Page 21 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

Basic HTML Version

THE HEROIC ELEMENT IN JEWISH
LIFE AND LITERATURE
By
T
r u d e
W
e i s s
- R
o s m a r i n
-
We are so old a body that in our history,
extending over thousands of years, every-
thing has happened. Nothing new can
occur to us. —
M
ax
N
ordau
.
W
HEN Heinrich Graetz, master chronicler of the Jews, char-
acterized Jewish history as
Leidens und Gelehrtensgeschichte
(history of martyrdom and scholarship), he omitted the third
important strand of which Jewish history is woven: heroism. For
as Marvin Lowenthal has so well stated, “We shall never under-
stand the survival of Israel if we imagine the medieval Jew weak
at soul and hunted in spirit. He felt himself to be a power, how-
ever fallen, and the warfare unremittingly waged upon his person
proved him as such.”
{A World Passed By
, p. 53).
I t is to be regretted that the heroic element in Jewish history
has been rather neglected by analysts who view the Jewish destiny,
from the fateful date of the Destruction to the present day, as
as interminable chain of
Leiden
and martyrdom, although the
sufferers themselves conceived of their roles differently. They
knew, save for an insignificant minority, that theirs was not a
passive martyrdom but a purposive and conscious battle against
the forces bent upon their religious-spiritual enslavement. The
vast legion of Jews who died for their faith and their convictions
did not fall as passive martyrs but perished as indomitable fighters
who would not lay down their arms — the declaration of their
belief— till their last breath was spent.
In order correctly to appraise the medieval Jew, who submitted
to the worst tortures and the most cruel forms of death, we must
remember that he did so
voluntarily
. On the other hand, the
millions who were butchered by the Nazis in their mass exter-
mination camps of Maidanek, Treblinka and Oswiecim, had no
other choice. They were murdered because, according to the
Nazi racial doctrine, a Jew can’t stop being a Jew; for, as one of
their “poets” phrased it, “ in der Rasse liegt die Schweinerei”
(the swinishness is innate to their race).
9