Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 24

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One could just as easily apply the polarities of Satan (Nazi)
and God (Jew); even Thomas M ann ’s Drive or Instinct (Nazi)
and Intellect (Jews). Invariably, the feminine or weaker element
is defeated physically by the male element of power, drive,
bestiality, only to triumph morally and spiritually in the long
run . These polarities seem partly evident in the love-hate rela­
tionship between the German and half-Jew in Gun ther Grass’
recent
Hundejahre
(Dog Years).
Few Convincing Characters
I t may be interesting to note that, just as there are no con­
vincing Jews in contemporary German fiction, there are also
few convincing Nazis. T h e Nazis, too, tend to be symbol, though
all negative symbol. They represent stupidity, opportunism,
greed, evil psychological deviationism; in some cases, where they
are Nazis in name only, they are the epitome of weakness, com­
promise and lack of character—the
Mitlaufer.
Only one Nazi
stands ou t as a truly terrifying and original creation, Judejahn ,
the erstwhile Nazi big-wig in Wolfgang Koeppen’s powerful
Der Tod in Rom
(Death in Rome). Jude jahn achieves the
status of a full-fledged character, while retaining his symbolic
value. He is indeed a unique, terrifying and original m ixture
of Satan, drive, deviation, instinct and maleness.
But if the Jew seldom rises above symbol status, he compen­
sates by the frequency of his appearance. In novels and stories,
plays, radio and TV plays, he appears in his noble b u t pallid
way. In the words of one of the characters in Erwin Sylvanus’
short play
Korczak und die Kinder
(Korczak and the Children),
“Tears for the Jews—this is the vogue today.” Whereupon another
character responds, “And a good business.” In many ways this
also reflects the response of many American and Jewish critics
of the recent German novel. They chastise German writers—
and with good cause—for being monotonous in their criticism,
their mea culpas, their critique of contemporary society, espe­
cially in terms of the past. They show their impatience with the
dom inant stance of tears for the Jews and anger at themselves.
Yet what would happen if German writers were to ignore the
past and dismissed it as mere past? These same critics would
hardly be satisfied if contemporary writers were to concentrate
on the present or universals, independent of Auschwitz and
Theresienstadt. Yet frequent criticism levied against post-war
German literature is partly justified, tha t its primary concern
has been with social criticism and that it has not given itself
to a single-minded pursu it of literary creativity. In their social
criticism they have tried too hard, a tendency tha t has led some
into bathos.
K
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— T
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J
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in
P
ostw ar
G
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it era tu re
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