Letter of First German Ambassador, Rolf Pauls, to Chava Steinitz (Buber)

Some of the Israeli public opposed the establishment of relations

After the agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, it was necessary for the decision to assume a practical form. The first Israeli ambassador to Germany was Asher Ben Natan (1921-2014), a native of Vienna, while Germany sent Rolf Pauls (1915-2002) to Israel. Some of the Israeli public opposed the establishment of relations and especially the appointment of Pauls due to his activities from 1933 through 1945. Pauls was already an officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht in 1934 and went on to fight in World War II, where he was gravely wounded, ultimately receiving the prestigious Knight’s Cross military honor. After the war, he began studying law, and later became part of the West German diplomatic corps

The Israeli press covered Pauls’ appointment and arrival, as well as his first activities as ambassador. The Davar newspaper, reporting about the West German diplomat’s first speech on the front page of its August 12, 1965 edition, quoted Pauls as saying, “I come with a single thought in mind: The Germans and the Jews are living with a horrific past that cannot be forgotten, that must not be forgotten, and that we are not forgetting. But I think that there is a future for the Jews and the Germans, and our generation must pave the way to a clear future of freedom, peace and justice together.” Pauls’ words clearly reflect that at the official level, Germany viewed the State of Israel first and foremost as the Jewish state, and approached every issue accordingly. During his three years as ambassador, Pauls tried to advance economic and cultural ties between the two countries. Throughout his tenure, he proved to be a skilled diplomat in the complex and charged role with which he was vested. He later served as the West German ambassador to the United States and China.

Immediately after the death of philosopher Martin Buber in 1965, a motion was put forth to name a West Berlin street in his honor. A small street in Berlin-Celendorf was selected, which had previously been called Kaiserstrasse (in honor of the Kaiser). When the formal process was completed, the new name was given on June 13, 1966. A year after Buber’s death, Rolf Pauls sent notice to Martin Buber’s daughter, Chava Steinitz (née Strauss), announcing the change in the street’s name. The embassy clerks were apparently not yet proficient in Hebrew names, and slightly misspelled Steinitz’s name; they also mistakenly noted that the ceremony took place two years after Buber’s death. Today, many German cities have streets named after this important Jewish philosopher.

The letter displayed here reached the National Library’s archives approximately two years ago, together with many other letters, as an addition to the Aryeh Ludwig Strauss Archive.

Source: Aryeh Ludwig Strauss Archive, ARC. Ms. Var. 424/7/105

Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the German Literature

Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013), a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was the preeminent authority in modern literary criticism in Germany

Who was Marcel Reich-Ranicki? It’s reasonable to assume that many Israelis have never heard of him. In Germany, his name is very well known, mainly among lovers of literature. Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013), a Polish-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was the preeminent authority in modern literary criticism in Germany. For many years, Germans knew him by the epithet “The Pope of literature.” Although his autobiography was also translated into Hebrew (Life and Literature, 2004), much remains to be known about his fascinating life and public role as the most highly-regarded literary critic in West Germany over many decades.

Reich-Ranicki grew up in his native Poland until age 9, after which he was sent to live with relatives in Berlin. There he studied in the last schools to maintain a liberal character (despite the anti-Semitism raging in Nazi Germany) and even completed his matriculation in 1938. However, by that period, as a Jew, he was already denied the opportunity to continue his studies at a German university. During the deportation from Germany in 1938 of Jews who held Polish citizenship, he, too, was deported to his country of birth. Reich-Ranicki spent the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, but together with his wife, he succeeded in evading a certain death. Thanks to the assistance of a Polish citizen who helped them, the two were able to remain alive.

After Poland’s liberation from the Nazis, Reich-Ranicki joined the public service in Poland, served briefly as a diplomat in London, and even worked for the Polish secret security services. With time, however, he began clashing with the Communist regime, which in the early the 1950s was characterized by a certain degree of anti-Semitism. In 1958, after a number of years during which he was employed as an editor of German literature for a Polish publisher and by a Polish radio station, Reich-Ranicki decided to flee communist Poland and begin a new life in West Germany, of all places.

Shortly after his move, Reich-Ranicki found his niche as a literary critic, first for the newspaper Die Zeit (1960-1973), and afterwards as the director of the literary section of the prestigious newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (1973-1988). In both papers he was given the privilege of choosing on which works and authors to write critical reviews, according to his discretion and preferences. In this role, Reich-Ranicki published many book reviews and offered a stage to young German authors who transformed the literary style in Germany after World War II, such as Wolfgang Koeppen, Thomas Bernhard and Heinrich Böll. From 1988-2001, he hosted a television program, “The Literary Quartet,” in which he presented literary works and writers, together with other expert guests. In this manner, Reich-Ranicki exposed a broad audience to new works, keeping literature in the spotlight of public discourse. The program was very popular and proved that cultural content can be conveyed at a high level to broad audiences through television. Reich-Ranicki’s views were not always accepted by the writers and their readerships, but they had a strong influence on the success of books and writers. In addition, Reich-Ranicki published literary anthologies, essentially compilations of a “canon,” featuring the best of German literature that was in his opinion worth of becoming part of Germany’s literary heritage.

Reich-Ranicki visited Israel several times and was in contact with outstanding Israeli intellectuals, such as the scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem. The Scholem Archive, maintained at the National Library, contains a number of letters sent by Reich-Ranicki to his Jerusalem acquaintance. In one of them, from 1967, Reich-Ranicki invited Scholem to contribute an article about the character and work of German author Heinrich Böll (later to win the Nobel Prize in literature). Reich-Ranicki intended to publish a collection of articles about the author, whom he held in high esteem, and thought it befitting to also include an article by Scholem. It would be very interesting to know why the editor of the planned collection on Böll deemed it important to include the opinions of the scholar of mysticism, but the mystery, for the meantime, remains unsolved. Undoubtedly, Gershom Scholem asked himself this very question, and subsequently declined the offer to contribute a text. The book was indeed published a year later, but without a contribution from the Jerusalem scholar.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki’s letter to Gershom Scholem

David Ben Gurion Meets Conrad Adenauer in New York, 1960

At the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer

An article from "Davar" journal (March 15, 1960) about the meeting between Ben Gurion and Adenauer

In 1960, just 15 years after the Holocaust, the possibility of a meeting taking place between official representatives of Israel and Germany was not to be taken for granted. The memory of the Nazi crimes and the silence of most of the German population was still very fresh among Holocaust survivors and in Israel society overall. While certain ties had already been forged during the negotiations over the reparations agreement around 1952, reactions among the Israeli public proved that even this realm of contact was unacceptable among part of the Israeli population.

The question of establishing official diplomatic relations between the two countries hovered continually over the formal and informal liaisons. During the signing of the reparations agreement, the German side signaled that it was prepared for such a step, but the Israeli side was reluctant, basing its hesitation on the grounds that it was still too early to go so far as full-fledged diplomatic relations. In the mid-1950s, the positions reversed: Israel was prepared in theory for the establishment of formal relations with West Germany, but the German side was holding back, because of the broader political context. It feared the response of the Arab countries, and in particular, the latter’s recognition of East Germany, which the West German leadership did not want, in keeping with the Hallstein Doctrine; according to this doctrine, the government in Bonn sought to isolate the eastern part of Germany, which it did not recognize as an independent country. Every country that did recognize East Germany found itself in a diplomatic crisis with West Germany. This is the primary reason that delayed the actual establishment of relations with Israel until 1965.

Despite this, at the beginning of 1960, Israeli and West German leaders decided that it was time for a certain détente. This took the form of an official meeting between the two head statesmen: David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. To this end, the two sides decided that while they were in New York for visits on other official business, they would stay at the same hotel, the prestigious Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Only two floors separated the rooms of the two politicians. Many journalists heard rumors about the planned meeting and waited in the hotel corridors hoping to photograph and report on the “historical moment.” Ben Gurion, who was 73 at the time, decided – as the younger of the two – to go downstairs to the suite of Konrad Adenauer, who was then 84 years old. When the two statesmen met – the socialist Ben Gurion and the conservative Adenauer – it quickly became apparent that the “chemistry” between them was excellent. They enjoyed conversing with one another, and for two hours spoke in a pleasant atmosphere, despite the historical shadow of the Holocaust and World War II. This, of course, was one of the topics they discussed. The fact that Adenauer had not been appreciated by the Nazis (who had deposed him from his post as mayor of Cologne in 1933) was certainly known by the Israeli side, and made both the decision to hold the meeting and the dialogue with Ben Gurion easier.

During the conversation, the two men discussed various topics, such as monetary support for Israel, the provision of arms to the IDF, problems of integrating new immigrants into Israel, the kibbutz movement, and the political situation in the world overall. The positive conversation led to an agreement on financial support for Israel for many years, and ultimately, also to the establishment of diplomatic relations five years later. Upon Ben Gurion’s return to Israel, fierce opposition awaited him from the political right, which viewed any official contact with German representatives as a betrayal of the victims of the Holocaust. In 1965, when the two countries exchanged ambassadors, Adenauer and Ben Gurion were no longer in office as heads of state, but they continued their written correspondence. In 1966, Adenauer came to Israel on a private visit, during which he met with Ben Gurion at Sde Boker. A year later, Ben Gurion traveled to Germany for a state ceremony in honor of Adenauer, who had died at age 91. The first prime minister of the State of Israel thus paid his final respects to the first chancellor of Germany.

The Israeli press intensively followed the meeting between the two leaders in 1960, as well as the topic of relations between the two countries. The newspapers published articles, photographs and also caricatures. One of the leading caricaturists was Kariel Gardosh, known to most Israelis as “Dosh” (1921-2000). His caricatures accompanied Israeli politics and society for many years, mainly in Maariv, but also in published collections of his work. Clearly, the developing political ties between Israel and Germany became a topic of Dosh’s caricatures, such as the cartoon he illustrated following the meeting between Adenauer and Ben Gurion. A careful look at the picture reveals that Dosh had certain reservations regarding the meeting. Dosh himself was a Holocaust survivor, and he lost most of his family members, who were murdered in Hungary. The two characters in the illustration – the Jewish survivor and the former (?) Nazi – seem each in his own way to fail to understand how times have changed.

Source: Dosh Archive, Archives Department, ARC. 4* 1793 07 21

Postcard from Curt David Wormann to Felix Weltsch, 1955

Who was Curt Wormann? What was he doing in Germany just ten years after the end of the war? And who was Felix Weltsch?

When Curt Wormann wrote this postcard in Berlin to Felix Weltsch in Jerusalem, it was not simply an inquiry from one man to his colleague. Actually, the director of an important institution in Israel was writing to one of his senior employees – from Germany. Who was Curt Wormann? What was he doing in Germany just ten years after the end of the war? And who was Felix Weltsch?

Curt David Wormann was born in Berlin in 1900, studied literature at university, joined the German Social-Democratic Party, and worked as a librarian at the public library of Berlin-Kreuzberg, of which he was also the director until 1933. In the spring of that same year, Wormann received a letter of termination from the municipal services in Berlin, which had begun within a short time to operate according to Nazi directives. Wormann, as it turned out, was fired for two reasons: he was Jewish, and he was a Social-Democrat. A year later, he moved to Israel, and in 1937, he was again working as a librarian, this time at the Tel Aviv municipal library, under the directorship of Heinrich Loewe. But this was not the final stop in Curt Wormann’s career. In 1947 he received his last appointment – as the head librarian of the National and University Library in Jerusalem (now the National Library). He began his work in this institution under less than simple circumstances that grew more complex with the partitioning of Jerusalem in 1948, when the library building was on Mount Scopus, cut off from the western part of the city. And indeed, thanks to Wormann, the library survived, grew over the years in terms of both the number of holdings and the staff, and even received a new building at the recently established campus of the Hebrew University in Givat Ram. The building, inaugurated in 1960, is used by the National Library to this day. In parallel to his work as head librarian, Wormann also established and headed the School of Library and Archive Studies at the Hebrew University.

Felix Weltsch, Martin Buber and Curt Wormann

Felix Weltsch, to whom the postcard is addressed, was born in Prague in 1887. In his city of birth he studied law and philosophy and received doctorates in both disciplines. Already in 1910 he was working as a librarian at the German University in Prague. He was acquainted with Franz Kafka from his legal studies. The great author was one of Weltsch’s closest friends. Together with Max Brod and the sightless author Oskar Baum, they were the famous “Prague circle,” active in the fields of literature and philosophy. From 1919 and until his last days in the spring of 1939, Felix Weltsch was also the chief editor of the Zionist newspaper published in Bohemia, Selbstwehr (“self-defense”). With the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Felix Weltsch fled to Palestine/Eretz Israel with his family and with Max Brod, where he took up residence in Jerusalem, and shortly thereafter, joined the staff of the National and University Library. Due to his vast experience as a librarian, Weltsch was made responsible for the library’s classification system, and even taught at the School of Library Studies. At the same time, he wrote articles in philosophy and literature, including on Franz Kafka and his works. Weltsch wrote mainly in German, but his writings have been translated into Hebrew and other languages.

In the postcard to Weltsch, Curt Wormann writes about the meetings he had in Germany, for example with the publisher Peter Suhrkamp, with his colleague Lambert Schneider, and also with Hans Wilhelm Eppelsheimer, the first director of the National Library (Deutschen Bibliothek) of West Germany, located in Frankfurt. At one point, Wormann even visited the National Library in East Berlin, formerly the National Library of Prussia. It is reasonable to assume that Wormann knew the librarians from before when he worked in Berlin. It is also known that Wormann went to great lengths to save Jewish books confiscated by the Nazis. It is therefore likely that these were the reasons that brought the director of the library in Jerusalem to Communist East Germany in 1955, during a period when there were no official ties between the State of Israel and East Germany.

The choice of the German language for writing the postcard is not surprising: it was the mother tongue of both Wormann and Weltsch, and the two felt comfortable in it. Only the address is written in Hebrew, in order to make things easier for the employees of the Israeli postal system.