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Thomas Mann on the "Jewish Question" (1921)

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A nation that suffers injustice should try internally to be on especially good terms with justice. But there is not a trace of justice in Jew-baiting accusations and drives. Who, both during and after the war, reaped more profits and hoarded more than our sturdy peasants? The abominations of ruthless greed, exploitation and rampant moneymaking – were these and are these privileges of a foreign people? Shame on all who say so! Who would like to date the origin of the world's misery or tell us where the cul-de-sac started at whose dark end we now are whining and groping? The religious cleavage of Europe, revolution, democracy, nationalism, internationalism, militarism, the steam engine, industrialization, progress, capitalism, Socialism, materialism, imperialism – the Jews were only companions, fellow culprits, fellow victims . . . True, they were often leaders, thanks to their intellectual gifts – thanks, above all, however, to the circumstance that led them to consider the new as good, for something new – revolution – had brought them liberty. The Germans should be familiar with the ancient and profound story of the scapegoat. If one carries the sin of the world, it shows little pride to insist on sending someone else into yet another desert.

In Goethe's words, the Jews as a nation have "never been worth much" as shown by the endless troubles their prophets had with them. Their typical character has its unpleasant side, indeed its dangers – what national character does not? Each European nation has in its own way been the undoing of Europe. But one thing that does distinguish the Jew from the German more than his nose is his inborn love of the intellect. Surely that love did not infrequently make Jews leaders on humanity's road of sin. The outsiders, the painfully far-reaching, the artists, the poets and the writers, will always be the friends of the Jews and indebted to them for that love. Strakhov, Dostoevski's biographer, wrote: "For he loved literature, and this love was the main reason he did not immediately join the Slavophiles. He was well aware of the hostility with which they, in accordance with their principles, had met contemporary literature from the beginning." Must conservatism always be in the hands of cave men, of brutal enemies of the spirit? One oft-times feels that this is not necessary: I am very drawn to a conservative German tradition . . . I will always be bound to the Jews by their love of the intellect, their habitual affinity for all that is delicate, fine, bold and free.

Again I have stood up for Rede und Antwort. May I sit down?

Respectfully yours,

Thomas Mann

Source of English translation: "Thomas Mann and the Jews," Atlas, vol. 11, no. 4, April 1966, pp. 224-28. Translated from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurt [Letter to Ephraim Frisch].

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