Berlin (Oct. 1)
(By our Berlin Correspondent)
“The fundamental error which you are committing is that you are terming the Jews a ‘Nation.’ This, they are not, nor can they ever be again. The Jews are an aggregate of individuals. Therein lies their misfortune, their European past, their present, and probably also their future.”
Thus spoke Jacob Wassermann a short time ago, answering a German professor who advised him to emigrate to Palestine, so as to set an example to all the rest of the Jews in Germany, of whom the anti-Semitic professor was anxious to rid the Fatherland. While there is nothing strikingly new in these thoughts of the famous German-Jewish writer, it is interesting to recall them in connection with an address which Wassermann delivered a fortnight ago at a convention of German constitutional lawyers which was held at Bad Reichenhall. In the course of this speech he cited, among other things, the declaration quoted at the head of this article, and the general tenor of the entire speech followed this leading thought, reaffirming Wassermann’s views in a brilliant, masterly style.
“If the Jews have not succeeded,” said Wassermann, “in amalgamating more closely with the body of the German nation, it is not solely the fault of the Jews themselves; it has been left to this wonderful age of our own to deny outward connection with the German language, landscape, history to a community that, alien at first, has since then on many occasions demonstrated that it belongs here inwardly.”
Relating his conversation with that anti-Semitic professor, Wassermann continued:
“I reminded him of the oppression, exploitation, exactions. martyrdoms and superstitious prejudices from which the Jews always had to suffer and of which any fair investigator might easily inform himself. I told him that it seemed simply beneath our dignity to have to remind people of the creative geniuses, artists, savants, poets, all the way from Montaigne to Spinoza, from Mendelssohn to Bizet, and to Gustav Mahler, all of whom had presented mankind with some intellectual and spiritual values. He replied, without going into further details, however, that the Jews were incapable of playing the part of leaders… This led us inevitably to the question of race, and I could not help telling him that in Germany there was now dominant so elastic a conception of race as to make even the impossible a possibility, and to bolster up any kind of demagogy and insanity. He reverted again and again to the subject of Jewish power. He mentioned something of the power of seduction. Not the power to lead, but the power to mislead, he meant. Mislead to what? Well, he said–to a materialistic conception of life, one that can be concealed in all theories of salvation just as in the theory of Socialism. I reminded him that the Socialist doctrine might be traced back to the founder of Christianity, recalling to him Christ’s words about the camel passing through the needle’s eye sooner than the rich man through the gates of heaven…He mentioned Bolshevism, branding it as the latest emanation of the Jewish spirit. This, I had expected. But it made not the slightest impression upon him when I spoke of the vast Communist rebellion which occurred in North Germany during the first half of the 16th century, and the Communist revolution in China which at about the same time shook that vast empire to its foundations, although there had been not a trace of Jews anywhere in these instances. He did not care to know anything about that… What a pity that Tolstoy is definitely known to have been a non-Jew; otherwise his teachings, tending as they are towards primitive Christianity, and having been the first to dig the channel for the Russian Communist torrent, would have made a fat item in the register of sins charged to the Jews by the anti-Semites.
Replying to the professor’s assurance–one which may be heard very frequently from anti-Semites in conversation with Jews-that some of his best friends were Jews, and so on, in this well-known vein. Wassermann said:
“In spite of the fact that your personal experiences with Jews were of the best, you demand that the Jews shall vanish. If possible even from the face of the earth, for what can they all do in small Palestine: Are they to raise up a new national state, like those other artificial states, and permit themselves to be slowly massacred by Turks, Arabs. Greeks and Persians. Since you would like me to disappear from Germany, what do you mean by saying you would like to make common cause with met You want to create a community lacking in the very first essential condition of any genuine community, namely, humanity. You evidently desire that I should assist you in finding the means for your end, the only thing for which even the Jews has been readily utilized at all times, and that I should act as the standard-bearer for your Pangerman political scheme (f.e. torid the Fatherland of the Jews, by preceding and calling them to Palestine), only that you may be able afterwards to give me the customary kick which, quite decently, you have warned me of in advance? Please, speak plainly.”
Neediess to say, the professor refused to speak plainly. Wassermann explained to his hearers that he had recited his conversation with the professor because it served best to show the mental state of the German anti-Semites, besides explaining his own views on the subject. He criticised what he called the “lordly impatience” of the modern German anti-Semites, as represented by this professor, saying:
“This lordly impatience, this high-strung passionateness which I have observed in the course of so many disputes carried on in an ostensibby objective spirit, is in danger of becoming sometimes entirely soulless, inhuman, exactly because of its objectivity. It sees in every one who thinks otherwise nothing but an enemy, and in retiring forthwith to the chilly altitudes of intellect, pure and simple, it declares war-sometimes consciously, at other times unconsciously–against actually living life.”
Speaking of what may be described as his latest “confession of faith.” Wassermann said, among other things:
“What I told the professor at that time I am able to assert also today, even though the subject no longer excites me as it did on that occasion. I have wrestled with this problem all my life, have considered it in all its aspects, have felt its pain and ramifications to the very limits of the endurable, have explored the social, psychic, physical spiritual foundations and relationships of the problem, and lastly, at the most oppressive moment of all, I proclaimed publicly an allegiance which I considered it my duty to proclaim from external motives of pride and propriety rather than from internal promptings–only to discover at the end that after all. I really did not stand any longer in the place where I had imagined to be standing. Without exactly realizing it. I had moved a step beyond all that. It came about grdually in such a way that all these rigid. evil, obstructing, poisonous preludices dropped from me like scales. and I perceived that this being a Jew, as it was generally conceived no longer held any validity in my own case… The land of my fathers. It is a mockery. Every Italian village, every German cathedral touches my feelings more deeply. Has any one in this world the right to fling me and my consolous being back seven centuries, or a thousand years To extinguish that which through the medium of the language, has been poured into me for generations, and through the instrumentality of the landscape, history, art, through silently shared experiences century after century? You may make me an exile: but an Asiatic-never!”