Introduction
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Introduction Jay Howard Geller and Leslie Morris The title of this collected volume of essays, Three-­ Way Street: Jews, Germans, and the Transnational, pays homage to Walter Benjamin, the emblematic German Jew “on the move.” Benjamin’s work, which throughout expresses the urgency of collecting the fragments and pieces of the past as they are about to recede and insists on the necessity of reading history as a collection of fragments , as part of a constellation rather than a chronology of events, underlies this volume of essays on Germans, Jews, and the transnational. In his collection of aphorisms, One-­Way Street (published in 1928), Benjamin writes: “The power of a country road when one is walking along it is different from the power it has when one is flying over it by airplane. [ . . . ] Only he who walks the road on foot learns the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes , clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front.”1 Benjamin used the country road as metaphor for the task of reading history, enjoining the “walker,” like the reader of the text of historical and cultural experience, to notice the details “at each of its turns.” The volume that follows seeks to enact precisely Benjamin’s strategy for excavating the texts of history. By presenting the interaction of Jews and Germans not as a strictly bilateral relationship between German Jews and non-­ Jewish Germans but rather as a constellation of ties that complicate and transcend the concept of the nation, this volume aims to reinvigorate the debates about transnationalism and German-­ Jewish culture and history. To be sure, Jewish history has long acknowledged that Jews have always been a transnational group. As scholars have increasingly turned their attention to the ways in which migration and mobility are formative categories for understanding the emergence of national and ethnic identities, it would seem that German-­ Jewish culture presents a fascinating test case for thinking about 2    Three-Way Street the movement of Jews to, from, and through Germany. And it also must be acknowledged that there are different histories contained within the notion of German Jewish history: the immigration to Germany in the prewar period by Ostjuden and the complex set of relations among immigrants, established German Jewry, and non-­ Jewish Germans, and the more recent influx of former Russian Jews into the Jewish community in Germany. Although scholarship on German Jewish culture has certainly challenged the paradigm of the single state, there still persists, to a certain degree, a notion of the fixed place of Germany and Austria (pre-­and post-­ 1918). The debates about the utility of a transnational perspective have evolved over the past decade among German historians, with established scholars of German National Socialism such as Konrad Jarausch, on the one hand, deeply dismissive of what he sees as a “trendy” approach; conversely, the German historians Michael Geyer and Young-­ Sun Hong have contributed important insights into the usefulness of thinking of German history in a transnational context.2 In her piece entitled “The Challenge of Transnational History,”Young-­Sun Hong articulates a clear set of questions that elucidates the scope and importance of transnational history : “. . . transnational history involves deconstructing—­ from a potentially infinite number of perspectives—­ the nation-­ state as one of the fundamental categories through which Western modernity is narrated and doing so by showing how the national intersects with or is imbricated in sub-­and supra-­ national phenomena whose repression or forgetting first makes possible the political and cultural construction of the nation.”3 While the very question of the place of Germany within German historiography is central to the debates about the transnational among German historians, the primacy of the Jewish “homeland” is at the center of debates about the meaning of the transnational within Jewish history.4 Rebecca Kobrin has made an important contribution in the field of transnational Jewish history in her insistence on displacing the very homeland/diaspora model in which diasporic Jewish history has been understood, to think instead of the multiple displacements of Jews from the lived places of multiple diasporic “homelands” and not as a dispersal from the Jewish “homeland.” Kobrin’s model of transnational Jewish history thus depends on a transnational network of multiple dispersals and migrations, forever displacing the notion of a fixed place of origin; it also exemplifies the so-­ called regional...



Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Germany -- History.
  • Germany -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Jews, German -- Foreign countries.
  • Jews, German, in literature.
  • Germany -- Civilization -- Jewish influences.
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