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December 01, 1989 - Image 50

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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52

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 1989

I PURELY COMMENTARY

Franz Werfel

Continued from Page 2

ing with Werfel in the
garden and explaining to
him, as well as I could, that
this was a Jewish play —
that and nothing else. It
was our history, the history
of his and my people, that
had to be portrayed — not
some alien or abstract con-
cept. Remote as he was
from Judaism, there was
enough of the poet in
Werfel to grasp at the idea
even through my bar-
barous German.
In his comments about the
novel Cella and in an impor-
tant reference to Werfel's
Jewish attitudes, Friedrich
registers an important
historical note regarding
anti-Semitism and Austria.
In his foreward Friedrich
traces and records the
following:
In many ways, the most
interesting element in
Cella — and what makes it
so evocative of its time — is
the portrait of what might
be called the pre-
Holocaust mentality, the
mentality of the myriad
German Jews who did not
fully understand what it
meant to be Jews. Though
the German Jews had been
granted their basic civil
rights only a century
earlier, many of them were,
in Werfel's time, pas-
sionately dedicated to the
idea of assimilation, to im-
plicitly denying their own
origins, or perhaps more
accurately, to denying that
their origins made them
forever different from their
neighbors.
Not only did such notable
figures like the
Mendelssohns convert to
Christianity, but an ex-
emplar like Walther
Rathenau, industrialist,
diplomat, connoisseur of
the arts, looked on the im-
poverished inhabitants of
the Polish ghettos with
something akin to horror.
"An alien and isolated race
of men," Rathenau said of
them, "loud and self-
conscious in their dress,
hot-blooded and restless in
their manner. An Asiatic
horde . ."
Werfel, whose father was
a wealthy glove manufac-
turer, grew up in that tradi-
tion. From his earliest stu-
dent days, he pursued a
dream of the brotherhood
of man, which is another
way of dreaming that the
differences between Chris-
tians and Jews are less im-
portant than their common
humanity.
Werfel flirted with Chris-
tianity all his life, and, like
the skeptical doctor in The

Song of Bernadette,
wanted to believe but did
not - believe. Questioned
about the slightly sac-
charine pieties in that huge
best-seller, Werfel finally
sent to a Catholic bishop a
statement that said: "I am
. . . a Jew by origin and
have never been baptized.
On the other hand, I wish
to profess here that . . . I
have been decisively in-
fluenced and molded by
the Catholic Church. I see
in the holy Catholic
Church the purest power
and emanation sent by
God to this earth to fight
the evils of materialism
and atheism, and to bring
revelation to the poor soul
of mankind."
If Werfel's relationship to
the Christian majority was
ambiguous, he was almost
equally ambiguous about
the onrushing force of
fascism.
In Cella, Friedrich traces
the hatred that accumulated
in Nazi Austria as depicted by

From his earliest
student days, he
pursued a dream
of the brotherhood
of man.

Werfel who was still in his
assimilationism and failed to
recognize the terror directed
at Jews. As an expose of Nazi
inhumanism it nevertheless
retains its importance as a
Holocaust novel.
Meanwhile, even until his
last days, Werfel must have
derived greatest satisfaction
from his works like The Song
of Bernadette. In fact, in 1953,
he was a sensation here in a
series of lectures he gave on
the Bernadette theme and
the Detroit newspapers car-
ried lengthy articles about
them.
It is necessary 'to add that
Werfel's Bernadette was
translated from the German
by another eminent scholar,
Ludwig Lewisohn, who
became an active Zionist after
abandoning his
assimilationism.
A most authoritative
biography of Lewisohn was
left unpublished when its
author, Charles Madison,
died at 90 shortly after com-
pleting it two years ago.
Madison was a member of a
prominent Detroit Jewish
family. Hopefully his sur-
vivors will achieve the need
for it to be published. Only
one chapter from his
biography received special
notice when it appeared in
The Jewish News.
Meanwhile, it is important

to emphasize that Jewish-
wise The Eternal Road was
Werfel's historic achieve-
ment.. ❑

Honors

Continued from Page 2

41

delayed recognition be
acknowledged. The quoted
message is acclaimed here to
what will prove as an expres-
sion of praise for a valued
community service. Let it be
recorded as such an intention. I
The trend toward
establishing and maintaining
archives for the preservation
of historic documents has
become a recognized com-
munity obligation.
The Michigan Jewish
Historical Society is in the
process of expanding such an
activity.
Libraries in several con-
gregations are contributing
toward such aims and
Shaarey Zedek has a trained
4
archivist for this purpose in
the person of Judy Cantor.
Temple Beth El's valuable
archives. have acquired
special importance. They owe
4
their advancement to the
pioneering efforts in
establishing archives to the
genesis of congregational con-
cerns for the preservation of
documentaries under the
direction of the late Irving
Katz, during the ministry of
Rabbi Leo M. Franklin.
In all of these commitments
there is the continued need to
turn to the valuable Burton
Collections, which are
perhaps the most complete
files of Detroit history that
could possibly be assembled
under one roof. That is why
historical research scholars
and writers must go to the
Detroit Public Library to
delve into the Burton records.
All of what has just been
written is to call attention to
the archival triumphs.
Because Jacob Rader Marcus
ranks importantly in the ar-
chival progress his name
leads the multiple roles in
scholarly tasks accredited to
researched archival documen-
tations. ❑

I

NEWS

Israeli To Lead
Medical Body

Tel Aviv (JTA) — Dr. Ram
Ishai will resign as chair-
man of the Israel Medical
Association to become the
first Israeli to head the
World Medical Association.
He was elected president of
the international body at its
annual meeting in Vienna a
year ago.

I

a

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