N TIMES OF CRISIS prudence is a poor councillor. To abate or to veil necessary demands at such times is first to compromise and next to diminish them. Such is the common experience of mankind. It is bound to be our own no less,” Ludwig warned in his first New Palestine editorial of 1944, urging his readers to work against the restrictive British white paper that had caused the deaths of countless Jews by robbing them of yet another refuge.
Rarely if ever in the whole course of human history has an idea validated itself so awe-inspiringly within the historic process itself as the Zionist idea. The massacre of defenseless millions has proved what must be the estate of a people dependent wholly on the world’s justice and on the world’s mercy and wholly without any nucleus of power or earth-rooted tenacity of native resistance. He who does not see that today is afflicted with a death-wish for both himself and his people.… This is no time for compromise. This is no time for prudence. The demand of the age and of destiny is an unconditioned demand.
He felt certain, or wished his readers to believe and, thereby, concur, that the “stricken hearts of the vast majority of American Jews are ready to answer that unconditioned demand with a ringing affirmative.”1
There was little doubt in his own heart that, well rested and severed from all immediately restrictive personal obligations, he was up to the task ahead. Over the next four and a half years, he would devote much of his energy and talent to aiding in the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, believing that the words of the poet were the truest and most inspiring, and, therefore, the most necessary for moving the world in whatever direction it must take. Criticizing Archibald MacLeish’s recent failure to include the need for a Jewish state among those Allied short-comings which would turn armed victory into moral defeat, Ludwig raised once again the image of the poet as prophet, seeing himself again as he had in his youth. “There are those to whom it is a source of the truest consolation in this gravest of world-crises that a poet assumes a position of moral and intellectual leadership. They survey with utter dismay the pass to which practical people and worldly people have brought mankind; they are surer of nothing than of this: that the words of a poet are precisely the words that should be heeded, for those words will be more serious and even more practically pertinent than the words of the statesmen and the professional leaders.”2 “We shall be to England like that ‘Hound of Heaven’ of the poetic imagination,” he proclaimed in lyric voice two weeks later. “Until she redeems her pledge and gives us our Commonwealth in Eretz Yisrael, we shall track her down cosmic ways and wherever she turns she will see the flame of our countenance and feel the lightning of our accusations.”3
MacLeish was moved by Ludwig’s “Open Letter,” finding it “difficult, not to say impossible, to reply.… The passionate and yet precise implications of the things you say far surpass any ability of mine to measure and acknowledge…. I do truly understand the message you have sent me,” MacLeish hastened to add, and “feel myself charged with the weighty responsibility which only a man of your proven quality of mind and heart has the right to impress upon his fellows.”4 Whether Ludwig concurred with this assessment is unknown, but it is clear that he saw himself in ways that few others had with as much conviction. Receiving a mere twenty-five-dollar honorarium for a speaking engagement that January, he wrote Spiro, angrily, “In a word: I’m a hell of a great man and they think they can hand me the tips of a janitor. Funny, eh? Don’t think I’m gloomy. I know that I have much to be grateful for. But you don’t blame me for making the observation.”5
“Sing me no sad songs,” Ludwig wrote in his journal on February 5. “Life the now ceasing / Will issue.”6 Had he not witnessed such rebirth throughout his life? “I’m on to myself at last, at last,” he had written Edna on January 20. “Twenty years ago I was going to make Thelma a great singer…. From 1938 on I was going to show all the world that you are the most precious and magical of human beings—angel, bird, genius—and make you well and keep you well and radiant and a winged victory forevermore.” But these accomplishments had never really been possible without sacrificing himself “in the process…. It never occurred to me what I stood to lose.”
What then did he need if he was “to go on at all? Just a home,” and someone who would create such a place “where my needs and wants are law—unspoken, implicit, where everything is taken care of for me.” In Louise, he had found such a person. “The wonder and the strangeness is that, old and poor as I am, I’ve found such a one who esteems that a privilege. And one who, as a human being, as a woman, would engage everyone’s respect and admiration.” Out of this unexpected relationship with a woman who neither needed nor demanded anything of him but that he be himself, he had found release, freedom, rebirth. “I have it at last in my hands—the quite primordial, simple, unproblematic.” For the first time, he experienced what it was to be “completely uninhibited, totally free to be yourself—any self that is part of you—at any moment with the absolute certainty of instinctive affirmation of that self.” What passions remained, what “Promethean complex … [to] re-create and give new directives to destiny” still burned in his soul, he would give to “the cause of my people and of Zionism. And to that I shall and must stick.”7
Between Louise and Zionism he hoped to find the security that had eluded him at every step of his life. Now sixty-one, and frightened of the need to provide shelter for his troubled son in the years to come, he asked Edna, five days later, if he was guilty of some misdeed in seeking a haven for them both. “How shall I do that if I myself stand in the storm?… Am I wrong, am I to be blamed for wanting shelter? I am so dreadfully unsheltered.… Perhaps you are too young and too remote to understand how scared I am to remain so unsheltered and to grow older and older and to be alone.” He was certain of Louise’s “devotion on the human plane … sure she will shelter me … sure she will keep me safe and warm.”8
She was, he wrote Spiro, “the only woman who has ever in all my long and stormy life been and is a true helpmeet to me.”9 Erica Friedman, the second wife of Edward Titus and a frequent host with her husband to Ludwig and Louise while they all resided in New York in the mid-1940s, recalled Louise “as an extremely nice person … intelligent and gracious enough to let her husband enjoy the limelight.”10 Spiro concurred with both assessments, and fifteen years after Ludwig’s death spoke of his friend’s three earlier marriages as “successively committed mistakes. L.L. was accident prone; he seemed to be plunging from one indiscretion to another.” But his marriage to Louise was far different. In it, he had found what had been lost in his childhood, perhaps as early as that fateful day when he sailed with his parents into a new and terrifying world. “L.L. was very much in love with Louise and was very happy and at peace during the years of their marriage. Examine the books he wrote during this period and you will be as convinced as I am that with Louise he truly reached a haven of peace, of love and of tranquility. Louise is the only woman who never took advantage of being the wife of L.L.; she did not capitalize on it during his life nor after his death.”11
Edna represented Ludwig’s last great search for his muse, a last struggle to remake someone in that image. He was now tired, wanting to rest, to find some peace and order in his remaining years, and to be mothered, perhaps as even his mother had not during her own years of depression and despair and the search for vicarious success through the unending efforts of her son. He had “danced, as it were, in chains”—far too heavy a burden to carry throughout a lifetime.12 With Louise, he could put all this aside. Professional struggles and the rapidly changing Jewish world would present enough of a challenge to his remaining energies, as would Jim in the final years ahead.
It was as if he had spent himself over the nearly four decades with Mary, Thelma, Edna, and the others. Now, after so much had been expended with such seeming failure, he had found the haven he had long pursued. In time, Ludwig grew to loathe what he saw as the shameful foolishness of these years, repudiating even Haven, and ultimately destroying much of the correspondence he had saved from his previous wives.13 Not that such feelings were new. Thirty years earlier, he had already discovered that a union born of lust and loneliness could not withstand the tests which all love in time must face. What he wrote of that first love in the spring of 1915 would form the basis for the last.
Love that is lust of beauty and is mute
And makes the moment deathless, does not need
Aught but its own fulfillment. It may lead
The white limbs up dusk hills where meteors shoot
In the clear sky, or in its great pursuit
Hurl loveliness whither lament and bleed
Men’s broken souls, for in it is no seed
Of future life grown bitter at the root.
But love that is to fill the difficult years,
That is to smooth our couch and dry our tears—
And such love lives—must hold in fee high trust,
Honor and justice, all the good that is
No sharer of earth’s old iniquities,
No mere partaker of the doom of dust.14
“The strictly modern problem of the relation of the sexes … [that] menaces so fatally the man and the artist,” Ludwig had written during that same period, “is a passion for possession, for absorption, a hunger of the nerves rather than the heart.” No man, he then believed, could endure such a burden—nor could few women, though he could not make that imaginative leap so early on. “The best part of life remains the dream which is permanent long after the reality is sere and withered and is as though it had not been.” He had wished to live by his “undying dreams [as] he stands at the gate of an invisible world and has glimpses of the supra-sensual and eternal.”15 But much had happened in three decades, and maturing of vision and self-understanding had, at last, given him a dream by which he could live, not die. He could not live without dreams, but they were now dreams of touching the “supra-sensual and eternal” in ways more affirming of his true nature, or what it had become.
Edna thought all this mere “self-pity” at first, leaving her “lost, abandoned, rejected and deserted” as she fought to regain her health.16 But by May she had begun to understand what Ludwig had sought these many years. “In spring of 1944,” she recorded in her diary, “health stabilizing, energy returning slowly, the false years receding, but the value of them becoming clear. The soul expanding with a new quietness and faith: no desire to write but the certainty that that desire will come in time with much greater meaning and power.” Like Ludwig, she had found her own haven in a cottage atop a hill in Santa Fe. “Privacy in living secured,” as she had asked to have for some time now. “Hope returning in larger, more independent way. The soul seems to be walking slowly toward a point above dependence.”17 She had come to know herself better and to know why her marriage to Ludwig had failed. “L.L. was a pressure on my brain. Why did he pretend that I was a genius? To hold me that way?”18 And why had she allowed herself to be molded by him when “she was not of the minority”? Though she had come “to love those faces, and was hungry thereafter for that darkness, that intensity … that sense from each of them that they held the underground secrets of the world in their brain,” she was not one of them. If she was to be persecuted, let it be “not for race or religion,” but for being herself, “a threat against order, richness, mean-ness, envy: the little wheels that made up the million wheels that ran the world.”19 As Ludwig’s pupil, she had learned well from his example.
Ludwig’s new freedom, however, did not consist of breaking with these “million wheels,” but in consciously yoking himself to them so that he could move the machinery in a different direction, however frustrating he found the process. Only weeks into his new position as editorial writer had he noted that January how with the New Palestine appearing every week, “all the editorials seem always to be stepping on the heel of the next and very important political developments are in the mind and though I know all the off-the-record stuff I must write as though I didn’t”—on top of which, there was so much to read, lectures to give, clothes to wash, and meals to take. “Unless this is remedied I’ll end up one day in a state of complete mental confusion and paralysis.”20
A month later, he would tell Spiro of the trouble he was experiencing at the ZOA. “The New Palestine connection is a very good one for me. I enjoy it. This is my job. But I definitely reject the various reproaches, very gently expressed and coupled with all kinds of pleasant words, which are in the air.” Ludwig had made various suggestions as to content and format, but each was coolly greeted. There was little interest in anything other than his editorials—not the additional articles he proposed or wrote, and seemingly not for the “emigré article which is the decisive laying low of our internal enemies.”21
Yet the New Palestine published it, as controversial as the article promised to be. He attacked the American Jewish Committee’s refusal to join in the call for a Jewish state in Palestine, and the American Jewish Council’s repudiation of the Zionist notion of a Jewish people in favor of an identity for themselves as Americans of the Hebrew faith, calling both “in this late and withered year … silly, mediocre, childish and petulant.” In doing so, he openly challenged by name the well-respected Judge Joseph Proskauer and Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, as if to spark debate, if not to shame them. “The German catastrophe seems not yet to be understood here,” least of all by these “pathetic alte Herren [old gentlemen],” who, like their counterparts in Germany and elsewhere in Europe in years past, believed as they did even in the face of the obvious. Worse still was their unwillingness to find some other solution to replace the Zionism they repudiated, or to see that one was needed. Had they understood the deeper meaning of the European slaughter of the Jews, “no one would be so childish as to quibble over the question of State”—for bared in this understanding would have been the unrelenting truth “that Galuth [Diaspora], in its traditional post-emancipation form, is judged, doomed, dead, buried a thousand fathoms deep. People who didn’t want a nation and a state in Palestine would try to think up something new. They wouldn’t, like the Committee and the Council, stir futilely the dust on a grave.”22 Ludwig’s own life had taught him that, at least.
Clearly, these men of another age were not the leaders needed for this crisis. Others were playing that role, Stephen Wise (“the wise, the witty, the bold, the saintly—the exquisite spirit, the charming comrade, the tirelessly loyal friend,” Ludwig wrote in a tribute to him that spring)23 and Chaim Weizmann (“a voice [that] comes and arouses [his] brother to life and activates that better part of the soul and causes it to cast aside mean advantage and sordid gain and the false glitter of the world”).24 So, too, should Franklin Roosevelt, Ludwig argued in early March, urging him not to do what was politically wise, but what was morally right—to protest the British extension of restrictive immigration policies in Palestine, rather than listen to those “powerful forces … endeavoring to prevent the free expression of the true sentiment of the American people…. At this grave and decisive hour we turn to him in an appeal that he speak the word of approval and endorsement of this just and righteous cause and by so doing lighten the heavy burden of a sorely tried people and give inspiration to one of the noblest causes of our day.”25
Ludwig’s plea fell on deaf ears, and seven weeks later, on April 21, he would strongly criticize FDR for failing to honor his own promise to establish refugee havens, somewhere. “Where are the concrete news of the President’s Refugee Board and its rescue of Jews and its establishment of temporary havens?”26 Didn’t Proskauer, Sulzberger, Roosevelt, and others know what Wise, Weizmann, Ludwig, and their fellow Zionists knew, that the search for refuge was a part of all mankind’s aspiration for redemption? “All mortal things change. This does not,” Ludwig wrote as his Passover message for 1944. “Israel cries out for freedom, for the only freedom mankind knows … liberation from bondage in some Mizrayim [Egypt] in order that spiritual freedom may become incarnate in life.”27
Ludwig, of course, still had his own bondage from which to free himself. Not until mid-February’s monetary settlement with Thelma was he able to return to New York and visit with his son. After almost two years of maneuvering, the warrant had been rescinded.28 Yet all was not as resolved as he had at first imagined, and by early March, still without custody, he had not yet been able to see Jim. A letter from the orphanage director suggesting to Ludwig that he slowly reestablish a relationship with Jim had deeply hurt and offended him. Thelma’s mistreatment, not his, had led to Jim’s being remanded by the Children’s Court to Pleasantville. “And now everybody talks as though my child has two irresponsible parents…. Miss Spear and I are … more or less lumped together,” he protested to Posner, assuring his attorney that he knew “better than anyone” how to deal with Jim, father to son. Ludwig felt he understood his son’s loss of faith in people, for as the months of separation became years, Jim had been given every reason to grow “correspondingly horrified at what seemed my defection.” But “deep trust and understanding, which are rare,” had been violated not by him, but by Thelma when she took Jim away. “You’ll get me back soon, won’t you, Papa?” Jim had cried when he left his father in Rochester. Though after nearly two years of neglect he still had no home, Ludwig nonetheless believed that their relationship was “only superficially overlaid in Jim’s consciousness.” A few days together would bring about a “rectification … that would go very far toward giving Jim a new sense of balance and security.”29
Not until the end of March did he succeed in seeing Jim. Ludwig found him “immensely intelligent [and] wonderfully sweet. Of course, he emphasized the sweetness into almost a little act. My poor lamb has been made astute by hardship,” Ludwig noted with concern for his psychological and moral state. “Jim says I must get him back; he can’t stand it any longer. (He said, that baby: ‘She plays with me the way a cat does with a mouse to make me suffer’),” Ludwig told Spiro in frustration at not being able to resolve the situation. “And Posner says: we have to get more evidence, detectives, etc.” Finding Jim “in rags,” as well, only added to the horror he felt. Even sending a new wardrobe had not helped to ease Ludwig’s “combat neurosis.” With a fever of 103 degrees, he was forced to cancel several lectures at a loss of much-needed income.30
The situation only deteriorated in the weeks ahead, culminating in Jim’s several disappearances from the Pleasantville “boarding school” (a term Ludwig preferred to that of orphanage when thinking of his son’s present home). In violation of the Children’s Court’s directive, Thelma had urged Jim to come with her to New York. After a day together, she would suddenly decide to return him to Pleasantville, from where he would again take flight on his own, only to be found along the roadside and brought back. Finally it was determined that a more secure shelter was needed, and he was brought to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Beside himself with worry and anger, Ludwig was relieved to learn that Jim was now in a more secure environment, only to be informed soon after that he had found a way out of there as well.31
Thelma’s latest outrageous behavior had been precipitated by her return to court on May 15 to file yet another complaint against Ludwig for alleged arrears.32 Unwilling to await the court’s determination concerning their previously agreed-upon arrangement, she had induced Jim to leave Pleasantville. Ludwig was now more upset than before at the continuing suggestion that he and Thelma were “two contending parties on a plane of moral parity.” Only he could “reasonably be entrusted with any moral responsibility” for Jim, he insisted to Posner, demanding that he argue this position in whatever upcoming custody battle was to ensue. Pleading his own case before Posner, he spoke of the moral destruction occurring in his son’s life which only he could remedy once custody had been restored. If Jim was now a difficult child, it was due to the insanity of his mother, which, if partially inherited by him, was ignited by her presence in his life and the control over him which Ludwig was desperate to end.
I am seriously and objectively convinced that the child’s life and character will be destroyed if everyone concerned does not take from now on an entirely different attitude. He is, to be sure, very precocious. In every other respect he is a thoroughly normal child. Whatever strange misbehavior he may now be guilty of is entirely due to his association with a psychopathic and malicious woman some of whose blood, alas, is in his veins and whose eccentricities he will mimic when he is exposed to their infection. What he chiefly suffers from in the school is the sense of desolateness, the keen feeling of moral insecurity. What will ruin him completely is any other boarding school, military or not. What will save him is a home, a home with me and the sense of security and the firm and sane guidance that go with such a home. Any thing and everything else is wrong and destructive.33
News of Leonard’s death two days after Jim’s last disappearance further upset Ludwig, particularly after reading the New York Times obituary’s “wretched emphasis on the ‘phobias’ and on the marriages…. I need not tell you how inexpressibly grieved I was and how many poignant memories it evoked,” he wrote a mutual friend, John Whyte of Brooklyn College.34 Leonard’s death must certainly have reminded Ludwig of the finality of his own yet to come, and of how little time there might be left to him now that so close a dear old friend had died.
Nor was he free yet of his obligations to Edna and the interference of her father. Both Ludwig and Edna had earlier decided on as quiet and amicable a divorce as possible. He had agreed, as well, to continue to send as much money for her care as he could, however financially unrewarding his life had remained. At her father’s intercession, Edna had asked Ludwig in June for one hundred dollars, to which he responded by sending double the requested amount. Still Guy Manley wrote a strong letter to Ludwig criticizing his behavior toward his daughter, seeing in the breakup of their marriage the act of a man who should have acted far more honorably. He insisted that Ludwig had married Edna to gain access to his money. Failing that, he then abandoned her when she became ill. Ludwig bitterly resented these charges and countered by noting that at the time of their marriage he “simply did not know what an open suppurating tubercular sinus was.” Nor did anyone at that point know how “desperately ill” Edna truly was. Beyond this, he added, “Our union, upon which we both entered with high hopes, was undermined by two factors: Edna’s love for Scott Williamson and my inability to meet her emotional (that is the polite word, is it not?) demands.” Ludwig told Manley how he hated being forced into discussing such intimacies, since he and Edna understood and honored one another, with neither placing blame for their incompatibility. “There should have been, for both ourselves, no intrusion of a sordid hand,” he ended angrily.35
Edna knew that her father was wrong in his accusations and demands, and had tried unsuccessfully to convince him to stop his lawyers’ threats against Ludwig.36 But her hands were tied now, dependent as she had become upon her father for the payment of a large portion of her medical expenses which Ludwig could not afford to meet at their ongoing level. “We’ll do it my way, then I can’t blame you,” Manley had told her on May 1, unhappy that he was still supporting her at the age of thirty-six. Her own continuing analysis of the marriage had already led her to accept a major portion of the responsibility for its failure. Before writing to Ludwig that June, she would record in her journal how she had “even suggested he find some light-of-love for an evening” while away on tour in the Midwest, and that having “returned with [a] tale of infidelity,” she “did not complain about that, forgave it, [and] slept with L.L.” Only afterward did she realize that Ludwig’s liaison “was not a night’s physical affair, but a serious relationship.” In reaction, she had “asked L.L. to go back east, as he had longed to do, until I could put [the] whole thing in proper perspective.” Ludwig’s subsequent letter informing her that he and Louise were living together at first had angered her, leaving her feeling betrayed and alone. Yet there was “another reality,” she admitted to herself, “the true one, under these things—because I did not love him as a mate I did drive him to another woman.”37
Forced to return home to Rochester because of financial problems and parental pressure at the close of summer 1944, Edna found herself with little choice but to follow her father’s will. Though aware that Ludwig was doing all that he could, she nevertheless sent him a caustically worded letter accusing him of “putting me in the bitter position of having to force you to assume obligations to me, via another public mess.” The very wording of her letter, however, had an uncharacteristic ring to it, as if it were at least partially dictated. “Whatever your financial situation your present budget must, as you know, include me. I must have support for a few years yet. Whether you can or not I can no longer accept the entire burden for my support from my father.” Edna knew better than to charge Ludwig with “no longer … car[ing] what happens to me.” Nor would she have threatened, without outside prompting, to “instigate a New York state action against you for support,” as the letter promised to do in its first draft; she apparently deleted this scratched-out portion before the letter was retyped and mailed.38
Edna had a deeper moral sense than to use such tactics, and a greater awareness of the facts. She better than anyone knew that her true feelings were not directed toward Ludwig, but toward Scott, whom her father still rejected as unsuitable for her. In writing to Scott from Rochester that September, she spoke of Ludwig’s having “offered, of course, to help me—but Dad doesn’t have any faith in Ludwig’s promises; thus, the conflict,” though Ludwig’s check had already been received by her three months earlier (and others may have arrived in the interim, as a total accounting in 1948 of moneys received since 1944 would indicate). It was not that Manley needed the money. He merely believed that Ludwig should pay for his daughter’s support. He could not accept that her love for another had lessened Ludwig’s obligation to her, or that the break between them was by mutual consent. “I long to hear your voice tell me all the tales of your adventures,” she told Scott after his return from wartime intelligence work in Europe. But she cautioned him to be surreptitious in maintaining contact with her while she remained at her parents’ home. “If we do meet, it is the deaths of many people that will have made it possible,” she conceded. “I love you—I love you—with my highest moment and my deepest,”39 she closed in response to his expression of love for her, that he had “looked across the real world into your eyes, Mavournine, as you once wanted.”40
Ludwig would not remain silent in the face of such an ill-conceived attack upon his integrity and fired back another letter to Manley, telling him, as Edna later recalled the exchange, that she had “hypnotized and seduced him but that as soon as we were married I had repudiated him.” Manley responded “that surely Ludwig was not only old enough to guard against seduction, but that for the repudiation he had received in return an enormous amount of attention.” In weighing both claims against her own more mature assessment twenty-five years later, Edna would admit that “both men had truth on their side.”41
With all of this as a backdrop, Ludwig, as always, continued to pursue his professional life. Breathe Upon These had appeared in late winter of 1944 to largely negative reviews, with critics correctly seeing it as more polemic than fiction. As one noted, the book “staggers under the load of propaganda, and turns to an artificial situation and to exposition instead of to plot and characterization.”42 Others were either kinder or less so, as was the New Yorker reviewer who had valued the message, but had thought that the messenger, “even in his most serious moments, teeters on the brink of absurdity.”43 The reaction had not been unexpected. “Nation doesn’t surprise me,” Ludwig wrote Spiro. “The reviewer is the wife of a professional Meshummad [apostate]. New Yorker was probably even worse. Pinks and renegades,”44 he added, feeling more abandoned by those younger critics whose politics differed more and more from his own, and whose sense of Jewishness was largely devoid of any traditional religious affirmation. It was a critique he had been leveling for the past decade or more, ever since he had begun to see Stalin and Hitler as two sides of the same equation. “No Jew is a Communist except raw youths who don’t want to bear the burden of God laid upon them, or disappointed assimilationists,” he had written in Breathe Upon These. “We are a conservative and religious people. We were middle-class before the word was known.”45
Not that Ludwig was altogether misguided in his analysis of at least some of his critics. Henry Pachter, an historian of the generation following Ludwig’s, would later note that he had become a radical “because I was Jewish,” as were most of his associates in the artistically avant-garde, psychoanalytic, and Marxist circles of his youth. “Being Jewish need not have predetermined my politics. Other Jews of my age and in my class were not radicals. Yet I’m quite sure that being Jewish and feeling some kind of alienation contributed to radicalization. Gentiles had more alternatives in expressing their dissent. They could be Nazis.” It was this very radicalization, Pachter maintained near the end of his life, that had blinded him and so many others from fully appreciating and acknowledging the plight of their fellow Jews. “Our Marxist training,” he admitted in 1980, “the theory that anti-Semitism is just a front for political manipulation, prevented us from seeing that the top Nazis believed in their mythology” and were actively engaged in carrying out its most criminal tenets, though “by ‘44 everybody knew a little more.”46
“It is a very beautiful, powerful, deeply felt and tremendously exciting book—stirring, I should say; a strong, good remedy against what our friend Wassermann called ‘the indolence of the heart’ from which the world does not like to be disturbed and which has brought about this catastrophe,” Mann wrote Ludwig on March 10. “Will they dismiss the burning reality of your narration as ‘It is all propaganda’?” he asked of the novel’s critics. “Yes, you have created propaganda, but in favor of shame, a sense of responsibility and complicity, the desire for something better. It proves again that the writer is the conscience of the world.”47
“A terrific piece of work—as fine a thing as you have ever done,” John Haynes Holmes assured Ludwig. He had “made us see perhaps for the first time the real character of that horror, and of all the horror of our time of which it is a kind of perfect symbol.”48 Holmes’s insightfulness and moral sensitivity had allowed him to admit what few critics and politicians would, that culpability through indifference was “The Central Wrong” committed by the West.
“So soon as I read the account of the event I knew that someday I would want to communicate its dire symbolism to Christendom,” Ludwig had written the novel’s publisher. “And so, in fact, after more than fifteen months of gestation it poured itself out in precisely this form in a continuous state of the intensest creative preoccupation.” One critic, seeing this in Ludwig’s work, had advised his readers to look beyond “the artificiality of setting, style and situation” to “the blazing intensity of his pain … [and] the searing justice of his testimony and denunciation.… What one remembers is Lewisohn, the philosopher-poet, weeping over the needless sinking of the Struma, the needless dying and torture and pain.”49
Work on the Buber translation had progressed very slowly when Ludwig wrote Grayzel in March that life at the ZOA was “frightfully hectic,” though he would soon have a block of uninterrupted time to devote to the work. Buber himself had written Ludwig about a completion date, to which Ludwig had responded by asking Grayzel to “tell him not to get nervous.”50 Holding to his promise, Ludwig moved quickly through much of the manuscript while noting that certain errors in the German (“slightly defective here and there … a typographical error”) were slowing his work. In the meantime, he was sending “a series of queries” for Jacobs to forward to Buber for clarification. “The book, by the way, is extremely beautiful and profound. Here and there quite out of this world.”51
Buber’s corrections arrived at JPS on May 7, and two weeks later Jacobs wrote Ludwig that they were anxiously awaiting the remainder of the translation so that it could be in the “hands of our members before the end of the year.”52 On July 24, Ludwig sent the second third of the manuscript to Jacobs, along with advice that Buber’s questioning of parts of the first portion of his translation was common among “other eminent stylists in German” whose work Ludwig had translated in the past. “When they begin to know a nickel’s worth of English, they think that they can advise us. Consequently, both for your and my sake, I would like to have the last word on all questions of style and interpretation.”53 Ludwig felt reasonably confident in making this request, given his more than three decades of experience as a translator and the positive reception a portion of the book had already received through its acceptance by the New Palestine for publication in mid-July.54
While continuing with the translation, Ludwig began to work with the society on obtaining publication rights to a second printing of Renegade without the involvement of the Dial Press, “professional horse-thieves, the only dishonest publishers I have ever known.”55 Two years would pass before negotiations and a reprinting of the book without its original plates would see its reissue in 1946.56 A hectic lecture schedule, though more local than in the past, was taking additional time from the translation, speaking in Brooklyn one night and in Waterbury, Connecticut, the next afternoon before returning to Washington to “gather my 5 wits,” write the usual editorials, and then prepare additional lectures.57 And so it went throughout the summer and fall of that final year of the war.
Adding to the marital and professional strain that spring and summer was Jim’s temporary return to his home with Ludwig in late May. By early June, together with Louise, Ludwig’s reconstituted family had moved to 136 Waverly Place in New York’s Greenwich Village, a place with a more permanent feel about it than a Washington hotel. (The Dictionary of American Biography would later erroneously record February 8, 1944, as Ludwig and Louise’s wedding date, compounding his earlier attempt to legitimize their living together.) After two weeks, Ludwig would write Spiro that Jim “makes moral progress from day to day, almost from hour to hour. This is what he needed,” crediting Jim’s improvement “to Louise’s unrivalled talent for motherhood.” Ludwig was pleased, in general, with Louise’s skill at domestic chores. Wearing “a red gingham house dress which is most becoming … [she] cooks wonderfully and so, praise be to God, our expenses will become normal.”58
Ludwig was further encouraged by Jim’s quick acceptance of Jewish life. Enrolled at Mesivtah Tiferet Jerusalem on East Broadway, he was being tutored in Hebrew and Bible. “He seems to take to it tremendously and keeps his parents in stitches with his orthodoxy,” Ludwig noted as Jim neared his eleventh birthday. “He and I sit around in yarmulkes. We say morning prayers. In fact we daven [pray] in season and out. This coming week Louise and I will have to go out into the wide, wide world to buy zizeth [a fringed-cornered undergarment], mezuzoth, and other religious objects.” So seriously was Jim now taking this newly discovered foothold that he had begun to express an interest in becoming a rabbi. “It would do your heart good to see the change for the better in him in not quite three weeks,” Ludwig told Spiro, more hopeful about Jim than he had been for some years now.59
On another front, however, all was not as pleasant. Ludwig had complained to Spiro back in March that he and others at the New Palestine were being kept in the dark concerning internal Zionist politics and policies. It was “sheer chutzpah,” he told Spiro, vowing to “write Silver and ask him in all politeness how in hell he expects me to cooperate with him when his minions act as though we were outsiders.”60 By June, Ludwig’s editorial responsibilities had increased, though his authority was being undermined by the ZOA leadership, with whom he differed over the journal’s contents. Financial obligations made it imperative that he raise his concerns with Israel Goldstein in as polite a manner as possible. Whatever the issue, he was determined to maintain a cordial posture and keep his income secure. Given the degree of support from others he had enjoyed in similar situations, even as early as his labor organizing at Doubleday, he was not about to risk his family’s welfare for a relatively minor victory, no matter how correct he believed he was. “I need the job of writing the editorials and I know that I’m the person who ought to write them. But if Goldstein is hell bent on having a lousy magazine I’m not going to be penalized for it.”61
Discussions between the journal’s staff and the ZOA leadership continued over the next several weeks until, on June 21, an agreement was reached which included a listing of Ludwig’s expanded duties—editorial writer, editor of the section “Books and Men,” responsibility for the journal’s overall literary quality, and solicitation of materials—though yet without the well-earned title of editor.62 Still, conditions at the New Palestine had improved following the ZOA administrative council’s July 9 approval of these changes, acknowledging that “a continuance of the efforts now exerted will before long produce a magazine which will be a source of satisfaction to us all.”63 By mid-July, Ludwig, while copyediting the forthcoming issue, could write Spiro that all was “so far so good.”64
At the very least, he had a forum for his outrage at American governmental indifference to Jewish slaughter, made more horrifying when revelation followed revelation as the final year of the war uncovered the true extent of the atrocities, much of which had already been known to government officials. On July 14, Ludwig noted Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s warning to Hungary concerning the impending murder of its Jewish population, and asked, “in all good faith: what is being done?” Roosevelt himself had pointed to the increased fury of the Nazi death machine as their defeats mounted, but admitted that Allied forces were not attempting “to encourage the escape of refugees from enemy territory.” Despite “all our admiration for and gratitude to Mr. Roosevelt,” he added derisively, there was every reason to take to task “a man of his high humanity and wisdom” for doing almost nothing to alleviate the suffering and death.
Innocent men and women and children are fleeing for their very lives. Is this not a circumstance in which transcendent efforts are in place? Suppose these men and women and children were American men and women and children, would not that transcendent effort be made? Well, God’s innocent children are all alike, whether they are European Jews or folks from back home. The United States, says the President, must share responsibility for meeting the problem. It will do so by bringing to America approximately 1,000 refugees. Is that not an anticlimax that fills him with sorrow and dismay?
As Zionists, Ludwig and the ZOA were not asking for immigration status for these refugees and the several million not included in this one-time-only refugee transfer (which consisted of individuals already behind Allied lines and out of the grip of the Nazis and their puppet regimes). This was the purpose of the Yishuv. In the interim, Roosevelt had merely to carry forth his own agreed-upon plan (however reluctantly reached) to establish temporary safe havens. “We ask in this supreme hour of a people’s agony to extend these havens at once in numbers and capacity and to see to it that the dreadful chasm between verbal protest and actual rescue work be bridged.”65
A month later, with word reaching British and American officials that Hungary would hand over the remaining 400,000 Jews (that many having already been murdered) if certificates of entry to Palestine were forthcoming, Ludwig continued to mock their indifference.
We cannot believe that the answer can be any but one; we cannot but believe that official and trumped up difficulties and all so-called regulations will be abandoned and that the Western world, the world of democracy, the world which is still Christendom, will meet this supreme test instantly and righteously for its own sake if not for ours. We fully expect the test to have been met by the time these lines appear in print. For we are not ready to despair not only of the lives of our Hungarian brethren but of any shred of hope of mercy and justice between man and man.66
When in early September the Allies accepted this offer to take refugees from Hungary, though failing to supply the necessary entry certificates for Palestine, Ludwig asked in a heightened tone of impatience, “What arrangements have been made? What ‘temporary havens of refuge’ have been provided?” With the first accounts of Majdanek’s death factory just then appearing in the New York Times, he expressed the outrage of many when he spoke of the “unrivalled brutality” that seemed to elicit no real response from the world. “Our ultimate solicitude is for all men and the future of all men in a world where such things can be.” As they would not want their children to be “slaves” and worse, so should they “see to it that the Jewish remnants of Europe are rescued on the instant and that the gates of Palestine are flung open to receive them.”67
Something else deeply troubled Ludwig about the reports in the Times, a Jewish-owned newspaper. “It would be dishonest and absurd not to say that we mourn primarily for our martyred people,” but he could not fail to attack the newspaper’s “vulgarity” in not once mentioning in its editorial concerning Majdanek the word “Jew,” speaking only of the “settlement of the Polish question” in discussing the need to end these atrocities. “There we have the supreme moral abjectness of the surviving servile assimilationist,” he wrote, referring to the Times’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, already the subject of Ludwig’s earlier critique of those Jews who either would not support a Zionist state or were openly opposed to it.68 “Only in the West, only in the secure democracies are Jews still hesitant here and there, do Jews still create confusion and divide council” among Gentiles of influence. “Only here are the deep moral grounds of the life of a people still misunderstood. Only here have ease and a facile materialism hidden from men that brilliant cognition concerning the personality and hence the rights of every people.” And only the Jews of these democracies, if they chose to demonstrate “the moral heroism that befits” them, were in a position to pressure those who would not act, both within the Christian community and among those highly assimilated Jews still wed to the “cheap fallacies of the false enlightenment and the false emancipation in Europe.”69 However much Ludwig and Goldstein differed on other organizational issues, on this they agreed. As Goldstein himself said in mid-November, “Those who resist Jewish survivalism will have to be repudiated by the masses of the Jewish people.”70
Yet even as the world seemed to grow darker, life for the Lewisohn family continued to improve. With Jim appearing to do better by a “strictly comparative estimate,” Ludwig could write Spiro in mid-July that “Louise and I eat well, sleep magnificently, and work effectively.”71 Finding the Waverly Place apartment too small, Ludwig moved his family in September to what he described as “a beautiful duplex in Brooklyn in a beautiful neighborhood right off Prospect Park.” Working steadily now, he could once again afford a better residence, paying $115 a month and shopping for new furniture for their expanded space at 57 Montgomery Place.72 Legal action to regain total custody of Jim was also beginning to bear fruit, and on January 29, 1945, Ludwig would be granted “exclusive custody, care and control” of Jim, with only the most restrictive, supervised visitation rights granted Thelma, “if such child so wishes.” Ludwig would, however, be required to pay all arrears due Thelma for past child support in order to secure her agreement to this arrangement, placing a further burden on his ability to cover other personal obligations at home and to Edna.73
Confident of Ludwig’s ability to produce a better journal for the ZOA, Goldstein had suggested the previous September that he submit a request for the title of editor. Ludwig needed no further encouragement. “I’m putting more sweat and work into the paper than I could have believed possible. So I want at least that satisfaction right away.”74 This, of course, meant that less time could be spent on the Buber translation, over which JPS had become impatient.75 Responding apologetically on October 9, he attributed the delay to his move to Brooklyn while suffering from a heavy cold, having “rather collapsed as a consequence, I imagine, of the unaccustomed physical exertions.” Certain that he would be fine in a day or two, he promised to return to the book, incorporating “the suggestions of our friend Buber,” immediately after the upcoming Zionist convention in Atlantic City beginning that Friday.76 Less than two weeks later, a bout with bursitis in his shoulder left him “almost wholly incapacitated” and promising, yet again, to finish the book as soon as was physically possible.77 On December 19, Grayzel would write to thank Ludwig for receipt of the completed translation, asking for the return of Buber’s German text so that he could compare the two for accuracy.78
To Grayzel’s surprise, he discovered that Ludwig had not accepted many of Buber’s suggestions, changing only those things that “seem[ed] cogent” to him. Confused and unwilling to accept responsibility for adjudicating these differences, Grayzel wrote Shalom Spiegel for advice as to whom he should “disregard.”79 Spiegel knew how seriously Ludwig took the written word, and how difficult he could be in such matters. “He probably has reasons,” he told Grayzel, suggesting that he invite Ludwig to Philadelphia, “wine and dine him, and when he is in the proper mood, suggest the [Buber] changes. Poets must be handled with gloves, for they are very sensitive. That is, after all, the secret of their creativity, being more fragile and quick to hurt as the mimosa.”80 In an attempt to maintain their good relationship, Grayzel again asked Ludwig on January 11, 1945, for Buber’s original, explaining that he had “to judge between his desire to present the Hasidic point of view as he sees it and your desire for fluency of English style.”81
Ludwig was anything but “irritated” by Grayzel’s letter. Instead, he felt “conscience-stricken” by all of his delays and broken promises since beginning the translation, pointing regretfully to “personal affairs and some illness last fall,” and to “the enormous literary and, more recently, political complicatedness of life” in his new role as editor. “Let me just tell you off the record that when with a certain blitheness, conceiving this to be my appropriate function within the movement, I accepted the editorship of The New Palestine, I had a very inadequate idea of the complicatedness of this job, provided it is taken—as it had not been taken—with the right seriousness…. My only hope is that you will not hold it against me.” Promising to return Buber’s manuscript immediately, he offered to write a glossary once the proofs were available.82 Grayzel responded with understanding,83 pleased as he was with the quality of the translation. As he told Spiegel after a thorough reading, “Ludwig did a good job with it,” and now it would be his own task to “put myself in the position of judging between the two partners, that is, Buber and Ludwig. I hope that my acceptance or rejection of some of Buber’s suggestions will prove satisfactory.”84 With a mix of both author’s and translator’s changes in each other’s text, the book would at last appear in July of that year. “How intimately I appreciate his [Grayzel’s] learned, complicated and meticulous preparation of the manuscript for the press,” Ludwig wrote Jacobs upon receipt of several copies. “I thank you both very warmly for the way in which you have treated my collaboration in this publication.”85 JPS showed its appreciation by noting in its press release that Buber’s “distinguished and unforgettable novel … [of] striving for the redemption of the world from cruelty, injustice, suffering, and death” had now been rendered into English by “the fine artistry of Ludwig Lewisohn.”86
That January, the ZOA’s administrative council made special note of Ludwig’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Jewish people. With several others, he had spoken at dozens of recent meetings during this period of uncertainty and opportunity, while, as editor, he had “endeavored to intensify the tone” of the New Palestine.87 Two weeks later, in its January 19 issue, he attacked the British minister for the Middle East, James Grigg, for accusing the Jews of Palestine of “gangsterism,” while purposely failing to differentiate between “a few hundred terrorists” and the masses of the Yishuv who were doing their “utmost to eliminate terrorism.” How strange that no similar outrage was heard throughout all of Christendom in all the dozen years of an incomparable “Nazi gangsterism” whose primary target were those same Jews barred by the British from seeking a safe haven in Palestine.
That Christian world in whose name Sir James Grigg warns us had better clean house before it throws a stone at anything that Jews do. It stood—that Christian world—for Nazi gangsterism from 1933 to 1939 without a quiver. Jews were murdered, Christians were murdered, liberty and righteousness were daily done to death. Where was Sir James’ Christian world? Where was the Christian conscience? We have not even yet, not to this day seen a great, a universal, a passionate and powerful revolt of the Christian conscience against the murder of a whole and an innocent people. The blood-guiltiness of all Christendom is a tragic fact. Sir James’ talk about the possible refusal of Christendom to perform the one act of expiation left it by opening Palestine to our refugees and establishing our commonwealth there, because the Christian conscience is disturbed by a few hundred political terrorists—that talk has a cosmic farcicalness and an unsurpassed degree of moral blindness.88
Ludwig raised a similar point the following month in his Purim column. At the traditionally joyous celebration of the defeat of Haman and his plans to destroy the Jews, Ludwig called upon all Jewry to drink to this defeat only with a heavy heart—there could be no rejoicing even when the inevitable Allied victory came. “For Mordecai [the Jewish leader against whom Haman plotted] and his whole people are no more.” The deaths of five million were already known. Hitler was merely the latest and most vicious, but certainly not the last of the Hamans. “We do not see how any Jew will have the heart to rejoice when this Hitler-Haman is hanged. The story is too old, far, far too old; it has happened far, far too many times … it can and will and must happen again.” This repeating cycle, he insisted, must end. “That fated and disastrous wheel has had too many turnings … it is time that the Jewish people rectify its situation in the world in such a manner that it cannot fall into the power of would-be Hamans; it is time that Israel determines its own fate, suffers only for its own sins, reaps the benefit of whatever triumphs fall to its share.” Only the Zionist quest for Jewish self-determination in a Jewish state could accomplish this end, only then would “the nucleus and core of the Jewish people” no longer “be in their [Hamans’] power nor any more put its trust in princes nor in the mere good-will, so easily changed to ill-will, of any man.”89
Whatever reluctance, whatever recalcitrance was evident among the Allied leadership would simply need to end. “We know now that lives and souls are lost daily because those gates are closed,” Ludwig continued to protest as late as March 1945, himself half-incredulous at the indifference of these men. However they wished to couch their reasons, whatever false analogy Roosevelt wished to draw between, in his own words, “the Moslem problem, the Jewish problem,” they would not stand up against the moral demands of the hour. “It is the problem of the whole Western civilization and the entire wronged and martyred Jewish people; there is neither parallel nor analogy.” Ludwig was incensed by Roosevelt’s failure to honor his own pledge three years earlier to “bring the Jews the Four Freedoms,” repeated as recently as October 1944 in his promise of “the establishment of Palestine as a free and democratic Jewish Commonwealth.” World Jewry, that portion which remained, would “expect both Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt to remember and to act.” Nor would the Jews forget, he promised.90
A month later, on April 12, Roosevelt was dead; by May 7, so, too, was Hitler and his Third Reich. In death, Ludwig diplomatically praised Roosevelt’s “greatness.… In his breast there beat a human heart,” he noted, before adding that “the dismay, the sense of desolateness with which his passing left us have been assuaged or diminished by the early weeks of the administration of President Harry S. Truman. With great promptness Mr. Truman declared that he would pursue his predecessor’s policy in regard to the Jewish people and Jewish Palestine.” To remind Truman that this policy had not yet been implemented, Ludwig spoke in the May 18 issue of the moral degradation of the German people, symbolized by the persecution of the Jews. “The hour of decision approaches” for Truman and for all those United Nations now discussing the world’s future. “The peoples stand at the crossroads of moral choice which will determine the future. Let them regard the manifest teaching of history,” he warned. “Let them begin an era with Justice to the martyred people Israel through the liberation in and through the land of Israel.”91 Taking his argument a step further, he asserted at a Zionist conference in August that the “failure to give Jews a homeland would threaten the Christian democratic world with ‘moral and physical’ destruction.”92
But for all of his urging of the world community to establish a Jewishly controlled homeland in Palestine, Ludwig knew full well how firmly anchored American Jewry was to its present shores. Was he not himself a case in point? Long concerned about the future of American Jewry and the depth of their knowledge and commitment to Judaism in its broadest sense as a total civilization with a multifaceted culture, he requested and gained the ZOA’s approval for “an informal seminary for the development of new talent among our youth.” It was his plan to open the pages of the New Palestine to all who presented material worthy of publication, to that new generation who would one day replace him and the current leadership. To encourage this participation, he had set aside a page each month for “the instruction and inspiration of new members.”93 He wanted them to live their lives with a fuller knowledge of Jewish thought and practice, without which they could not see the spiritual truths held within it for themselves. And without such awareness, they might, like Franz Werfel, seek such truths elsewhere, in other religious traditions. In concluding a long critique of Werfel’s Between Heaven and Earth, his “confession of faith … [which] offers us the Incarnation,” Ludwig pointed to him as “a terrifying example of the Jewish ignorance of Jews. He knows all secular literature; he knows patristic literature. He knows everything except what, as a Jew, it behooves him most to know. That is perhaps the most grievous wound inflicted by a century of assimilatory liberalism. We must heal that wound before we can go on.”94
In his series of “Letters to a New Member,” Ludwig spoke directly to each reader of the empty promises of assimilation, and of the need to recognize their own identity as a part of the Jewish people. More than adherents to a creed, they were a nation living among other nations, never totally assimilable, because never totally accepted for themselves. The experience of the Hitler years was proof enough of the fragmented, alienated life of the Diaspora. Now at last there was a solution, a core to Jewish life everywhere being built in Palestine which would give a cohesiveness and a sense of self-respect that was certain to foster a renaissance in American Jewish life.
The Jews are a people. This people’s fragmentized life in tiny minorities at the mercy of vast majorities is both humiliating and dangerous. To escape the humiliation and the danger Jews deny their people and seek to reduce their noticeableness by protective mimicry. This process falsifies and corrupts their inner lives and their characters. Thus the false and dangerous sociological situation of Jews has led to their moral deterioration. To cure the ills of the Jewish people and of the individuals who make up that people a radical change in position and status is needed. The peoplehood of Israel must be reaffirmed; the core of that reborn people must re-possess its immemorial fatherland; that great creative act of re-affirmation will not only give the Jewish people dignity and security of status but also heal the Jewish soul of the wounds which it has suffered. For once in history a political act will be a moral act and security and redemption will be one.95
To further this program of Jewish education, Ludwig undertook the editing of an anthology of contemporary Jewish short stories, to be published for the National Jewish Welfare Board, with sales of 200,000 copies anticipated.96 His introduction recounted the ancient Jewish tradition of telling tales, of which “no people had been more inveterate.” The modern secular interest in this literary form merely stimulated a resurgence of this tale-telling in the languages in which the Jews found themselves scattered, including the reborn Hebrew of the Yishuv. He had selected but a handful “from this great wealth of Jewish stories, that is, of stories written by Jews out of a Jewish consciousness concerning the character and the destiny of Jews.”97 In making his selection, he included I. L. Peretz’s story of goodness as its own reward, “Bontche Shweig”; Sholem Aleichem’s recounting of one man’s joy at living in a Jewish home in accordance with tradition, “Fishel the Teacher”; Sholem Asch’s tale of a Jew’s willingness to sacrifice his comforts to build a Jewish homeland, “A Peculiar Grift”; Arnold Zweig’s account of God’s ultimate redemption of his people in “Jerusalem Delivered”; Ben Hecht’s comparison of the positive experience of Jews in America with that of their former home, “God Is Good to a Jew”; and Howard Fast’s “The Price of Liberty,” being “the blood of brave men.”98 Jewish Short Stories was to be a book for American Jews in the postwar period of renewal, the inclusion of stories by Hecht, Fast, and even one by Ferber his way of reaffirming his commitment to Jewish life in America, but with loyalties to all of his people everywhere, including Palestine, and to their traditions and aspirations.
Ludwig’s influence continued to grow during these months, and gained for him access to the Yiddish reading world through a column in the daily newspaper Der Tag. He was amused that while none of the ZOA leadership ever commented on his New Palestine editorials, no matter how hard-hitting and accusatory, several had sent words of approval concerning those in Der Tag, “hurriedly written and quite without density or inner tension.”99 Perhaps it was his championing the Zionist cause outside of the Zionist world itself that had earned their attention and praise. “The choice is between the extremes of servile assimilation which leads to moral suicide and active membership in the Jewish people. If you choose the latter,” he advised his Yiddish readers, “that is, if you want your children to be self-respecting Jews and human beings whose lives have decency, dignity, honor, you must devote yourself wholly to the reconstitution of the Jewish people as a power today.” In this light, he continued, it was “absurd and disgraceful” that neither Jewish organizations nor the Jewish press had opened propaganda offices at the various sites at which international conferences were now being held.100
Ludwig was, in fact, sick over the “Jewish situation,” internally as well as externally. “If we are to be of any use it is senseless to divide our strength by indignation or grief,” he wrote Spiro in June.101 Most of what he took on now, aside from a translation for Heinrich Mann that appears never to have been published, was a part of his effort to cure this illness, for himself and the larger Jewish world. Ludwig had been invited by JPS in March to translate an historical novel by the German Jewish émigré Selma Stern-Taubler.102 The historian Jacob Rader Marcus, a member of the society’s publication committee, had recommended the book back in June 1944,103 and a month later had suggested Ludwig as translator.104 Stern-Taubler, as an historian of the Middle Ages, had written an accurate and moving account of the massacre of Jews along the Rhine during the Black Plague of 1348–49, a story which, Grayzel told Ludwig, “in many respects, parallels our own.” However, as Grayzel assessed the manuscript, it was in need of a good editorial hand as well as “an excellent translation. That is why we turn to you.” There was, however, one proviso to Ludwig’s acceptance, that the work be completed no later than November 1. “I say this with a smile on my face,” Grayzel added, masking his slight annoyance over the Buber translation.105
Ludwig was excited by such a project at this time, assuring the society that with the passing of this season of “heavy … editorial political pressure” and a summer without any scheduled lectures, he would comfortably meet the deadline.106 Grayzel was “delighted” and suggested, on May 11, that as he translated he should “feel free to make such modifications as you will think desirable for the purpose of making this a better and a stronger book,” and thus a more enjoyable project because more “creative … than a simple translation of ideas from one language to another.”107
The confidence Ludwig felt at being able to complete the task on time, and the need to undertake it and other assignments, were tied to his still disentangling relationship with Edna. On April 20 he had traveled to Rochester in an attempt to reclaim some of his possessions being held as ransom by Edna’s father in his effort to force Ludwig to pay for the support and medical care of his daughter. Ludwig cared little for much of what was there, but needed to recover his mother’s ashes and the few objects of very special personal importance. “Ghostly and ghastly” talk ensued, “dreadfully false” as he described it to Edna the following day. He told her that he had no money, having recently “bribed” Thelma to win her consent to his custody of Jim. Work had become limited to his writing and to lecturing locally, as he was unable now to do much traveling on the wider lecture circuit due to “a bad heart acceleration, dating as I long suspected, from the Desert San. Only calm and the most careful attention to my comfort enables me to do the little I do.” What more could he do? he pleaded. Hadn’t they been more than this to each other, to have their relationship come to such an end? Why had he been forced to go to court to reclaim what all knew was his? “I thought we once knew each other. Never mind that our dream was a dream—with great magic moments to me, at least. I thought that as two characters we knew each other—as to what each of us could do and not do. I said nothing concerning you but what was high and true. I am the villain of the piece, whom a Macfarlane [Guy Manley’s attorney] can insult and humiliate. To what end? That your father can take a few more dollars to his grave? That is it; that is all.”108
Edna wrote her father on April 30 that “this business of ‘who was to blame’ is beside the point.” She wanted nothing from Ludwig that was not voluntarily given, though she understood that he had to be “forced to assume some portion of his responsibility as a man. That is the thing to keep in mind, no doubt,” she told herself as well, trying not to give in to her sense of Ludwig’s state of mind under “the pressures of the last few years. Jim, the inability to sell his books, the double-life [living as husband and wife with Louise, while still married to Edna], etc., no doubt has confused Ludwig dreadfully. I don’t see how he can be quite normal,” she concluded, seeing his alleged repudiation of her as a product of his “psychological situation” which she had come to know “a little better” only after their isolation together at the San, “toward the end.” Had he been open to her earlier, their marriage might have survived, she still maintained.109
But Edna never quite understood Ludwig, as he hadn’t her. What helped her to better focus her life had strained his health, and only when he was most involved with the world was he fulfilled, something that had brought her back to the San. In her diary that year she would write of Ludwig’s “clear voice … muffled by the evil dying men of his age,”110 and of him as “the one who wanted things better than they were.”111 Ludwig, she would admit in September, now more willing to accept her due share of the responsibility, if not the blame, was one of her several “attempts to escape from father … all futile because each mistaken attempt returned her with further dependence to Father.”112 By October she could admit to herself that not until the stay in Valmora, after the Desert San, had she been “ready to respond totally to L.L.,” but by then it was too late. “He was exhausted from waiting.” So, too, did she finally realize that Scott was truly “not man enough for me, a little too childish.” He had given her the “magic and beauty” that she had needed “to open pores of my being, to open the conduits of my deep self, so that I could give love and spontaneity to L.L.,” whose “capabilities and worldliness” she now needed more. Ludwig had understood all of this, had explained it to her, and had waited. But the wait proved too long. After three years, he was gone.113
Some years later, in a never-completed novel, “The Wedding Is Ready,” she would try to achieve a better understanding of their time together and the role Ludwig had played in her life with Scott, and beyond it.
It had not been easy to let Nathan [Ludwig] go, yet though she had walked the house in anguish during those last days and her tears seemed to be blood, not water, she had been unable to say a word or to put a hand to stop him who was her husband and friend … and though she had seen in one of those prophetic kaleidoscopic sights of which she was capable that when Nathan was gone that she would walk unhusbanded and unprotected forever, one of those lonely female freaks whose erect and gawky silhouettes cast shadows on the walls they pass as they walk the streets of the world, one of those lone, erect unescorted women who frighten children, she had not been able to say a word. Yet she had known how she would miss him as she had missed him all the years before he came, for without him in the world, who else was there in the world to nurture her, to husband her and protect her? Who else was there whom she knew in the world who recognized her and Jeffrey [Scott] or was capable of it. That he had recognized them had made his leaving so much harder to bear, of course. For when he had lain beside her to state quietly that he knew that she would never love anyone but Jeffrey, the warmth and love that she had withheld from him for three years burst and surged toward him. Perhaps it was his recognition that she had waited for for all the years. Perhaps it was that that she had most wanted of him. Perhaps long ago she had hoped that he would make plausible and acceptable to her father her love for Jeffrey? Who knew. But that he had accepted it, in so grave and quiet a way had freed all the love for him that she had always felt. But even as they clasped hands at parting to match their hands that were alike in shape and size and map of palm though the one pair had done its work and the other hardly begun, she had not been able to speak, and her mouth had only been able to twist against his as he kissed her goodbye.114
“What could I do but travel east to talk with Ludwig who had quite rightly refused to pay for the Humiliation Endured by him?” wrote Edna many years after this final attempt to settle things between them without parental or legal interference. “Money was the last thing I wanted from Ludwig. But I explained to him that I was helpless and could only ask him to save us both from the Wolves.” Late that summer of 1945, barely well enough to travel from New Mexico, where she had fled from her father, Edna met Ludwig in New York for the last time. “And what a Hot Passionate Ludwig and Edna talk we had over a couple of whiskeys in a mid-town hotel re all our mutual interests, at the end of which he commented: ‘Louise is a good Jewish mother to Jim, a great help … but I miss your magic.’” From then on, until Edna’s marriage to Walker Winslow, a journalist, in the late 1940s, Ludwig sent a monthly separation payment. To Edna’s regret, no letter ever accompanied these checks. “This was sad for me, as I had hoped L.L. and I could retain our literary friendship. But L.L. explained that the provision of Louise’s relationship to him depended on his forgetting and ignoring me.”115
In June 1945, Ludwig presented Louise with a copy of The Permanent Horizon, inscribing it, “my love and my life.” They were together, a union of the spirit, as Ludwig had said of other relationships in years past. The legal sanctions would have to wait until some obscure place could be found for both his divorce and their wedding. Edna was simply too ill for the smallpox vaccination that would have made a Mexican decree possible. A way would be found, soon, he promised Louise, counseling patience as a well-seasoned warrior in these matters. “There is no reason serious enough. None,” Ludwig wrote Louise in November 1945 while stopping in Philadelphia on his way to the annual ZOA conference in Atlantic City. “We’ll get through these largely technical difficulties. I’ve faced infinitely worse and here I am still going strong. I love you with all my heart and I want you to be of good cheer.”116
From his conference hotel room he wrote again that Sabbath afternoon of being greeted by “hundreds of delegates [who] pursue me with their, I suppose, well-meant friendliness,” and of his having snuck away the previous evening with Rabbi Felix Levy “for coffee, brandy, and a cigar.” Others had come by for breakfast or a chat, and he had been paid by B’nai B’rith for a talk he gave. But he missed Louise so very much, he told her, “My Pettsky. My only one. I have positive little frights without you. I need you; I kiss you. I belong to you.”117 After two days of meetings and journalistic note taking, Ludwig would write, “Bad not to be at home. Even my metabolism—if you’ll forgive the remark—is not on its usual level. I want to be home. That is my highest ambition. I want to be with you.”118
Ludwig missed Louise and Jim terribly. He had a family now, and was tired of being away from the home he had searched for throughout the years. The “melancholy” cloud that hung over the convention’s proceedings only deepened his desire. Though he found “the entire occasion … very impressive,” he was upset by it as well. “I’ll tell you why and (within certain limits) write why. It has to do with our entire situation as a people.”119 The gates to Palestine were still closed, and the seeking of favor among the Arabs by the West had left statehood uncertain. The displaced persons camps were full, hundreds of thousands of Jews were living under Arab oppression in the Middle East and North Africa, and immigration to the West by these refugees was still all but impossible. It was all so disheartening. Yet, more upsetting was the American Zionist leadership itself—their self-serving acts, their internal political squabbling, and their ill-informed interference in his work at the New Palestine. Since the change of leadership the previous year, Ludwig had tried to contain his critical voice and coexist with them, even with Israel Goldstein, whom he thought “a cheap opportunist” and “an ill bred boor. So it doesn’t matter what he says,” he had written Spiro in December. “I can sense his rather foul motives.”120
So, too, would he now try to suffer those who were to be elected in their place. “I am resigned. Nothing will really change except the names of the people. Everything will continue to be as second rate as it has been. What keeps one going is the Yishuv.”121 But these new men were, for Ludwig, appreciably worse, a bunch of “gangsters,” particularly Emanuel Neumann. Bullying their way into power, they had begun already to pressure him in June about the contents of the New Palestine, adding accusations of incompetence as an editor and political writer.122 “I’m ashamed for people, Jews, Zionists. Their rottenness is beyond description,” Ludwig would write Spiro in the early weeks following the convention.123 After all the years of struggle, they could only add to the continuing tragedy of homelessness. While strikes in Palestine pressured the British, and American Jews rallied in their support, petty politics were being played out, sapping the energy of many whose efforts seemed wasted. “Whatever pride or pleasure I might have had in the job was taken away quite a while ago, though I agree with you,” he wrote Spiro on December 22, 1945, “that Goldstein is a saint in comparison to what we have now.” Perhaps his friend could find “the decenter people among the rishonim [leaders]” and prod them into more constructive action. He himself could not, “overcome with moral horror” as he was, and recovering now from an operation to remove a benign bladder tumor that had bothered him for years.
He had, in fact, given all that he could of himself. A reexamination of the past year’s New Palestine, Ludwig told Spiro, revealed a good journal of “pertinence, variety, [and] good sense … given our American cultural circumstances.” Some of the “leading names in the world of Jewish thought” had contributed their work. Yet, how much better the journal would have been “if we had an American Buber and Bergmann and Klatzkin and Blumenfeld. Well we haven’t,” he concluded with frustration as the year drew to a close. “I wonder if you know how hopelessly barren the American field is. I know everybody. There are no others.”124
And how sorry he was that the needs of the hour—political and financial—had kept him throughout much of the fall from the work he truly enjoyed, work that would have kept him closer to those European Jews with whom he felt the greater kinship. A third of the Stern-Taubler manuscript had been sent to Grayzel when Zionist politics drew him away from it in October. Illness and “a quite rough surgical treatment” had compounded the delay. Having “already cancelled lectures right and left,” he promised to be “a respectable convalescent—and complete the translation.” At least he had this to look forward to in his professional life.125