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West Germany’s atonement for Nazi crimes has taken many forms. Hitler and his ideas are repudiated. Even lesser Nazis are rejected as abominations. One example of the new attitude is the West German Publishers Association’s posthumous award of its 1972 Peace Prize to Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish writer and educator murdered at the Treblinka death camp in 1942. Dr. Korczak, 62 at the time, chose to accompany 200 orphans in his care to the Treblinka gas chambers when the Nazis “evacuated” them from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Now we are about to witness a new demonstration of decency; The renewal of recognition of the genius of Heinrich Heine. His name had been erased from the German records by the Nazis. The most popular of all German songs, “Die Lorelei” had been credited to an anonymous author by the Hitlerites. Whatever was known about Heine was hidden. Now Germany worships him anew and the man who has been called Germany’s greatest poet singer has been returned to the legacies of Germany’s great literary accomplishments.

Early this year it was announced in Bonn that under the leadership of A.D. Otto Schoenfeldt the Dusseldorf Citizens Committee succeeded in its efforts to have the West German Post Office issue a stamp honoring Heine. Federal Minister for Postal Services Georg Leber dropped his opposition and it was decided that a Heine stamp be Issued on Dec. 13, 1972.

Heine was born in Dusseldorf in 1797. He died a pauper in Paris in 1856. The International Association for the Protection of German Language Writers, of which Dr. Edwin M, Landau of Zurich, Switzerland, is the chairman, simultaneously with the campaign for a Heine Postage Stamp, inaugurated a drive to have the University of Dusseldorf of celebrate Heine’s 175th birth date with “the utmost solemnity” in the city of his birth. While efforts to have the university renamed in Heine’s name have failed, the celebration is becoming a reality.


As a starting point for the Heine Dusseldorf celebration, a Heine Congress will be held there Oct. 15-19, and 250 scholars from all over the world including 24 experts on Heine’s writings from nine countries, are expected to address the sessions next week. They will discuss the style and content of Heine’s works, and It is to be hoped that Heine’s Jewish loyalties will be reviewed. It Is a mark of expiation and reconciliation that the Heine Congress has been organized by the German literature department of Dusseldorf University in cooperation with the Heinrich Heine Society and the Dusseldorf municipal authorities.

Heine was given a Jewish education and he knew some Hebrew. His father was a loyal Jew, but his mother sought assimilation and she suffered from self-hating Jewish attitudes. Heine was baptised In the Lutheran Church of Heilingenstadt when he was 25, He was anxious for a legal career from which Jews were barred and he was thereby “buying” his way into a profession he was never to practice. But he regretted his act. He considered it “a disgrace and a stain upon my honor.”

When eminent personalities who had become converts to Christianity are referred to as Jews, there are frequent protests; When Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn or Benjamin Disraeli are spoken of as Jews, there are objections. In the instance of Heinrich Heine there In a difference of opinion. The feeling Is that he always felt himself a Jew, that he had erred, that he should be Judged as one of the people from whom he stemmed.

He suffered anguish in his Christian affiliation. While some Jews who had abandoned their faith had encouraged him to adopt Lutheranism, many of them afterward ridiculed him, and his fellow Christiana reviled him. Perhaps it was because of his anguish that he said: “Judaism is not a religion, it is a misfortune,” but he also criticized Christianity and on one occasion he said: “When common sense ends, Christianity begins,” In one of his last written statements he displayed emotion, alluding to his Jewish attachment, when he deplored an anticipated fate–that no masses would be sung for him, that the Kaddish would not be recited in his memory.


Now there is a strong sentiment that Heinrich Heine had earned the Kaddish, that much more important than the expiation by Germans is the factual repentance by Heine himself who is now regarded as having been a Baal Teshuva–a penitent. His “Rabbi of Bacharach” proved It. His “Hebrew Memories” keep resounding with glorification of his memories as a Jew.

“I have never spoken of them with sufficient reverence, I now perceive that the Greeks were only handsome youths. But the Jews were always men “powerful, stubborn men. not alone in the days of yore, but even at the present day, in spite of 18 centuries of persecution and misery. I have since learned to know them better and to value them more highly; and if pride in one’s descent were not always a foolish contradiction, I might feel proud of the fact that my progenitors were men of the noble house of Israel, that I am a descendant of those martyrs who have given a God and a morality to the world, and who have combatted and suffered on all the battlefields of thought.”

Heine may not have been as effective as a prophet. In 1837 he wrote in a letter to a friend: shall probably become one of the number of those noblest and greatest men of Germany who go to their graves with a broken heart and a torn coat. In Dusseldorf they will then probably build me a monument.”

There will be no monument for Heinrich Heine in Dusseldorf. Greater than a monument of stone, however, will be the Heine Archives in the Dusseldorf State and City Library. Under the direction of Prof. Manfred Windfuhr there are being completed 17 volumes of Heine’s works, There will be on display the poet’s works published in 37 languages. A collection of 4000 volumes containing Heine’s writings will be on view. Of the collected 3466 manuscripts to be displayed, 1908 are in Heine’s own handwriting. His books were burned by the Nazis, but they have come to life again.

In his lifetime, Heine already had earned the recognition that came from the greatest writers of his time. Matthew Arnold paid him this tribute:

“The spirit of the world, Beholding the absurdity of men–Their vaunts, their feats–let a sardonic smile For one short moment wander o’er his lips, That smile was Heine!”

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