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Wolf Biermann

The Minnesinger-Prophet of Germany

Albert H. Friedlander and Evelyn Friedlander

We first met Wolf at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin in 1997, and were surprised: Biermann, the great pop star of East Germany whose protest songs had helped to destroy the ‘Wall’ was a Fellow at this institute? Slowly, we discovered the reasons. Biermann had received the Heine Prize, the Hölderlin Prize, the great Büchner Prize, the National Prize and other honours as one of the great poets of Europe; and he was at the institute to translate Shakespeare sonnets into contemporary German! We became friends, and he sang Evelyn his protest songs as we sailed under the bridges of the Spree (and sent her to Hamburg to his dentist who turned out to be Szpilman, son of the composer/ pianist of Polanski’s new film ‘The Pianist’).

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Leo Baeck

The Teacher

Albert H. Friedlander

The word ‘Rabbi’ means teacher. Yet the great Jewish teachers of the twentieth century were not always rabbis; universities were filled with outstanding Jewish figures, from Morris Raphael Cohen in the USA to Isaiah Berlin and George Steiner in Great Britain or Jean Améry in Belgium. Still, when we come to examine the great reservoir of Jewish learning which was German Jewry in the twentieth century, it is the three great disciples of Hermann Cohen who come to mind: Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and Leo Baeck.

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Vienna Is Vienna

A Book Review Essay

Albert H. Friedlander

When I travelled to Vienna in May, I carried Hella Pick’s new book in my shoulder pack. I needed it. Schizophrenia and paranoia are registered citizens there, which is only natural. After all, Freud, Jung, and Frankl found it the perfect place for their practice, even if they themselves were infected by Austria. (I think here of an incident which happened many years ago. Rabbi Dow Marmur wrote Viktor Frankl and asked him to speak in London. No reply. He phoned the great psychiatrist. ‘You spelled my first name with a c and my last name with an e,’ said the great man; ‘I will not come.’ And he hung up.) The hang-ups continue. As my taxi passed the statue of the great general, the driver turned to me and said in all seriousness: ‘We need another Prinz Eugen to save us from the Turks!’ I could not agree.

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Pius XII and the Jews

The Clash between History and Theology

Albert H. Friedlander

The debate between brothers in the field of theology is always ascerbic, with little quarter given. When this controversy moves beyond the never rarified area of academic discourse and enters the area of contemporary events, a tragic dimension moves from the periphery to the centre. Recently, Prof. de Lange published an Ignaz Maybaum Reader (N.Y. & London, 2001), in which Prof. Maybaum states the sharpest possible Jewish approach to the issues involved.

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Albert H. Friedlander

Sometimes, we must confess our inadequacies. European Judaism cannot begin to cover all the areas of European Jewish life after the Shoah. So much of what we try to achieve is the task of the remembrancers, and even our collective memories falter. We should have celebrated the centenaries of Karl Popper and Günther Anders in 2002, even if we already have critics muttering that EJ grants too much space to Germany. Of course, both of these giants of European culture can be described as ‘ex-Vienna, almost ex-Jewish’, born there in 1902. Popper’s assimilated parents had converted to Protestantism in 1900; but the Sterns were ultra-Reform.

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Albert H. Friedlander

In the Age of Globalisation, everything is new for us, and everything is old. The religions of the world are once again children who have entered a new world, this time of globalisation. We have eaten the fruit of knowledge and have been expelled from our secure Paradise. Now, we wander about, lonely and afraid in a world we never made. We had little to do with the scientific achievements which fashioned today’s world; indeed, religion often tried to restrain the advance of science. Now, we must learn to live in this brave new world; we must also learn to live with the imperfections of our religions.

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Albert H. Friedlander

Dorothee Soelle was scheduled to speak at four events at the 2003 Ecumenical Kirchentag in Berlin. Sadly, she died shortly beforehand, in the midst of a lecture. It was hard to come to terms with a conference that did not include this Socratic gadfly who challenged all her contemporaries. In my London study, I collected books written by her from the various subject shelves – sixteen books, moving across theology, philosophy, social ethics, poetry and other categories. On occasions, she permitted me to publish (and translate) some of her writings in European Judaism. At the Leo Baeck College – Centre for Jewish Education, I find some of her books indispensable for the instruction of rabbis: Suffering, The Onward Journey, Dialogues of the Night in the Church, In the House of the Man-eater, Sympathy and others. But at least the books are here, in my library. Dorothee is not here, and that is a great loss in our lives.

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Albert H. Friedlander

German TV and correspondents from the major papers thronged to this conference which dealt with one of the most difficult aspects of Holocaust history: faked biographies of Holocaust victims which put into question the genuine testimony of the survivors. Professor Julius Schoeps and his Moses Mendelssohn Centre in Potsdam near Berlin assembled a large number of scholars from the USA, Switzerland, Germany and Israel to comment on the strange case of a world wide bestseller Binjamin Wilkomirski: Fragments, which claimed to present the reconstructed memories of a child who survived the concentration camp.

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Albert H. Friedlander

Ignaz Maybaum: A Reader, edited by Nicholas de Lange, Berghahn Books 2001, 224 pp., ISBN 157181 720 4 hardback; ISBN 1 57181 720 1 paperback.

“Good News” after Auschwitz? Christian Faith within a Post-Holocaust World, edited by Carol Rittner and John K. Roth, Macon Georgia, Mercer University Press, 2001, 215 pp., $30. ISBN 0 – 86554-701-7

After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany by Michael Brenner (translated from the German by Barbara Harshav), Princeton University Press, 1997, 196 pp., cloth $24.95, £17.95. ISBN 0-691-02665-3

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Albert H. Friedlander

‘Frankfurt, the St Paul’s Church filled with guests ranging from George Weidenfeld to some of the old guard of intellectuals from the past, was a strange place’, said George Steiner. ‘The city itself, with its skyscrapers proclaiming its economic status, obscured its own memories of an old republic of letters. The fake Goethe House on the square, and the Börneplatz as a reminder of the vanished Jewish community, were depressing. In the bookshops, there were photos and the books of Adorno, Habermas, and my own work. It was all quite depressing, although the laudatio by Joschke Fischer, an unusual autodidact, showed that Germany was aware of the fact that so much of its intellectual past had gone into exile – like the truth.’