"THE JEWS AND GERMANY: From the ""Judeo-German Symbiosis"" to the Memory of Auschwitz" by Enzo Traverso

"THE JEWS AND GERMANY: From the ""Judeo-German Symbiosis"" to the Memory of Auschwitz"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A derivative and unfocused account of ""the problems posed by Judeo-German culture as a whole"" from the Enlightenment to German reunification. Traverso, an Italian-born archivist at the Biblioth≤que de documentation internationale contemporaine in Nanterre, originally published this book in France in 1992. It is a work best described as intellectual journalism, a genre that hovers between journalism and scholarship and that is almost nonexistent in the US. Alas, in this promising case the union fails: The book is too awkwardly written to pass as good journalism and insufficiently original to pass as a serious contribution to scholarship. The author's primary intent is to refute the notion of ""Judeo-German symbiosis,"" the theory that an authentic mutual interchange took place between Germans and German Jews such as Mendelssohn, Heine, Schnitzler, and Kafka. Traverso contends that the famous symbiosis never took place, that the supposed dialogue was a Jewish monologue within German culture. Few would argue the contrary. His assertion, then, serves as a framing device for his presentation of the important literature on the topic of German Jews and German anti-Semitism. He offers short profiles of major figures (Theodor Herzl, Bernard Lazare, Rosa Luxemburg, Hannah Arendt, Joseph Roth) and discussions of important moments in the history of German anti-Semitism, including the recent Historikerstreit (quarrel of the historians), in which some conservative intellectuals argued that Nazi genocide was a response to communist barbarism and hence neither so unique nor so morally repugnant as to require continuing German shame. He also considers what German reunification has meant for the Jewish question. This volume would be a good introduction to its subject were it not for tangled prose that obscures the author's points. Traverso's book, rich in information and potentially good journalism, snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Its thesis is a paper tiger, and it relies exclusively on well-known published sources.

Pub Date: July 12th, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska