Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 6 (1947-1948)

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JEWI SH BOOK ANNUAL
14
by Selma Stern, translated from the German manuscript by
Ludwig Lewisohn (Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of
America, 1946) is a contribution to the understanding of some
episodes in Jewish history. I t deals with the massacres of the Jews
during the Black Death scourge in fourteenth century Germany,
which is in no small degree comparable to those of Germany in
recent years. Many Jews were among the epidemic’s sufferers, bu t
because of the Jewish mode of living and their religious hygienic
precautions, the proportion of Jewish victims was much smaller
than th a t of the general population. This led to the legend th a t
the Jews sought to destroy the Christian population by means of
poisoning the wells. Prominent Jews were tortured in order to
force confessions from them. Such “confessions” were sent from
one community to the o ther and in each case the result was the
same — confiscation of property, burning at the stake or forced
conversion. Only the weakest subm itted to the last, generally
the Jews preferred to slay each other ra ther than have them fall
into the hands of the infuriated mobs. In this medieval tragedy
of her people, Selma Stern, a leading historian of German Jewry,
drew a parallel and pointed to a solace for modern sufferers under
the horrible reign of Hitler. She has certainly shown th a t modes
of life and events which, even though remote in time and place,
do not differ to any great extent from human motives and weak-
nesses of our own day.
Another historical novel which serves as a background to the
understanding of the national behavior of Nazi and Fascist states
is
Ferdinand and Isabella
by Hermann Kesten (New York, Wynn,
1946). I t tells the story of tha t fantastic couple in such a manner
as to make it much more contemporary in atmosphere than a novel
laid in our century would be. I t seems to imply th a t this is the
way human beings behave, given the power, whatever their
motives, fanatical zeal or cold-blooded ambition. I t was ever
thus.
In his novel
Island in the Atlantic
(New York, Duell, Sloan and
Pearce, 1946), Waldo David Frank presents a variegated story of
the friendship between the son of an old Christian New York
family and a Jewish boy who became a lawyer in New York City
in the turbulent period between the Civil War and the First World
War. I t is assumed th a t the Jewish hero’s social interests and
his struggles for civic reform derive from his Judaism. While
frequently recalling his father’s deep faith and simplicity, he
himself never turns to Judaism. One of his nieces in search for
something significant in life adopts Zionism as her hobby. Such
has been the experience of several Jewish families whose ties to
the Ethical Culture movement have been stronger than those to