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  • Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars by Lisa Silverman
  • Dagmar C. G. Lorenz
Lisa Silverman, Becoming Austrians: Jews and Culture between the World Wars. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. 334 pp.

Lisa Silverman’s transdisciplinary study on Jews and Jewish spaces in interwar Austria examines legal, philosophical, geographic, and literary issues. Conceptually it bridges the gap between different approaches, including Sander Gilman’s psychoanalytical approach and Marsha Rozenblit and Harriet Pass-Freidenreich’s sociological methodology as well as literary historical, culture, and discourse critical studies. Particularly enlightening is Silverman’s discussion of Austrian high cultural theater and associated festivals and Jewish stages such as the cabaret and Yiddish theater of the period. In short, Becoming Austrians is an innovative exploration of pre-Shoah Jewish Austrian identity that stands on the shoulders of the rich tradition of research devoted to Vienna as an urban and intellectual center. This is also obvious from the structure [End Page 143] of the book: The main text comprises 180 pages and the remaining 154-page apparatus consists of bibliography, index, and endnotes. The result is a transparent and user-friendly as well as erudite publication.

Instead of striving for unattainable completeness, Silverman constructs her narrative around focal areas and events that provide an entrée to the multilayered cultural imaginary and social reality of interwar Austrian Jewishness. Yet one important aspect of identity to enlighten the process of “becoming Austrians” seems missing: the issue of Jewish speech and its range and registers. This topic has recently been explored by Neil Jacobs and would have added a significant dimension to Silverman’s book. Included in the panorama of Silverman’s study are individual case studies and snapshots of social phenomena, for instance the almost imperceptible Jewishness of Catholic descendants of formerly Jewish families as distinguished from the obvious difference of newcomers. Silverman does set these groups apart while at the same time revealing their discreet commonality. The appeal of the unassimilated for non-Jews is apparent in her discussion of the Yiddish theater, as is the attraction of Catholic culture for Jews in the segments on the Salzburg Festival. Silverman argues convincingly that in becoming Austrians, the members of different Jewish-identified groups did more than simply contribute to the Austrian fabric: the fabric of Austria would not have been the same without them.

The title of Silverman’s book emphasizes the processes of cultural transformation undertaken by new immigrants to the former capital of the Habsburg Empire. At the same time it announces a focus on the individual person and particular developments rather than promising a streamlined assessment of the overall historical spectrum. Silverman discusses many of the key figures known from the research of Carl Schorske, Peter Gay, Frederick Grunfeld, Allan Janick, Steven Beller, and Ritchie Robertson, and she engages with the recent scholarship of Hillary Herzog, William Donahue, and Robert Dassanowsky. In addition to the protagonists of earlier publications on the topics of emancipation and assimilation featuring Arthur Schnitzler, Ludwig von Wittgenstein, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Hugo Bettauer, Stefan and Arnold Zweig, and Elias and Veza Canetti, Silverman also examines less prominent authors whose glamour, like that of Vicki Baum, faded over time, or who because of their gender, their chosen genre, or their linguistic affiliation were marginalized within the Viennese cultural spectrum. Some of the exiles continued their career elsewhere but were forgotten in Austria. Silverman [End Page 144] is also alert to the representation of gender, highlighting, for example, the absence of Jewish female figures in Bettauer’s Die Stadt ohne Juden. Her awareness of cultural nuances is apparent in her remarks about the Yiddish theater, which was popular with Jewish and non-Jewish audiences but held its performances in dilapidated venues. Silverman contrasts this tradition with the glamorous, Catholic-coded Salzburg Festival, which was initiated by Jewish-identified personalities such as Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Based on these examples, Silverman sketches a specifically Jewish geography of Vienna that extends into the provinces, where festivals of deliberately non-urban character were held. Thus Silverman uncovers apparent paradoxes of Austrian Jewishness, including the propensity of Austrian Jews for Austrian German and the Baroque-based Catholic culture that...


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