Robert Nathan, the American novelist, once addressed the Menorah Society on what it means to him to be a Jew. Out of this talk he fashioned the article, "On Being a Jew", which graces the June issue of Scribner’s Magazine. Graces is the right word, for this article contains, in brief, the special qualities characteristic of Mr. Nathan’s novels, the latest of which, "One More Spring", is fortunately on the best-seller lists. But those who might be called in the know praised Mr. Nathan’s books years ago, and remembered with delight such of his books as "Jonah", "The Puppet Master", "The Woodcutter’s House".
In his Scribner article he tells us that he comes of Sephardic ancestry, that his family has contributed rabbis to the pulpit, but that he gave no particular thought of himself as a Jew; that, in fact, he found it difficult to make a distinction between Judaism and Christianity. "I never thought of myself as a Christian," he writes, "but I experienced the same feeling of love and wonder from God’s relation to Jesus as I did from his relation to Moses and Elijah. It didn’t seem strange to me that Jesus was God’s son; for I thought that we were all of us God’s sons. As a boy I went to the old Temple Emanuel; at school in New England I went to the Congregational Church; the temple service seemed more beautiful to me, but the spirit of the church was kinder."
Then comes the question of what to be proud of:
"If I am proud to be a Jew it is only because I am proud to be myself. My orthodox ancestors cannot light the way for me, they cannot give me assurance. The present, the future lies all within myself. I am a Jew, I was born a Jew. Very well, let me neither deny it nor boast of it, but simply and gently accept it. Let me say as did the old Jahveh, I am what I am—let me be neither proud of it nor ashamed of it. Let me be ashamed only of those things within myself which are shameful—greed, unfriendliness, cowardice, hypocrisy—and proud only of what I have the right to be proud of—of my own worth, of my own reality here on this earth, where a man is worthy of his salt, no more, no less."
And he concludes upon this beautiful and stirring note:
"Let me be proud, where I can, of my own use of those precious Jewish qualities of warmth, of love, of devotion to an ideal, of modesty, which distinguishing some of my ancestors, failed to distinguished others among them. And if I lift up my head and exclaim, ‘Hear, O Israel’ with the congregation, it is an affirmation not of Jehovah, the God of the Jews, but of myself, a man and a Jew."
LEWISOHN ON THE BOOK-BURNING
Ludwig Lewisohn, critic and novelist, who has, in recent years, become so self-conscious a Jew that some of his best friends are embarrassed, extracts a leaf and draws a significance from the burning of books in the Opernplatz of Berlin on the night of May 10th that most commentators seem to have missed. His observations may be found in full in the current issue of The Nation.
After naming some of the curious fire-fellows whom the Nazis put in the pyre, he attacks the real business of his article—the special revengeful attention the Nazis conferred on Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, whose semi-private Institute they cleaned out and whom they burned in effigy together with books from his collection. Mr. Lewisohn asks, Why? and then replies:
"Well, Hirschfeld is the renowned sexologist who began many years ago the publication of his Zeitschrift fur Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, in which he argued for a scientific rather than a criminological attitude toward homosexuality…. But the students did not burn Dr. Hirschfeld in effigy because they are pure little innocents. They did so because the entire movement is in fact and by certain aspects of its avowed ideology drenched through and through with homo-erotic feeling and practice.
"It began many years ago with Hans Bluher’s anti-Semitic preaching of Graeco-Germanic pedagogical principles and bindings (Bindungen); these ideas were embodied in the practice of the Wandervogel, the youth movement from which thousands of storm-troopers came. Therefore it had to be proved, and was proved as long ago as 1914, that the Greeks were of Germanic origin; also that David, for instance, was a blond Aryan, whose relations with Jonathan were thus and so, that Jesus, being a Galilean, was probably an Aryan, too, and that—but I spare my readers’ sensibilities. From this coil of corrupt feeling, rationalized by insane ideologies, proceeds the Nazi doctrine of slavish obedience of male groups to their leader (this obedience being erotically tinged) and of these leaders once more to others, up to the supreme leader—der schone Adolf. The 300 who held the pass of Thermoplyae were 150 pairs of lovers, and thus—thus—well-purged of Judaeo-Christian inhibitions and returning to the noble practices of their Greek ancestors who were blond and blue-eyed Balto-Germans — will handsome Adolf’s boys (having already conquered the German Communists and the German Jews) mop up the earth. But out of an obscure feeling of guilt inherited from the ancestral experience of 1,500 years of apparent submission to the Judaeo-Christian ethic, Adolf’s boys had to burn in effigy the dirty Jew who, characteristically, pleads that the vices which they glorify be treated with the compassion of science."
MRS. VORSE’S TESTIMONY
From Berlin, Mary Heaton Vorse, novelist, short story writer and worker in liberal causes, sends The New Republic a visual report of the fire and of the Germany which it symbolizes. Her article appears in the current issue under the title of "Germany: The Twilight of Reason."
It seems, on the whole, to have been a sad and uninspiring kind of bonfire. The unburned leaves of books which the pressure of the hot air shot upwards, unharmed, detracted somewhat from the glory of the occasion. "It is a sorry sight, after all," Mrs. Vorse tells us. "It is not even a great spectacle. This is one of the times the Nazis muffed it—masters of pageant as they are." Mrs. Vorse hears even a Nazi complaining that the spectacle is rather ordinary. "There isn’t even much enthusiasm among the students. No cheering. The boys passing books more as though they were doing something all in the day’s work. The only truly dramatic thing was the high-floating, derisive leaves which have proved themselves imperishable."
Mrs. Vorse closes her article with the following:
"The most dramatic subject out of recent history which I have seen was a photograph which was shown me. It was of an old Jew with a beautiful, benevolent face being dragged through the streets in a small cart, by a hooting, jeering crowd. He sat calm and unmoved, filled with a sweet dignity as triumphant as that of the high-soaring, invulnerable book pages which fire could not burn."