“Faust” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and its Translation into Hebrew

German immigrants to Israel from the “fifth Aliyah” often carried volumes of Goethe’s works with them to Israel, in the attempt to retain something from their lost homeland, at least, at the cultural-linguistic level

From the cover of the Hebrew edition of "Faust", 1943

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is considered today one of the outstanding poets in the history of German literature. Goethe is known as the “national poet” of the German people, and throughout the generations, all of the students in the German schools encountered his works at one stage or another of their studies. Many households owned simple or elaborate editions of Goethe’s works, and until not long ago, many were able to recite the poems and ballads of this illustrious poet by heart.

The name of the small city of Weimar is closely tied to Goethe, who lived and worked there most of his life. The life there of the poet – who was also a lawyer, a statesman, and manager of the local theater – and his friendly relations with another key literary figure in German literature in that city – Friederich von Schiller – granted the city of Weimar the title “The Capital of German Classics.”

A portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe’s most famous work is the play Faust. While Goethe earned himself a reputation as a great poet already during his lifetime, mainly due to the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, his glorious reputation, which endures to this day, stems from his monumental oeuvre, Faust. The poet worked on the play for more than 60 years, publishing it in different versions and ultimately, dividing it into two parts. The first part is considered more accessible than the second. Indeed, the first part of Faust has been staged hundreds over the generations, if not thousands of times, while the second part was produced much less, due to its complex content. To this day, the play is still performed (still mainly its first part) and movies have been made based on its famous plot.

The first page of a two-part edition of “Faust”, Paris 1840

The main character in the play is a middle-aged scholar, Heinrich Faust. Faust’s character is based on an historical figure named Johann Georg Faust, who was an alchemist, astrologer and fortune teller from the 16th century, to whom were attributed dark powers and connections with the devil.

This fabled connection led Goethe, apparently, to the key element in the story of Faust, which is the pact between the scholar and the devil himself. The starting point for the pact is the scholar’s frustration with his advanced age.

The frustration that he feels stems from his inability to understand aspects of philosophy and nature and grasp new connections in these realms. This desire symbolizes the unquenchable aspiration for additional knowledge that ultimately encounters limitations, and, on the other hand, the failure of the scholar to enjoy life in all its aspects. In this state Faust meets the devil, who is in relentless pursuit of human souls.

Faust accepts the devil’s offer to make a pact: in exchange for becoming acquainted with world, acquisition of knowledge, a deeper understanding and hedonism as a young and handsome man, Faust promises his soul to the devil on condition that he will be satisfied with what he experiences and even reach complete contentment.

In the first part of the play, Faust encounters the life of emotion and the soul through a young and beautiful woman named Marguerite. Their relationship ends in disaster from her perspective, since she murders the child she bears with Faust, and loses her sanity in prison. This explains why Goethe defined the play as a tragedy: the protagonist does not solve his problems, and serious damage results to those close to him. In the second part, Faust appears as a person operating within history and society, but he fails in this arena. At the end of this part, Faust envisions a human society that operates for the benefit of all, in which the needs of the individuals are attended to, but since this world has not materialized and Faust is still striving towards it, he does not ultimately lose to the devil, and the soul of the deceased scholar is spared.

The humanistic and philosophical content of Faust made an impression on many generations and had an influence on countless readers, since they were able to identify with the dilemmas of Faust, both as a sensitive person and a man of spirit. The critique of the political, social and religious phenomena of Goethe’s time contributed to the ongoing popularity of the work, one of the reasons for which being that these phenomena have not dissipated with time.

German-speaking Jews, like fellow German speakers, were enamored of Faust. German immigrants to Israel from the “fifth Aliyah” often carried volumes of Goethe’s works with them to Israel, in the attempt to retain something from their lost homeland, at least, at the cultural-linguistic level. A printed edition of the play “Faust” (or of all of Goethe’s writings) could be found in the personal libraries of many Jews. Already in the mid-19th century, a few of Goethe’s works had been translated into Hebrew, but in the 20th century, the interest grew considerably. It is therefore not surprising that in Israel, as well, a translation into Hebrew of the first part of Faust was published by the poet Yaakov Cohen (1881-1960). Surely surprising, however, is the date of publication: 1943, in the throes of WWII and the midst of the Holocaust.

A portrait of Yaakov Cohen, a poet who translated “Faust” into Hebrew

In his introduction, Yaakov Cohen wrote about his hesitations and the difficulties in translating into Hebrew not only the language but also the intentions of the great poet. At the same time, Cohen did not relate at all to the particular problematic nature of publishing a classical work from the German literary canon at the beginning of the 1940s. While at the end of the introduction he mentioned that he had completed the translation a decade earlier (i.e. in the early 1930s), we today remain stupefied by its publication in 1943, of all years. Yaakov Cohen published his translation with Schocken, a publishing house whose German roots surely meant that they understood the significance of the matter. The result was a beautiful edition, with lithographs from 1827 by French Artist Eugéne Delacroix, who admired Goethe and his works. Thanks to this beautiful book, both in its content and its external form, one may say that during the darkest days, it was Jewish intellectuals who made the effort to preserve the humanistic values that had characterized Germany at other times.

German Opposition to Hitler and the Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944

The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime

Left: Pamphlet by Wolfgang Müller about the overthrow, 1947, Right: Pamphlet by Karl Strölin, 1952

In the last general elections in Germany in March 1933, some 44% of the national electorate voted for Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialist party. This means that despite the strong show of support in this election, in which other parties had been suppressed by the Nazis even earlier, most Germans did not vote for Hitler. In theory, this situation might have given reason to hope that broad portions of the population had begun – at a certain stage – to act against the undesirable, cruel regime. And yet, during the entire Nazi period, from 1933-1945, opposition to the terrible dictatorship remained proportionately very small, and never led to tangible results. The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime. New studies note that no more than 7,000 people took active steps against the Nazi dictatorship during these years. The academic world employs the somewhat sarcastic term of “an opposition without a people.”

The opposition activists hailed from all sectors of the German population: Communists, Social Democrats, laborers, students (the White Rose in Munich and in Hamburg), members of the bourgeois and elite (the Kreisau Circle), Jews (the group led by Herbert Baum), Catholics and Protestant Christians, individuals and groups, women and men. A few of them are somewhat well known, for example, Georg Elser (1903-1945), a carpenter from southern Germany, who already at an early stage had clearly understood the Nazi’s goals and refused to accept the reality. He prepared a bomb in Hitler’s favorite beer cellar in Munich where, every year on November 8, the Nazi leader gave a speech commemorating the overthrow attempt of 1923. Elser’s bomb exploded at the planned time on November 8, 1939, but Hitler, contrary to all expectations, had left the site approximately fifteen minutes earlier. This failed attempt was only one in a continuous series of similar events. But Hitler and his cronies survived them all almost unscathed.

The Jewish group of Herbert Baum (1912-1942) operated within a Communist ideology and in 1942 carried out an attack on a propaganda exhibition in Berlin entitled, “The Soviet Garden of Eden,” which mocked Soviet Communism. The White Rose students’ group composed pamphlets with anti-Fascist information and in 1942-43, sent them to specific individuals and also distributed them at the University of Munich. In most cases, those who received them delivered them to the police. Similar behavior is documented in the well-known novel Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, based on a true case of opposition by a working class couple in Berlin who distributed postcards with anti-Fascist texts, but almost all of them were handed over to the police by loyal citizens. Today, it is estimated that the great success of the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) in repressing almost every opposition activity resulted not from its efficiency, but from the generous willingness of most German citizens to report views and acts that were not compatible with Nazi ideology.

The most elaborate opposition plot was that of the Wermacht officers and representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie (the Kreisau Circle and others) whose goal was to assassinate Hitler and arrest the chief leadership of the Nazis in order to halt the war. A few of them had always been opposed to Hitler’s regime, but most were ultimately pushed into action only after the defeat of the German Army at Stalingrad in January/February 1943, and following additional subsequent defeats.

The understanding that this war could no longer end in victory led many army members to a shift in direction, and to act in a manner that violated their oath as soldiers loyal to Germany and to Adolf Hitler, and this at a time when such an oath was a most serious commitment. At the focus of the plot to carry out the planned attack and overthrow were Ludwig Beck, a former general (who resigned from his job as Chief of Staff even before the outbreak of the war due to his opposition to its goals), Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig who was a liberal-conservative politician, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg, and General Henning von Tresckow. The name of the overthrow plan was Operation Walküre.

Israeli study about the 20 Movement by Dani Urbach, 2009

Following a number of failed attempts to conceal a bomb near Hitler, an additional effort was made on July 20, 1944. A large discussion was scheduled for this day to evaluate the military situation in one of Hitler’s command centers in East Prussia. Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg was invited to the discussion, and he brought with him a bomb that had been hidden in a briefcase. Due to his serious injury from the war, von Stauffenberg had only one hand, and so he did not manage to properly activate the mechanism to detonate the bomb. Moreover, one of the men present at the discussion moved the briefcase, thus distancing it from Hitler. The explosion killed four people and critically injured seven more, but Hitler was only slightly injured and left the meeting room alive and in one piece. Announcements regarding the attack spread quickly across Germany, and mainly the news that the “Führer” had escaped the attack unharmed. The entire plan thus failed, since some of the officers who had not been totally convinced of supporting the overthrow repented immediately upon receiving the news that Hitler was still alive. Already the evening of that same day, a number of officers were executed in Berlin, including Ludwig Beck and von Stauffenberg, and others were arrested and interrogated by the SS and the Gestapo. Showcase trials were held, conducted by the fanatic Judge Roland Freisler. Over 200 people were executed, many of them even in the last weeks of the Third Reich, including almost 50 senior officers of the highest ranks, diplomats, politicians and others. The assassination attempt received wide attention within and outside of Germany, and was one of the signs signaling the end of the battle of the Nazi dictatorship.

Article on the assassination attempt in the Davar newspaper, July 23, 1944

Immediately after the end of the war, public discussion regarding the significance of the attempted overthrow, the civil duty to act against a tyrannical regime, and the question of whether the officers were traitors or heroes, was renewed. The few among them who survived the interrogation, torture and trials worked to spread their version of the events, both orally and in writing. One example is the pamphlet of former Colonel Wolfgang Müller, in which already in 1947 he describes his experiences prior to July 20, 1944, and afterwards. Müller tried to operate against a recurring phenomenon (which came into existence already after WWI), of conservative forces blaming the defeat on those who opposed the regime and the war. The title of his composition was: “Against A New Lie of ‘Backstabbing’.” A further example is the composition of Karl Strölin, Mayor of Stuttgart during the entire Nazi period, and also a member of the Nazi Party, who, towards the end, was able to see Germany’s dire situation and participated in the overthrow attempt, but did so carefully, remaining in the margins of the organizing activity. He titled his composition “Traitors or Patriots”? In recent decades, many studies have been conducted in different languages about the opposition, the various groups it comprised, and mainly, the people of July 20, 1944. Today, there is no longer any discussion regarding the question of whether these people were “traitors” or heroes, but it is still asked why so few people objected to the regime, and why many of them waited until the moment it became clear that the Nazi government was poised at the brink of the abyss and the war was already a lost cause.

The Composer Paul Ben-Chaim and his Journey from Germany to the Middle East

Ben-Chaim’s story is the story of a German Jew who experienced the brunt of the rupture led by the upheavals of fate in his time

פאול בן חיים בצעירותו, 1914

The composer Paul Ben-Chaim was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897, and died in Tel Aviv in 1984. Ben-Chaim was a graduate of the Munich Academy of Music in composition, conducting and piano (1920) and afterwards, served as assistant conductor to Maestro Bruno Walter at the Munich Opera. In 1924 he became conductor of the Augsburg Opera Orchestra, remaining in this position until 1931. In 1933 he emigrated to Eretz Israel. Ben-Chaim’s story is the story of a German Jew who experienced the brunt of the rupture led by the upheavals of fate in his time. An artist-composer who studied and worked in Germany until the Nazi rise to power, Ben-Chaim found himself without work, without a language, and with no framework in which he could continue his work as a composer and conductor.

Upon making aliyah, Ben-Chaim sought for a way to express himself, as well as to reflect the environment he encountered in Eretz Israel prior to the establishment of the state. While seeking a new sound, he encountered the singer of Yemenite descent, Bracha Tzfira, who from her Jerusalem childhood was familiar with Sephardic, Bukharan and Yemenite melodies, as well as Arab melodies. Ben-Chaim was impressed by the melodies that Tzfira introduced him to, while Tzfira asked him to notate them for her and accompany her on piano. Paul Ben-Chaim succeeded in integrating these melodies into his works, which he wrote in the language of classical music, the language of German post-Romanticism with which he was so familiar.

The manuscript of “Ahavat Hadassah”, first page, 1958

Paul Frankenburger changed his name to Paul Ben-Chaim, but his musical language and his intended audience was that of the concert hall. On immigrating to Eretz Israel, he was forced to play and teach piano, and to make do with a handful of musician acquaintances and a limited audience who attended his concerts. In 1936, the Israeli Philharmonic was established, and began recruiting exceptional Jewish musicians. Establishment of the orchestra and the immigration of the musicians, as well as the growth in the population of Eretz Israel expanded the opportunities for Paul Ben-Chaim to write music for larger ensembles, such as those for which he had composed in Germany.

After the establishment of the State, Ben-Chaim received international acclaim for his works, which were performed by leading musicians and composers such as Jascha Heifetz, Leonard Bernstein, Yehudi Menuchin and others. In 1957 he received the Israel Prize in Music.

It is interesting to note that Paul Ben-Chaim appointed his student, composer Ben Tzion Orgad (also German-born) as executor of his will, in which he requested that most of the works he composed in Germany prior to 1933, including many melodies set to the texts of the finest German poets: Goethe, Heine, Hofmannstahl, Eichendorff, Morgenstern and others, be destroyed.

Over the years, it appears that Ben-Chaim forgot what he had written in his will, since he asked to hear these works executed by the singer Cilla Grosmeyer, also German-born.

Paul Ben-Chaim never became proficient in the Hebrew language. The texts that he integrated into his work in Israel he received from the singer Bracha Tzfira or borrowed from scripture, with the exception of a few works such as “Kokhav Nafal,” a text written by Matti Katz, which was commissioned by the poet’s family. In honor of his 75th birthday, Ben-Chaim was invited to Munich, city of his birth, after having visited since 1933. The city of Munich organized a concert of his works, featuring “Esa Einai” (Psalm 121), four songs from his oriental compositions (based on songs of Bracha Tzfira, the song cycle “Kokhav Nafal,” and his Sonata for Violin). Towards the end of his visit in the city, he was injured in a traffic accident, from which he never fully recovered.

The Paul Ben-Chaim Archive at the Music Department of the National Library was deposited by the artist himself, in 1980. It is the only archive in which the works of a composer are divided into two series: MUS A55 contains his works written in Germany, and MUS B55 contains his works written in Eretz Israel and in the State of Israel.

As an example of the compositions of Paul Ben-Chaim and his blending of styles, two recordings are presented here of the liturgical poem “Ahavat Hadassah,” performed by the vocalist Geula Gil, and following it, a rendition by the Kol Israel Orchestra conducted by the composer (from the Kol Israel Record Collection; no precise date is stated) as well as the original sheet music notated by the composer (also from the Voice of Israel Record Collection).

Scholar Yehoash Hirshberg wrote about the life and works of Paul Ben-Chaim in Hebrew and in English, the first monograph about an Israeli composer ever published in Israel.

The Nuremberg Laws

The Nuremberg Laws remained in effect until the end of the Third Reich, and were also implemented in Austria after it joined Germany in 1938, as well as in all of the territories occupied by Germany during WWII

One of the first editions of the Nuremberg Laws first editions, includes legal interpretation

From the moment of their appearance on the stage of history, the National-Socialist Movement, its leader Adolph Hitler, and his immediate associates, left no room for doubt regarding their racist views, mainly concerning Jews. The anti-Semitic assassinations carried out by the Nazis already in the days of the Weimar Republic were not exceptions, and Hitler himself often referred both in his speech and his writings to Jews, who, in his own view and in that of his supporters, were responsible for a long succession of ailments in German society particular, and in human society overall. These crude and unsophisticated thoughts were fed by old anti-Semitic prejudices that had existed in various European societies from as early as the Middle Ages. Beginning in the last years of the 19th century, anthropologists in the West accepted race theories, and many believed that the health of the human race depended upon the preservation of “racial purity.” The same applied to Germany. When this thinking even became a field of academic research, Nazi hatred of “the non-German races” found very fertile ground in which it could take root.

Antisemetic sighn in a German town, Fall 1935

With the Nazi rise to power on January 30, 1933, aggressive anti-Semitism became a guiding principle for the official policy of the German authorities towards Jews. Already in April 1933, a law was passed enabling the termination of employment of all state employees of Jewish origin. The new rulers of Germany, and the inhumane steps they took, caused many German Jews to immigrate to other countries, including Eretz Israel.

Beginning in 1927, members of the National-Socialist Party started convening in Nuremberg for their annual assemblies. Over time, Nuremberg became the permanent site of the party’s assemblies, which was held there consecutively from 1933-1938. For the seventh assembly of the Nazi Party, in September 1935, thousands of supporters of the regime gathered as usual, and at the last moment, all members of the Reichstag – the German parliament, or, more precisely, the grotesque form that remained after the Nazis took care to fill all the mandates from their own ranks – were also invited. In a supposedly democratic move, the heads of the Nazis introduced three laws for a vote in the Reichstag: the law concerning the German flag, the Reich Citizenship Law, and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor.

The three laws were brought up for vote with the national scenery in the backdrop, at a mass, showcase event. The members of the Reichstag, needless to say, approved the three laws unanimously. The new laws received the status of Basic Laws, i.e. laws with a fundamental and special significance in terms of the constitutional structure of the country. For those living at the time in Germany – German-Jewish and non-Jewish citizens – the significance of the new legislation was not sufficiently clear. It quickly transpired, however, that the laws passed at Nuremberg, which later were named after the city, in effect brought an end to the process of the emancipation of German Jewry and relegated them to the lowly status of second-class citizens.

Another antisecmitic sigh in Germany, Fall 1935

The practical significance was that the laws derogated the basic rights of Jews, such as the right to vote in political elections, and prohibited marital and extra-marital relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. Persons caught in such relations with a Jew were subject to punishment, and new marriages between Jews and German became impossible. Any new couple of this type was considered guilty of “blood defilement” (Blutschande). Later, terminology was devised for various gradations of “Jewish blood” based on one’s family tree, and categories were established such as “full Jew” (Volljude), “half Jew” (Halbjude) and “quarter Jew” (Vierteljude), in order to define to whom exactly the Nuremberg Laws applied. During the years of the Nazi regime, these categories determined who would live and who would die, and tremendous numbers of people were influenced by them since they were dependent on the legal status accorded to them by the laws, Understandably, within Nazi Germany no voice of protest against the Nuremberg Laws was sounded, but also outside of Germany, the laws and their ramifications aroused no outcry or noteworthy public response. As is known, less than one year after the Nuremberg Laws went into effect, most of the world did not see cause to refrain from participating in the Berlin Olympic Games, and today, it is known that many of the delegations adhered to the racist German policy: not only did Germany prevent Jewish athletes from participating in the competitions, but even the American delegation hesitated to permit Jews to appear in the games.

The Nuremberg Laws remained in effect until the end of the Third Reich, and were also implemented in Austria after it joined Germany in 1938, as well as in all of the territories occupied by Germany during WWII. In September 1945, these laws were annulled by the Allied Powers while they were administering occupied Germany. Both the Nazi assemblies in Nuremberg and the demonstrative act of legislating the Nuremberg Laws in the same city, served as criteria for the selection of Nuremberg as a symbolic site for the foundational event at the end of the war: the trials against the heads of the Nazi regime and its chief criminals, which began in November 1945, held in the city whose name signified the race laws. Now, the city would be forever branded by the expression “Nuremberg Trials.”

Wilhelm Stuckart and Hans Globke’s interpretation of the race laws, 1936. This copy was part of the chief prosecutor’s library in Vienna, even before Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, as can be seen by the seal.

In this context, it is fitting to tell the story of one Dr. Hans Globke, a legal expert who was among those quick to praise the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, yet when they were cancelled with the defeat of Germany, his legal career did not end. As a senior official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, Globke was one of the first lawyers who published a scholarly interpretation of the Nuremberg Laws. In 1936, together with Wilhelm Stukart, he published a detailed commentary with a long introduction, a text that exuded Nazi ideology. However, with the end of WWII, his great legal knowledge opened new horizons for him in the “new Germany.” After 1949, he became a close associate of Chancellor Adenauer and ultimately, even to the director of the Office of the Chancellor of West Germany. Until Adenauer’s resignation in 1963, Globke continued filling a key role in West Germany. The burgeoning career of a person who had been an ardent supporter of the Nazi race laws aroused grave doubts among many in Germany and the world as to the reliability and validity of the “new Germany” that emerged after WWII and the Third Reich.