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2 Childhood in Wuerzburg a dubious paradise Although Yehuda Amichai’s hometown of Wuerzburg is masked by generalizations or anonymity in his poetry, its sites, sounds, and people remained in the poet’s consciousness. An autobiographical novel, a few radio skits, short stories , and a long epic poem recall Wuerzburg, and while they distort the city, they are a testament to the writer’s attachment to it. The following pages attempt to reconstruct Wuerzburg in the mid-1920s and 1930s and the early life of Amichai, its native son. Only a full knowledge of Amichai’s childhood world can illuminate the hidden corners of his poetic work and thus demonstrate how much of this rich background he suppressed. In this narrative of the poet’s first twelve years, from 1924 to 1936, he is referred to by his German name, Ludwig, because this name is bound up with the formation of his personality, the German language , and his geographical and traditional roots.1 In 1924, Wuerzburg, situated in the wide valley of the Main River, looked like a storybook illustration, with its ornate Catholic churches, narrow alleys, and ancient squares, monuments, and statues. The surrounding hills were covered with vineyards, and on their ridges one could see the onion-shaped spires of the Kaepele church, a destination for Christian pilgrimages.2 Bridges lined with images of saints connected the dense center of town with its older section on the slope. The castle stood on top of a hill, crowning the cityscape of timber-framed houses and cobblestone streets (see images 1 and 2).3 At that time, Wuerzburg was a town of ninety thousand people, the capital of the Lower Franconia district of Bavaria, and the center of an area famous for producing wine.4 It had its own university, which, like many of its buildings, dated back to the Middle Ages. The ruling prince-bishops commissioned Wuerzburg’s famous baroque-rococo palace and gardens between 1719 and 1744. Their palace, the Residenz,5 was located in the heart of the town, surrounded by the Hofgarten, with its manicured French- and English-style gardens .6 These gardens embodied the baroque ideal of nature tamed to create a paradise, featuring shepherds in a pastoral landscape and sculpted angels. At the time of Amichai’s birth, Wuerzburg was the home of a venerable Jewish community of 2,600.7 Fragments of a thousand tombstones, some inscribed with biblical and talmudic quotations, testify to the size and the learnedness of the town’s medieval Jewish population.8 But it was not until the nineteenth century that a new, vigorous community, with all its vital institutions , started to flourish.9 This growth was due, in part, to the fact that Jews were finally officially permitted to live in Wuerzburg itself and were not relegated to the outskirts of the town.10 Even as late as the 1920s, however, many Jewish cattle merchants were forced to live in the small surrounding villages.11 In 1834, the decision to build a synagogue was approved, and the legendary Rabbi Seligmann Baer Bamberger was elected to the rabbinate in 1839. Under his leadership, a Jewish elementary school was established in 1856 and, eight years later, a teacher’s institute (ILBA) was founded.12 It was the only Jewish teachers college in Germany; it survived until 1938. By World War I, Jews seemed to be almost completely accepted by other Germans . In his sermons, Nathan Bamberger, who was the rabbi in that period, encouraged financial contributions to the war effort. Four hundred Jews from Wuerzburg fought, and forty were killed.13 Rabbi Zigmund Hanover, who succeeded Rabbi Bamberger in 1919, said nostalgically, “In the glorious days of 1914, the entire nation was united.”14 After Germany’s defeat, however, many argued that the Jews had not contributed enough, and the rising antisemitism shattered the Jews’ illusion of belonging. The Jewish community published statistics of Jewish soldiers in 1917,15 but this attempt to counteract the accusations of inadequate patriotism failed. Antisemitism continued to fester, especially among embittered war veterans. Rabbi Hanover, who had been a chaplain in the army, tried to create a dialogue between Jews and Christians, and was even friendly with the Wuerzburgian bishop. He also promoted unity among different Jewish factions.16 Wuerzburg’s congregation worshipped in one synagogue, which served the needs of both Orthodox and Liberal (less observant) Jews. It stood at the heart of the building complex that was the symbol of...


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