5. “I Have Been a Stranger in a Foreign Land”: The Scholem Brothers and German-Jewish Émigré Identity
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Part 2 Germany, the Portable Homeland 125 Chapter 5 “I Have Been a Stranger in a Foreign Land”: The Scholem Brothers and German-­ Jewish Émigré Identity Jay Howard Geller Moses consented to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah as wife. She bore him a son whom he named Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.” —­Exodus 2:21–­22 As German Jews dispersed around the world in the 1920s, and particularly in the 1930s, they took with them their attitudes toward the practice of the Jewish religion and their attachment to German culture. While it would be an enormous project to track the development and decline of Jewish Germanness in emigration, the example of the Scholem brothers provides an interesting case study of how some German Jews related to Germany and Germanness after having emigrated from their homeland. Additionally, while considering the Scholems, it is interesting to ponder what “Germanness” even meant to German-­ Jewish émigrés. For most of them, it was a cultural identity frozen in time. As they did not regularly engage with the post-­ 1949 Federal Republic of Germany or German Democratic Republic, they based their notions of German identity and German culture on an earlier Germany—­ one that lived on only in history books and in memories. A number of them did make multiple trips to postwar Germany for work or pleasure, and they faced the challenge of retaining or altering their views of Germany and its culture. Arthur and Betty Scholem of Berlin had four sons: Reinhold, Erich, Werner , and Gerhard (later known as Gershom). Reinhold and Erich went into their father’s printing business and had comfortable bourgeois lives in Germany. Both brothers affiliated with Liberal Judaism and were only nominally 126    Three-Way Street observant—­ effectively “three-­ day Jews.” Like their parents, their politics were essentially liberal. In contrast, Werner rejected his family’s heritage. By trade, he was a journalist, but his real vocation was politics. Even before the First World War, he affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or SPD). Later he joined the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands or KPD) and rose to become one of the party’s leaders in the 1920s. His relationship with Judaism vacillated between ambivalence and hostility. The youngest member of the family, Gershom, also rejected his family’s heritage, but in a different manner. Rather than embracing the universalism of socialism, he devoted himself to the particularism of Judaism and Zionism. Rather than entering the world of commerce , he was an intellectual, and he became one of the leading Jewish thinkers of modern times. Of the four, Werner was the only one to die at the hands of the Nazis. He was arrested shortly after the Reichstag fire, and he spent the next seven years in prisons and concentration camps. Despite repeated efforts, Werner’s family was unable to obtain his release, and he died in Germany.1 Therefore, this essay will focus on the three other Scholem brothers: Reinhold, Erich, and Gershom, who left Germany and made their permanent homes in Australia and Israel. Before examining how the Scholems related to their German identity in emigration , it is necessary to examine how they regarded Germanness and themselves as Germans while still living in Germany. Even as a teenager, Gershom Scholem rejected the idea that he had a German identity. At the age of nineteen, he wrote, “I am not a German Jew. I do not know if I ever was one, but I say this sentence with absolute certainty: I am not one.”2 Not only did he reject the very idea of German Jewish assimilation, but he also declared that he ceased to have “a German feeling” as early as 1913, when he was sixteen.3 From the start, he rejected World War I as a German war, not a Jewish war, and exhorted his fellow Jews to do the same. He wrote, “You are Orientals and not Europeans. You are Jews and people, not Germans and degenerates. Your God is named Hashem and not the belly. Therefore you should not walk along their path.”4 He managed to evade military service and could continue his university studies while his brothers and 77,000 other German Jews served at the front. Unlike the overwhelming majority of young German Jews, Gershom was active in the Zionist movement—­ a transnational movement that sought to create...



Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Germany -- History.
  • Germany -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Jews, German -- Foreign countries.
  • Jews, German, in literature.
  • Germany -- Civilization -- Jewish influences.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access