Page 103 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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97
M
ad ison
— M
a rv in
L
o w e n t h a l
see a page advertisement in a leading newspaper, signed by 300
eminent Jews, declaring that they were “members of the Ger-
man, not of the Jewish, people.” Once H itler rose to power
and the doom of the German Jews appeared sealed, Lowenthal
felt impelled to write their history.
T h e book, published in 1936, is the tragic saga of Jews in
German lands: the story of oppression, expulsion, pillage, con-
finement, bu t also of spiritual nobility and religious piety; of
modern emancipation, cultural and material efflorescence, and
finally of brutal annihilation. “The German Jews are singu-
larly equipped to give us both the gist of typical Jewish ex-
perience since the Dispersion and a fresh critique o£ Western
culture.” They were never fully expelled, as in other coun-
tries; they were also more populous; again, they were in closer
contact with successive phases of European civilization. They
“largely upheld the chain of tradition and became the mentors
of the growing and soon to be dom inant Jewish center in
Europe—in Poland, Lithuania, Moravia, and the East.” They
gave classic expression to Orthodoxy and Reform, nationalism
and assimilation, Jewish history, theology, and philosophy.
T he ir “stiffneckedness” during the Middle Ages arose from
a faithfulness to their “God-given ways and beliefs.” When they
were relatively released from their ghetto confinement, they
soon burst forth in “the richest renaissance in Jewish history”
and helped “in astounding measure to create modern Germany.”
In the process, however, they forsook their heritage to obtain
what Heine called the “admission ticket to European civili-
zation”—insensitive to their cruel rejection by the mass of
Germans.
Also in 1936, participating in a symposium entitled “Proposed
Roads for American Jews,” Lowental pointed to the German
experience, in which “German Jewry was led to follow one
wrong road after another,” and cautioned American Jews not
“to make the same mistakes.” On this and cognate topics he
lectured at universities and Jewish centers in every part of the
United States.
His next major undertaking,
The Life and Letters of Hen-
rietta Szold
(1942), was a congenial and rewarding task. He
received full cooperation from the Szold family and her nu-
merous friends, and made critically selective use of her thou-
sands of letters as well as the written documents from Zionist
and Hadassah sources. His account of her manifold activities
and his delineation of her intellectual and social development
was based largely on these materials. He stressed her deep
Jewishness, her concern for the poor Jewish immigrants in the
1880’s and later, her dedication to Zionism, her sojourn in