From Berlin to Jerusalem Critical Essays

Gershom Scholem


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The two major themes around which Scholem’s story revolve are the German question and the Jewish question. He lived in an age during which the two were closely linked; indeed, they would become even more closely and brutally linked in the two decades following the close of his book. Yet they are not really the same question.

The German question, as formulated at the time, dealt with the nature of the German Volk (people) and the nature of German patriotism. For Gerhard’s father, there was no question that he was a German citizen and that he should be totally loyal to the land of his birth. Gerhard’s two elder brothers presented variations on the same theme. The eldest, Reinhold, was so committed to Germany that he described himself as a “Deutsch-national”—a right-wing German nationalist— even after Adolf Hitler had come and gone. The second oldest, Erich, considered himself a liberal and a democrat. Like their mother, he was attracted to the literary and cultural manifestations of the German nation and desired an age in which politics would not be divisive. The third brother, Werner, who was only two years older than Gerhard, was a rebellious leftist. He toyed with Zionism but opted for Marxism, because he believed that it showed a broader approach to humanity. At one point Werner was a Reichstag (parliament) deputy for the German Communist Party. When the Nazis took over, he was arrested and was killed at Buchenwald. Gershom Scholem dedicated this book to him. Each of these three brothers, then, showed a different aspect of the question of what it meant to be a “good German.”

For Gerhard/Gershom, on the other hand, there was...

(The entire section is 681 words.)