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A Jewish Rabbi in a Prussian Reading Circle (1880s)

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He felt that he was absolutely a German, a Reich German. He was politically interested in the wars of 1866 and 1870/71 and was deeply satisfied with their outcome. He was a liberal, along the lines of the most widely read novelist at the time, Friedrich Spielhagen. In effect, this meant that he declared his support for the progressive bourgeoisie, as it was called back then, as opposed to the Junkers, but without racking his brains over the hard, all-too materialistic problems of social politics and economics. At the time, the bookseller Schaeffer, a brilliant man with little sense for business, was publishing a moderately liberal and solidly nationalist little newspaper. My father collaborated in this project in his own way by cutting out and excerpting suitable articles from the big Berlin newspapers. He never dared to attempt any independent statements or formulations (while the twelfth-grader Georg was bold enough to write the occasional theater review). My father certainly never thought that there could be a tension between his Germanness and his Jewishness and his duty as a rabbi, at least not in Landsberg. And I do believe that the years in Landsberg were the happiest of his life, despite their meagerness.

[ . . . ]

My father considered it a kind of honor to have already been given the citizenship of the North German Confederation and to have experienced German unification as a Prussian citizen. When he wished to say something secret to his wife in the presence of his children, he might have spoken a few words in Czech. But he looked down on the Czechs with some condescension as a foreign and uncivilized people, and he also did not take the German Austrians quite seriously. On the other hand, I have heard him speak warmly of the Hungarians, whom he regarded as freedom fighters of the Revolution of 1848. He did not feel any hostility at all against any other nationalities, but the Germans were simply his own people. No one else was able to match German culture, and the actual representative of Germanness was the Reich and certainly not the confused and patchwork-like Austria. Anyone who was “over there” did not live, think, and feel quite the same way we did, regardless of being related by blood. After all, what did blood relations really mean? All that counted was intellectual belonging: that’s what distinguished humans from animals.

Excerpt from: Victor Klemperer: Curriculum vitae. Erinnerungen 1881-1918 [Victor Kelmperer: Curriculum vitae. Memories 1881-1918] (2 vols; published by Walter Nowojski) © Aufbau-Verlag GmbH: Berlin, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 16-19.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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