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  • "One of Hitler's Professors":Max Weinreich and Solomon Birnbaum confront Franz Beranek

In late june 1946 Max Weinreich, a cofounder and guiding spirit of the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO), received word in New York City that Franz Beranek was looking for him. From Berstadt, Germany, Beranek had inquired with an office for Jewish refugees in Geneva about the welfare of Weinreich and other YIVO workers.1 By coincidence, only a few months earlier, Weinreich had written concerning Beranek to his son Uriel (1926–67), a U.S. Army soldier in Germany who would soon establish himself as a leading linguist and Yiddish scholar of his generation. In this letter, he asked Uriel to acquire Beranek's 1941 book Die Jiddische Mundart Nordostungarns—a study of the phonology of Yiddish in Carpatho-Ruthenia, a region annexed by Hungary in 1939 after the Nazi dismantlement Czechoslovakia.2 While he needed the book, Weinreich spurned the book's author: "My demand would be to tell him that the government that paid him murdered the largest part of those people, and to try him for complicity."3

Who was Franz Beranek? As if anticipating this question, Weinreich explained that he was an Ostflüchtling, a German expelled from Czechoslovakia in the wake of the collapse of Nazi Germany. "When we knew him, he was a teacher in a German gymnasium in the Sudetenland, until 1945 was a docent in the German university in Prague. That is, he was [End Page 106] one of Hitler's professors. He worked on Yiddish dialectology, in 1939 YIVO was in the process of publishing one of his studies about Yiddish in Carpatho-Ruthenia; in 1935 he was even with us at the [YIVO] World Conference in Vilna (now I suspect that some Hitler institute sent him)."4

Figure 1. Three generations of the Birnbaum family in 1931: Solomon A. (standing, behind), Jacob (standing, front left), Nathan (sitting). Photo courtesy of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Archives, Toronto.
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Figure 1.

Three generations of the Birnbaum family in 1931: Solomon A. (standing, behind), Jacob (standing, front left), Nathan (sitting). Photo courtesy of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Archives, Toronto.

Max Weinreich (1896–1969), a native of Goldingen (Kuldiga in today's Latvia) in the Courland province of the Russian Empire, lost nearly everyone and everything of importance to him during World War II. Almost miraculously, his wife and younger son managed to join him and Uriel in New York City, but his "first born," the YIVO in Vilna, Poland, along with its personnel and much of its collections, fell victim to the Nazis and their accomplices. A refugee in 1940s New York City, he [End Page 107] channeled his turbulent emotions into feverish industry, consumed with the task of transforming YIVO's American branch into its world headquarters and adapting its academic mission to the post-Holocaust reality in North America.5

For Weinreich, the contributions of German academics to the systematic destruction of Jewish lives and culture was not only a cause of inexpressible pain but the source of a profound sense of personal betrayal. Among those who had lent their support to the Hitler regime were his mentors and colleagues at German-language universities, as well as those to whom YIVO had provided moral, intellectual, and material support. In the early months of 1946 Weinreich was putting the finishing touches on his Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes against the Jewish People. The mordant Yiddish-language manuscript, a translation of the more restrained English original he prepared for use in the Nuremberg Trials, was a radical departure from the studies of Yiddish language and the sociology and psychology of Eastern Europe Jewry with which he had earned an international reputation. Published less than a year after the war's end, it relied on Nazi publications collected by YIVO during the war and captured archival materials to indict collectively the academics of the Third Reich for their contribution in providing the intellectual foundations and legitimization for the recent genocide of European Jewry.6

That Beranek's name does not appear in the book suggests only that Weinreich did not consider him important enough a villain. Anticipating Daniel Goldhagen's controversial thesis about the uniqueness of "eliminationist antisemitism" in Germany,7 he maintained that the "burning of sixmillion [End Page 108] men, women and children" was a specifically German phenomenon for which there was little contrition among a population bearing collective guilt. The involvement of scholars lay not merely in the nature of the totalitarian state, as the German Jewish refugee scholar Leo Spitzer argued in a letter to Weinreich.8 "The Germans are the only nation in the world," he countered, "to produce scholarship … that contributed more to annihilation than required of it." While he accepted that there were also "decent Germans," they were vastly outnumbered in his estimation by those who had participated in murder or given their silent consent. In Italy, in contrast, "after twenty years of fascism the people (Volk) behaved perhaps more decently toward the Jews hounded by the Nazis than any other people with the exception of the Danes."9

Since the 1990s, a growing body of scholarship has followed in Weinreich's pioneering footsteps to consider the contributions of German Judaistik scholars to Hitler's Final Solution, and the thorny questions of how to evaluate their actions and motivations, as well as the postwar reception of implicated individuals and their scholarship.10 Yet the postwar responses of Jewish Judaica scholars to their erstwhile colleagues have received less attention. This applies especially for the small field of Yiddish, whose surviving European scholars not only mourned the victims of genocide but were forced to reckon with the accelerated decline and disappearance of the language and culture to which they had devoted their lives, once its Eastern European demographic base had been destroyed.

Max Weinreich radically rejected German scholars who could not demonstrate to his satisfaction their distance from the Third Reich's institutions. He was not only the research director of YIVO for many years; [End Page 109] he personally embodied continuity between the destroyed YIVO in Vilna and its New York successor. Weinreich's position was YIVO's official one, and his stature in the field also influenced scholars outside YIVO.11 His position was, however, not the only one among Jewish Yiddishists; nor was it the only position held privately by those active in YIVO.12 It contrasts strikingly with that of his colleague Solomon Birnbaum.

The two most accomplished Yiddish linguists of their generation, Weinreich and Birnbaum were products of the same German academic tradition and found refuge from Nazi Germany's aggressive policies in the Anglophone world. But whereas Weinreich refused to allow for the publication of his 1923 Marburg dissertation and ostentatiously rejected an invitation in 1968 to give lectures at that German institution,13 Birnbaum not only aided Beranek but did not spurn German institutions. He mentored a new generation of German scholars of Yiddish who came of age after the fall of the Nazi regime, thereby helping to establish postwar Germany as a center for Jiddistik. In his final years, Birnbaum traveled to Trier to accept an honorary doctorate in recognition of a lifetime of contributions to the field of Yiddish.14 [End Page 110]

Yet while Weinreich refused personal contact with tainted scholars, he communicated with Beranek indirectly, via letters to Birnbaum and other colleagues, and through a series of bitter exchanges in the New York Yiddish press. These epistolary relationships raise questions about how postwar Germany's first professor of Yiddish presented himself to Jewish colleagues and about his moral capacity to evaluate his actions. They also provide insights into how Weinreich and Birnbaum responded to the recent catastrophe and to the ethical questions involved in confronting both scholarship and scholars tainted by its long shadow.

Solomon Birnbaum was deeply influenced by his father, the noted Jewish activist Nathan Birnbaum, whose spiritual and intellectual evolution led him to play a leadership role in a series of movements defining European Jewish modernity. Nathan Birnbaum's pursuit of what he deemed Jewish authenticity led him first to secular Zionism (a term he coined) and Hebraism, then to Diaspora Nationalism and Yiddishism, and, ultimately, to religious Orthodoxy and the rejection of languagebased nationalism (but not of languages traditionally used in Ashkenazic society).15 Solomon Birnbaum followed in his father's footsteps, embracing Orthodoxy by early adulthood.

For Solomon Binrbaum too, the Yiddish language and its culture held more than scholarly interest. Raised chiefly in Vienna, he was, like Weinreich (raised in Courland, where Jews' widespread adoption of German language and culture in the nineteenth century distinguished them from their brethren elsewhere in the Russian Empire), a native speaker of German who acquired near native facility in Yiddish as an adolescent and wrote his doctorate about Yiddish linguistics. However, he was not a Yiddishist like Weinreich and other YIVO scholars in the sense of being a secular nationalist. The language, alongside traditional loshn-koydesh (holy languages, i.e., Hebrew-Aramaic), was rather part of a larger commitment to religious Orthodoxy as the reason for and guarantor of Jewish uniqueness. Yiddish, he maintained, had come into being as the expression of Ashkenazic Jews' all-encompassing religious-cultural way of life. The goal of the predominantly leftist Yiddishist movement to transform a language that had for centuries conveyed religious thought and feeling into an instrument of consciously secular culture struck him as a distorted paradox that threatened to undermine group survival.16 [End Page 111]

Philological coupled with practical interest in Yiddish in the aftermath of World War I helped to create the circumstances for a position in Yiddish, the first of its kind in a European university, which Birnbaum held at the University of Hamburg from 1922 until 1933. He supported the plan promoted by Heinz Kloss of the German Ausland-Institut to create a chair for Yiddish as part of a proposed institute for Germanic languages despite concerns that Kloss's promotion of Yiddish might fail because, among other reasons, the "larger part of the German people is antisemitic."17 When these plans did indeed falter, Birnbaum organized his own efforts to found in Hamburg an institute for the study of Yiddish and Ashkenazic culture. Decades later, he would recall with satisfaction that some eighty non-Jewish scholars lent their public support to his project—even after Hitler's coming to power.18 Not a few of them later joined the Nazi party or exhibited strong pro-Nazi sympathies,19 a matter concerning which he did not comment and may not have been fully aware. He no doubt understood, however, that their motivations were varied and complex. Among those who felt pressured to express support for the regime was his friend Heinrich Meyer-Benfey (1869–1945), a Germanist who had in fact assumed the surname (Benfey) of his first, Jewish wife. A vocal opponent of anti-Semitism, whom Birnbaum recalled decades later as a "wonderful human being,"20 he signed the Oath of Allegiance of Professors to Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist State in 1933.21 In his cordial letters to Birnbaum in the 1930s, he lamented teaching in a university purged of esteemed Jewish colleagues.22

Birnbaum fled Germany for Holland in April 1933 and was soon joined by his wife and young children. The family took refuge in England, where he managed to establish himself as lecturer in two divisions at the University of London: in Hebrew paleography and epigraphy at the School of [End Page 112] Oriental and African Studies, and a little later in Yiddish at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.23 From London, he maintained relationships with scholars in the German-speaking world and beyond. Among those with whom he generously shared his expertise and publications in the 1930s was Franz Beranek, a young Bohemian scholar whose research focused on German dialects spoken in enclaves in or neighboring non-German language territory. Beranek related how he planned to conduct research about dialects of colonial German and of Yiddish during a vacation in Carpathian-Ruthenia in 1933. But his primary interest in Yiddish resided in its nearly extinct western branch, which, he noted, was still recalled among the older generation of Jews in the Sudetenland. Beranek lamented his intellectual isolation and the lack of resources for his work about "this highly interesting speech form of German" that had earned him only condescending smiles among the professional Germanists at the German University in Prague.24

After nearly a decade of silence, Birnbaum was greatly surprised when he noticed in the summer of 1947 an announcement in an American journal about Die Jiddische Mundart Nordostungarns, especially since the book had appeared six years earlier, in 1941. He was eager to learn the circumstances of the book's publication, its scholarly reception, and its consequences for the author,25 who wrote him a letter reintroducing himself in 1947. While making no explicit mention of the Nazi genocide, Beranek expressed the hope that Birnbaum had "placed the past evil years well behind."26 He explained that he had been a docent at the German Charles University in Prague until 1945, when he was driven from his home and forced to leave behind his library and research materials. Now a high school teacher in small-town Hessen without adequate access to an appropriate research library, he implored Birnbaum to update him about events in the field of Yiddish and to share duplicates of published works with him. He also shared his ambitious plans for research and hopes, with Birnbaum's support, to attract official German support for Yiddish research.27 [End Page 113]

Beranek noted that he had written twice to YIVO in NYC and once personally to Weinreich, with whom he "never had troubled relations in Vilna," but never received a response. Anticipating the reason for this silence, he requested that Birnbaum intercede on his behalf:

I can naturally understand to a degree if one wants to know nothing of official circles from Germany. But I would appreciate if an exception could be made for me, the only person with a scholarly interest in Yiddish in Germany today.28

In late June 1948, Birnbaum dutifully relayed the results of his inquiry at YIVO. The reasons for YIVO's negative attitude, he wrote to Beranek, were that

your study was printed with the support of the "Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des neuen Deutschlands"; that you speak in the forward of the necessity of the "new Germany" studying all things connected with Jews; that you advanced [professionally] during the war; that you drew a salary from the government that exterminated the Jewish people; that you expressed your gratitude to the institute and its president (Walter Frank) at the end of the foreword.29

Founded in 1935 to encourage historical research from a National Socialist perspective, the Reichsinstitut competed with Alfred Rosenberg's notorious Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage for dominance in the field of Nazi scholarship about the Jewish question.30

Birnbaum, who had lost members of his own family at German hands, including his brother Menachem, elaborated upon this:

It is obviously not easy for you there to understand to what extent one must understand the negative attitude of Jewish circles for everything connected to Germany. The blood and torture of six million, and among them fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, are something that—apart from other feelings—dictates a natural attitude [End Page 114] of mistrust of every German (even when it is known that there were opponents of the Nazis) for a long time. All the more so when … every observer of natural fact sees that the great mass of Nazis and other Jew-haters is still there, has not given up its views and sooner rather than later would like to repeat it all.31

Beranek did not reject any of these accusations other than that his career had advanced during the war. Nor did he deny the validity of such feelings. But he felt that "much looks different from the other side of the Atlantic." He saw Weinreich's position as unjustly simplistic in its deep lack of understanding for the position of the individual in the Nazi dictatorship. Recalling the controversy between Thomas Mann and the nonémigré German writers, he hoped that from Birnbaum he could expect "a certain degree of understanding, as far as authoritative circles were concerned, for the very difficult and above all highly differentiated situation in Germany during the past years."32

Far from being an agent of Nazi persecution of the Jews, Beranek understood himself as a victim—first of discrimination against the German minority in interwar Czechoslovakia; second, of the pro-Nazi Henlein Party that granted him only a "very inferior" high school teaching position in the Sudetenland in 1938 because he was not a party member; third, of the Nazi state itself, which reproached him with the "judenfreundlich" orientation of his research, placed him under SD (Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi party) surveillance, and prevented him from becoming a professor; [End Page 115] fourth, of the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia; and, finally, of Jewish prejudice. His choice of a publisher for his study of CarpathoRuthenian Yiddish reflected a mixture of idealism and pragmatism. He had hoped to reach an audience with a "somewhat more objective way of looking at Jewry" in intellectual circles. When his "direct" attempts to find a publisher for the study were met with cold rejection, he pursued a "roundabout" path and managed to interest a "somewhat marginal institute." Offering thanks to Frank, whom he never met, was an unavoidable act of courtesy:

I was referred to the Reichsinstitut and its funding, which is all that mattered to me. The amazing happened: it defrayed all the costs of publication. When I wrote in the introduction that everything connected to Jews must be researched, it is clear from context and content what I meant: not economic and other matters always concerning "Jewification" but (literally) "the unique cultural foundations of Judaism," above all the Yiddish language. While seemingly toeing the official line, I offered an invitation to a new land that lies far from politics and hate.33

In the end, he continued, the book found favor with neither the Nazi party nor reviewers, who greeted it with "a laconic mixture of recognition and headshaking."34 "Can he who reproaches me tell me what I should have done? To leave service and enter a concentration camp?" That Beranek, in his own estimation, "did not lack courage despite that I was an employee of the state" could be confirmed by his continuing to correspond with YIVO until 1940 and by a statement affirming that he had intervened on behalf of a student "disciplined for his Jewish descent." Finally, to make matters worse, prior to his expulsion, "in 1945 a Jewish functionary in Teplitz-Schönau refused my request to save my Jewish scholarly materials out of the same train of thought."35 [End Page 116]

Birnbaum was certainly no stranger to Nazi brutality and coercion; as he explained to his sons years later, ordinary people living under such a horrible regime were little inclined to be heroes.36 He professed his "full" understanding for both Beranek's and Weinreich's apparently irreconcilable positions. Nonetheless, one hears a tone of reproach in Birnbaum's words when he added to Beranek, "Perhaps you can empathize—precisely because you know yourself to be an anti-Nazi who demonstrated personal courage against the Nazis—and yet you are indignant not to be recognized for it by the Yiddish Scientific Institute [YIVO]."37

Beranek thanked Birnbaum for his efforts and affirmed his commitment to "the cause" of Yiddish research. With a tone of resignation, he noted his worry that "the gap between YIVO's work and mine will only grow deeper and prove more calamitous than that between the so-called Western and Eastern European scholarship."38

This was their last exchange concerning Beranek's World War II activities and his relationship with YIVO, although the correspondence continued nearly until Beranek's death in 1967. Birnbaum contributed a short notice to Mitteilungen aus dem Arbeitskreis für Jiddistik,39 which Beranek edited from 1955 to 1964. The first of its kind in Germany, the journal aimed to promote research about Yiddish among German-speaking academics and to generate support for the creation of a chair for the language in a German university. In an oblique reference to collective responsibility for the Holocaust, Beranek called on German scholars in its inaugural issue to preserve the language before it disappeared in recognition of the "disastrous role in its decline with which fate has burdened the German people." The journal, he hoped, would be a step toward intellectual reconciliation between Jews and Germans.40

It is unlikely that Birnbaum was wholly convinced by Beranek's explanations, even if he believed it possible that Beranek was not, in the words [End Page 117] of Birnbaum's son Eleazar, a "keen Nazi."41 Among the letters in the Beranek-Birnbaum correspondence lies an article from the March 30, 1956 edition of the (Yiddish) Forverts, "The Excuses of the German 'Yiddish-researcher' Franz Beranek." If Birnbaum read the article, written by Weinreich under one his regular pseudonyms, he was at least aware of the acrimonious exchange between Weinreich and Beranek after an article in the Forverts discussed the appearance of Mitteilungen.42

Weinreich denounced Beranek in two articles for his alleged complicity with the Nazi regime, repeating the accusations he had leveled against him almost a decade earlier via Birnbaum. Dripping with sarcasm, the articles attacked, one by one, Beranek's defenses of his wartime activities and condemned his alleged goals in promoting Yiddish as self-serving lies and distortions, an attempt to whitewash his conduct and to create a position in Yiddish for himself. The denazification certificate issued by a German court that he had sent YIVO was laughable, as was a copy that he had himself typed of a student's letter affirming that Beranek had helped him under the Nazis. He added that YIVO had in its possession a document showing that Beranek had enthusiastically agreed to attend a Nazi-sponsored academic conference for Eastern questions (and recommended that his wife, a folklorist employed by the Ahnenerbe, the scientific research division of the SS, be invited too) and contributed a book review to Alfred Rosenberg's Weltkampf.43 Despite his claims that his Yiddish-related publications made him suspect in the party's eyes and endangered him, Weinreich continued, Beranek was able to advance from [End Page 118] the rank of high school teacher in 1938 to a type of assistant professor (Privatdozent) and assume a position at the German Charles University in Prague in 1944. While discrediting Beranek was his primary concern, Weinreich also drew attention to another contributor to Mitteilungen with pre-war ties to YIVO and to Birnbaum, the aforementioned Heinz Kloss of the Nazified Deutsches Ausland-Institut.44

In Beranek's rebuttal, conveyed by the Forverts correspondent Marion Zhid,45 he did not categorically deny any of the information that Weinreich presented other than the accusation that he hoped to receive money from foreign Jews to finance a Yiddish chair for himself. Indeed, he acknowledged that he had been a passive Nazi party member but disputed their interpretation, rejecting the accusations with more or less the same arguments that he gave in his letters to Birnbaum. Moreover, he elevated the publication of his 1941 study from a pragmatic act to a badge of honor: he had managed to dupe an anti-Semitic institute into publishing a non-anti-Semitic study. Its essentially benign introduction was a cleverly executed ploy to satisfy his patrons without harming Jews. While YIVO circles treated him with undeserved enmity, other Jewish scholars, among them Birnbaum, recognized the baselessness of such accusations and did not sever ties with him. Moreover, he accused YIVO of contacting him through intermediaries in the last ten years when it needed him, a charge Weinreich dismissed.46

What does one make of Franz Beranek's accounting for his wartime career and Jewish responses to it? He was certainly not the only scholar with a Nazi background to maintain a career in postwar German academia. Unlike others, however, with what impresses as either sheer effrontery and cynicism or utter detachment from reality, he sought to reestablish relations with Jewish scholars and to rebuild his career with their assistance immediately after the war.

To the contemporary researcher, it is clear that Weinreich was essentially correct: Beranek omitted, decontextualized, and distorted portions of his biography while reacting with indignation to Weinreich's accusations and insisting on his own status as a victim and hero. Weinreich was perhaps unaware of the staggering extent to which he had done so.

By many accounts, including Nazi ones, Beranek rubbed others the [End Page 119] wrong way with his arrogance, aggressive ambition, and insensitivity to others.47 But he was deemed by Reich officials an eminently competent scholar and politically reliable. As early as 1933, while he conducted his research in Carpatho-Ruthenia, Czechoslovak police kept him under surveillance as a strident German nationalist suspected of irredentist activity on behalf of Nazi Germany.48 He not only joined the Nazi party in 1938 (out of "professional compulsion" according to his denazification certificate) but was also a staff sergeant and press officer in the SA (Sturmabteilung).49 A secret plan for the Germanization of Czech territory issued by the Office of the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia in late 1940 identified him as an experienced scholar eager to conduct research under its auspices about historically German communities that had undergone assimilation to Czech language and culture.50 In 1942–43 he was given leave from his teaching job to direct research at the Institut für Heimatforschung (IHF) in Slovakia, an organ of the Nazi-subordinated Deutsche Partei whose purpose was to stress the history of German settlement in the region, thereby justifying German hegemony and eventually absorption into the Reich. He did indeed draw the attention of the [End Page 120] SD but not in connection with pro-Jewish activities. Rather, the cause was interpersonal frictions among personnel at the IHF, leading to his removal from it. The SD also conducted a background check when a project was to be entrusted to him by the Institute for the Research of the Jewish Question.51 Indeed, far from suffering for his interest in Yiddish, he was recommended for the position of Yiddish and Slavic specialist at the anti-Semitic Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit in Kraków, whose director Josef Sommerfeldt reviewed his 1941 book quite positively.52 In his CV submitted in 1943 to the German University in Prague, where he completed his habilitation prior to his appointment there as a professor, he boasted of having belonged to the most extreme anti-Jewish student group in the pre-Nazi era at the German University in Prague, having received the October 1, 1938, Commemorative Medal (for participation in Sudetenland's Union with Germany), and of research institutes having competed to hire him.53

One is, however, hard pressed to locate unambiguously anti-Jewish animus or willful distortions in his writings about Yiddish, Jews, and Judaism. The introduction to his 1941 book and the review in Weltkampf [End Page 121] are the exceptions, and the former was evidently added to a study he had initially hoped YIVO would publish. The Slavicist Dietrich Gerhardt in Münster, with whom Weinreich was on good terms, pointed out that Beranek had cited compromised scholars such as Hans F. K. Günther, a racial researcher and eugenicist celebrated by the Nazis,54 in an article about Yiddish that he had clearly written before the war's end but published only afterward.55 But after meeting Beranek personally, he found him self-aggrandizing but more "na¨ve than malicious."56 In the evaluation of Alan Steinweis, Beranek was "incapable of recognizing that his scholarly work about Yiddish bore any connection to the catastrophe that had made the language near extinct in Europe."57

On the other hand, Beranek understood well enough that aspects of his wartime activities would undermine his attempts to rebuild an academic career. He omitted some of the most damning details of his biography as part of his postwar self-fashioning and dropped references to Jews as a race in his subsequent writings. Most likely, he was an opportunist with an abiding interest in Yiddish but less concern for Jews, either as individuals or as a collective, other than as an object of research. Revealing his moral obtuseness, he even described to Birnbaum how in the pursuit of linguistic data he often visited the rabbi of Tyrnau (Trnava) in Slovakia in 194358—a time when Jews were being rounded up for internment and deportation—"despite all the difficulties in doing so."59 Similarly, he eagerly took advantage of the presence of DPs in postwar West Germany to collect additional data for his book Das Pinsker Jiddisch.60

Beranek's motivations mattered little, of course, for Weinreich. While Beranek insisted that he be judged above all by the content of his published work and his commitment to scholarship, Weinreich deemed the political context of this work equally, if not more, significant. Beranek was in his eyes morally complicit, having used scholarship to unethical [End Page 122] ends, and was attempting to obfuscate his actions. Service to an explicitly anti-Semitic regime in whatever capacity was for him a conscious choice, and Weinreich was reluctant to acknowledge extenuating circumstances or different degrees of culpability. And even if Beranek could deny his wartime actions, "his arrogant tone and his absolute dullness in understanding the Jewish situation would be enough to keep a distance from him."61 In a 1947 article, Beranek stressed the moral duty of Germany, above all the field of Germanistik, to create a teaching and research facility to preserve the language. Such an act would "represent unsolicited intellectual amends to Jews as only a people of Dichter und Denker can make."62Weinreich, the ideological Yiddishist committed to studying the language as an independent field rather than from the margins of Germanistik, could only have regarded such a statement as irredeemably patronizing.63Indeed, Weinreich, the author of Hitler's Professors, must have deemed it grotesque.

Birnbaum concurred with Weinreich's sense of German collective guilt and lack of contrition but was less categorical in condemning individuals. Birnbaum's response was no doubt conditioned as much by personal experience and temperament as by his knowledge of recent history. He treated Beranek as a colleague and publicly acknowledged his role in the resumption of Yiddish studies in German academia,64 even if he likely harbored doubts about his character, including the extent of his empathy for Hitler's victims. (Despite his abhorrence for Beranek the man, Weinreich shared Birnbaum's respect for Beranek the prolific scholar, citing his research about Western Yiddish even as he denigrated it privately as methodologically flawed and overreaching in its claims.65) Not long after he delivered his inaugural lecture about Yiddish and German philology at Giessen in 1961,66 Beranek thanked Birnbaum on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. Mixing gratitude with characteristic immodesty, he noted that it was above all Birnbaum's interwar scholarship that had [End Page 123] shown him the "thorny but therefore appealing path of Yiddish research and thereby introduced the special position that I today occupy in German scholarship."67

Beranek shared with Weinreich and Birnbaum not only a fascination with Yiddish but also a sense of loss for a world no more. His was, however, the world of Sudeten Germans, who shared his sense of victimhood and injustice. He translated this loss into concrete scholarship, directing the project for a dictionary of Sudeten German and creating an atlas of Sudeten German dialects based on interviews with fellow expellees in West Germany.68 Ironically, at the same time, Weinreich was assisting his son Uriel in a parallel, albeit more extensive, form of linguistic and cultural salvage work: constructing the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry through interviews with surviving European Yiddishspeakers scattered around the world.69 [End Page 124]

Kalman Weiser
York University


1. Max Weinreich to Uriel Weinreich, June 30, 1946, Beatrice Weinreich Collection, University of Michigan, box 9.

2. Max Weinreich to Uriel Weinreich, March 24, 1946, Beatrice Weinreich Collection, University of Michigan, box 9. Franz Beranek, Die Jiddische Mundart Nordostungarns (Brünn, 1941).

3. Max Weinreich to Uriel Weinreich, March 24, 1946, Beatrice Weinreich Collection, University of Michigan, box 9.

4. Ibid.

5. See Kalman Weiser, "Coming to America, Choosing Yiddish: Max Weinreich and the Emergence of YIVO's American Center," in Choosing Yiddish: New Frontiers of Language and Culture, ed. L. Rabinovitch, S. Goren, and H. Pressman (Detroit, 2012), 233–52.

6. Max Weinreich, Hitlers profesorn: Der kheylek fun der daytsher visnshaft in daytshlands farbrekhns kegn yidishn folk, YIVO Bleter 27.1, 2 (1946); in book form, 1947. In English: Max Weinreich, Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes against the Jewish People (New York, 1946; 2nd rev. ed., New Haven, Conn., 1999). Hannah Arendt found Weinreich's scholarship and narrative impeccable but faulted him for attributing too much importance to minor German scholars and for believing that the Nazis needed scholars' contributions to justify and motivate their crimes. Politicians, not scholars, she maintained in her review of the book, provided the ideas and techniques that operated the machinery of death (Hannah Arendt, "The Image of Hell," Commentary [January 1, 1946]: 291–95).

7. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York, 1996).

8. Leo Spitzer to Max Weinreich, April 28, 1946, YIVO RG 584, folder 164a.

9. Max Weinreich to Leo Spitzer, June 7, 1946, YIVO RG 584, folder 164a. For a generally positive evaluation of Italian behavior toward Jews in this period, see Jonathan Steinberg, All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust, 1941–1943 (London, 1990). More recently, Michael Livingston's The Fascists and the Jews of Italy: Mussolini's Race Laws, 1938–1943 (Cambridge, 2014) takes issue with the view that Italy's anti-Semitic campaign found little popular support and was but a pale shadow of that conducted in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

10. Of special importance to the present study are these works: Dirk Rupnow, Judenforschung im Dritten Reich: Wissenschaft zwischen Politik, Propaganda und Ideologie (Baden-Baden, 2011); Alan E. Steinweis, Studying the Jew (Cambridge, Mass., 2006); Christopher M. Hutton, Linguistics and the Third Reich: Mother-Tongue Fascism, Race, and the Science of Language (London, 1999). The latter two works also include insightful discussions of Beranek. I thank Professor Steinweis for his generous assistance in locating archival materials.

11. The Swiss Yiddish linguist Florence Guggenheim, for example, consulted Weinreich about how to respond to Beranek. See her correspondence with Weinreich in YIVO RG 584, folder 690. The dissertation was posthumously published by Jerold Frakes under the title Geschichte der jiddischen Sprachforschung (Atlanta, 1993).

12. The linguist Judah Joffee complained to Beranek, "The thing that annoys me is the 'halo' of Nazism that M. Weinreich has shed upon you." (Judah Joffee to Franz Beranek, August 26, 1965. YIVO RG 546, box 1, folder 2). I thank Leyzer Burko for bringing this letter to my attention. The Swiss Jewish journalist Salcia Landman, who was a frequent guest in Beranek's home (personal communication, Dr. Horst Kühnel, June 8, 2016) and for whose book Jiddisch. Das Abenteuer einer Sprache (Olten, 1962) he wrote an introduction, publicly defended him against charges that he was a Nazi or anti-Semite. ("Prof. Dr. Franz Joseph Beranek," Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden, vol. 5/6 [1968]: 50. See also "Die Lesefrucht: Aus einer Sendung von Radio Bremen," Mitteilungen aus dem Arbeitskreis für Jiddistik 2.20 [July 1964]: 153–54.)

13. Gabriel Weinreich, Confessions of a Jewish Priest: From Secular Jewish War Refugee to Physicist and Episcopal Clergyman (Cleveland, 2005), 97–98. Florence Guggenheim to Max Weinreich, December 28, 1965, Florence Guggenheim Archiv, Staatsarchiv Aargau, Switzerland, Cb5 24 K.

14. Erika Timm, "Salomo Birnbaums Leben und Werk," in Salomo/Solomon A. Birnbaum: Ein Leben für die Wissenschaft/A Lifetime of Achievement, 2 vols., ed. E. Timm, E. Birnbaum, and D. Birnbaum (Berlin, 2011), 1:xxv–xxvi. On the postwar development of Yiddish studies in Germany, see Marion Aptroot, "Yiddish Studies in Germany Today," in Yiddish in the Contemporary World: Papers of the First Mendel Friedman Conference on Yiddish, ed. G. Estraikh and M. Krutikov (Oxford, 1999), 43–55.

15. On Nathan Birnbaum, see Jess Olson, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity: Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism, and Orthodoxy (Stanford, Calif., 2013).

16. On Birnbaum's views concerning the relationship between Yiddish and Judaism, see Kalman Weiser, "The 'Orthodox Orthography' of Solomon Birnbaum," Studies in Contemporary Jewry 20 (2004): 275–95.

17. Solomon Birnbaum to Heinz Kloss, December 18, 1927, Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Archives (hereafter NSBA), Kloss folder.

18. David and Eleazar Birnbaum, "A Brief Account of Solomon Birnbaum's Life," in Solomon Birnbaum, Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar (1979; 2nd revised and expanded ed.; Toronto, 2016, xxi). See also Kalman Weiser, "Yiddish: A Survey and a Grammar in Its Cultural and Historical Context," pp. xxxiv–xxxv, in the same volume.

19. Hutton, Linguistics and the Third Reich, 211.

20. Solomon Birnbaum, "Institutum Ascenezicum," Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 17 (1972): 244.

21. Bekenntnis der Professoren an den deutschen Universita¨ten und Hochschulen zu Adolf Hitler und dem nationalsozialistischen Staat (Dresden, 1933), 130.

22. See NSBA, Meyer-Benfey folder.

23. David and Eleazar Birnbaum, "A Brief Account," xi–xii, xvii.

24. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, June 6, 1933, NSBA, Beranek folder.

25. Solomon Birnbaum to Franz Beranek, December 11, 1947 (draft), NSBA, Beranek folder.

26. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, November 18, 1947, NSBA, Beranek folder.

27. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, November 18, 1947; February 19, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

28. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, February 19, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

29. Solomon Birnbaum to Franz Beranek, June 21, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

30. On the personal rivalry between the anti-Semitic historian Frank and the long-time Nazi ideologue Rosenberg, as well as between their institutions, see Steinweis, Studying the Jew, 12–13.

31. Solomon Birnbaum to Franz Beranek, June 21, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

32. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, undated 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder. In 1945 a controversy erupted between the Noble Prize–winning author and the so-called inner emigration, writers who claimed not to have supported Hitler but who also did not leave Germany during his regime. The cause was Mann's assertion that the German people bore collective responsibility for the Holocaust as well as profound moral shame before the world. The writer Frank Thiess countered by asserting the moral superiority of those who shared in Germany's fate, unable to leave for lack of resources, fear of consequences for relatives left behind, or because they stood in solidarity with the oppressed and suffering German people. In contrast, Mann maintained that the very presence of writers and their lack of external resistance to the regime only helped to perpetuate it. On this controversy, see Mark W. Clark, Beyond Catastrophe: German Intellectuals and Cultural Renewal after World War II, 1945–1955 (Lanham, Md., 2006), 89–96; and Ulrich Baron, "Innere Emigration,"

33. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, June 28, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder. Beranek omits here "racial" from "racial and unique cultural foundations of Judaism" (Beranek, Die Jiddische Mundart Nordostungarns, 5).

34. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, February 19, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

35. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, undated 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder. A faint reproduction of the statement, signed by Lothar Flügel and dated November 25, 1945, follows this letter. It affirms that Beranek, in contrast to other teachers, always treated Flügel and his "Czech fellow students" in an especially friendly and decent manner. He also even risked disciplinary measures to intercede on Flügel's behalf when the latter was excluded as a "Jewish Mischling" in his final semester at the vocational school (Staatsgewerbeschule) in Tetschen (Děčín) in Bohemia. The year is not specified.

36. Personal communication, David Birnbaum, June 13, 2014, NSBA, Beranek folder.

37. Solomon Birnbaum to Franz Beranek, November 29, 1948, NSBA, Beranek folder.

38. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, January 11, 1949, NSBA, Beranek folder.

39. Salomo A. Birnbaum, "Das Datum des Codex Zimt-Sand," Mitteilungen aus dem Arbeitskreis für Jiddistik 2.11 (January 1960): 9–10.

40. Franz Beranek, "Zum Geleit," Mitteilungen aus dem Arbeitskreis für Jiddistik 1.1 (January 1955): 1–3.

41. Eleazar Birnbaum recalls his father commenting to him "to the effect that, though Beranek was perhaps not a keen Nazi, he was interested in linguistic scholarship, but not in Jews as Jews. As far as SAB [Solomon Asher Birnbaum] knew Beranek did nothing to protest about the Nazi treatment of Jews—of course not during the war, but also probably not even after the war. He just kept quiet. Certainly Beranek didn't bring the subject up with SAB." Personal communication, David Birnbaum, January 7, 2013.

42. M. Zhid, "Daytshn hobn gegrindet an institut tsu shtudirn di yidishe shprakh," Forverts December 28, 1955.

43. Weinreich is here referring to Beranek's response (contained in YIVO RG 584, folder 690) to an invitation to attend the "Osttagung deutscher Wissenschaftler" on March 24–27, 1942 in Berlin. The conference was convened by Reichsminister Alfred Rosenberg and the Reichsdozentenführer (Reichleader of University Teachers) Walter Schultze to discuss "political, cultural, social, and economic problems in the research of the reorganization of the East." (Hauptamt der Dienststelle, Ostaufgaben der Wissenschaft. Vortra¨ge der Osttagung deutscher Wissenchaftler [Munich, 1943], 3). Steinweis, Studying the Jew, 155. I have not been able to locate this review in Weltkampf. A manuscript version is found in Harvard University Widener Library, Leyzer Ran Collection, collection 6, box 5.

44. P. Berman, "Ver zaynen di daytshn vos forshn di yidishe shprakh?," Forverts, January 10, 1956.

45. This is a pseudonym of the Hebrew and Yiddish journalist known variously as I. Meskauskas and Y. Miskovski.

46. M. Zhid, "'Yidish-forsher' in daytshland, d'r beranek, farentfert zikh," Forverts, March 26, 1956.

47. One observer, commenting on the reasons for interpersonal conflicts at the IHF, described Beranek and his wife as "personally peculiar people with all their scholarly idealism. They are inclined toward asocial individualism and are more ambitious than can normally be tolerated. Both quite clumsily emphasize their very well-developed sense of self and offer sharp criticism that is tactically not very clever." Deutsche Partei Cultural Officer Hans Friedl to Germany Embassy Counsel in Slovakia Hans Gmelin, Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde (former Berlin Document Center files) R70 Slowakei 47/100/206–7. I thank Christof Morrissey for sharing his notes on this archival collection.

48. See the surveillance reports in Policejni ředitelstvi prezidium 1931–1940, box 587, file 42/B-28/29, Czech National Archives, Prague. I thank Messrs. Paul Sermer and Paul Szandor for their assistance in obtaining and interpreting Czechoslovak archival sources.

49. Hutton, Linguistics and the Third Reich, 212–13. The denazification ("Spruchkammer") statement in his file at the University of Giessen (UAG Personalakten, 2. Überlieferung, Kartin 12) refers explicitly to his Nazi affiliations. This information is absent from the versions he sent to Birnbaum, Guggenheim, and YIVO.

50. The comments (p. 112) about Beranek are found in a document (attached to a cover letter dated November 30, 1940) in which the Office of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia elaborated on a memorandum issued by Karl Hermann Frank, secretary of state of the Reich Protectorate and SS and Police Leader, concerning Germanization of the Czech population ("Vorschla¨ge zur Vorbereitung der Umvolkung im Protekorat Böhmen und Ma¨hren" in Die Vergangenheit warnt: Dokumente über die Germanisierungund Austilgungspolitik der Naziokkupanten in der Tschechoslowakei, ed. V. Král [Prague, 1960], 109–17).

51. See the relevant SD correspondence from late 1943 in BArch R 70 Slowakei_242. On his conduct at the IHF, see Christof Morrissey, "Ethnic Politics and Scholarly Legitimation: The German Institut fur Heimatforschung in Slovakia, 1941–1944," in German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing, 1919–1945, ed. I. Haar and M. Fahlbusch (New York, 2005), 100–109. See also Petr Lozoviuk, Interethnik im Wissenschaftsprozess (Leipzig, 2008).

52. Sommerfeldt noted the value of Beranek's study for the scholarly preservation of a "linguistic phenomenon that certainly will not exist in Europe after this war" in light of the "massive shifting and displacements" affecting its Jewry (Die Burg 4.4 [October 1943]: 270).

53. "Mein Lebenslauf," Charles University Archives, Prague, FF NU Nr. 554, Franz Beranek 1942–45, box 53; a Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior document indicates that Beranek, a sympathizer with Henlein's Sudeten German Party (SdP), fled that country's defense forces to Germany on September 22, 1938, "from territory not occupied by the German army" (Ministerstvo vnitra prezidiumfond AMV 225, c. kartonu 1318, sign 225–1318–18/67). This was one day before Czechoslovakia began a general mobilization. It is likely that Beranek joined the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps, a paramilitary organization consisting of thousands of ethnic German volunteers from Czechoslovkia who crossed the border and swore loyalty to Hitler. It was modeled on the SA and trained by Germany to commit acts of terror and to otherwise destabilize Czechoslovakia. Freikorps members received the October 1, 1938, Commemorative Medal but were not otherwise rewarded for their efforts, although some were integrated into the SS. See Werner Röhr, "Der 'Fall Grün' und das Sudetendeutsche Freikorps," in Hundert Jahre sudetendeutsche Geschichte Eine völkische Bewegung in drei Staaten, ed. H. H. Hahn (Frankfurt am, 2007).

54. Beranek made use, for example, of Günther's Rassenkunde des jüdischen Volkes (Munich, 1930).

55. Franz J. Beranek, "Sprachgeographie des Jiddischen in der Slowakei," Zeitschrift für Phonetik 3 (1949): 25–46.

56. Dieter Gerhardt to Max Weinreich, June 2, 1955, YIVO RG 584, folder 690.

57. Steinweis, Studying the Jew, 156.

58. Beranek does not identify the rabbi by name but it is likely the Orthodox rabbi Izidor Friedman, who was deported from Tyrnau (Trnava) in September 1944 (Pinkas ha-kehilot. Slovakia [Jerusalem, 2003], 270).

59. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, August 24, 1951, NSBA, Beranek folder.

60. Franz J. Beranek, Das Pinsker Jiddisch (Berlin, 1958), 3.

61. P. Berman, "Di teyrutsim fun dem daytshn 'yidish-forsher' beranek," Forverts, March 30, 1956.

62. Franz J. Beranek, "Die Erforschung der jiddischen Sprache," Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 70 (1947/48): 174.

63. Jerold C. Frakes, The Politics of Interpretation: Alterity and Ideology in Old Yiddish Studies (Albany, 1989), 43–44, 66–67; Steinweis, Studying the Jew, 156.

64. S. A. Birnbaum, "Institum Ascenezicum," Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 17 (1972): 245.

65. Max Weinreich to Florence Guggenheim, April 24, 1966, Florence Guggenheim Archiv, Cb5 24 K.

66. Peter Althaus, "Franz Josef Beranek (1902–1967)," Onoma 12 (1966/67): 281.

67. Franz Beranek to Solomon Birnbaum, December 18, 1961, NSBA, Beranek folder.

68. Franz J. Beranek, Atlas der Sudetendeutschen Umgangsprache, vol. 1 (Marburg, 1970), v–vi. On the Sudeten German dictionary, see

69. See Marvin Herzog et al., eds., The Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry, vol. 1 (Tübingen, 1992).

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