Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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and the students died together; and those who survived had to
build new lives for themselves in many lands. The old memories
have grown dim, have died or have been replaced by manufac­
tured dreams to meet the needs of the present. Lissa, as it once
lived and breathed, no longer exists for this generation. The real
Leo Baeck—and even his teachings—is also out of reach to most
of the readers of the
Jewish Book Annual.
Perhaps this is a strange assertion to make in the context of a
centennial celebration, at a time when Baeck’s name is certainly
known to scholars and educated Jews in the United States, Israel,
and Europe. The Leo Baeck Institute publishes an acclaimed
annual volume (since 1955) dealing with Central European Jew­
ish history; the Leo Baeck College in London annually ordains
rabbis (last year’s class serves communities in Johannesburg, Paris,
Amsterdam, Duesseldorf, Jerusalem, London and other cities) ;
paperbacks of Leo Baeck’s writings are on sale at university book­
shops. And yet the fact remains that the real Baeck is almost
unknown.
The Symbol of German Jewry
What does exist is a mythology which surrounds Leo Baeck.
To some, Baeck is the symbol of German Jewry: and there is some
justice in that claim. Baeck was chosen to lead the German Jewish
community in its darkest hour, and remained at his post despite
the pleas of those who wanted him to take up tasks in the United
States and in London. And, in the years between the wars, Baeck
had been the head of most German Jewish organizations. He had
been elected president of the German B’nai B’rith; had served as
the head of the Jewish veterans organization in Germany, and had
in fact been honored by most national Jewish groups in Ger­
many. In terms of the rabbinate, he was a rabbi in Berlin: the
German rabbi did not aspire to more than that. And he identified
himself with his flock. The week before the war began, Professor
Abraham Heschel met Baeck in London, and was delighted that
Baeck was safe. Safe? Baeck rushed back to Germany, and, five
arrests later, found himself in a concentration camp. True enough:
it was one of the “safer” camps; out of 140,000 Jews sent there,
almost 9,000 survived. Theresienstadt—the “show place” camp.
Due to an administrative error, Baeck was listed as dead in Berlin.
And so he survived. He refused to take part in the camp admin­
istration; but he ministered to all inhabitants in the camp. He
was their teacher, reminding them that their minds were not yet
enslaved. He was their rabbi. In the frenzied atmosphere of the
camp, there were a few who questioned his serenity, which seemed
aloofness to them. And some were upset because he also con-