Page 109 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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KAHN / THREE CENTRAL EUROPEAN WRITERS
103
Jew is all o f these. Did time transform him into this, o r did history,
o r perhaps pain o r success? God alone knows . .
In the
suspenseful
Maurizius Case,
Wassermann even serves up a crimi­
nal Jew in the person o f Waremme.
Wassermann writes tha t he first associated with Jews in Vienna.
On the whole he found them more active and mobile than
Gentiles, “eager for intimacy, the ir opinions apodictive; they pon ­
dered idly over simple matters, indulged in hair-splitting a rgu ­
ment over tru ths verifiable by merely using the senses; they were
submissive where pride was indicated, assertively boastful when
modesty was in o rder; they were ind ifferen t to dignity and
restraint. T he ir ram pan t rationalism preven ted deep human
relationships.” In ord inary Jews, as opposed to intellectuals, he
perceived a worship o f success and wealth, a frenzied
competitiveness. In more special Jews — presumably intellectuals
— “science was the idol; intellect the und ispu ted master; what­
ever eludes quantification was inferior.”
TYPES OF JEWS
In 1923, two years after making these assessments in
Mein Weg
als Deutscher undJude
(My Life as a German and Jew), he modified
them when he distinguished between O riental and European
Jews, less in an ethnic than a mythical sense. “The Jew as Euro­
pean can only be a
Literat,
as Oriental he can be a creator.” The
d ifference between them lay in the contrast between withering
and blossoming, individualization and belonging, anarchy and
tradition. Wassermann’s “Oriental” is sure o f himself and is aware
o f his blood ties; a noble consciousness links him to the past while
a deep sense o f moral responsibility obligates him to the fu ture .
This “Oriental” is not consumed with ambition, but merely a
human being aware o f his origins.
One would think tha t Zionists would approximate his image of
the Oriental Jews. But Zionists, as Wassermann saw it, were
nationalist Jews and the 19th century as a whole had been dis­
missed by him as a period o f nationalist insanity. He had already
voiced skepticism about Zionism in
Die Juden von Zirndorf
, pub ­
lished du ring the year o f the first Zionist Congress. I f a Jewish
state were to become a reality on Palestinian soil, Jews would
become the laughing stock o f the world, as over the millennia they
had lost the talent fo r political leadership. Moreover, a Jewish