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39

Violent Insecurities

E HAVE HAD OUR difficulties, but these have been from without,” Ludwig could still write Leonard on July 4, 1942. “This marriage is the culminant meaning of my life.… But I would not have you think of Edna only in terms of a relationship. She has a truly great mind and a gift near genius,” witness her portion of Haven, which, “though quite different from mine, was at least equal in quality.” They were, he went on to explain to his confidant of many years, “much blamed for publishing [it] as indiscreet, as too intimate, as too this and too that by whom—by people who don’t even know the character of high or intense spiritual experiences.”1

“Of all I prefer certain chapters of the Bible, but I repress this fact and seldom read them,” Edna recorded in her diary, two weeks after her arrival at the sanatorium. “I have read primarily to find kinship,” she noted, including Ludwig among those whose work had proven most meaningful to her, especially his Nation essays, which had “confirmed a good deal of nebulous thinking.” She had tried, as well, to learn to write from those writers she most admired. Of all her aspirations, she had wanted “rather [to] be a poet than anything else in the world,” but had surrendered to the reality of not being “a very literate or literary person.” What she had to offer, instead, was her belief in the spiritual reality of life, of the need each morning “to wake, look around, ascertain my place in the universe, assume a perspective on my situation in life, arrange my thoughts, chart my day’s course, give thanks for having awakened alive, medicate what spiritual sores there are, move my bowels, corset certain flabbiness and bulges of spirit.” Whatever mechanical improvements there were in her writing, “the detail work, fillers-in, technique, and ornament and grammatical construction come from my assoc[iation] with L.L.” But the tutorial was now over. The heart of whatever she would write, “the core and the heights of my work come from my association with S.G.W.”2

On July 12, Edna received a rejection from Random House. They had found “many poetical passages, [and] much psychological insight” in The Time of Singing, but believed its market to be too small. The intervening weeks between the first recognition of relapse and this rejection had helped her to better focus on the future. In a long self-confessional, she looked at her life, wondering “if my soul and spirit will be addled beyond repair before I secure any privacy or home for them? If you struggle too much, or at all you wear yourself out: if you try not to struggle for your needs you die. If there were a way to protect your forces until the day of liberation, but you have done that, over and over again, and no sign of liberation ever comes.” If only she could have a taste of such freedom now and then, or “two little rooms all my own somewhere on earth.” How could she write with so many factors—people, events, illness—tearing at her? “Oh, to be master, not prey, of one’s destiny. To have some small fort.” Might she not then produce the great work she hoped for? Or might the struggle to retain this hard-won freedom become “a career” in itself? Could she really survive so independently of others? “I am weak. I know that. Am I as weak as I always was? I know I cannot stand alone in the universe: I need a little help, a little guiding. I need a little after-hour companionship.” But why did she “always pay top prices”? It seemed, in sum, that she had too willingly spent more of herself than a greater wisdom now judged worthy.

To be with Ludwig I sold everything I had. Now I’ve got to try to buy some of them back. Has the price for him turned out to be too great? Scott, my people (minor), health, privacy, happiness. What did I get? Shame, a little education, an occasional moment of pride in him, a certain financial security, a little help in literary technique. Definite Encouragement, opportunity of meeting new types, a sense (now and then, rarely because of evil circumstances attending our wedding) of social security. What did I expect to get? Justification of my life, social security complete, freedom from small worries, lessening of dependence on family, opportunity for a fuller and more normal life. Why didn’t I get what I expected? The impossibility of mating (various reasons), I was too bankrupt to enjoy what I got, circumstances, scandal, L’s dependence on me, non-understanding.

Totaling the won-lost columns, she declared that “It was a gamble. I put all my money on one card. I lost…. What am I to do?”3

In the weeks leading up to this moment of crisis for Edna, and those preceding her decision a month later, Ludwig continued to pursue his professional life in order to better tend to his personal affairs. By mid-May the first rejection of Anniversary had arrived from Farrar and Rinehart,4 prompting Ludwig to write Canfield for a suggested agent “who knows my work reasonably well, who has something of my sense … [and would] handle Edna’s book too.”5 Concerned with the sale of Renegade and its poor handling by Dial Press,6 Ludwig queried the Jewish Publication Society several times for sales figures and readers’ responses, hoping to use both in the placing of his new novel.7 Though Dial’s initial stock was still plentiful, having done little to exploit the generally favorable reviews it had received around the country, JPS had already sent the book into a second printing, as Ludwig would soon learn.8

Ever resourceful, Ludwig was, of course, not without work, now busily translating the Polish Zionist philosopher Jacob Klatzkin’s Krisis und Entschiedung in Judentum (Crisis and Decision in Judaism).9 But such income was no match for these new medical expenses, nor for Edna’s hopes. Out of concern for their daughter’s health, Edna’s parents had sent some money days after she entered the Desert San. But she was still without the means needed to establish her independence, as was Ludwig for fulfilling his ever-changing financial obligations. As Edna wrote in her application to Houghton Mifflin for a writing fellowship, “It is only fair to you to say that the sale of my husband’s recent books has been small, that our peculiar situation has made extensive lecturing out of the question for the present, and that responsibilities assumed by him in more prosperous years—such as a heavy life insurance for myself and his son—now represent disproportionate burdens.”10

Among these were the reports coming to Ludwig from various sources of Thelma’s severe mistreatment of Jim. Most disturbing of all, however, was the detailed letter from the superintendent of the apartment house from which she and her son had just moved. Physically abusive, she had hit and kicked the eight-year-old boy on numerous occasions, and had left him locked out of the apartment, seated and sometimes sleeping in the cold stairway, while she prowled the Navy Yard for sailors or visited with one of her male friends. From the amount of empty bottles in her trash, it was apparent that she suffered from alcoholism. When the superintendent of the building confronted her with charges of physical abuse, neglect, and immoral behavior, threatening to call the police, “she greeted me with one of her famous hysterical outbursts.” Jim was now with Thelma at a camp in upstate New York, dreading that he would not be able to find the means to escape. “He has no chance whatever for a normal life, as she is not fit to care for dogs,” the writer added, pleading with Ludwig to do something, “know[ing] what care and attention children need, especially a complex child like Jimmie. He deserves a lot better than what he is getting.”11 Yet there was nothing Ludwig could do at the moment except gather evidence against Thelma and try to force her to relinquish Jim by refusing to pay any of the agreed-upon settlement. Friends were being watchful of Jim as all awaited Thelma’s next move.

With so much to contend with, Ludwig could not devote as much attention as he would have wanted to Zionist affairs. At a time of great change and struggle, Ludwig felt sidelined by personal events. News of mass murder had now been reaching Jews and others in America for some time, while closed-door policies nearly everywhere and governmental refusal to give credence to these reports of unprecedented atrocities had been given sharper focus by the sinking of the Struma in February, galvanizing most elements within American Jewry, even neutralizing most of the anti-Zionist attitudes still present. The Biltmore Conference of May 1942 would play an instrumental role in the future of American Jewish support for the Yishuv as all but the recalcitrant few, under the banner of the American Council for Judaism, appeared to abandon their fears of dual-loyalty charges and began to work with longtime Zionists to build a more viable permanent refuge, a Jewish state, in the Jews’ ancient homeland.12

While so many new faces were now deeply enmeshed in the movement he himself had been advocating for nearly two decades, Ludwig could do no more than watch and add a word from the isolation of the Desert San. Equally frustrating was his inability to be a part of the decision making, which, despite all of his bitter complaints, had been a satisfying part of his work on the ZOA executive before his marriage to Edna. When the American Zionist leadership, following a series of failures in dealing with U.S. government officials, recognized their need for a popular Christian voice and tapped the journalist Pierre van Passen to represent them, Ludwig was outraged. If they required a “renowned goy,” why not “a man of intelligent and spiritual dignity” like the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr? Instead, they had called upon “a drunken bum of a journalist—not without some merit and some semi-sincerity, to be sure—but only for the unspeakably vulgar reason that a Book-of-the-Month club adoption gave him a flash of notoriety.” The apparent jealousies need not be mentioned, only Ludwig’s anger. “That’s American Israel,” he told Spiro. “They don’t deserve us.”13

For now, his voice was restricted to the printed page. A new journal, the Jewish Mirror (organized as an independent magazine to raise “Jewish morale … to strengthen the bond between American Jews and their brothers all over the world … [by] portray[ing] for them what is comforting and beautiful and inspiring about Jewish life and Judaism”),14 chose as its lead article in its first issue in August 1942 Ludwig’s “Clarifying Democracy”—a call for the opponents of totalitarianism to embrace true liberty and the validity of ethnic and religious differences among its citizens, and to reject all attempts to enslave by making the individual a function of the state. This tradition of liberty had its roots, he wrote, in the ancient Jewish experience carried down by the Torah. The struggle against fascism was a “war of survival” for this tradition. Those who would win this war but who at home would deny their fellow citizens the right to be themselves were, in truth, handing victory to the enemy, the pagan slave state. The biblical prophetic tradition upon which democracy was founded clearly stated, “Ye shall love the co-dweller, the Ger, for you yourselves were co-dwellers (Gerim) in the land of Egypt.” The prophet “did not write ‘tolerate’ or ‘tolerate on condition that he assimilate to a norm arbitrarily set.’ He wrote ‘love’—love him in his own nature as he is. Such is the spirit of liberty and of life itself which our enemies are determined to exterminate.” What, then, were the Jewish readers to take from this essay, themselves victims too often of this nonacceptance of their “differentness”? Perhaps equally guilty of aiding the enemy were those who, for one or more reasons, would deny their differences from the majority. To build Jewish morale, Ludwig insisted once again on the need for Jews to unapologetically be Jews and to demand their acceptance as such. Jews “who hide their differentness or are ashamed of it or refuse out of fear of life and liberty to support the cause of our martyred people, are subtly allying themselves with that foe.”15

The following month’s issue saw Ludwig take this argument a step further, laying the blame for the war on those fundamentally undemocratic attitudes which saw no need to respond to the oppression of Jews throughout the 1930s. “Christendom repressed the persecution of the German Jews in 1933. Had it not done so there would have been no war.” This war of extermination of Jews was equally a war “to exterminate Christianity, freedom, mercy, justice, equity forever from the habitable earth.” But the world had long repressed the Jews, and in that tradition of repression had failed to see in “the iron determination to exterminate the Jewish people, the one and only circumstance which reveals in its utter and naked horror the character of this war.” Until this was recognized, all of Western civilization, Christendom itself, was in danger of destruction. Only the American people, the world’s most democratic, could potentially reverse this by overcoming its undemocratic tradition of repressing the Ger among them, now manifested in the withholding of all news about the program of extermination being prosecuted with relentlessness. “I do not know what hope there is,” Ludwig concluded. Perhaps it was too late. But whatever possibility still existed could succeed only “if the American people, the American Christian people, were once to awaken to the meaning of the fate of the Jewish people and grieve and cry out over that fate, which is their own.”16

Few Jews had presumed to be so bold as to lay blame for the Holocaust at the feet of Christendom—not while it was in progress and Jews everywhere felt threatened. And it may not have been the most politically wise stance to take. But Ludwig had decided some years before that such caution was ultimately self-destructive, for the world would do with you as it pleased, regardless of how cautious you had been. Better to have your say than to lend support through silence, however it might all come out in the end. One could not read the response before the fact. Why then deny the full play of conscience out of fear of the unknown? Why violate yourself so irreparably? “I kept for many, many years,” Ludwig wrote Leonard that July 4, “—more years than is decent—a tender regard for the opinion of my fellow-men or, at least, for the opinion of some of my fellow-men. It is folly; it is, perhaps, the last of follies. Their ‘opinion’ is never dictated by sympathy or justice, always by their private ails and frustrations. A man is literally responsible to nothing but the monition of a tested conscience, for the simple, ultimate reason that there is nothing else in the world to be responsible to.… Any thought given to it or the effects upon it of anything one does, says, publishes, is waste and self-abasement.”17

It must not have terribly surprised Ludwig a month later when a second rejection of Anniversary arrived, even from old friends at Viking,18 given “the resistance I have increasingly met as a writer from this age and those who seem to guide it. I am the untimely one. Lethargy and death-drive prevail. That is why I am pessimistic concerning the war and, even if we win it, the peace.” Where, he asked, were the voices summoning the elements of life, those human forces which he had championed in book after book—“religious insight (The Permanent Horizon, 1935) or burning humane sympathies (Trumpet of Jubilee, 1937) or a release of the creative Eros (For Ever Wilt Thou Love, 1939) or historical revelation of some of the roots of the present horrors (Renegade, 1942).” From all sides of the political spectrum, he had found a denial of these most crucial elements in the shape of critical attacks upon his work, and not infrequently, upon his person as well. “All have been against me—the materialist Bolshevik fools, from faintest pink to shameless scarlet, the reactionaries who don’t know their own stuff and (cream of the jest) all the liberals (former Nation colleagues etc.) especially from their funny Philo-semitic angle.” Perhaps this was the most personally offensive position of all, seemingly wishing to destroy his individuality while insidiously assuming a posture that outwardly appeared accepting. “For I hope you know that a Philo-semite is one who loves a Jew in so far as he is a guaranteed triple-plated imitation of a Gentile gentleman, but who shies furiously away from a Jew who insists on the existence, right of self-determination and necessary redemption (not only for our sake but mankind’s) of the living, martyred people Israel.”19

As Ludwig awaited the resolution of his search for and recovery of Jim, writing additional articles on the state of American Jewish literature20 and such for various journals while attempting to place Anniversary; Edna continued to work through a resolution of her own conflict. Several story ideas came to mind that summer, but each was a reflection of her as yet unresolved struggle either to remain with Ludwig or return to Scott. In the first of these, she nearly destroys her husband by “holding out on him with her memories … of the boy she knew,” while in another, the “30 year old young wife with T.B.,” feeling the “net [drawing] tighter” with each pledge of love from her “60 year old Jewish leader husband,” is driven to “go from him hungry, broke.”21

On July 31, Edna wrote in her diary, “All my life I’ve been casting sideglances at the conventional. My story is the story of a conventional girl who could not allow herself to be conventional until she found the right thing, and then it was not to be allowed her, ever.”22 The search would last nearly two decades longer and, in the end, would “be allowed her,” though she would have to break free of the many attachments formed along the way. On August 12 she sent Ludwig her written plea for freedom, finding it “too hard to say these things to you,” though she would not include all that was in her thoughts. “I love you more than ever, but I do not see how we can go on being married. It is not a question of blame on either side—perhaps we were too hasty (as is our way) in getting married. But I’m glad we had three years together and if you do not choose to be friends with me I shall always miss you.” They were simply “not well-mated,” though “we are much alike.” Hoping to spare him some pain, she centered her argument on the life he had to lead, but which she found too physically and emotionally debilitating, unable “to do my share of the Ludwig Lewisohn business, no matter how kind, how thoughtful you were of me.” Nor could she afford to be left sidelined in the struggle to save Jim, for she would inevitably suffer “desolation” if forced by illness to relinquish “my share of the responsibility.” There was, as well, another aspect to Edna’s physical frailty—the need for an active sexual life which “our maladjustments” had prevented. “Life offers so few physical releases, that for health and sanity it is very important that I have sexual release. To be a living, sweetened human being this thing must be right for me.”

No one had ever been as protective or encouraging, or had helped build her confidence more. “But life’s too tough to settle down without the basic rights for happiness,” and while “there is nothing better than to meet you, be with you, in your stars and clouds,” his life had left her, in the end, without “some Earth that is firm for me.” She knew how he abhorred another divorce, and promised a quiet break without scandal. She only hoped that he would understand and allow her to leave, parting pleasantly and with continuing respect for each other’s needs. “You have had of life practically all you asked of it; you can now compromise…. But I do not think it is time yet for me to compromise. And my wants are needs, not whims.”23

Privately, Edna would write in her diary late that fall what she would not now include in her note to Ludwig, perhaps out of the true caring she felt, perhaps because she was still uncertain that the anger she felt was properly directed. Some of it, she knew, belonged elsewhere, long predating her first encounter with him, and the very thing that had drawn her to his writings. “Ludwig, I have forgiven your cruelty of the first years to me, but I cannot forget. You gave me no freedom of any kind, not even a breath of aloneness which wasn’t a hell of a lot to ask. Not a nickel for myself. Presents, yes, but I was as trapped as a rat. I told you last summer that I would stay with you until you got Jim back. And I did—but it nearly finished me. Now you can go to hell my pet with all your religion and nobility and intolerance and grandeur and I’m going to where I can breathe.”

But how could they have become so terribly incompatible, when at first they had so deeply satisfied each other’s hopes? Edna claimed to “have tried to live the way that would please you most,” but each step she had taken had been made fully conscious of the direction she was about to take. Was it really only “the difference in races and tempo that makes us incompatible,” she wondered in her diary?24 Or was there something else, something even more basic? Was she at all suited for domesticity with anyone? “God, I’m tired of people with good hearts when I prefer tarts, and above all, any day seasoning to reasoning.”25 “I was wrong to want a fine husband, a child, and a home and all the things that other people have.” Assuming the responsibility for the marriage’s failure, she accused herself of having “fallen down on my part of the bargain.” The guilt she felt “rusts my days and nights,” and had made her “unreligious, mean, small, envious.” Afraid that she would forever be alone now, as she was before Scott, she realized it was her fate to always “feel cheated” in life. Ludwig was not to blame. He had tried. “It is not L. particularly who has cheated me, but my own heredity and personality and whoring after justification. Play time is over, now I must work until I die.”

Unquestionably, Edna’s illness was taking its toll upon her emotions, as it had upon her spirit. “When I saw how men could die the ecstasy went out of me,” she noted in her diary on September 2,26 adding four days later that she had been “broken, because I love myself best of all.” In contrast, Ludwig was, “the wholest man I know … because he loves other things more than himself.” His very presence in her life underscored the growing difference between them. “Once I loved everyone and wanted to help everyone. But that was because I felt I had found a light, a way. Now the light has gone out and the way is lost…. I betrayed myself and my mission.” And this betrayal had, as well, kept her “from doing and living.” Even worse, she feared that she might “hurt another human soul because I made a mistake.” Overcome with despair, she saw but one role remaining. “I can only tell my story—the sad story.”27

On September 11, Edna told her father of her wish to “write my song of praise for life before I die” by recording all that she had experienced. “Otherwise, I’d choke.” Ludwig had refused to give in to her farewell note in August, and had persisted in trying to keep the marriage alive, promising her the understanding and freedom she would need to “record this life.” Perhaps then, “we’ll plan from there,” she had offered in return.28 But as we read Edna’s letters to friends and relatives that fall, Ludwig becomes ever more absent, though he saw her at the San each day. She was simply withdrawing from her life with him, as he was about to from her once he understood that changes between them were more than the product of her illness and confinement.

In mid-September, word reached Ludwig that Thelma had abandoned Jim, leaving him at the orphanage of the New York Association for Jewish Children.29 He had arrived there undernourished, dirty, and in need of eyeglasses and dental care, according to Spiro, who had gone to Brooklyn to see him.30 Within the week, Ludwig had decided to prepare for a trip back east. Though the warrant for his arrest was still outstanding, it appeared safer now that Thelma’s case had been weakened by her abandonment and his beginning payments to the orphanage. “If he goes to jail we can send him flowers,” Edna joked to her mother. In the interim, he would organize a lecture tour that would finance the trip, while asking his New York attorneys to test the waters for him. He hated to leave Edna by herself, and had turned down all previous invitations to lecture since her relapse. But he had to go now, planning to leave in early November.31

One final matter needed addressing before his departure—the placement of not one but two of his manuscripts, having just completed the Struma novel, Breathe Upon These. In addition to publishers, he continued to seek an agent, writing to one that his books had always sold, though “I’m always something of a challenge … because I’m not wholly of the day or the market-place.”32 But a series of agents refused to handle his work, offering one reason or another,33 leaving him without recourse but to turn to old associates among the publishers themselves. On October 16, Saxton turned both manuscripts down, saying that Anniversary’s “technique of … interior memory gives it such a monotony that the story interest breaks midway,” while Breathe Upon These was one of so many refugee tales that he believed they could not “do well” with it.34 When a translation he did of Maxa Nordau’s biography of her father was criticized by her and payment for it from the Morgen Journal was refused him, he wrote Spiro that “sometimes it does seem to me that Pm affronted and humiliated on all sides.”35

Spiro sensed an emotional deterioration in Ludwig from this last letter, and two days later sought Wise’s assistance, “know[ing] how close you are to him in spite of the various mistakes that he has made.” Jim had recently been placed in a foster home, arriving there still “undernourished, physically neglected, and morally spoiled.” A week had passed since his visit with Jim, but Spiro had yet to overcome the shock of this “horrible situation. James is a nervous child at present and needs warm fatherly love and care.” And Ludwig needed to be with his son. “Something must be done to bring father and son together,” Spiro argued. “I hope that you will find a way to help both of them.”36 In time, Wise’s daughter, a family court judge, would adjudicate the case in Ludwig’s favor.

Spiro was now ZOA field director for the Midwest, based in Chicago, a stop along Ludwig’s busy schedule eastward. After lecturing in St. Louis on November 8,37 Ludwig moved on to Cincinnati, where, asked why he had reversed the negative feelings about religion he had expressed at the Hebrew Union College in 1923, he replied, “Since that time I have died many deaths.”38 From Chicago, he wrote Edna on November 12, “This is the anniversary of our arrival in Tucson … and I find that our life, our strange and intimate and isolated life, has made me an even icier stranger among the common run of human beings. I wish them well; I wish they were a thousand miles away…. The san life does easily unfit one for the world.” Aware that his work would take him out among the crowds once again, he sat in Spiro’s study “wishing, half surreptitiously and shamefacedly, that I were in the quiet of Apache where no one interferes … with the operations of the immortal mind—such as it is.” He urged Edna to “cure hard” so that they would not be “ruined for the world” by staying on much longer. “Not that I like the world. God knows I don’t and I shall never again … but since we can’t dispense with the world, we’d better not quite unlearn how to face it.” Of their relationship, the distance and the chance to write had made him “feel a little better, a little clearer,” enabling him to conclude that, “Yes, I want to be on a hill-top with you. That is my final conclusion. That, alone, makes sense, of anything that I can say today.” Had Ludwig so utterly misunderstood all that Edna had been saying to him about her freedom? Perhaps he was more aware of her inner conflict than was apparent to her, and hoped to sway her in his direction. “You know, Flower-Face, I’m crippled without you. Oh, I’ll lecture satisfactorily and do whatever I can for us and for others. But I am halt and half and lost.”39

Having written Ludwig on the eleventh that she felt ill and nervous,40 she wrote again two days later, surprisingly telling him how uncomfortable she felt with the freedom his absence had given her. “Tried to work on ‘H.L.’ [her proposed study of TB patient life, The Horizontal Life] this A.M. but with little success. Not accustomed to my new life yet, new room, no husband. Can’t even make out the meaning of my notes let alone write a coherent sentence. Your girlfriend has gone to pot.”41 When Ludwig’s airmail letter arrived in Tucson on the fourteenth, Edna rushed to send back a reply. “Your unexpected letter pleased me so; all up and down my spine and in and around my heart.” He had apologized for whatever ill-temperedness his letters had displayed, but she quieted his concern, pleased to see that he understood just how unnerving and unfitting for the world sanatorium life could make its residents, sick or well. “I understand it with my nerves. I’m at home with your moods,” even those which she had come to know intimately before her confinement. Most surprisingly, she told him that his idea of a hilltop house, away from the world together, was a perfect solution to the pressures upon them. “I quite agree with you, that willy nilly, we should have a place fairly isolated if for no other reasons than that we will need a place in which to digest what world-orgies we indulge in.”42

But Ludwig’s bid for isolation was not as a prelude to worldly involvement. Quite the contrary. He now had more than ample opportunity to be a part of the larger world. Rather, he wanted to recapture what inner peace he had found in the relative calm of a year in Tucson that was now quickly dissipating. From Chicago, he was to go on to Joliet, Grand Rapids, Greenberg (Wisconsin), Racine, Minneapolis, Sioux City, Omaha, and back to Chicago. If he had hated being kept from all that was newly breaking in the Zionist world, this first exposure had left him feeling strangely alienated, as if his moment had passed and the stage no longer belonged to him, nor did he wish it to. His greatest concerns lay elsewhere, and the feverishness of this activity chilled by comparison the heat of Zionist affairs. “I feel as though all this business had really nothing to do with me anymore. I walk through it. Mind, Angel—it’s not too painful. It’s just nothing—emptiness.”43

The latest doctor’s report reaching him told of Edna’s worsening health. Fearful of what lay ahead, he was similarly concerned that Edna was still undecided about what place he would play in her future. A few days later he received her disheartening note. “Yes. Ludwig cling all you want to me, but thank you for not planning to sit on my head.… I am very grateful for the feeling of being sheltered that you give me—I’ve never had that before—but when the shelter seems to turn into a jail all I want to do is break out.”44 Ludwig received an even more worrisome letter from her two days later, advising that he remain in Chicago for the winter since they could see little of each other now that her illness had worsened. Her plan, quite inconsistently, was to leave the San for a mountain cabin where she would cure herself and then return to him.45 She would ask Margaret Sanger to help her locate this house, while it would be Ludwig’s job to “grit your teeth” and take whatever assignments were offered in order to “free Jim and then write a good book,” and cover their expenses.46 The next day, November 21, she again advised him to stay in Chicago, the search for a house proving more difficult than she had assumed it would be.47

But nearly two weeks of lecturing had passed between his note of “emptiness” and the arrival of Edna’s second request that he remain in Chicago until spring. With each intervening day, he was slowly regaining his enthusiasm for the lectern and the road. “I have nothing to complain of in the attitude of the people—not anything,” he reported on the twenty-fifth.48 Three days later, he spoke of the public adulation he was receiving, “treated like a half-consecrated person. They miss the artist and the man,” he added in wonderment, his only criticism that they didn’t buy enough books to make it possible for him “to stay on a mountain with you.”49

Edna continued in her ambivalence, writing that she was busily looking for a house, though “I just can’t picture you in your little cell alone all winter except for 1/2 [an] hour with me.”50 “I am more fitted to be your beloved disciple than your wife.” She would understand “if you could be happier somewhere else.”51 In truth, as she wrote in her diary, “I have at moments during these two weeks missed Ludwig. Our talk, our thoughts are in the same groove,” but whatever he was in her life, “what he is not is my mate.”52 She could not as yet tell him this, any more than he could tell her, and so they went on speaking in euphemisms, sometimes displaying their sincere indecisiveness, but always purposely missing the mark in defense of the other’s feelings, for they truly loved one another. “Are we not mentally and spiritually much closer than we are physically? And by insisting on the physical bond,” she would ask, “did we not perhaps muddy the other uncannily close bonds?”53 “We both hate compromise [and] marriage is compromise,” but a compromise without which he could not live. “I’ve been your husband and am and held you in my arms a hundred times.… No one can rob me of the hope that it will be again.”54

In the midst of Ludwig’s triumphant return to the Zionist stage and his slowly ending marriage to Edna, news reached him that Thelma had suddenly removed Jim from the care of the Foster Home Bureau of the New York Jewish Children’s Association. Wise had sent word of this new development to Spiro on November 30.55 In response, Spiro asked Wise to forward on to the association “a word from you as to the character and [parental] ability of Lewisohn,” so as to correct the caseworker’s belief that “the child seems to be the victim of the neuroses of both his parents.” With a legal battle no longer avoidable, Spiro was certain that the court would solicit the association’s assessment. Spiro asked, as well, for Wise’s help in locating Jim, Thelma once again refusing to disclose this information. Perhaps she had left an address with the association. It was nearly Hanukkah, and there were gifts to be sent.56 Wise himself now took a conciliatory posture toward Ludwig. First chiding him for selfishly marrying Edna despite the “most lamentable results” for Jim, as (“you will admit”) he had foreseen, he then assured Ludwig that “all that lies in the past, though I trust that much of the happiness will lie in the future.”57

With little reason to go on to New York now, Ludwig decided to remain in Chicago to arrange for a second tour before returning to Tucson for a brief stay. Throughout January, as preparations were being made for his two-month crisscrossing of the States, Ludwig attended to the publication of his two new novels. Anniversary, written purely as a source of income, was still methodically going from one publishing house to the next. But Breathe Upon These, as a moral outcry against the indifference shown Jewish refugees worldwide, held a greater urgency for him. In support of its publication, Ludwig solicited letters from prominent leaders and writers, Jew and non-Jew alike. By January 15, endorsements had been received from Reinhold Niebuhr, Abba Hillel Silver, Louis Levinthal, and Alfred Kazin. He hoped for a few more, particularly that of a “goyish critic, especially since Kazin (as I didn’t know) turns out to be a Jew and not the right kind.”58

Yet, even Silver’s endorsement was not all that useful. Though “deeply moved” by the novel and finding it “so true and so dramatically revealing of the great tragedy and guilt in which all peoples are involved today,” he cautioned that reviving “indignation … against the British Government … might do some harm,” particularly now that the United Nations, of which Britain was a key member, had officially condemned “the mass murder of our unfortunate brothers in Europe” and had announced plans “for the punishment of the Nazi criminals.” To renew accusations against Britain, Silver warned, “would be misinterpreted and I am afraid bitterly resented by those whom we must have as our friends. Patrioteers, even Jewish ones, will accuse you and us [Zionists] of interfering with the war effort by seeking to blacken the reputation of our strongest ally in the war against the Axis.”59

Ludwig was upset, if not outraged, at such appeasement of the offending parties’ feelings. He assured Silver that he had considered the political consequences, but that this was an instance when such considerations were of minor concern. Had Britain purged its guilt by doing anything? Declaring that so little could be done, Parliament had chosen to not do “that little,” its performance “supremely horrible.” The Jews, Ludwig argued, facing “injustice in rather brutal forms,” could not “afford that luxury.” It was long past the time when Jewish voices needed to be raised against the indifference of all governments and their leaders, including the United States. Anticipating the criticism of Roosevelt that was to be heard publicly more than three decades later, Ludwig protested the reluctance of Silver and others to speak out and possibly save lives. “The crime committed against us and so against humanity is so unique and monstrous as to place it utterly beyond healing words and kind assurances or prudent considerations…. No, my dear friend. When Antony Eden weeps crocodile tears and does nothing about refugees freely entering Eretz Yisrael and even when our great and good President sends agreeable messages to conventions but never speaks out about a Jewish People or that people’s place (with Luxembourg!) at the peace table—I confess I am unmoved and unassuaged.”60

To another would-be endorser whose objections were like those of Silver, Ludwig added that “Prudence is a virtue that doesn’t work.” Visiting friends in Germany for all but one year between 1924 and 1932, he had witnessed their “prudence and moderation, good sense and clever strategy.” Such tactics had only won for them the Nazis’ contempt. Those in Britain and elsewhere whom Jewish leaders feared offending “are not people who can be moved by either the prudence or the imprudence of men of good will. The bones they gnaw in the caverns of their minds are their only sustenance. They are our nemesis.” To give in to their unspoken threats, or our fears, Ludwig posited, was to aid these “dark leaders” in “destroy[ing] all that is higher than they, to tear down the world into a chaos. We can do nothing with them. It is too late. All we can do is to strengthen the hands and kindle the passions of a civilized minority. Such is the best ‘truth’ attainable to me.”61

With several days remaining before the start of his new tour, Ludwig flew to Los Angeles, hoping to stir the Hollywood pot a bit before going on to his first stop, Indianapolis.62 From California, he wrote Edna apologetically, lamenting his absence once again, “Sorry that we need the money, so that I have to leave you and go out after it.”63 Receiving a rejection for The Horizontal Life that same day, January 30, Edna wrote that “we’d better thank God that you have the chance to lecture because from the literary mail we got today, we aren’t going to sell anything until another civilization arises…. The human soul and heart are out of fashion.”64

Edna hastened to reassure Ludwig when his apology arrived, counseling that they must “be brave … tak[ing] the days one at a time,” getting as much as they could from each, “because they will never return for us to take another crack at.”65 If the world was less than it might be, they would have to make do with it as it was, using their “little hammer” to try to reshape it “as well as we can. And not be upset anew each time we receive signs and manifestations of the stark and terrifying truth of things.”66 So, too, with their marriage, she advised on the eve of their third anniversary, sending him congratulations “on being a lucky man” and recalling “our three years together … filled with many things, but none of them dullness. Right?”67

She need not have worried. Enthusiastic audiences were now greeting Ludwig wherever he spoke. By February 5, with Indianapolis, Lexington, and Charleston (West Virginia) behind him, he would write, “Can you imagine me: all and more than all the old reverence and love for me among our people and ‘how about your next book’ they ask and ‘Renegade must have sold well’ and say the introducers: the greatest and the only, etc. etc. and well, the inwardness!”68 If Edna thought him to be exaggerating, a letter sent to Edna by a friend present in Ludwig’s Chicago audience of February 8 was confirmation of his assessment. “I wonder do you know how it affects one to know you are to see and hear that person whose books you have discovered out of all the meaningless matter—whose books have such significance for you because they mirror so many of your own emotions and thoughts and inner experiences, and then you actually see that writer.” These “beautiful reactions to you,” Edna acknowledged to Ludwig, “are so much like what I felt and feel about you.” “Oh, I truly enjoyed it so,” Edna’s friend continued. “He has such a rich humor—yet all the while I could sense that essential aloneness of him, that underlying sadness. And the goodness, the justness—even when he was condemning. And the rhythmic accompaniment of his hands with his speech, his thought—and his sincerity—oh it was so good to hear deep thoughts sincerely and fearlessly spoken.”69

Edna had continued to search for a small house to rent or buy, but had still not found something suitable by the time of Ludwig’s latest departure. From the San, she had written him of this “fan letter” and of her inability now to do much more than answer her mail (much of it concerning manuscript rejections) and his. “After all you’re working to help me and I can do a little something to help you.” Among the “necessary mail,” as she called those letters which could not await his return, was a registered package from the Child Abandonment Bureau of the New York district attorney’s office, threatening to prosecute Ludwig for nonpayment of child support. Accompanying it was, as Edna recognized, “One of Spear’s wildly fantastic letters about what a hardworking child-loving creature she is, and how she has spent all her money on lawyers and begs your help at this ‘thirteenth hour’—about how she devotes all her time to her little son.” Enclosed, as well, were “two false notes from Jim written at dictation” and a photo showing him “pretty disgusted.” To demonstrate that she had never held bad feelings toward Ludwig, Thelma included “two crushed pansies as a final touch.” Edna accepted the package but refused to sign the receipt so that the DA would be unable to prove Ludwig’s knowledge of its contents should his attorneys advise that he continue to withhold support. At the very least, it would buy him some time.

In Ludwig’s absence, Edna’s college friend and former lover, Gladys, came to visit for five days, occupying his room in the San’s guest quarters. “I had a nice time last night,” Edna wrote Ludwig the day after her arrival.70 “I quite understand, always have, the comfort you take in Gladys,” Ludwig responded on February 16, “also the memoried contrast she gives you and what, in that connection, you say of you and me…. You have habit of being, I have but little self-trust in certain senses.” Far worse, he now admitted, all that he had gained of “any sort of security” in the world through their union “has been shattered again in recent years.” His muse, identified by him with the bath kol, that heavenly voice of Jewish tradition active after the period of the prophets, informing and inspiring thoughts among those humans most keenly attuned to the divine will, had once again come to him through Edna’s presence in his life. Now he was “alone,” left to suffer an all too familiar sense of spiritual loss.

I had a great uprush of it when you and I came together.… A voice seemed to come to me then—a BATH KOL—daughter of the voice, as our sages say, whether from ultimate depth of the sub-conscious or from heaven and tell me that I had gained security of soul at last and need never fear again. Well I was not permitted to keep that in any way or even any aspect of it. Forces without and forces within tore it out of me again…. No point of rest or of security was left…. The insecurity was again injected into the most sacred inner matters and at the same time the world and destiny came with a new set of bludgeons and beat me down, down, down.

“I’ve lost my sense of God through this. No one can help me.” But if Edna was no longer his soul mate, he would continue as her friend. “You may depend on me for the future in the matter of your—shall we call it privacy? I give you my word. You can trust me in this matter,” for what had drawn him to her, the “flame” burning within her, still drew him to her, if from a new vantage. “There’s no one who can shine in a world in which you flame…. And it was my one error to imagine that star-flame could be hearth-fire too.” He was now prepared to move on, having experienced “a number of inner changes, a strange coming to certain conclusions too” during a brief illness in Chicago, and while cared for by a woman who would eventually replace Edna in his life.71

Yet, if he was growing more resolved, the renewed sense of failure and loss were sending Ludwig into a protracted period of depression. Despite all the “love and reverence” he was receiving from one audience after another, they failed to warm his spirit.72 He would rise to condemn the massive slaughter of Europe’s Jews, and demand that “No matter how many military victories may be won, the war will result in a moral defeat unless some restitution is made to the Jewish people.”73 Thunderous applause would follow, but it left him chilled in his soul when the personal life he craved was again beyond his reach, his child fatherless, his wife and he slowly separating. “It is a sort of miracle how, every evening … though half-dazed with weariness and half-choked with disgust, I nevertheless summon up concentration of strength, some gleam of fury—yes, fury—and speak to the people.”74 Edna, in her isolation, could not quite understand his failure to appreciate “the love and homage of people…. So much of life seems necessarily to be sad and heavy, if I were you I would make use of my small opportunity to be for a moment or two, pleased and warmed.” He had earned these rewards after “years of planting and sowing,”75 Edna tried to convince him, but he felt even worse knowing that he should. “I told you I often blame myself and call myself to account for ungratefulness because good things are a mockery to me and seem to turn to me the faces of living devils.”76

“My poor radiant suffering tortured flaming Ludwig,” Edna responded with deep sincerity. “I wish I could always keep the horned devils away from you, and that I was not actually one of the horns even while I’m holding you in my arms.” She felt terrible that she had become “a pain” to him, as he had to her, but there was always the consolation that “we can distract each other from that pain by our stimulation of each other.” As with Ludwig, she had managed to look beyond their marriage, seeing in their relationship the ingredients for a long and caring friendship. “Ah, alack and alas, we are a queer pair,” for whom “alien images contort our being” and “alien shadows darken us with doubt,” as Ludwig himself had portrayed them in his poem to her the year before.77 Before long, they noted in letters to each other on March 6, they would be together again, the tour of the East and Midwest already completed, leaving only Texas and the Southwest to be visited over the next twelve days.78

Ludwig returned to Tucson in late March in better humor than he had been in many weeks. Though Edna was still gravely ill, her health had deteriorated no further and they could enjoy each other’s companionship, which both had missed during the nearly three months he had been away. There was even a small sign of some possible healing occurring, leaving the hope of a foreseeable recovery.79 Then, too, he could rest at the San as he could nowhere else. The exhaustion of the road—endless miles by train, a different hotel each night, new faces to greet, evening talks and late-night gatherings—all were temporarily behind him. “After all, strong and well as I am, thank God, the sand is running in the glass,” he told Spiro as he neared his sixty-first birthday.80

In his absence, requests for material had arrived from various sources, including the Jewish Mirror, for which Ludwig proposed “an article on The Mystery of Israel…. Nothing probably altogether unheard of, but the recalling of a group of facts for the illumination of the dreadful present.”81 Werfel’s Song of Bernadette, in Ludwig’s translation, was just then appearing in the March issue of the Ladies Home Journal,82 and Huebsch, now one of the founders of Viking Press, was requesting a copy of the manuscript for consideration.83 Adding his numerous lecture fees to these incidental incomes, Ludwig could at last meet his expenses, if not live at the level he had once enjoyed.

More significantly, though, was his sense of having been of some usefulness through all his effort. “This is the most satisfactory tour (morally) I’ve ever undertaken. The people are stirred; it seems to have been given me to stir them more. I think I left the impulse to immediate further activity in 95% of the communities I visited.” Yet this good feeling was not unmitigated. “Beneath all this the conflicting emotions which you can well imagine,” he wrote Spiro on March 22. “Glad and grateful that I can help others—which is evidently what I’m meant to do—and stricken that I can help others and not myself or mine at all.”84

In May 1944, Edna would write in her diary, “The falseness of my life with L.L. was broken by him in [the] spring of 1943. Thereafter followed many months of inexplainable pain, discouragement, depression, silence of the soul.”85 Perhaps Ludwig believed that his decision to reveal his brief Chicago affair to Edna would have some curative effect upon them both, but Edna’s response quickly demonstrated his miscalculation.86 “I too would have said wild things,” he wrote her on April 22, after the ensuing blowup resulted in his seeking lodging outside the San. “Only your accusations weren’t the right ones,” he tried to tell her. “We’re both in a very black pit. Oh, at the very bottom of one.” Ludwig tried to reason through this “tragic situation,” speaking of his years-long awareness “that something like an umbilical cord of the spirit connected you with another,” of the shame he felt at not being able to satisfy her sexual needs, of its heightening by Scott’s visit the previous summer at the San (never before raised in any correspondence between them, or in Edna’s diary), and by the uncertainty in their relationship he had felt, with increasing pain, since that day had dredged up feelings of all that she believed missing in her life, without which she had not wished to live. “So every withdrawal of yours and every insufficingness of mine, whether induced by these circumstances or not, plunged me deeper, deeper into self-contempt and despair.… I’m not a hero or a martyr,” he reminded her, telling of his vow that day of Scott’s visit, that “some day, if the right occasion arose, I would plunge if only for a day into some lustral bath … which would wash from me the thousand torments and humiliations.”

Though that day had not yet dawned, he refused to break off this new relationship and not because his lover’s employers were his literary agents, as Edna suggested. “I simply dare not destroy the friendship, I’m scared. I’m terror-stricken. I’d be back where I was before—humiliated, old, cast-off.” At his age he could not compete with Scott. “The erotic element is deep and primordial and a division there or a turning away there, however subtle, or a devaluation there—it gnaws at the root.” It was so tragic, so pitiful. They truly loved and understood one another as no one else ever had—of this he was certain. But he could no longer live with uncertainty about the future. It was no one’s fault, except perhaps his “in so far as I insisted we get married…. Unwisdom … rooted in love.” He could have waited for her to recover with “comparatively little trouble.” But a “terror” drove him into another’s arms. “Waiting for what? To be unsufficing again? Perhaps by the addition of a few more years at my age more than ever? To hear you say again and even write, that you have no time to be mis-mated? And finally to lose you despite all?”

Louise Wolk, now a Chicago representative for Bentley and Livingston, had first met Ludwig in Des Moines some years earlier when she interviewed him for a syndicated column. It is possible that she was the Louise referred to in Ludwig’s journal at the time of his break with Thelma and his first meeting with Edna. Their deepening affection at this later time would help Ludwig to break with Edna in the months ahead. For now, however, he continued to hope for the possibility of reconciliation, cautioning that “my glib answer or any sudden impulsive action would be a horrible sin against us both.… Does it even touch the intertwined substance of our lives to tell me blankly to go to hell?”87

Edna was now more determined than ever to leave the San and Tucson itself. It was the beginning of an odyssey that would take her from one sanatorium to another until she settled upon one in Santa Fe the following year. Preparing to leave in two days, she began a new story with the opening line, “There was something awful about leaving a place you hadn’t loved.” Filled with despair at having wastefully spent an entire year of her life, she went on: “There were only two more days before she’d be gone from here, probably never to return. It was too late now to make up for all the 365 days of loving she could have done.” Discontentment had not allowed her to appreciate the natural wonders and the untamed life teeming all around her in the desert. For this she was saddened as she looked back upon her year, as if blaspheming the source of the very life force she strained to express. “It gave you the uncomfortable feeling that you’d turned your face away from God not to appreciate everything…. Lying here, she made no promises. But she knew with guilt and shame, that for a whole year she had turned her head.”

Near the sketch’s end, she admitted how “when the world was dark she had failed him. It was dark and he was lost in the world, when he needed her.”88 To Ludwig she wrote in her diary, on the last day at the San, “Precious Ludwig, the ambulance is here. I am going. Letter on way to you. Farewell party last night makes me feel normal again.”89 At the same time, she wrote to Scott. “I want to mark the steps away from you. Am on my way to Prescott. Someday soon the steps will be toward you. There is nothing in the world at all but you and me.”90 Whom, then, had she abandoned to the world’s darkness? Perhaps even she didn’t know anymore.

Arriving at the new sanatorium in Prescott, she wrote herself a note setting forth rules and a plan which she believed would, if followed, bring recovery. “Do not fret; do not try to solve anything more. Your job is to get well. Until then nothing is possible for you.” Above all was “emotional rest.… Sit where you can look at people but not be a part of them. In these months go to a hotel. Be isolated among them.”91 While Ludwig remained in contact with Edna throughout this transition, he waited several days after her settling in before visiting. He was about to begin yet another lecture tour and had made his way to Prescott on May 1 before leaving for the Southeast. That evening Edna admonished herself to “Try actively to rest and be tranquil. Each hour of these is an hour off the end of your time.”92

Ludwig’s time ahead was anything but tranquil as he toured throughout his home region, filling one hall after another, building support for the Zionist cause even where none had existed before. Of course, it was the war and there was news of what would later be known as the Holocaust. But it was more than that. There was something magnetic in his voice and visage, something which he believed had been a gift from God to use to save his people, as if the bath kol had again returned to him, not as much for the purpose of writing as for speaking and bringing together this scattered and contentious people for a singular cause. “I have had excellent and highly responsive audiences everywhere,” he wrote Spiro on May 8. “In Asheville I seemed to have gotten crucial people who had hitherto resisted to sign up…. Here in Atlanta I had the largest audience of its kind ever gathered…. I am in a sense the voice, the articulate commemorating voice of the American Jews of our time.”93 In this role, he would put into print what he had been saying wherever he had stopped over the last half year. “This is a dark hour in Jewish history. This is an hour of stagnancy and of an evil hush. The great and dreadful dying of our people in Europe continues, and even as the tragedy turns fierier and fierier and transcends all experience and all words, our friends fall silent and many who are not conscious of being our enemies in mad, glad picturesque Pagan exuberance seek to complete our doom.” If there was to be anything meaningful, anything redemptive for all mankind from this slaughter, it would have to be “the free rebirth of that people in Eretz Yisrael.” Without this, “all martyrdoms [will] have been meaningless” and “the historic process … drained of moral value”—and a victory for the pagans, ultimately. “The triumph of the Zionist idea has become the test of the validity of all values, of the meaning of morals, of the nature of martyrdom. If it goes down to disaster life is a blunder and a shame. Not only for Jews. For Western man. The moral universe will have deliquesced in a putrid heap. This is neither overstatement nor rhetoric. It is the quite naked truth.”94

Earlier that year, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany, Ludwig had written for a published symposium edited by Wise titled Never Again! “It is the mark of our disastrous age that the unimaginable becomes fact … [that] men forget that moral differences are the only differences that count.” Allowing themselves to be distracted by talk of business, “shallow scientific knowledge and the opiate of machinery,” they had become consciously “heedless of the command that man is his brother’s keeper; they pretended that the abyss had not in 1933 spewed forth primordial evil determined to destroy both the City of Man and the City of God.” At stake were “the Jewish ethos and its inferences in Christianity,” but worldly comforts had brought sufficient contentment “in a godless world.” What guilt was felt at such “indifference … seemed to deepen … [and] became actually belligerent in the forms of appeasement in Europe and isolationism in America. And those who had had no original share in the historic crime became accessories to it after the fact.” The war now raging was “the heavy penalty” being paid; the indifference to Jewish suffering, this “supreme and symbolic martyrdom of the Jewish people … [the] eternal mark of Cain upon the forehead of all mankind!” Even now “the peoples of Western Christendom, of the United Nations, have not wholly awakened; even yet none or almost none has come out clearly and spoken out clearly and said: Unless this central wrong is righted, unless this thing that stamps the Anti-Christ as such is forevermore remedied, the certain victory of the United Nations will hold a core of moral defeat and of the continuance of evil.”95

Throughout these months of dramatic world change and disruption in his personal life, what did remain constant was Jim’s disappearance at Thelma’s hand. Not until a letter dated May 14, sent by the New York DA’s office, had reached him in New Orleans later that month did he begin to learn what had happened. The Children’s Court of New York had stepped into the picture when Ludwig’s refusal to pay support had forced Thelma to the DA’s Child Abandonment Bureau. Jim had been in their care since March 1. Assured now that the money he would provide would be used for his child’s well-being, Ludwig pledged to send payment for Jim’s stay at the Pleasantville Cottage School, a Jewish boarding school for orphaned and emotionally troubled children. He now sent Jim books and toys, and wrote several times, sending an additional monthly allowance, though Jim failed to respond. The school’s director contacted Ludwig, asking for a conference with him, but with the contempt of court warrant for nonpayment not yet voided, he could not enter the state. Proceedings to accomplish this and to regain custody of Jim would begin that summer.96

Ludwig returned to Arizona in June and arrived in Valmora, where Edna had transferred to a third sanatorium. The reunion was uncontentious. There seemed little to struggle over any longer. On the twenty-seventh, Ludwig promised Edna that by year’s end he would grant her the divorce she sought.97 In her diary she wrote, “For four years they tried to outwit their own fate, but it was no use. He had looked on the face of darkness and she on the face of light. He tried to pull her down with him into the darkness and she him up into the light.” There had been good moments, of warmth and sharing. “No one would ever know, she thought, as she was saying good-bye to him, the strange keen pleasure she had felt…. Like great wings he had been, wrapping her in the cloak of them. Thinly clothed she would go now, a sport for the winds, a figure whose shadow against dark walls would be askew, a stark fright to herself, forever.”98

Throughout the summer and fall of 1943, as Edna cycled through periods of recovery and relapse, Ludwig’s energy level appeared to increase. Perhaps, as he imagined, the bath kol had called once again. He felt stronger now, more confident, more accepted as audiences applauded his prophetic voice and his message of no compromise. The ZOA’s New Palestine had refused his recent article attacking the indifference of the Allies toward European Jewry, claiming that “An editor must at all times be conscious of the limitations of his organ, and while it is proper to set an editorial standard much higher than the level of the average reader, your manuscript touches the stars.”99 Ludwig understood the actual reason for the rejection. “That you are right is pretty depressing,” he told Carl Alpert of the New Palestine; a “pretty sorry situation” that so many would not be able to follow his arguments because of the many classical and historical allusions. But this was not really why the article had been returned. Rather, the politics of the moment, the attempt not to anger any of the Allied leaders or their peoples, was a cornerstone of the current Zionist leaders’ policy, hoping to win a Jewish state out of the peace to come. “Do tell me when you can use something of mine and what the necessities of the moment seem to be.… We won’t worry beyond that,” he added with a note of sarcasm, “for if the unum necessarium cannot be said, silence is more seemly. Don’t you think so?”100

As news of greater and continuing slaughter reached the States, Ludwig’s patience with compromise of all kinds—with the Allies, with non-Zionist Jews, and among Zionists themselves—ran out. On July 25 he wrote Spiro a blistering attack upon his fellow Zionists’ efforts to bring into the fold those Jews who were not yet convinced of the need for a Jewish refuge in Palestine.

What’s this about appeasement of non-Zionists I read about in the Morgen Journal? Can’t Jews ever do anything right, straight, proudly and—if need be—and sometimes it needs to be—ruthlessly. We, of all people, should know better than to pact with evil. The whole curse of our age can be summed up in that phrase: pacting with evil. I’d like to write an article about that for the New Palestine and on the underlying philosophy. But the New Palestine too wants to pussy-foot…. Not one sharp word, not one forthright action, not one un-compromising spiritual attitude. Broadminded as whores—liberal as dung-heaps—even we, even we.

The need to compromise his own position for financial reasons was abhorrent to him. Morally outraged by his inability to speak out as he wished without threatening his livelihood and the welfare of his son and wife (whose support was still his willingly accepted responsibility), he suggested to Spiro that “a few equal minds” might try “to capture the Revisionist group and join with them in that conservative revolution which alone, for us and for the world, can do any good.” Unaccepting of the total program of the Zionist Right, it held, he believed, more promise of success in breaking the hold of the British over the establishment of a Jewish state than did that of the Zionist Left, which appeared, through its policy of slow and carefully measured negotiations, unwilling to do what was necessary to save lives. “The task which must be done is to … read the fools and cowards and fashionables out of the community of Israel,” he declared uncompromisingly, “and fling the challenge of a deathless moral irredentism in the world’s face.”101

His appetite whetted, Ludwig again wanted a greater voice in Jewish affairs. But the outstanding warrant in New York, the center of Zionist activity in America, prevented him from involving himself at close range. Nor was he able to deal with Jim’s abandonment at the Pleasantville orphanage from such a distance. To be closer to both, Ludwig moved to Philadelphia; but it was still not close enough. “I can really accomplish nothing, either professionally or for Jim, unless I can come to New York,” he wrote Billikopf, asking him “to find out … how the ban may be lifted, so that I can work again and at least see my child.”

Though his income had begun to grow, it was still too low to absorb additional attorney’s fees. “I’m still so poor that I have had … to let my attorneys abandon me for want of the fees they demand.” Perhaps some free legal assistance could be arranged. Once back in New York, Ludwig assured Billikopf, he would be able to get back on his feet.102 Billikopf immediately contacted Louis Posner, an attorney and friend who had met Ludwig on several occasions through his own role in Jewish communal life, and asked whether he could do something to assist in untangling the legal morass in which father and son now found themselves. “I have known Ludwig Lewisohn for years, am familiar with all of his difficulties, mostly of a marital nature,” Billikopf wrote, “but he has so many fine qualities and such an extraordinary sense of devotion to our people that I want to help him.”103

Posner responded that he could not resist “the desire to help him … to the point where it may be completely cleared.” In Ludwig’s favor was Posner’s position on the board of directors of the Pleasantville orphanage where Jim was now residing. He assured Ludwig and Billikopf that it was “beautifully situated … [and] under enlightened supervision,” with the children living “as nearly a home life as possible.” Further, Posner promised to ask the orphanage director to give Jim “some special attention.”104 Billikopf thanked Posner for consenting to do all that he could. “I cannot tell you how much your letter meant to Lewisohn. It gave him so much hope and consolation.”105

While waiting to be free of these legal restrictions on his movement, Ludwig continued lecturing in the Philadelphia and Washington areas, often speaking two or three times a day for the United Jewish Appeal—“the usual errands … useful, doubtless, but hard for me as you know.” Enjoying the benefits of his recent rehabilitation in official Jewish circles, he was now being invited to write editorials for the New Palestine. Its editor, Carl Alpert, was being drafted into the war, and a strong voice was needed to replace his.106 Though the ZOA could not imagine Ludwig in the role of editor for their journal, a sudden shift in policy, steered by Abba Hillel Silver, who chaired its affiliate, the American Zionist Emergency Council, had brought them quite close to Ludwig’s stance, which Silver himself had earlier appeared to reject.107

While still awaiting JPS’s decision on Breathe Upon These, having just submitted the manuscript to them, Ludwig was asked by the society to translate, at Martin Buber’s request, Buber’s long tale of Hasidic life in Poland during the Napoleonic era, Gog and Magog, which Ludwig enthusiastically agreed to undertake in early October 1943. Buber thought well of Ludwig’s earlier translations of several essays and had suggested him for the work as early as December 1941. Ludwig likewise thought a great deal of Buber, characterizing him in Breathe Upon These as “an old and dear friend of mine … a man venerable now and white but with the unimpaired profile, delicate and precise, of a Greek cameo. A scholar, a stylist, a saint … a deeply religious Jew.”108 Only after a number of readers, including Salo Baron, Shalom Spiegel, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, had given their approval to the project were the contracts offered to Buber and Ludwig.

Jacobs was pleased with the early pages from Ludwig and, in answer to Buber’s request to see the translation in manuscript for “remarks,” wrote him on November 16 that Ludwig “is the finest translator in America and is more than delighted to have the opportunity of doing your translation. We are assured of a true translation with all the beauty of your thought expressed in his excellent English.”109 Receiving Jacobs’s assurances, Buber responded by agreeing that Ludwig was “a masterful translator, to my opinion the best that could be found altogether,” but he would, nonetheless, anxiously await the manuscript, there being “details that only an adept of Hasidism can be sure to render adequately.”110 Jacobs, of course, acceded to Buber’s request,111 while Ludwig, by early January, would reassure Jacobs that all authors, himself included, share this same anxiety over the quality of their work set by another in a language different from what they themselves had used to craft the original text.112

Ludwig had been deeply moved that Yom Kippur by services in Philadelphia’s Sephardic synagogue, Mikveh Israel. “It’s been years since I heard the exquisite nostalgic Sephardic nigunoth [melodies]—not indeed since I worshipped in the Salonican synagogue quite a few years ago.” Perhaps thoughts of its likely destruction had deepened his impatience over JPS’s indecision concerning Breathe Upon These. He had already heard that the society’s editor, Solomon Grayzel, had thought well of the book, but had determined that outside readers were necessary in deciding whether it was too propagandistic a piece for them to publish. Writing to Maurice Jacobs following the holy day’s conclusion, Ludwig asserted that, most definitely, “It is propaganda—like all sound literature, or almost all, from the Trojan Woman through Shaw. It is only in the hearts of a few strange people today that Zionist doesn’t mean Jewish.” Without specifically raising the political issue of Jewish statehood in Palestine, he had written what he believed to be

the only Jewish war story, the only story hitherto written that seeks (by an outstanding and symbolical incident) to bring the intolerable and immeasurable Jewish tragedy home to the hearts of men. It would be another historic shame—added to the many others—if the J.P.S. didn’t grab this story because of the fear of a few self-opinionated men who are noisy in their little place today but whom, as you and your associates well know, the march of history will sweep out of sight tomorrow. I speak strongly because I feel strongly and, I am sure, justly. I am concerned for the story far less because it is mine than because it is itself. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m more concerned with the Jewish people than I am with myself. And this urgency of mine concerning this particular book springs from the same motives.113

While Ludwig left for Chicago and nearby cities to lecture in mid-October, debate within JPS over the book’s publication continued. It was decided to seek another independent opinion, sending it to a local Jewish attorney, Bernard Frankel, to read and comment upon. In addition to the possible charge of libel for negatively characterizing the British high commissioner involved in preventing the Struma from docking, Frankel thought the subject untimely, questioning “whether anything is to be gained by retelling the story of the tragedy of the Sturma [sic] and the persecution of the Jews in Europe by Hitler and his satellites.”114

Extending his stay in the Midwest beyond the originally anticipated two weeks, Ludwig wrote Jacobs from his agent’s Chicago office on November 12, asking JPS for a quick decision on a possible joint publication of the book with Bobbs-Merrill.115 “It would be a great honor and distinction to publish Dr. Ludwig Lewisohn’s beautiful, moving, and convincing story,” they had recently written. They too, however, were concerned about the possible charge of libel. “Inferentially there is an attack here on one of our great Allies in the war. The successful prosecution of the war effort is the first concern with us all and neither you nor we would wish to do anything that might, officially, be deemed to hamper or embarrass it.” Was there any objection to their submitting the manuscript to the Office of War Information or the Office of Censorship to be “on the safe side”? they asked.116

No further documentation exists regarding the question of government approval before Bobbs-Merrill’s decision to publish Breathe Upon These in early December. JPS had still not decided whether to join in this venture when, in the middle of the month, Ludwig wrote Jacobs one last time in response to their request to delay issuing it until after a late-January meeting of the society’s publication committee. Ludwig was hesitant to “dampen the very high enthusiasm” of Bobbs-Merrill, he told Jacobs. More importantly, it was precisely the right moment for publication as scheduled, February 1944, exactly two years since the Struma had sunk because of Allied indifference. The recent British white paper confirming the policy of blockade against refugees to Palestine only heightened the timeliness and, more so, the need. “It is not often in Jewish history that the publication of a given piece of writing has been of such crucial importance,” Ludwig reminded them, critically. “I should feel deeply sorry—not at all for myself—if the Society lost this opportunity.”117

Ludwig had only a day to wait for the response, sent airmail special delivery. Grayzel informed him that despite a careful selection of outside readers, all “very favorably disposed to you,” there seemed little possibility of winning approval for JPS’s involvement. “A considerable number of doubts are being expressed as to the advisability of our publishing your manuscript. Even those of us who feel quite strongly, as you do, about the injustices of the situation you describe, hesitate to advise that we, as a Jewish organization, at this time undertake to criticize so severely.” Did they feel morally comfortable with this self-imposed silence in the face of what they knew to be so unjustifiable? “Right or wrong, and I am sure you say wrong, that is the attitude and that is what we have to work with.”118

But if Ludwig could push JPS no further, he had at last secured a publisher for his polemic on Allied complicity in the slaughter of Europe’s Jews, leveled equally against the British for their restrictive immigration policies as it was against the well-off, passionless Americans who had actively sought to know and feel nothing, and particularly not about a people so very different than themselves. Instead, “more and more each year” the dominant group in America experienced “a cool pervasive shame of any feeling or its expression, of any keen interest in anything but what was superficial or trivial, a degradation and shriveling of their very speech.”119 What passion they raised had been dedicated to an “isolationist sentiment” swept away only by the attack upon Pearl Harbor.120 And even now, after months of dying, their own sons going off to war, there were some who still debated the nature of the struggle against Hitler and fascism “in voices pretentiously cultured and … falsely judicious.”121

The book centered around a dinner party at which Dorfman, a recent refugee scientist, and his wife described in detail the persecution, ghettoization, and mass murder that had led to the desperate attempt to reach safety aboard the Struma, a fifty-foot unseaworthy vessel which had splintered immediately upon hitting a mine. “The demon in Europe is brutality for its own sake. Naked abstract evil” motivated by “the hatred of the lower for the higher. It is the purposeless revolt of the depths—of all that is dull, criminal, unfeeling, against the higher human types, be they Christian or Jew.” It was, he insisted, “chaos trying to shatter cosmos; it is formlessness against form.”122 In the failure of Christendom to understand this most fundamental attack upon itself, Dorfman/Lewisohn found the greatest danger, and the source of his profoundest fear. That they were largely silent after Kristallnacht, that they saw the nationwide attack only upon Jews and not upon their “fellow men and women and children,” that they “were glad to have Hitler appeased … is the thing that frightened me. And my worst fears have come true.”123

Having said much of this in print already, Ludwig then took the attack one step further, beyond where Jews had publicly gone. “It is they that make me afraid,” he said of the Christians to whom the real moral question of the Holocaust needed to be asked. “Are you sure you will think about these Jews as people?”124 While many others suffered, Dorfman acknowledged, it was the Jews, as a group without exception, who “suffer most terribly. They are the only ones who are slaughtered—men, women, and children.”125 This was possible, he told them, because “the Germans have invented the technique of total terror” that had made rebellion within their sphere so nearly impossible.126 But what of those outside occupied Europe, in Britain and America? While the British expressed outrage at the atrocities committed against their own people in the Pacific, they felt no similar horror at the Jews’ slaughter nor at their own complicitous policies of self-interest in Palestine, established and maintained “by the forces in the British Empire which could send those innocent souls to their death.”127 Such complicity raised serious questions about “the moral groundwork of the United Nations,” of which Britain and the United States were organizers. Might the Americans, admittedly possessing “more goodness of heart than … any other people I have ever known,” be just as indifferent to the suffering?128

For Ludwig, this was the real terror, for here were “scholars and gentlemen” who chose not to care. If these government officials had been “crooks or office seekers, they’d be of no importance. They wouldn’t be half as dangerous, even had they committed the same enormities.” But they were the privileged, the best-schooled, sons of the aristocracy, members of churches, decorated soldiers and the like. “They have stars and crosses on their breasts. But as for the hearts beneath these stars and crosses—well, there is my story.” In horrified disbelief, Dorfman’s host exclaimed, “Surely, surely, there are no American officials like that! We’ll have to take a hand in running backward countries before this war is over.”129

Wearily, Dorfman responded with an explanation of the moral blindness of these Christian leaders and bureaucrats, concluding that “If I wanted to be cynical I’d say that, looking at human nature after all these Christian centuries, Pontius Pilate’s reputation is worse than he deserves…. Where is the passionate Christ-spirit with which we are to fight?” he challenged his dinner partners. How could they sit so unconsciously as Hitler “and his henchmen make no bones … [that] they are out to destroy the people and the spirit of Christ utterly—to final and irremediable extinction”? Their first victims, as most failed to understand, were those who had given Christ and Christianity to the world. The price of this failure, he assured his listeners, would be incalculable. “It is the slaughter of the brethren of Christ and the Christ-spirit they brought into the world and of which they are living witnesses that reveals the Nazis in their true nature. And mankind has taken no notice of the massacre of the Jews, has taken no notice of that ultimate attack on all that Christendom and democracy stand for—brotherliness and mercy and freedom. And that is why I am afraid for us all—for us all, for you and for me.”130

Ludwig had written these words a year and a half before their publication, in what was for him personally, if not as an observer of the world scene, a far happier time. Yet as much as he wanted to see the work published, the breakup of his marriage had come to consume an ever greater portion of his attention. “It seems disgusting in the midst of other things to have to consider the sordid necessities. But one must,” he had written Edna of these professional developments on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 1943. He could not allow the Jewish new year to begin without telling her what was in his heart, that “my soul will always be open to your love and I shall always worship—worship you.” Yet, “what has it availed?” For that matter, what use had all their talking been? They were not together, nor could they be. He was traumatized by this undeniable truth. “A strange process has been going on in me. I don’t know how to define it. As though the tears which I could shed over you and me and much else had frozen and congealed in me and I was numb and speechless.”131

Eight days later, nearing the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and taking seriously the religious injunction to make peace with man before approaching God, he wrote again of this inability to “unseal the depth. Perhaps I dare not. Again and again, sometimes in the middle of the night, I wake up and begin to speak to you and cry out to you. And I know the day will come when I will be able after some fashion to speak.” He had that afternoon seen Paul Robeson’s Othello, “an extremely skillful and beautiful production,” and had left with so profound a sadness at how like Shakespeare’s characters he and Edna were. “And so I wept with Shakespeare for us.… Do you know why? Do you? Because you and I who belong together in that higher world, in that highest world, belong together there as though born together of one spirit, could not achieve a togetherness on an earthy or earthly basis. And why should I not weep over that?”132

But perhaps Edna was correct when she wrote in a draft of a novel about their life together that “he had been very successful by … living a date ahead,” with concrete plans for projects upon which he was or would be working, while “she—well she was a dreamer: she liked today,” and could not dwell in the tomorrows, postponing the joy of the moment for the apparent certainties of the future.133 “What is love like?” she had asked weeks earlier, before his departure for Philadelphia. “Two people with perfect faith in each other, who live in the same world.” Failing to accomplish this, she had become repulsed by his very touch. “Yesterday, lying on the bed with L.L. he started to make love to me. He said, ‘Such a sweet stomach.’ I was revolted.”134 He had wanted to be an artist in his youth, she wrote in her diary after he had gone, “but it was too late: in reality he had become a Jewish patriarch,” the one overshadowing the other. Had he found her in his youth, they would have been artists together. But by now, “his bourgeois background, his love of scholarship, [had] unfitted him for the free-love juice, the give and take of a human relationship of any spontaneity.”135 “To go to bed with him was like returning to the bad past” of her first marriage to a businessman. “The human void between us was caused by the great difference in physical evolution,” she noted, though she credited Ludwig with helping her achieve “mentally and as a developed mind the final step (perhaps) in my evolution as a woman.”136

Given his grief at their incompatibility and her understanding of his role in her life, their fondness for each other even throughout this period of intermittent animosity is not all that surprising. “She’s brave and wonderful, as always, and tears me to pieces—as she doesn’t want to—by her gallantry and noble spirit and attempts to buck me up,” Ludwig could tell Spiro in early October.137 “I weep for both of us, and why should I not,” Edna would then write in her diary several days later that month,138 before sending yet another letter to Ludwig in their still unbroken chain of contact. “We are to be wept for, fools following after the golden grail, both of us.”139 Stirred by her words, Ludwig had again responded in a similar vein.

Your letter of October 30 is so full of your magic, of that strange great touch of yours that it shook me to the core. And it is also full of that in you which is either (I say it in true humility) too high for me or else, if you like, so away from me that I do not quite follow—too earth-bound for all my wanting God so deeply I seem to be that I am lost at certain points and seek and seek, as I have always done to understand. It is like that question, that demand which silently you have made upon me. If I could only have heard it and understood it, O Flower Face, I would have given my blood to answer and comply. But for all the watchfulness of the years I never caught its import.140

Though each would make further attempts at communication (“Two packages from Washington were enough to make me write a letter of love to L.L.,” Edna recorded in her diary on December 20),141 these letters were, as she acutely observed the following February, “the last orgasm of a dying fish.”142 When a late-December letter of farewell from Ludwig reached her, she would respond in her diary with bitterness on Christmas Eve 1943, though she knew, as well as he, that there was no possibility of reconciliation. “L. says I expect him to act in the heroic style in which he thinks and writes. But to act that way: he cannot do it. Neither have Shakespeare, nor Goethe, he says. But have not some men?” she asked in anger, deeply hurt by what she felt was his abandonment of her.143

A month earlier, Ludwig had received the call he had wanted, but had not expected, an invitation to become the permanent editorial writer for the New Palestine, a position that required him to move to Washington, D.C., where the ZOA maintained an office. For some weeks now he had served as guest editorial writer, sometimes filling other emergency requests (“a hurry call from Washington for an article for the N.P.,” he had written Edna in early November).144 Now he was on his way to join them in the struggle for Jewish statehood. Edna, too, would soon undertake her own challenge, leaving the Arizona sanatorium on December 17 for an attempt to live in Santa Fe, outside of an institution.145

A new series of lectures, beginning shortly after his move to Washington, had brought him back to Chicago, where he had fallen ill with flu and tonsillitis for three weeks. Louise Wolk had nursed him back to health with “tenderness and intelligence,” he told Spiro,146 before sending Edna his December letter of good-bye. “Are men with great vision perhaps always weak men?” she had added to her diary that Christmas. “‘I love him who attempteth beyond himself and so succumbeth,’ says Nietzsche. That is the only way to live. Nothing else has any meaning. Otherwise there would be no evolution.”147

But Ludwig was now beyond the need to evolve. At sixty-one, he knew who he was and what he wanted, even if he hadn’t yet succeeded in his personal life in finding it. Or had he with Louise, at last? He was willing to try one last time. Writing of the larger world in the New Palestine of December 10, he spoke as if seeing in his and Edna’s tragic incompatibility and search for a stable ground on which to stand a reflection of a larger malaise affecting all.

We live in a time of violent insecurity. It is understandable that, for this very reason, men and women hunger and thirst for security. They want some assurance that in all this flux they will be able to know of one spot of ground on which their feet will be firmly planted; they want to be able to cling to some hope that will not fail them. In this respect we are all at one; under these circumstances we all share the same aspiration and the same hope. What sometimes and in some measure divides us is the manner by which this aspiration is to be entertained and this hope to be realized. So greatly are men troubled by the world’s insecurity and their own insecurity in it that, quite unconsciously, they take council of panic and, like all people upon whom panic fear has seized, they embrace principles and courses of action which are calculated to bring about all that is the subject of their worst fears.148

Perhaps, as Henry Montor had written the previous December in the newly published Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Ludwig’s life did mirror much that had happened over the past half century to Jews, if not to so many others. “In the career of Ludwig Lewisohn is to be found the full cycle of experience of the Jewish people in the first two generations of the 20th cent. The pendulum of his life, which started with one far edge of faint association with problems as they affect Jews in America, swung slowly and then sharply to the opposite extreme, so that he became the symbol of Jews preoccupied with the problem of existence and not merely with the methods of living.”149

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38. Desert Journey

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Part 5: Louise

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814345030
Related ISBN
9780814345047
MARC Record
OCLC
1056689244
Pages
261-293
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-14
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC
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