The German Martin and the Jewish Mordechai: When Buber and Heidegger Met in 1957

Hidden away in the Mordechai "Martin" Buber’s archives is a series of photographs in an envelope, labeled: “unidentified.” Why was the evidence of a friendly meeting between Buber and Martin Heidegger downplayed?

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.

Marin Heidegger to the right of Martin Buber, 1957. The Martin Buber Archive in the National Library of Israel

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.

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.

Martin Buber, 1946

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.

A personal dedication by Heidegger in his book about Hebel:

“To Martin Buber, with honest admiration, Martin Heidegger, Altreuthe, 29th May, 1957”




Into the Depths of Evil: How the Nazis “Recruited” the Talmud for Anti-Semitic Propaganda

It was the Talmud, more than any other book, which the Nazis used as conclusive proof of Jewish inferiority and the racial danger posed by the Jewish people.

The burning of books in Berlin, 1933. Source: Bundesarchiv, Germany

In the previous article, we discussed religiously motivated Christian attacks on the Talmud. As we saw, the Talmud was identified with the refutations and lies the Jews (allegedly) spread against Jesus, and Christianity in general.

The Nazis too did not remain neutral regarding the Talmudic period. They did so with racist motives. The Nazi party took power in 1933 at a time of an increasingly anti-Semitic atmosphere in Germany due, amongst other reasons, to their defeat in the First World War.

The anti-Semitic publications were not long in coming.

One of the harshest anti-Talmudic publications of this period is a booklet of caricatures published by the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Hammer named “The Jewish Appearance“. The artist Karl Relnik drew 35 clearly anti-Semitic illustrations and connected them all to words from the Talmud. On each picture is a quote from the Talmud, but the editor “forgot” to state the exact source of each quote, making it impossible to check its accuracy. Some of the pictures also have explanatory sentences from the writings of August Rohling (see the previous article) and others.

 

 

Der Judenspiegel, Leipzig 1926

 

One of the prominent figures in Nazi Germany was Julius Streicher, editor of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Many Nazi intellectuals published venomous and detailed attacks on Judaism and its literature in that newspaper, primarily against the Talmud. During his trial in the Nuremburg Trials, Streicher admitted that he had read the Talmud at great depth and considers himself a leading expert in Jewish works, mainly the Talmud.

However, the highest-ranking Nazi to write about the Talmud was undoubtedly Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi movement’s chief ideologist and later the one responsible for the occupied territory in Eastern Europe. Rosenberg claimed self-righteously that, “When we attack the Jews, we are not doing so out of disregard of freedom of thought, as they claim, but to attack a legal viewpoint which completely contradicts that of all countries.”

He claims that the more moral thinking is entrenched in a nation, there is less need for instructions and orders about behavior. The fact that Jews have so many commandments and that Jewish law delves into the most minute details of Jewish life, proves their lack of moral understanding. Therefore, the Jews only adhere to and emphasize control of technical instructions.

In a booklet which he published, Unmoral im Talmud (“Lack of Morality in the Talmud”) in 1920 and again in the 1930’s, Rosenberg quotes a selection of sayings from the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law), which ostensibly attest to the Jewish people’s moral inferiority. He begins with an introduction which describes the significance Jews attach to the Talmud, and says that approximately two thirds of the Jewish people still adhere to it 2000 years later.

Rosenberg contends that the opinions of Jews who are seemingly unaffiliated with the Talmud is also impacted by what is written in the Talmud, as its content is ingrained in the Jewish people. The Jews have double moral standards, and act among themselves with different moral standards than those they display toward gentiles. Rosenberg’s book is divided into six chapters: Jewish dialectics, love and marriage, law and justice, about service, Jesus and non-Jews and the Shulchan Aruch. Each chapter begins with a short explanatory foreword, followed by a list of relevant quotes.

 

Unmoral im Talmud, München 1933

 

One of Rosenberg’s senior staff members was Dr. Johann Pohl, who was responsible for the looting of many of the Jewish libraries in Eastern Europe. Pohl studied Catholic theology and wrote two doctorial works, one on the prophet Ezekiel and the other on the Jewish family during the period of the prophets. He visited the Land of Israel and studied Bible and Hebrew at the Hebrew University. He even published articles about the archeology of the Land of Israel. He later became a librarian in the field of Judaism and advanced to the important role of managing the library of the Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question in Frankfurt. He wrote articles on the topics of Judaism, Zionism and Talmud, and even an article about the libraries in the Land of Israel in the Germany librarianship journal Zentralblatt fur Bibliothekswesen. Interestingly, in that article he refers to the Jewish National and University Library (today’s National Library of Israel) and its collections. He mentions its founder, Dr. Joseph Chasanowich; the library’s director, Dr. Hugo Bergman; and other important figures such as Gershom Scholem and Avraham Schwadron.

Pohl also wrote two books about the Jewish Talmud – a booklet named Die Religion Des Talmud and a longer book named Talmud Geist. In this book, Pohl explains the structure of the Talmud and each Jew’s obligation to fulfill what is written in it, including Jews who do not define themselves as religious. The book is replete with quotations emphasizing the Jewish hatred of gentiles and the belief that Jews are the chosen people. It is interesting to note that the book’s cover picture was from a censored edition of Maimonides’s Hilchot Avodah Zara [Laws of Idolatry].

 

Talmudgeist, Berlin 1941

 

Karl Georg Kuhn, one of the foremost experts on Judaism in Nazi Germany, presented a different approach to the Talmud. He studied Protestant theology, Semitic languages and New Testament Studies in the Jewish Theological Seminar and in Tübingen University. He was appointed as a lecturer there years later and taught courses on Talmud, Zionism, the Jewish question and Judaism’s attitude toward Christianity in the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch. In contrast with previous attackers of the Talmud, he avoided provocative words of hatred and even wrote critically about those who did. He focused on the Talmud as scientific research. He did not use the writings of Eisenmenger, Rohling and their ilk, but based his writing on more academic and neutral sources.

Kuhn’s attacks on the Talmud were much more complex and scholarly than those of his predecessors. Instead of attacking the books’ content, Kuhn attacked the entire structure of the Talmud. He saw the Talmud as a legal, spiritually empty text, which embodies the entire spirit of Judaism and the Torah as a collection of different narratives. He dated Judaism itself to the period of Ezra the scribe, who he claimed to be the one to link the Torah to the Jewish religion as a Godly work. He directed his in-depth attacks toward rabbinical Judaism and its form of thinking. He published his thoughts on this matter in three long articles in the journal of the Institute for the History of New Germany, Forschungen zur Judenfrage, and later in a booklet which he published in 1939.

The Quote That Never Was

The same quotes repeat themselves over and over again in the various publications. One of the most “condemning” quotes, which appears in articles and books over the past 120 years, is from a non-existent source.

This popular source is “Libbre David 37”. There, according to the common quote, is written that “If a Jew should wish to explain some of the Rabbinic literature, he must only provide a false explanation. One who transgresses this commandment will be put to death. Providing information about our attitude toward the gentile religion would be equivalent to killing all the Jews, for if the gentiles would know what we teach about them, they would kill us.”

There is no source named “Libbre David” in any Talmudic tractate or any other Jewish book.

It could be referring to the Book of Psalms, as “liber” is book in Latin and most of the psalms are attributed to King David, but there is still no text there matching this “quotation”. Psalm 37 tells of the fall of enemies of the Jews, but does not make any mention of keeping the secrets of Judaism and the danger in revealing them. There are those who claimed it to be a spelling mistake and as referring to the book “Divrei David”. It is indeed written in this way in the introduction to Alfred Rosenberg’s book, where he quotes it. There are several books named “Divrei David”. The first published (Lublin, 1671), was the book of Rabbi David Lida. Interestingly, one of Rabbi David Lida’s acquaintances was none other than Eisenmenger (a Christian philosopher we discussed in the previous article), who claimed at the time to be interested in Judaism in order to convert. I went through the entire book and did not find any connection to the quotation under discussion. The theologist and orientalist Hermann Strack wrote that he went through three different books named Divrei David and did not find any mention of the quoted words of hatred. Theodor Fritsch, in his book Beweis-Material gegen Jahwe, and Joseph Bloch, in his book Israel und die Völker , attribute the “Libbre David” to two vague sources.

A search for the words “Libbre David 37” in an online search engine will yield thousands of results from different forums, Neo-Nazi websites and radical religious websites. All provide the same quote, but none of them explain what the book Libbre David is.

Anti-Semitic publications do no have to be accurate.

Many books and articles were written against the Jewish Talmud over the past hundred years. In this article (and the previous article) we only discussed some of the most influential of them. All the books mentioned are found on the shelves of the National Library, not far from the thousands of different editions of the Talmud itself.

 




The Partisan Poet Rescued from the Woods of Lithuania

The life of Avraham Sutzkever, the foremost Yiddish poet in Israel, spanned almost the entire tumultuous revolution-and-war-filled 20th century.

Avraham Sutzkever

Avraham Sutzkever, the sensitive poet, personally experienced both the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel in all their intensity. He was an expert at summarizing emotions, feelings and thoughts and distilling them into short lines of poetry. He did all this in his own language, his mother tongue and that of his ancestors in Lithuania – Yiddish.

By the start of the Second World War, Avraham Sutzkever was already a published and well-known poet, one of the youngest, sharpest and most promising in the developing literary center of Vilna. During the war, Sutzkever walked along the path of suffering with the Jews of Vilna and witnessed the arrests and the executions, the deportations to the ghettos and the massacres at Paneriai. He continued to write throughout the daily struggle for survival, and took part in the ghetto theatre. Most of his time was spent documenting the life of Jews, Jewish culture and the crimes the Nazis committed against them. Sutzkever and his friends collected every note, every book and every scrap of testimony, hiding or smuggling them out of the ghetto. The poet joined the underground movement in the ghetto and wrote about the terrible things he experienced and witnessed: about his mother who was murdered in Paneriai; his baby who was born and murdered in the ghetto hospital.

Am I the last poet left singing in Europe?

Am I making song now for corpses and crows?

I’m drowning in fire, in gunk, in the swamps,

Imprisoned by yellow patched hours as they close.”

 

(From “Song of a Jewish Poet in 1943”. The Vilna Ghetto. Translated by A.Z. Foreman)

In September 1943, a few short days before the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto, when Sutzkever was exhausted and despondent, his wife Freydke persuaded him to escape from the ghetto and join the partisans. Freydke, Sutzkever and his close friend Shmerke Kaczerginski walked a hundred kilometers together with the partisans, skirting non-Jewish villages and the German army, until they reached the Lake Naroch region and joined the partisan camp “Nekoma” [Revenge].

Sutzkever, the partisan poet, holding a sub-machine gun

While he fought with the partisans, the poem “Kol Nidrei” which Sutzkever had written while still in the ghetto reached Russia. The poem related the tale of the aktions of Yom Kippur 5732 [1941], in which almost 4000 Jews from the Vilna Ghetto were taken to Paneriai. The poem was translated into Russian and read out in 1944 in the Central House of Writers in Moscow. It made a huge impression. The audience was astounded by the power of Sutzkever’s words, which revealed the horrors of the Final Solution.

A public appeal to save him led to an official command from the Soviet authorities to bring the partisan poet to Moscow.

The first airplane the Soviets sent to the forests to rescue the poet crashed, and the fragments of its tin wings were made into a suitcase for Sutzkever, in which he stored all his poems and the war testimony he had in his possession. A second airplane sent in March 1944 landed successfully on the frozen lake. It was a two-seater airplane, Sutzkever boarded it and sat in the front seat with his wife Freydka strapped onto his knees while two wounded partisans crammed into the back. He did not forget the suitcase. The airplane managed to take off  and reach the Russian side safely, barely evading German anti-aircraft fire on the way.

Avraham Sutzkever’s tin suitcase

The Sutzkever family reached Moscow that month, where they were welcomed by Stalin’s men. The poet opened the suitcase in their presence and showed them the testimony it contained. An enormous gathering attended by thousands of people was held in Moscow in his honor, where he was received as a national hero.

Sutzkever’s story about the Vilna Ghetto and the Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis was published in ‘Pravda’, and read by tens of millions of people across the Soviet Union. He received letters from throughout the Soviet Union, and traveled to collect testimonies from survivors of the occupied territories liberated by the Russians. Sutzkever’s story was so well-known and he was so renowned that he was chosen in 1946 by the Russian authorities as the only Jew to appear in the Nuremberg Trials, as a witness from the Soviet delegation. Millions of Jews in the USSR revered him for testifying about the destruction of the Jewish people before the Nazis.

The First Jewish Witness

“At the court in Nuremburg. Quarter to twelve in the afternoon. Wednesday, February 27, 1946:

“The Soviet prosecutor and my investigator spoke to me beforehand about the great responsibility of my testimony in the courtroom. ‘You are the first Jewish witness. You must speak on behalf of millions who were murdered. You must tell the world how German fascism slaughtered your brothers.’

I felt this great responsibility with every cell of my cconsciousness. I did not sleep a wink during the two nights before my appearance. I saw my mother in front of my eyes, running naked through a snowy field – and the hot blood dripping from where the bullet pierced her heart began to flow into my room and encircle me like a ring. (…) I twice refused the marshal’s request to sit down as was customary, and I spoke while standing, as if reciting Kaddish for the dead. I only spoke about Vilna. About what I myself saw and experienced.”

(From “Charuzim Shachorim” [Black Poetry], published in Hebrew in 2015 by Hakibbutz Hameuchad. Translated into English from the Hebrew translation of Benny Mor)

Here is a recorded excerpt from the testimony:

The Last of the Yiddish Poets in Moscow

In Moscow, Sutzkever made the acquaintance of the Yiddish poets and authors he admired, those he had been dreaming of meeting since his days as a young poet in Vilna. The post Second World War period marked the height of their glory, and they were treated affably by the Soviet authorities.

Yiddish authors in Moscow after the Second World War. From right to left: Unknown, Chaim Grade, Aron Kushnirov, David Bergelson, Ben Zion Goldberg, Itzik Feffer, Shmuel Halkin, Peretz Markish. Standing, first on the left: Avraham Sutzkever. (Kushnirov, Bergelson, Fefffer and Markish were murdered on Stalin’s orders)

Sutzkever, unlike the other Jewish poets, felt the ground burning under his feet and understood that the USSR was also no safe place for the Jews.

We can assume that had Sutzkever stayed in Russia, he would have been arrested, interrogated and executed together with Peretz Markish, Itzik Feffer, David Bergelson and many other Jewish authors who were murdered in 1952 on Stalin’s orders.

When he left the Soviet Union, the poet took all his notes and papers with him, including all the testimony he had gathered.

The archive of the Vilna Ghetto, the testimonies he recorded from survivors after the war, the poems and diaries he wrote and the suitcase. He brought them all with him when he immigrated to Israel in 1947. Years later, he deposited them in the National Library for safekeeping.

Avraham Sutzkever continued to write in Israel for many years. The man who feared he would be the last poet in Europe received the Israel Prize and became the foremost Yiddish poet in Israel. He died in 2010.

 

Sutzkever in his study in Israel. Photograph: Henrik Broder – 1992

Thanks to Dr. Gil Weissblei from the Archives Department of the National Library for helping with the research for this post. The materials and photographs are from the Avraham Sutzkever Archive in the National Library.

If you liked this article, try these:

“Burn them, as my world and everything I loved burned in Auschwitz’s crematorium”

The Bullet Retrieved from a Famous Jewish Playwright in the Krakow Ghetto

A Shattered Childhood: Memories of Kristallnacht




“At the Source”: Sharing knowledge to protect Jewish heritage in Europe

Archivists and librarians from the Balkans convened for a special training course at the NLI.

At The Source Participants. Photo: Refael Wachnish

At the Source is a training course for European librarians and archivists who work with Jewish collections.  In addition to learning important professional skills, At the Source participants form strategic connections with National Library colleagues and with each other that will support them through their careers as the custodians of significant, and sometimes endangered, Jewish archives and libraries throughout Europe.

This regional At the Source course was especially developed by NLI and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People to address the needs of representatives from 16 Balkan institutions – Jewish museums and community and state archives – from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia.  The course gave participants hands-on experience working with materials that reflect the context of their own collections.  The first stage of the training was held in Belgrade in October 2017, and was followed by a week at the NLI in Jerusalem in January 2018.

Laila Sprajc from the Jewish community of Zagreb with Dr. Stefan Litt of the NLI Archives Department. Photo: Caron Sethill

The course, delivered by staff across all NLI departments, was very well received and has helped position the NLI as a beacon of excellence and knowledge for archivists and librarians working with Jewish heritage in Europe. Below is a taste of some of the feedback from participants:

It was wonderful to meet people with a shared passion for Jewish culture – this is the beginning of many connections.

I was very grateful to hear from people doing the same work as I do – I feel less alone. The individual sessions were very productive.

Exceptional lectures and mentoring – you have made my job so much easier. I now know who to talk to and go to for help.

My mentor has already sent me materials and step-by-step guidance.

And we wish to spotlight one particular participant: Dr. Janez Premk, Director of the Research and Documentation Center for the Jewish Archive of Slovenia.

Dr. Janez Premk with Dr. Ezra Chwat of the Archives Department. Photo: Caron Sethill

The Jewish population of modern-day Slovenia is tiny, with around 150 registered community members nationwide, in a country of just over 2 million citizens.  And Janez Premk has taken it upon himself to almost single-handedly document the long history of the Jews in his country.

Janez’s recent participation in the National Library of Israel’s At the Source training program for archivists and librarians working with Jewish heritage in Europe was “a real eye-opener.”  The program gave Janez an overview of Jewish collections and projects that exist in the Balkan region; a distinct opportunity to meet and have direct access to people who work in the field; and a connection to the National Library of Israel and various Library experts. Janez loved being in Israel in an academic setting and raves about the At the Source program and the exposure to the National Library.

 “For me there was not a single moment of wasted time in this program. I cannot imagine any other institution that would be as invested in sharing knowledge [as the National Library of Israel was]…I love the approach here.  Central Europe is more ‘old school,’ not a place to ask questions.  Here the focus is renewal, launching new initiatives. Everyone here is passionate and knowledgeable. My experience was fabulous,” Janez said after the training.

After earning a BA in Art History from the University of Ljubljana, in the capital city, Janez began working on his graduate degree, focusing on the medieval Jewish community and synagogue in Maribor, Slovenia’s second largest city. During this process, Janez was awarded an Israeli governmental scholarship to study for a semester at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. These studies were the springboard for Janez’s launch of the Research and Documentation Center – Jewish Archives of Slovenia (JAS).

Janez invested time in photocopying many documents from the Eventov Archives (the records of the Association of Immigrants from the former Yugoslavia in Israel), which only more recently began to formally catalogue their documents in an electronic database and digitize a portion of their archival materials.

At the Source is a flagship project within Gesher L’Europa, an initiative funded by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, providing opportunities for exchange and enrichment between the National Library of Israel and European scholars, library and museum professionals, and Jewish educators.