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.

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

First Auschwitz Trial in Germany, 1963-1965

In keeping with the legal interpretation accepted at the time in Germany, there was a statue of limitations on every act of Nazis against Jews and against people with anti-Nazi views, with the exception of murder. Through these documents, it was possible to connect concrete murder cases with concrete people, enabling a legal investigation against the perpetrators.

​Near the small town of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) in Poland, beginning in 1940, the SS established a giant concentration camp, and next to it, an extermination camp as well: Auschwitz-Birkenau. At this camp, the Nazis developed a method of mass extermination in gas chambers, which operated with a merciless industrial efficiency. It is estimated that over one million people were murdered in this camp or died from extreme forced labor while it was in operation. Over 8,000 SS personnel served in Auschwitz, and collaborated in the collective murder that took place over almost five years, until the day the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945. This is the date that was established as a memorial day for Holocaust victims in Germany in 1996 (prior to this there was no such day), and in 2005 – 60 years after the liberation, January 27 became International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

​Over 8,000 SS personnel operated in this largest of concentration camps: this group should have been at the focus of attention of litigators and of the courts after WWII. As long as Germany was not a sovereign country, that is, until 1949, the legal institutions of the Allies tried to bring criminals who took part in the planning and execution of the extermination to trial. These efforts yielded the Nuremberg Trials immediately after the end of the war.

The first commander of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, was sentenced to death by a Polish court in 1947 and hung on the grounds of the Auschwitz Camp that year. Until then he had been one of the only chief responsible SS officers in Auschwitz to be brought before a court.

After the establishment of the two German states, the legal processing of Holocaust crimes was not at the center of attention of the legal authorities or the public in general. The ideology in East Germany dictated that according to the definition of the state as anti-Fascist by nature, there was no need to take responsibility for the deeds of the Nazis, since they were concentrated in the western part of Germany. In West Germany, some members of the legal and economic elite returned to their former posts and saw to it that Holocaust-related topics and inhumane behavior would not be raised for public discussion. For the most part, the citizens of both states accepted this approach without protest.

Beyond this, most of the civilians were busy with reconstructing the devastated country, and dealing with everyday life. Here and there, isolated trials were held against leading Nazis and SS officers, but until the 1950s, most of the public believed that a line had to be drawn at the end of the Nazi period, and that everything in the previous period should be let lie. However, not everyone was of this opinion. Among those opposed to the prevailing attitude were a number of lawyers in the city of Frankfurt, mainly in the Office of the Hessen District Attorney, Fritz Bauer (1903-1968).

A catalogue of an exhibition about the Hessen District Attorney, Fritz Bauer, 2014

In 1959, a former Auschwitz inmate submitted a complaint against one of the SS officers in the camp, a man named Wilhelm Boger. The former inmate identified Boger on the streets of Stuttgart. At the same time, a Frankfurt journalist submitted documents to the District Attorney in the state of Hessen. These documents contained reports of the deeds of Nazis in Auschwitz and mentioned the names of Nazis who murdered prisoners and even the names of their victims.

In keeping with the legal interpretation accepted at the time in Germany, there was a statue of limitations on every act of Nazis against Jews and against people with anti-Nazi views, with the exception of murder. Through these documents, it was possible to connect concrete murder cases with concrete people, enabling a legal investigation against the perpetrators.

The General Prosecutor, Fritz Bauer, who was of Jewish origin but did not define himself as a man of faith (he was a member of the Social-Democratic Party), pushed the investigations forward and transferred them to young prosecutors who were not tainted with Nazi ideology. For four years, these prosecutors collected documents, evidence and testimony, and even relied on collaboration with the International Auschwitz Committee (an organization of former camp inmates), mainly with then chairman of the organization, Hermann Langbein. During the investigation, the prosecutors identified 20 criminals who had operated in Auschwitz, among them, the last commander of the camp, Richard Baer, and the assistant commander, Robert Mulka. Baer died during his imprisonment, such that ultimately, 19 people were brought to trial. During the case, 360 witnesses from different countries took to the witness stand, and trips were even conducted to the site of the camp in Auschwitz, in order to carry out on-site verification of the claims of the accused and the witnesses. The trial went on from 1963 to 1965, and attracted the attention of the media and the public in Germany and elsewhere. Punishments were meted out for 17 defendants, six of whom were given life sentences, and 11 more who were sentenced to 14-year prison terms.

Following the trial, additional follow-up trials were held, all against a smaller number of defendants. In total, in all of the Auschwitz trials in Germany, only 60 defendants were stood trial: 60 out of 8,000. In contrast, in Poland, the number brought to trial exceeded 600.

And yet, in total, no more than 10% of the camp guards in Auschwitz were forced to appear before the court. This number illustrates that the topic was not sufficiently confronted, certainly not in Germany. At the same time, the Auschwitz trials were not a complete failure. Through the testimonies and reports in the German media, many dealt for the first time with the bitter reality of the period of the Third Reich, and did so from the perspective of the Nazi victims. Together with the discussions of cases of anti-Semitism (such as the desecration of the Cologne Synagogue in 1959) and the Eichmann Trial, the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials were a landmark in public grappling with Germany’s past and its ethical obligation towards the victims.

One of the examples of existing interest in the topic, an interest that continues to grow, is the large number of books published beginning in 1965 that deal with various aspects of the Auschwitz Trials. Among these books are analyses of the testimonies and the fate of those criminals who were pursued, materials documenting the trials, publication of sources and also a comprehensive catalogue on the character of Fritz Bauer.

Documentation for the Auschwitz trial, by Hermann Langbein, 1965
The first part of the publication of important sources for the Auschwitz trial, 2013
A monograph in English about the first Auschwitz trial, 2010

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.