Theodor Heuss in Jerusalem

"The Germans must not forget what was done during these shameful years. […] Nobody, absolutely no one, will relieve us from that shame."

Theodor Heuss, Curt Wormann and Elazar Shena'ar heading towards the Library

Fifty years ago, on May 5, 1960, former German President, Professor Theodor Heuss, landed in Israel. Although Heuss was one of thousands of tourists who visited the country that year, his visit was classified top-secret, and his coming to Israel aroused much excitement. What was so special about Heuss that distinguished him from the other post- World War II German statesmen, and what was the secret of his charm, that caused many members of the Israeli public, who still had reservations regarding the new relationship with the “other Germany”, to receive him so warmly?

Theodor Heuss, son of an engineer, was born in 1884 in the state of Württemberg, Germany. He studied political philosophy at Munich and Berlin Universities, and already as a student became deeply involved in political activity. His unequivocal positions, as representative of the German Democratic Party, negated the policy expressed by the National-Socialist Party during the last days of the Weimar Republic. Among the political writings that Heuss published at the time, two of them are of particular note, as they were directed against Hitler. Later, these books were condemned to be burned and Heuss was publicly denounced. During the period of Nazi rule in Germany, Heuss was forbidden from participating in any political or journalistic activity, and he devoted himself to academic work, writing biographies, as well as a comprehensive history of the German of 1848. When publishing articles in the newspapers, he was always sure to use a pen name.

Heuss’s great moment as a statesman came after World War II. In 1948, after he failed in his attempts to establish a pan-German liberal party, he was elected to the position of Chairman of the Free Democratic Party. His respectable character, mild personality and broad education won him the sympathies of many people in the nascent West German Republic. As one of the formulators of the German constitution, Heuss contributed greatly to shaping the face of his country, forced to arise from the ruins and deal with its difficult past. In 1949, and again in 1954, Heuss was elected to the German presidency, and was the first president of the West German Republic. During his two periods of office, Heuess won the respect and affection of many members of the German people.

Dr. Curt David Wormann (right) presenting a manuscript to Heuss
Prof. Heuss in Martin Buber’s house

​In his great wisdom, Heuss understood that an inseparable part of the reconstruction of Germany and its reacceptance into the world of nations depended on its ability to courageously confront its Nazi past. Felix Shinar, Israel’s first ambassador to Germany, wrote in his memoirs that Heuss “expressed the idea of Germany’s inconsolable disgrace in coining the concept of the German people’s ‘collective shame’ about what happened.” In the dedication of the headstone in memory of the victims of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in 1952, Heuss said: “The Germans must not forget what was done during these shameful years. […] Nobody, absolutely no one, will relieve us from that shame.”

Heuss’s courageous attitude regarding the days of the Third Reich earned him the faith of many people, including in Israel, and helped facilitate the thawing of relations with the state, the echo of whose crimes against humanity had not yet subsided. Heuss’s personality therefore helped to bring about the recognition of a “different,” enlightened Germany, a country and culture that many Israeli citizens continued to secretly admire, wishing for the quick opening of a new page in the relations between the two peoples. It is therefore not surprising that Heuss was very warmly received by the Israeli academic elite, many of whose members were German-born. Heuss, the man of letters and culture, understood that a renewed rapprochement between the Jewish and German peoples would not arise merely from financial contracts and diplomatic ceremonies. The building blocks of the relations between Israel and Germany, he believed, would be an open and sincere exchange of view between intellectuals, artists and philosophers from both sides. His visit to Jerusalem, therefore, was one of the heights of a series of meaningful meetings and reciprocal visits, in which ideas in the realms of intellect and culture were exchanged.

Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Akiva Ernst Simon and Samuel Hugo Bergman were Heuss’s official hosts at The Hebrew University, and they delivered moving welcoming addresses at the conference held in his honor on the Givat Ram Campus, at which Heuss spoke about the shaping of democracy. The next morning, the daily newspaper Maariv reported that “There are 750 seats at the Wise Auditorium at The Hebrew University. Over 1,000 people attended, and many remained outside.”

The visit to The Hebrew University brought the 76-year-old Heuss great pleasure, apparently since it was the only event during his long tour of Israel in which the Holocaust was not mentioned explicitly and no questions on the matter were posed to him. During the period when citizens of Israel were waiting for the commencement of Adolf Eichmann’s trial, just a few weeks after his arrival in Israel became public knowledge, the topic of Holocaust crimes was a sensitive and oft-discussed matter. One cannot deny that during this historic visit, among the Israeli populace there were many who vehemently criticized the warm reception that the representative of the German people, the “murderous nation” received.

H​euss, who reported carrying a small notepad with him at all times, in which he drew and expressed his impressions in brushstrokes, shortly after his visit to Israel published a book with statements he delivered in Israel, and words spoken in his honor at The Hebrew University. The text in this book was interspersed with delicate brush drawings of Israeli landscapes that made an impression on him. In August 1960, just two months after his return to Germany, he sent Martin Buber a copy of this book, with a warm dedication. During his visit to Jerusalem, Heuss had made a personal gesture to Buber, visiting him at his home on Hovevei Tzion Street.

The meeting with the heads of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also included a visit to the National Library, which was at the time a university institution. The National and University Library, as it was called then, was poised before an historic transition from its temporary residence in the Terra Santa building to the new building on the Givat Ram Campus. In photographs documenting that visit, Heuss can be seen, a plump cigar protruding from his mouth, inspecting with great interest ancient manuscripts of machzorim from Ashkenaz that were brought to him by then director of the library, Dr. Kurt Wahrman and his vice director, Dr. Yissachar Yoel, both native Germans. Heuss remembered Wahrman from the period when he had been chief librarian of the Berlin-Kreuzberg public library system, during the Weimar Republic.

This important visit, although it took place only at the end of Heuss’s tenure as president of West Germany, was, in the words of Felix Shinar, an important link in fortifying the decisive role that intellectual, scientific and cultural matters have – as eternal values – in solidifying the relations between the two nations

​Prof. Heuss giving a speech in Weiss auditoium. Left: Maritn Buber
​In the room of the Library director, Dr. Curt David Wormann (at the center): the deputy director, Dr. Issaschar Joel, Presents to Heuss a manuscript. Left: Felix Elazar Shena’ar.
​Theodor Heuss’ personal dedication for Martin Buber in his book about his visit to Israel

Photographs: Dr. Kurt Meirowitz (Photo Emka) From the Library Archive, ARC. 4* 793 06 121

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.

Letter of the Author Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel to His Friend in Germany regarding the Future German Ambassador to Israel, 1963

Among the letters preserved in his personal archive in the National Library one can find correspondences with individuals in Germany discussing the question of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries

Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel, 1963

Author Moshe Yaakov Ben-Gavriel (Eugen Hoeflic, 1891-1965), was born in Vienna. Early in his career, he was active in his home city as a writer and editor. During WWI, he served as an officer in the Austrian Army, and in this capacity, visited Jerusalem where he discovered his connection to the Land of Israel and the languages spoken here.
In 1927 he emigrated together with his wife, and the couple settled in Jerusalem. In Palestine Ben-Gavriel worked as a journalist and wrote mainly for European newspapers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, but also for Jewish and non-Jewish papers in France, England, the United States, Czechoslovakia and other countries. The outbreak of WWII significantly reduced his realms of employment, since most of the newspapers for which he wrote were closed by the Nazis or changed orientation, and articles about the Middle East by a Jewish journalist no longer had a place.

During that time, Ben-Gavriel began to write novels and short stories. Following reports of a Nazi invasion, he wrote Das Haus in der Karpfengasse, perhaps his most important book, in which he describes the fate of Jewish and non-Jewish residents of a fictional house in Prague during the first two weeks after the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

After WWII ended, Ben-Gavriel resumed working as a journalist, but he continued writing novels, stories and radio plays, almost exclusively in German.

His works were also published in Hebrew, but only as translations from the German original. Already in the 1950s Ben-Gavriel became very popular in Germany, of all places. By this time, most of his books were light and humoristic, and relayed a picture of the young Israeli society to German readers. His works gained a large readership in Germany. Due to his success, Ben-Gavriel traveled frequently to Germany and toured among diverse audiences. He read aloud from his writings, was invited to speak on the radio, and became a sought-after interviewee among German intellectuals and cultural figures. This activity and his rich correspondence are testimony to the cautious contacts between Israeli and German cultural figures during the early years after the Holocaust.

Among the letters preserved in his personal archive in the National Library one can find correspondences with individuals in Germany discussing the question of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. The letters reveal that Ben-Gavriel supported the idea in no uncertain terms.

Among other things, he exchanged views with Dr. Franz Schierholz, a cultural figure and activist in the rapprochement between the two countries in the 1950s and 60s.

The letter presented here suggests that Moshe Yaakov Ben-Gavriel was exposed to rumors regarding who would be appointed as the German ambassador and that these rumors were not to his liking. Ben-Gavriel attributes to the letter’s recipient, Franz Schierholz, the ability to exert his influence in the matter, and he tries to warn the German side against making an unsuitable choice for the sensitive job. It is not known to what extent the letter affected the ultimate outcome, but it is an interesting fact that Ben-Gavriel was so interested and involved in the topic of appointing the first German ambassador to the State of Israel.

Moshe Yaakov Ben Gavriel’s letter to Franz Schierholz

The letter (translated from the German):


Honorable Herr Doctor,

Many thanks for your letter and particularly the news regarding the likelihood of establishing diplomatic relations; of late, the matter has also been addressed in Der Spiegel. Since I know that you maintain particular ties, I would like to draw your attention to the matter in which certain dangers inhere. To the best of my knowledge, at least two journalists in Bonn – perhaps even more – are trying to secure the position of ambassador to Jerusalem, but they bear no particular advantage beyond the fact that for a number of years they have chosen Israel as a life’s profession. I believe that it is imperative to make every effort possible in order to prevent this erroneous selection, also since a few of them have close ties with Adenauer. In order to arrange the complex affairs here, what is necessary, in my opinion, is an experienced diplomat who brings with him all of the necessary tact, which a publicist cannot offer, by virtue of his profession. Since you also place a value on the proper development of ties, I would like to place this matter at your discretion and I ask, if you agree with me, to take the necessary steps on the matter. It is desirable to do so before they make their final decision. I ask you to relate to this letter as confidential and not to mention my name in this context.

[The last part of the letter has not been translated out of respect for the author’s privacy.]

All the best to you and your family,

[Moshe Yaakov Ben-Gavriel]

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.