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Thomas Mann on the "Jewish Question" (1921)

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Can I change all that? Moreover, must not "obliging attentiveness and pleasing sympathy" mean something more than a mere nerve tonic? Is there not some essential value in that attitude? Does it not somehow offer a real guarantee of my worth? The truth is – and this cannot be denied – something which pleases the pure-blooded German but is scorned by the Jews cannot seriously be considered as art. This, however, does not mean that the Jews further and support exclusively, or even preferably, what is akin to them. Alfred Kerr will never love and praise Carl Sternheim the way he loves and honors Gerhart Hauptmann (the national pedestal he stands on today was erected by Jews). Nothing then, could be more foolish than to insist on the erroneous belief, propounded by the racist Professor Bartels, that whatever pleases Jews must be Jewish. It actually would seem that only German works that also are to the taste of the Jews qualify as superior German works. Conversely, Europe's various native-born bourgeoisies have only too often been pleased by the distasteful Jewish characteristics they found in Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Blumenthal.

I mentioned Adolf Bartels . . . As far as I can see, this savant had discarded the theory that my brother and I are Jews. He nevertheless declares in his most recent literary dictionary that, even though during the war I professed my Germanness in Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (Reflections of an Unpolitical Man), he still cannot bring himself to believe in my authentic German character. I know why he can't and I will get used to it. But if even an avowal of one's genuine German feelings that is intelligent cannot propitiate a racist professor, whereas the most stubborn opposition to liberal democratic ideas does not alienate the Jews provided only that it is intelligent, it should be clear that I cannot be expected to have anti-Semitic opinions.

I am referring to the difficulty of taking a stand somewhere between being a German and being a European intellectual – a position I consciously had to accept as my fate during the war. At that point my adventurousness justified itself. An adventurer is one who can accept any fate just as long as it really is one, and that is what I have done. My relations to Jews have been adventurous and open-minded all along: I regarded them as something picturesque fit to make the world more colorful. If that by itself sounds irresponsibly aesthetic, let me add that I also saw an ethical symbol in that, one of the symbols of the exceptional and of the higher demands of life. I, as a poet, have often sought such symbols. Somewhere in my work, a physician by the "irritating" name of Sammet [which means "velvet"] has this to say: "No principle of equality, if I may be allowed this comment, will ever prevent the existence, in the community, of exceptional and special men who are set apart, in a noble or an infamous sense, from the general middle-class norm. The individual will do well not to question the nature of his exceptional position; rather, he should recognize the significance of that position and the special obligation it imposes. Compared to the normal and hence complacent majority, one is at an advantage, not at a disadvantage, if one has an additional inducement for exceptional achievements." This is Romanticism, I admit. But the conception of the Jew as a romantic-aristocratic entity, not unlike that of the German, appealed to me early; and no Jews have pleased me less than those dissimulators and artful repressors who discern anti-Semitism in the mere failure to totally disregard and deny the existence of so striking a phenomenon as Judaism.

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