. An aura of mystery surrounds
them which makes them no thing less than awesome.
A German critic recently wrote tha t chaotic times—such as
the Nazi era—are marked by the dominance of extremes and the
casting aside of all things moderate. Although twenty-one years
have elapsed since the Nazi terror, the tendency of the period
to split into extremes has survived in the lite ra tu re concerning
it. T h e Nazis are Caesar, the Jews are Jesus; the Nazis are matter,
the Jews are spirit; the Nazis are beast, the Jews are civilization.
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