The German Martin and the Jewish Mordechai: A Meeting between Buber and Heidegger, 1957

For over fifty years, hiding away in the Mordechai Martin Buber’s archives was a series of photographs in an envelope, labeled: “unidentified.” Did the hand that wrote this, and chose to archive these photos, do so intentionally, out of a fear of the visual representation, the unequivocal and patently clear proof of the friendly meeting between Buber and Martin Heidegger? And why did this meeting become a fact that needed to be played down, if not enshrouded in a fog of uncertainty?

A photograph of the participants in the meeting. Front center: Heidegger and Buber

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, became a controversial figure after WWII. Heidegger was among the most prominent of the many German intellectuals who collaborated with the Nazi regime during the Third Reich, or at least, identified with it and took no position against it. As an original and seminal thinker who placed human experience at the center of his thought and viewed humanity as the supreme cause of everything, Heidegger had a profound influence on Jewish intellectuals of his day, mainly among German Jewry.

Heidegger was an outstanding student of the German-Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and with the latter’s retirement in 1928, was selected to replace him at the University of Freiburg. His most important book, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), published in 1927, was dedicated with admiration to his teacher Edmund Husserl, even though in effect, the book took a stand against some of Husserl’s foundational assumptions, and some viewed this dedication as a key to understanding the deep and complex relationship between two generations of philosophers.

In 1933, with the Nazi rise to power in Germany, Heidegger warmly welcomed their emergence. Just a few months after Hitler took over the national government, Heidegger officially joined the Nazi Socialist Party, and as a mark of distinction for this step, he was appointed rector of the University of Freiburg, a job from which he resigned after just one year of office. During that year, Heidegger took various steps intended to gratify the government, including various racially based attacks on Jewish colleagues.

One of the symbolic acts for which Heidegger was condemned and his reputation blackened as a Nazi collaborator was the directive to revoke the privileges of his elderly teacher, Husserl, as a Professor Emeritus at the University of Freiburg, due to his Jewish origins (even though Husserl had converted to Christianity). In the second edition of Being and Time, published in 1941, Heidegger, apparently under pressure from the publishers, removed the dedication to Husserl. Hannah Arendt, who was one of Heidegger’s best known students, and of whose intimate relationship with him much has been written, claimed that with this harsh attack of a student against his teacher, Heidegger hastened Husserl’s end, and even indirectly caused his death. Heidegger’s problematic relationship with Hitler and Nazism was even more clearly manifested by the way in which it percolated into his philosophical thought. His book Introduction to Metaphysics (Einführung in die Metaphysik), published in 1935, for example, included excerpts from a speech he delivered at the University of Freiburg in which he justified the supremacy of Hitler’s rule and the Third Reich.

After WWII, Heidegger was a pariah. The attempts to clear his name, – even by Jewish students such as Hannah Arendt – actually led to a reverse result. His philosophy, like his personality, was considered an abomination among many within and outside of Germany. The connection between him and Martin Buber after the Shoah therefore seems impossible, even for a liberal person such as Buber, who preceded many in his forgiving approach to Germany and the Germans. In Martin Buber’s biography by Maurice Friedman, Friedman quotes Buber’s writings, according to which “Heidegger the man was much more, in my view, than his writings.” Elsewhere, Buber is quoted as saying that all he had to state in condemnation of Heidegger had already been written when it happened, and therefore, there was no point in revisiting past events. However, Buber never related to Heidegger in his writings or public statements. Heidegger, for his part and quite surprisingly, testified in one of his interviews in the West-German media that he knew Buber’s name “from hearsay only,” and never knew him personally. At the same time, there is no doubt that Heidegger was very familiar with Buber’s writings, and even pressured the publisher of the festschrift in honor of his fiftieth birthday to approach Buber and ask him to translate an article for the volume. Buber refused, claiming that his failing health due to age prevented him from accommodating the request.

Buber and Heidegger by the coffee table. Second on the left: Martin Buber, second on the right: Martin Heidegger

Any mutual fear of public friendship and the fog surrounding the personal relations between the two evaporates in this series of photographs, which documents a friendly and warm meeting held in the late spring of 1957. With the picturesque Alps in the background, the two men met for two full days at the castle of Prince Albrecht von Schaumburg-Lippe, during which they discussed the preparation of an international conference on language (“Die Sprache”). The prince who hosted the two philosophers in his castle was the brother-in-law of Clemens Graf von Podewils, 1905-1978, who at the time was director of the Bavarian Academy of the Arts in Munich. Another partner in organizing the historical meeting between the German philosopher and the Jewish philosopher was Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, a physicist and philosopher of science in his own right, and the older brother of the president of West Germany elected in 1984. These two facilitators were organizing the conference under the auspices of the Bavarian Academy and wanted to summon Buber and Heidegger to a discussion on its content and goals. The meeting between the two was held, therefore, in a pleasant atmosphere, far from the public eye.

A personal dedication by Heidegger in his book about Hebel: “To Martin Buber, with honest admiration, Martin Heidegger, Altreuthe, 29th May, 1957” FacebookYouTubeInstagramTwitterRSSAdd This ​Zur deutschsprachigen Seite >> Martin Buber – Milestones in his life Selected items from his archive at the National Library. Ask Search Order Visit Participate

Buber conceded, according to the testimony of one of the participants, that immediately a bold friendship took hold between these two elderly men, who were unafraid of mocking the prejudices against Jews on the one hand, and against the Nazi rector on the other. In the photographs, the two can be seen smiling, and in a few of them, Paula Buber appears, sitting alongside her husband at one of their shared outdoor meals. Ultimately, due to Paula Buber’s sudden death just a few months later, Martin Buber cancelled his participation in the conference, and it was therefore not held as planned.

The fascinating discussions between Buber and Heidegger at that historic meeting were recorded with characteristic fastidiousness and precision by von Weizsäcker, who understood the historical significance of this once in a lifetime dialogue. Blame, atonement and forgiveness were some of the topics discussed between the two, a Jewish philosopher of religion and a Christian philosopher who denounced religion, united to a great extent by their interest in the relationship between man and the Divine.

The Author Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel and the Red Army Faction Activist Gudrun Ensslin

During those years, an underground organization of activists from the radical German left was established, which operated against the West German government by carrying out a long series of terrorist acts, kidnappings, hijackings and robberies

In October 1963, Israeli author Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel received a letter from the German publisher Bertl Petrei of Stuttgart. It was not unusual for Ben Gavriel, who at the time was very popular among the German-reading audience, to be contacted by German publishers. However, the content of the letter was a great surprise for Ben Gavriel. The German publisher was requesting him to write about the works of German author and poet Will Vesper (1882-1962), who was a Nazi sympathizer and had devoted himself unequivocally to the Nazi cause from 1933-1945. For example, Vesper delivered a speech during the book burning in Dresden in the spring of 1933. Vesper incited the public against Jews and mainly against Jewish authors who wrote in the German language. In light of this, the Austrian-German publisher’s request of Ben Gavriel to write a review of an anthology of the Nazi author’s novellas was problematic, to say the least.

A letter from the German publisher Bertl Petrei to Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel, signed by Gudrun Ensslin

Ben Gavriel immediately understood the magnitude of the problem and replied that the request left him with a bad feeling, and that he was unable to write about the works of a Nazi author. According to the wording of the response (a copy of which exists in Ben Gavriel’s archive), together with the letter, he also returned the book to the sender, publisher Bertl Petrei.

Ben Gavriel’s answer to Gudrun Ensslin

And behold, a number of days later, an additional letter arrived from the publisher, longer this time, which attempted to calm the Jewish author in Jerusalem and to justify the request as well as defend the standing of Will Vesper in German literature. And yet the person who wrote the letter did not address all to the problematic biographical details of the author’s life, which did not speak in his favor, certainly given the atmosphere prevailing in 1963, when it was impossible to ignore the Nazi past of a prominent cultural figure. The two letters from the publisher to Ben Gavriel are signed by different people. The first was signed by Gudrun Ensslin, and the second, by S. Mauer. We do not know anything regarding the identity of the second signer, but the name of Gudrun Ensslin is certainly known, in an entirely different context, linked to events that took place in Germany from 1968-1993.

During those years, an underground organization of activists from the radical German left was established, which operated against the West German government by carrying out a long series of terrorist acts, kidnappings, hijackings and robberies. What the author Yaakov Moshe Ben Gavriel could not have known, and given that he died in 1965 never learned, was that Gudrun Ensslin, who signed the first letter he received from the publisher, went on to become a senior figure in a left-wing terrorist organization known as The Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion – RAF). This organization set West German society into a storm mainly in the 1970s and divided the population between opponents and supporters of the movement, which according to its declarations was fighting the capitalist-imperialist regime through “urban guerilla warfare.” To this end, members of the underground, among them, Gudrun Ensslin, even spent time at a PLO training camp in Jordan. The peak of the organization’s activity – which was also the peak of the severe social crisis in West Germany – was in the fall of 1977, when Palestinian terrorists hijacked a German airplane, and in exchange for releasing the passengers, demanded the release of the RAF leadership, which had been in prison since 1972, among them Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin. Following the failed hijacking of the German plane – all of the passengers were released – a number of the upper echelon committed suicide in prison in October 1977, Gudrun Ensslin among them. Supporters of the underground were skeptical that the cause of death was suicide, and in their eyes, those who died were martyrs. The underground continued its activities for several more years, and finally dissolved only in the early 1990s.

A study about the Red Army Faction (RAF) by Stefan Aust​
English translation of Aust’s study

However, in 1963, all of these events were still a future that had not yet come to pass, that is, when Gudrun Ensslin wrote to Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel on behalf of the publisher of the author Will Vesper. The question arises as to why Ensslin collaborated with a commercial publisher on this matter; a few years later she acted determinedly against every “capitalist-imperialist-fascist” entity. Studies of Ensslin’s life have shown that at the time, she was involved in a relationship with Vesper’s son, Bernward Vesper. The author’s son tried to grapple with the spiritual legacy of his father, and to this end, promoted the re-publication of his works, in part with the help of Ensslin, who later became a prominent terrorist. The request of Vesper and Ensslin to Ben Gavriel, as well as the wording of the letters, suggest no small degree of political confusion. The confusion characterized a large portion of the supporters of the radical left, mainly in their attitude towards Jews and Israel, a phenomenon which is common among the German Left to this day.

Munich Olympics

Massacre of the Israeli Athletes on German Soil

אילנה רומנו, אלמנתו של יוסף רומנו, מתוך אוסף דן הדני

In 1972, the twentieth Olympics took place. For the first time since WWII, Germany was chosen to host a world sporting event of supreme importance. The Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup were considered then, as they are today, to be the most important and prestigious events in world sports. The years of the Second World War led to the disruption of both. The Olympic Games in particular bore the burden of the difficult memory of the 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin and manipulated by Hitler’s Nazi regime for self-glorification and promotion of the vision of the superiority of the Aryan race.

The Olympic Games were resumed in 1948, in London, and the choice of the English capital was not incidental. The World Cup Games were resumed only in 1950, and took place in Brazil. Germany, which meanwhile had been divided into two countries, was not privileged to host one of the two distinguished institutions until 1972. West Germany, the republic that made its trademark democracy and the desire to rehabilitate Germany, both materially and in terms of its image and standing among the world’s nations, related to the 1972 Olympics as a corrective opportunity. Munich was chosen as the host city. This, too, was highly symbolic. Munich, birth city of the Nazi Party and cradle of the cultic worship of the German race, the place where giant processions were held aimed at glorifying the superior race and demonstrating its physical power, had now become a place where over 7,000 athletes from more than 121 nations were to gather for fifteen days of brotherhood, equality and cooperation based on universal human values. The Olympics were intended to take place from August 26-September 10.

American investigation of the Munich events, 2002

Israeli participation in the 1972 Munich Olympics had a clear symbolic significance. Although at this stage the relations between Israel and West Germany were developed and deep in many realms, the delegation of Israeli athletes, waving the Israeli flag over German soil before the entire world on live television, was a sensitive public declaration regarding Israel’s readiness to accept “a different Germany.” The Munich Olympics were the first to be broadcast on Israeli television, making the emotional resonance aroused by participation of the Israeli delegation in Olympics held in Germany particularly strong among the Israeli public.

The Germans sought a “happy Olympics” so that the atmosphere would reflect the new age in their rehabilitated land that had made a commitment to the ideal of peace and brotherhood among nations. In effect, it appears that this desire on the part of the organizers led to inattentiveness to very clear warnings that the games might be threatened by various terror organizations. The Israeli delegation was housed in an unprotected building facing the street, separated from it only by the minimalistic fence of the Olympic Village. Although Israeli officials had warned against the poor security, and despite the information received by the German security authorities, the Olympic Village authorities and members of the International Olympic Committee took no steps to augment the security measures.

And so, at the crack of dawn on September 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorists, members of the “Black September” organization, crossed the fence of the Olympic Village. During the takeover some of the members of Israeli delegation resisted and tried to block the way of the terrorists. The terrorists shot the boxing coach Moshe Weinberg and threw his body outside of the building. Meanwhile, the media arrived at the scene and photographed the sights. The terrorists presented their list of demands. The police organized a group of plainclothes policemen, who lacked proper training, and sent them to the apartment where terrorists were barricaded with the Israeli hostages. Due to the television coverage, the Israelis were able to see the police in live broadcast. Meanwhile, Yossef Romano, from the Israeli delegation, was murdered after trying to attack the terrorists with a paring knife. The Germans conducted a negotiation with the Palestinian terrorists, who demanded that they be allowed to fly with the hostages to Cairo. During the night of September 5, two German helicopters, carrying eight terrorists and nine bound Israeli hostages, landed at the Fürstenfeldbruck near Munich.

Booklet by the Israeli Foreign Ministry containing a collection of international press responses to the massacre, 1972

At this point, the failed German attempt to extricate the hostages began. An unskilled team, lacking proper equipment and adequate planning, exhanged fire with the terrorists, until close to midnight. Ultimately, all nine hostages were killed. Five terrorists were also killed, and three were captured alive. A German police officer was killed during the operation. The next day, the Olympic Committee decided to resume the games, which had been suspended for 24 hours, after a memorial ceremony had been held. The Israeli delegation left Munich immediately after the ceremony.

Special stamp commemorating the 30th anniversary of the massacre, 1972

The murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics left a deep scar on Israeli society, not least because the tragedy occurred in Germany. With time, the extent of neglect by the German authorities in handling the event became known. As if that were not enough, it emerged that German officials had warned of the possibility of a terror attack at the game. The terrorists who were captured were imprisoned in Germany for only a brief period. It seems that West Germany made agreements with the Palestinian terrorist organizations in order to keep their activities away from them. The German authorities did not carry out an in-depth investigation or complete proceedings against the guilty. Germany also refused Israeli offers of help in rescuing the hostages: members of the Mossad were not permitted to contribute from their experience during the negotiations with the captors, and the Israeli offer to send a commando unit also went unanswered.

Israel acted with determination to assassinate those responsible for the attack, and over the years, conducted an international chase in their pursuit. All Palestinian terrorists who had been involved in the Munich massacre were assassinated by Israel by 1992. But beyond this, harsh feelings remained in Israel regarding what was perceived as cold treatment on the part of the West German government and on the part of the International Olympic Committee. Moreover, since 1972 and to this day, the International Olympic Committee has continued to resist marking the massacre of the Israeli athletes as part of the Olympic Games, and does not allow a ceremony to be held on the premises of the Olympic Village.

The massacre of the 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 is a lasting, indelible stain on the relationship between Germany and Israel, precisely because of the deep symbolism attached to this particular Olympics, and the Israeli participation in them.

How a 16th Century Business Dispute Triggered a Religious War

Printing of a Jewish book in 1551 caused religious strife and turmoil all over Italy

A 1572 map of Venice from the National Library of Israel's Eran Laor Cartographic Collection

The Jewish ghetto in Venice was established in 1516, and all the Jews living in the prosperous city were forced to move there. Among the limitations imposed on the Jews of the ghetto was that the printing of Hebrew books had to be contracted to a Christian press. A dispute that broke out between two such Christian printers threatened to destroy the cultural universe of Italian Jewry.

A map of the Venice ghetto from the early 16th century. The map may be found in the Civico Corer Museum in Venice

In 1551, Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen contacted the owner of the Guistiniani printing press with a proposal for printing Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah with a commentary he had written. The printer refused. Disappointed but still determined, the rabbi then brought the same proposal to Alvise Bragadini, owner of the new and less-established Bragadini press, who agreed to publish it. The phenomenal success of the Mishneh Torah in its new format attracted the attention of Guistiniani, who then hurried to print an identical edition of the book.

Frontispiece of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah printed by the Bragadini press. From the National Library of Israel collection
Frontispiece of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah printed by the Guistiniani press. From the National Library of Israel collection

European Jewish communities declared a boycott against the pirated Guistiniani edition, but despite this, the printer refused to acknowledge his defeat, and instead appealed directly to the Pope to settle the dispute. In order to damage one another’s credibility, the rival printing press owners hurled accusations that the other had, in his edition, inserted heresy against Christianity and the Catholic Church. The Pope’s decision stunned both sides: in the summer of 1553, Pope Julius III ordered all Hebrew books – first and foremost the Talmud – to be brought to Rome’s central square, where they were burned.

This decree was then carried out in other cities across Italy including Venice.


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