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4 ( The GermanYears Early Chapters in the Biography of a Jewish Statesman Michael Brenner I. Eastern European Roots: German Childhood I have lived in Germany from my fifth to my fortieth year, first in Frankfurt and then in Heidelberg, as well as a few years in Murnau and Berlin, and thus I spent my decisive formative years as a Jew in Germany. No other people and no other culture, not even the Jewish one, have influenced me so deeply as the German one. It is true that I began studying Hebrew already as a child, that I studied the Bible and the Talmud, but I cannot claim to be firm in traditional, especially religious Jewish intellectual history; I know modern Hebrew and Yiddish culture better. But no Hebrew or Yiddish hero—neither prophet nor Talmudist, neither religious philosopher as Maimonides nor poet as Yehuda Halevi or Bialik—had even a comparably strong influence on me as had Goethe, to name just one example. I have read and remembered no other literature more than the German one. . . . I felt my deepest spiritual experiences while listening to the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. I attended German schools and universities. Although my best friends were always Jews . . . and I was a Zionist since childhood, I felt, especially during the Weimar years, very consciously as a citizen of Germany.1 95 T hese are Nahum Goldmann’s words taken out of the expanded German version of his autobiography. He added only shortly before his death in 1982 in a television interview, “My favorite language is German. I dream in German, I laugh in German, I cry in German, I love in German.”2 To understand Goldmann’s later career understanding his self-depiction as a person deeply rooted in German culture and society is essential. At the same time, Goldmann never saw himself as a German Jew. He was an Eastern European Jew, who spent his earliest childhood in a small shtetl between Vilna and Minsk (Visznewo) and became a German citizen only in his adult life. His Eastern European Jewish home and his German surroundings were the two inseparable parts of his identity during the first half of his life. A third formative element went along with those two as early as he could remember. As he remarked later, he did not have to become a Zionist, he was born one. Indeed, he was brought up in a staunchly Zionist home.3 His parents had left their Eastern European home, when Nahum was one year old, for Königsberg and later Frankfurt. Like Martin Buber, he grew up with his grandparents in a traditional Jewish environment. Only when he approached school age, his parents brought him to join them in Frankfurt. This is not the place to discuss why Goldmann’s parents took so many years to reunite with their only child. In any case, Goldmann’s relationship with his mother remained cool and distanced, and he would later claim that friends were always more important to him than family. His mother, he said in his last major interview, would never have treated him as well as his grandparents did.4 He felt, however, very close to his father, Solomon Goldmann, a Hebrew writer, editor for the German Jewish journal Frankfurter Israelitische Familienblatt , and an educator of teachers embarking for the Jewish colonies in South America, employed by Baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association. While Rebekka Goldmann certainly did not resemble our stereotypes of the typical Eastern European yidishe mame, Solomon Goldmann did everything he could to advance his son’s career. He was his first Hebrew teacher and brought him close to Zionism. Goldmann was barely a bar mizvah, when his father arranged his first major public lecture in front of a few hundred listeners at the Frankfurt Zionist Organization during the holiday of Hanukah in 1908. He also took care that his son’s lecture on the topic of “Judaism and Hellenism” was reported in the local Jewish press, with which he himself worked as an editor. He certainly did his part to make sure that Nahum was handled as a Wunderkind in Jewish Frankfurt. Nahum Goldmann, in his own recollections many years later, seemed more concerned to emphasize another reputation he should later obtain . The only thing he claims to remember from this first public speech was how to draw the attention of a young girl who felt affection for him at the time. Only three years later...


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