Refuge at Brandeis
HE NEW YEAR OF 1946, the first to begin after the world conflict had ended, began for Ludwig much as the last had ended, in dispute with the ZOA hierarchy. Hoping to elicit the help of an allied voice, he wrote to Abba Hillel Silver on January 1, seeking his “understanding and cooperation” in defending his role as editor, “my only fundamental motive … the service of our cause.” His concern, he assured Silver, was not that of a wounded ego. “I am reasonably free from common vanity and find it hard to have to put into words—as though anyone, least of all you, needed a reminder—that from the publication of my book ‘Israel’ (1925) through that of ‘Breathe Upon These’ (1944) I have been known as the living creative voice of American Jewry.” Now, without warning, criticism, “at once sweeping and without direction, which proposes no alternative of policy or method, which limits itself to a blank negation,” had arisen. Throughout the year and a half of his editorship, colleagues representing the full spectrum of Jewish opinion had praised, verbally or in writing, the work he had done in upgrading the New Palestine. Many of his editorials were being published in England, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, and in translation in Argentina and France. His Jewish writings, as well, were soon to appear translated in Argentina and, “above all,” in Palestine. How then could these bureaucrats question his efforts? Was he not more acutely aware than they of the inclusion of some “mediocrity—amid far more that was brilliant and telling and very hard to get” ? Should those “within our inner circle” not be aware of “the flight from their Jewishness of nearly all our gifted younger men…. Even somewhat peripheral Jews, like Max Lerner, will not write for us. There is nothing in this direction that I have left unattempted. This thing is tragically so—today.”
To the letter Ludwig appended “An Old-Fashioned Poem,” as he titled it, in which he spoke of the interconnectedness of the basic elements of his life, of how with Louise by his side (“For we shall be together as / The long sweet seasons go”) he had found his personal Jerusalem, and was now prepared to face the forces of self-serving pettiness set against him in this struggle for the heart and future of American Jewry. “Envy may snarl and Malice sneer / But have no power o’er them / Who have possessed the Promised Land / And found Jerusalem,” he asserted as the year began.1
If there was any doubt as to Neumann’s motives behind this blistering criticism, it quickly dissipated with the appearance of the January issue of the New Palestine. Under the title of an editorial he had submitted while home recuperating from his operation, a different piece by another writer now appeared. More than simply embarrassed by the poor quality of the writing which would, of course, be attributed to him, he was livid that his ideas had been appropriated and reworked without reading as “sharply and concisely” as his original. Furthermore, pieces by distinguished thinkers had been eliminated to make room for lesser writers. If he was responsible for maintaining the journal’s quality, why had he not been consulted? Had Neumann and the others, he wondered, considered the damage to his reputation by such poor editorial work on their part? Attempting a conciliatory note, he wrote Neumann on January 18 that “Since I am the responsible editor of The New Palestine and am made, quite justly, to bear the brunt of criticism; since, moreover, I have a reputation as an editor and writer to sustain beyond the limitations of The New Palestine, I am sure that you will view these observations with the justice and in the kolegialisch spirit in which they are made.”2
By February, Ludwig was back at work editing the journal, each side having made its point quite clearly, without compromise. For the moment, he had a free hand once again. “We live in a moral miasma,” he began his next attack upon the British, holding them accountable for the death of two Jews they had illegally deported to Eritrea while freeing the mufti of Jerusalem, a known collaborator with Hitler. In such a world, he hastened to remind his readers, powerlessness, the lack of statehood, had caused the deaths of millions by “the most high-minded, cultivated, public-spirited groups of people in all Europe … [whom] they [had] trusted and helped to sustain.” There could be no compromise now with those who would not yield to the one and only moral act, the freedom of and immigration to a self-governed homeland in Palestine, of those remaining “few hundred thousand … who have been immeasurably sinned against.” Anything less would fail “to wipe away the shame of Christendom” and leave the remnants of European Jewry vulnerable to yet more pogroms, as had recently been witnessed in postwar Poland. Why the surprise on the part of American officials that they wanted “forever to abandon that blood-soaked and thrice accursed earth?… Can such stubbornness and wickedness be imagined? Jews actually want to live; they actually want to be free men,” Ludwig suggested in addressing those “gentlemen accustomed to power and security and freedom. Anyone who treats these Jews as a nuisance, as a ‘problem’ in their own character, anyone who criticizes them for anything to which their dreadful sufferings may have brought them, anyone who assumes toward them a charitable or condescending attitude, does but deepen the crimes which eat like cancers into the heart of the Western World and keeps that world from expiating and so from redeeming itself. This is the moral message which Zionists must spread. They and they alone are helping in this hour to heal the fiercest wound that afflicts mankind.”3
Writing to Spiro in early March, Ludwig spoke again of troubles at the ZOA, of a union formed by the workers, now on strike, which he supported, though he wasn’t sure that they knew what they wanted other than to raise some hell and make their grievous situation known. He wrote also of his profound unhappiness with the current state of American Jewry, an issue that would continue to demand his attention in the years ahead, for much needed to be done here as well as in Palestine, particularly of a religious nature. “The world is in a trough, morally, spiritually, culturally.” What had the several organized religious bodies within American Jewry successfully done to begin to change this even within their own communities? The Conservatives had raised a significant amount of money, but for what end, while the Reconstructionists “continue to undermine the eternal values of Judaism and to defile the blood of our martyrs according to scientific concepts exploded thirty years ago.” A new approach was needed, he argued. Time permitting, he would write a book on The American Jew and try to suggest a better path into the future.4
In the April issue of the New Palestine, Ludwig chose to set out some of what he believed to be the key issues in the work ahead. At first applauding the head of Conservative Jewry’s seminary, Louis Finkelstein, for raising the alarm at “the breakdown in the inspiration and education of the young,” he went on to question seriously whether the accompanying call for more funds to train a larger core of rabbis and teachers was the solution. “The crucial question is what will these teachers and rabbis teach?” Would it be those eternal truths about a living, personal God and the demands made upon Israel as a holy people, or contemporary theories about man and society, couched in traditional terms, that have left Jew and non-Jew alike unredeemed and lost? Even one so “admittedly pagan” as Aldous Huxley had recently “confessed] to a profound ‘metaphysical anxiety’” in this new postwar moment of uncertainty. Criticizing those he believed shared in the creation of this crisis in American Jewry, Ludwig asked pointedly,
Do they teach the eternal faith which has validated itself through the historic process as the content of no other religion ever has? Or do they teach “modern” concepts (generally forty years old) and that God, not the Eternal of Israel and the Father of all mankind, but conceived “as a quality,” is “to be sought in human affairs and strivings,” that is to say, not through sanctification and the pursuit of perfection? Do they teach that social techniques can redeem a world in which men are not redeemed? Do they call upon youth to sanctify itself through a Jewish life l’shmoh [for its own sake] and for the people and the land and the Torah of Israel? Do they utter a call toward an obedience which is our highest freedom? Or are they “liberal” and “broad-minded,” so that in the end all values and all hierarchies of values are destroyed?
What he wanted, what he himself longed for, were rabbis and teachers who could “descend to the depths of their being and to the depths of the Torah and of Israel’s fate in utter stillness and from that stillness call upon youth to obey and sanctify itself. Without that ‘metaphysical anxiety’ and spiritual rebirth,” Ludwig concluded decades before it became the cornerstone of a spiritual renaissance within American Judaism, “our latter estate will not, we fear, be much better than our first.”5 To counter this misguided direction, he would write a new book, consisting of three parts: “I. Decay of liberalism (no more libertarian). II. The Anthropological Fallacy [presumably, that man is not the center of his universe as he believes he is]. III. My faith as a Jew.”6
A recent survey of authors, asking for those books that had “contributed most to the development of your philosophy,” elicited from Ludwig “an odd list … but truth compels me.” The first two of five were the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. Goethe and Freud were next, followed by the work of Buber, “alas, so little known in America, [but] perhaps the greatest religious philosopher of our time for all men, despite the Judaeo-mystical center from which he radiates.” Unsolicited, but added by Ludwig, was his reason for such eclectic choices. “All moral truth man needs is from old. The application lags. In brief: disobedience to God and His Torah is the source of human ills.”7
Not many yet knew of this more traditionally Jewish side to Ludwig’s life. Not many would later understand what they would see of it, believing mistakenly that he had moved into the Orthodox camp. As a libertarian, such a move was impossible. Rather, the Zionism that had earlier been a way of affirming his Jewish identity over against the larger culture, a way to be Jewish without having to participate ritualistically, was slowly giving way through study and exposure to traditional Jewish ritual practices he found meaningful both spiritually and as a way of identifying with his people. Slowly supplanting the Zionist activism of his first years as a self-affirming Jew, he would give greater effort to worrying about the viability of a Diaspora community in America. And as he became further entangled in the Zionist political machinations of the postwar era, his level of disillusionment with the movement would rise to a state of near abandonment of all organizational involvement. While always remaining a strident proponent of Zionism as a program of cultural identity and rebirth, and of rescue for Jewish refugees worldwide, he was now becoming more concerned with the perpetuation of Judaism as redemptive truth, seeing in ritual the beauty and values that were needed if there was to be a Jewish future anywhere.
That Passover, when Edward Titus and his second wife, Erica, visited Ludwig and his family in Brooklyn and shared the seder with them, she “discovered a very different side of L.L.,” that he was “a very religious man…. [With] every ritual minutely explained and carried out by Ludwig, the meal lasted three hours…. Most instructive,”8 she concluded perceptively, for of his several roles, it was as a teacher that Ludwig hoped to spend his remaining years, speaking to Jew and non-Jew alike of the eternal truths he had discovered, many of them embedded in Jewish texts and traditions, but present elsewhere as well. The politics of fleeting moments was now of diminishing concern, something he was forced to consider in order to keep food on the table. Instead, he would increasingly redirect his attention to more lasting projects.
Delayed by surgery, Ludwig had finished the Stern-Taubler novel on February 27, having “found much beauty in the book … though a little static as fiction here and there.”9 He apologized, as always, for not meeting his promise of a November 1 deadline, though never mentioning that in addition to his illness and the New Palestine, he had, since agreeing to the translation, completed the editing of an anthology of writings by non-Jews about Jews for which he had written a ten-thousand-word introduction. (“I had a very good time writing that piece,”10 though the book would never be published in this form, a much shortened version with only three stories appearing some years later.)
So, too, had he rendered into English Thirty-One Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, now already published in what Ludwig thought a fine printing. He had earned very little for his work, but had been rewarded with the opportunity “to reveal an image … of those poems which so many among us strain to hear.” Rilke, Ludwig wrote in his introduction to the volume, had lived his life as “a negation, pregnant with prophecy, of the veil that was to come,” pausing “to see into the life of things” and to wring from these a vision of mankind “wrapped in a thousand hot and ugly and heavy integuments both of things and of concepts.” In an attempt to “strip them off and without mediator force both the ‘garment of the Deity’ and the ‘heavenly powers,’” he had revealed a way for humanity’s return “from all the ugly and tumultuous occupations” back to “both earth and God.” Those who yearned for this “purity and oneness” would find in Rilke a fulfillment of “that nostalgia for it in their hearts.” Never before, Ludwig observed, had such longing been felt than now, after “the growth of the horror of the German name and of the German deed,” its spotlight shining upon the morally and spiritually empty universe in which “we in this whirl are caught,” as Rilke had written. Not “that which changes,” but “only the permanent doth consecrate.” Reflecting upon his own attraction to Rilke’s poetry, Ludwig noted how “the longing for Rilke has … grown with the growth of a universal horror in the souls of men at the betrayal of those souls by an increasingly hollow and unhallowed civilization. Whoever in this age has heard in sudden fear the silences of God, whoever has known that he was not living his life nor faring toward his death, whoever awoke to the evil of the machine’s mastery, has sooner or later come upon the fact that there had lived in the world a poet who had spoken of his horror, his fear, his repudiations with incomparable loveliness and power.” In that winter of 1946, searching for permanent truths amidst the “brief transmissions,” Ludwig would end the volume by warning, through Rilke’s verse, that “Ancienter the starry fire and truer / And these new fires will dim and die /… Aeon is to aeon prophesizing /… More has happened than we know or feel.” (After Ludwig’s death, two of his translations of Rilke’s poems would be set to music by Gordon Birkerd, “Liebeslied” [“The Song of Love,” 1967] and “Wir sind die Triebenden” [“We in This Whirl Are Caught,” 1970].)11
Other projects had been presented to or were proposed by Ludwig throughout the spring of 1946. After extensive negotiations, Soma Morgenstern, a Jewish refugee from Germany, had agreed to allow JPS to publish a translation of his novel, My Father’s Pasture. Ludwig was recommended as “topnotch … [and] worth waiting an extra six months … [so] that the translation will be adequate to the original.”12 With some reluctance and a bit of negotiation of his own, Ludwig agreed. He no longer was desperate for the income but would do it, he told Grayzel, “partly by friendly considerations” toward the society, and “partly in faith” that they would continue to pursue the possibility of reprinting Renegade (requiring negotiations with Dial) and several of his other Jewish works in a single volume, as previously agreed.13 Jacobs was “delighted” as always to have Ludwig translating for them, and in return agreed to place the proposal of such an Omnibus volume on the top of the publication committee’s next agenda, though he warned that with the society having already published so many of his books, this project “may fall of its weight.”14 Ludwig, in turn, noted this objection and advised the society that the exact contents could be decided at some future date after the committee had set the volume’s length.15 In speaking to Jacobs at the end of May concerning the ongoing negotiations involving Renegade, Ludwig would write, “I am not inclined to drive a hard bargain in this matter, my prime object being the preservation of my works and some kind of steady revenue from them.”16
No book of Ludwig’s was potentially more income-producing than Crump. On April 8, 1946, Mary died. The following day, Ludwig wrote Canfield. “You observed, of course, in this morning’s paper the notice of the demise of our old enemy, Anne Crump. So much water has flowed under so many bridges that my recollection of various matters connected with ‘The Case of Mr. Crump’ is dim.… My only motive for publishing it now would be to make money for the publishers and for my family and myself.”17 Ludwig’s proposal immediately raised the question of a potential libel suit against both parties by Mary’s children. Canfield sent a copy of the book to his attorneys, who advised that, indeed, “the book constitutes a libel hazard,” provided “an identification can be made between a real person and each of these characters.” Canfield’s marginal notes identify each of the seven pinpointed by his attorneys, writing “Yes!” in large letters and starring the one daughter pictured as insane.18
Internal memos at Harpers discussed the problem, and a decision was reached on May 7 by Canfield not to publish, but also not to tell Ludwig that this failure to exercise their twenty-year-old option was based upon this fear.19 Speaking for Canfield, Edward Aswell informed Ludwig on May 9 that, after consultation with their sales department, Harpers had decided not to publish Crump. “We cannot convince ourselves that the project would be a commercially successful venture … [and would] make no claim whatever against your proceeds from the book” should a publisher be found.20
Three days earlier, Ludwig had written Spiro that after twenty-one rejections, Anniversary would be published by the small press that had just issued the Rilke volume. Because of its association with Edna, he merely wanted to see it in print. “It is a ‘stunt’ book and has very little to do with me. But it is enormously well done, brilliantly effective, sure-fire.”21 Ultimately, however, the novel would be brought out by Farrar, Straus, who were soon to become Ludwig’s last major publisher, their association beginning with Crump. Receiving Harpers’ rejection, Ludwig immediately called Roger Straus and asked if he had heard that “the old bitch is dead.” When Straus confessed ignorance of Mary’s death and of Crump itself, Ludwig promised to deliver a copy personally, but only if he could have a response by morning. Reading the book that evening, Straus realized what a good property it was and telephoned the next day to say that he would publish it.22
Fully aware himself of the book’s potential liability, Ludwig contacted his own attorneys.23 After years of experience with such matters, he was no longer willing to be represented by a lawyer whose primary interest was not his welfare, but the publisher’s. A settlement between Mary’s children and Ludwig was finally worked out by Arthur Hays and signed on October 2. In exchange for a small percentage of Ludwig’s royalties and any moneys obtained through the book’s use in the media, and an immediate cash advance of one thousand dollars against these future royalties, Mary’s heirs agreed, in perpetuity, to allow Ludwig and his publisher (Farrar, Straus or another) to issue the novel without the threat of a libel suit to follow. Stipulated in the agreement was their acknowledgment that no future claim would be made that actual persons or events were portrayed in Crump, as long as changes were made to the text and to the names of identifying “persons, places, institutions, companies or streets.” In all, the attached list constituted forty-nine emendations to the text. None truly altered the story, allowing Ludwig to live with the settlement.24
Throughout the summer of 1946, Ludwig continued his work on the Morgenstern translation with Louise’s assistance. The years of constant writing had left his hand crippled and, like Thelma and Edna before her, Louise became his secretary, taking dictation as he sight-translated each new book coming from JPS.25 Other duties, as always, slowed the work, and in mid-August, with much still to be done, Ludwig and Louise left Brooklyn for their first real vacation, a two-week stay at a cottage near New Milford, Connecticut. Robert Adams, then operating an area antique shop in which the Lewisohns had made a purchase, recognized Ludwig’s name from his check, and having read Expression in America in college, struck up a conversation. He later recalled being invited back to their cottage and, in the fall, to their place in Brooklyn, where he met Jim. He remembered Louise as “slim, dark, much younger than [Ludwig], quiet, and … rather cerebral. She deferred to him, spoke little, listened to us.” Of Ludwig he would write, “I felt something like a kind of instant, filial love for Lewisohn. His rich voice and soft accent, his almost seraphic expression, his authority and humility drew me. We began to speak of world politics and philosophies. One of my friends asked Lewisohn, ‘What about Russia—is there hope there, hope of … perhaps the answer?’ Without hesitation he replied, ‘None whatever. Read Koestler—The Yogi and the Commissar—it is all there…. The universe operates under the moral law. It is inescapable.’”26
The trip to Connecticut had allowed Ludwig a brief respite from the continuing disputes he and others at the ZOA were having with the organization’s new leadership. Through a circuitous route of memo after memo, Ludwig had been informed in early June that the July and August issues of the New Palestine were not to appear. He had responded to Neumann as initiator of the original memo on June 16, conceding that while cost-cutting measures were understandable, given this critical “historic moment,” such interruption of “serious communication with our membership … is not, perhaps, a very happy circumstance.” Worse, still, was the proposal to eliminate the New Palestine, allegedly for budgetary reasons, and to replace it with a more literary monthly sold by subscription only. “Our movement is a movement of the creative word and the persuasive act,” Ludwig bitingly reminded Neumann, “a movement founded by men of letters, fostered and spread by them and wholly dependent upon the groundwork of persuasion, conviction, and the impassioned action that rings from these.” Instead of cutting the journal, it should be better promoted, he argued, “in order that it be better able to fulfill its right and necessary function of making Zionists of our dues-paying members.” To replace the New Palestine with the contemplated monthly would be more costly, as new staff would be needed for its expanded length, and dangerous for the future of the movement. “I cannot but be mindful of the extreme psychological danger of leaving the rank and file of our membership, the democratic mass, without even the opportunity of hearing the word, the love, the teaching which are as the breath of life of our movement,” he cautioned Neumann. “I am glad that the responsibility for such an act is not mine.”27
Four days later, Ludwig assumed the chairmanship of a committee formed by the ZOA staff’s union to draft a new contract “with teeth in it.” As he defiantly noted for Spiro, it was the first such act by him in some forty years. He felt unthreatened in such a role now, for only a few days earlier he had been offered (if later declined?) a full professorship in German and Comparative Literature at the City College of New York, with only part-time teaching responsibilities.28
When a month passed without his involvement in discussions concerning the future of the New Palestine, Ludwig sent Irving Miller a copy of his earlier letter to Neumann, raising the same points “out of that [same] sense of responsibility” as a Zionist, not “as a person” whose interests were being forsaken. He had willingly passed up the previous winter’s invitation to head the Palestine Appeal in England, and had just done so again with a request from South Africa for the coming winter. He needed to know the ZOA leadership’s intent. Here it was mid-July, and no preparations were as yet under way for the September issue. It was “unthinkable that we will leave our intelligent members, our friends on the Christian committees, politicians and diplomats here and elsewhere,” without a medium of Zionist expression. “Why have I not been consulted as to what can or ought to be done?” he asked Miller, telling of the embarrassment he experienced for himself and the ZOA in not having an answer to questions raised by friends and members who had heard rumors of this change. Why, he asked finally, was the replacement of so useful a publication, with a circulation of 175,000, even being discussed at so critical a time in the push for Jewish statehood? “I am alarmed, not because change is contemplated, but because there seems to be, as far as I can learn, no direction or purpose or expert thinking in this mere will toward change. And I am alarmed not, I assure you, as the editor of The New Palestine but as a representative of the Zionist cause, which seems in danger at this moment of incomparable crisis and tragedy, of being left without an adequate mouthpiece.”29
The September issue finally did appear, as did the next, and when the “Neumann gang” attempted to win approval at the October annual meeting of the ZOA for their proposal to eliminate the New Palestine, they were defeated30—at least for the moment. Ludwig would continue to control editorially the ZOA’s published voice, including in it “whatever I am told I may communicate” of delicate political maneuverings and those other topics fit for “The American Zionist Publication Devoted to Jewish Affairs,” a mandate that allowed him to pursue further his concern for a Jewish religious renaissance in America.31
In pursuit of this goal, he pushed on with the Morgenstern translation, hoping to bring a work of true Jewish literary art to culturally impoverished Jews throughout the country. Morgenstern had not yet met Ludwig when he agreed to allow JPS to translate and publish his book, accepting what he judged an unfair contract in order to raise enough money to bring to America his family, whom he had not seen since their separation eight years before.32 When the two men finally greeted one another in their adopted country, Morgenstern asked Ludwig, “How many works in literature are there written by American Jews that will survive?” “None!” Ludwig answered. “And I found out that he was right,” Morgenstern later reflected on that first meeting.33 Shortly before his trip to West View Farm in Connecticut, Ludwig had sent Jacobs the first half of the translation. “You will be glad to know that the book is, in my opinion, very … powerful.”34 Morgenstern returned the compliment. “I find the translation excellent, though I am not surprised since we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Lewisohn do the work.”35
But the remainder of the text would have to wait until the following year. Ludwig’s attention, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and in the midst of Zionist politics and editorial responsibilities tied to the struggle for a Jewish state, would continuously be drawn toward ideas for work of his own—a novel detailing the flight of “Jews from Treblinka to Cyprus”; another set in Charleston, mockingly titled The Gentlewoman, concerning sexual repression and bigotry (“They despise … Jews. ‘Kikes! Jews!’”) among the upper classes, as a further attempt to make peace with his past; a third tale, Star-Son, portraying the fight for Jewish survival amid Roman oppression (the Bar Kochba revolt) and the pull of assimilation in the early Christian era, as a mirror of the contemporary American Jewish scene; and two deeply cynical works of more general cultural and sociopolitical analysis, Clearing Ground, a discussion of “Contemporary Superstitions” (“Progress, Concentration of Power, Democracy and Education, Practical and Mystical”), and A Voice in These Times (“On liberty…: man not good enough,” and related issues explored in Clearing Ground, coupled with “On the Meaning of the Jewish Problem in the World” and “My faith as a Jew”).36
On January 18, 1947, Ludwig wrote Grayzel with yet another promise of completion, reporting that he had been ill and, too exhausted, had canceled all lectures until March. The response to the announcement of Crump's forthcoming publication on March 25 had added significantly to this exhaustion. “The advance orders are coming in beyond even the sanguine hopes of John Farrar and Roger Straus.”37 There was even activity in Hollywood, Ludwig wrote Spiro the following week, as Betty Davis’s agent was attempting to sell her the role of Mary38 (though this, like his earlier tries, would end without success).
But even these exciting developments and the financial security they promised to yield were for him overshadowed by a lengthy article just then appearing in the New Palestine. “Please do me the honor of reading my article: AMERICAN JEWRY: A NEW ERA,” he asked of Grayzel, writing its title like a banner headline. “If we American Jews don’t try to turn over a new leaf…” he added, without concluding the thought.39 Grayzel promised to read the article, and commented that he was pleased to hear that Ludwig would now be devoting all of his energies to the Morgenstern translation. “It ought to afford you welcome relief from the troublesome matters of Zionist policy and politics.”40 Grayzel was aware of the division between Wise’s group, who wanted a negotiated and more quietly reached settlement with the British over statehood, and those represented by Silver and Neumann and others who had recently deposed them with a program of more militant, though nonviolent, action to force the British out of Palestine.41 Ludwig, having advocated the latter position even during the Wise years, curiously found himself more in trouble with those whom he agreed with politically on this matter, for there were differences greater than even conflicts of policy and ego, differences in values which this more assertive Zionist leadership had violated and for which he would now take them to task.
Ludwig began his latest uncompromising critique of the assimilating American Jewish community by drawing attention to its crucial role as one of only two remaining centers of world Jewry after the European slaughter. In previous ages, these centers had shifted with the flow of a host of historical factors, political, religious, and financial. But each time, “the center shifted but the Jews did not change.” This, regrettably, was no longer the case, leaving Jewry at large endangered as it faced this “grave moment in our history.” “For the first time in history the exilic center of population and power has shifted to a Jewry unrivalled in numbers, power and wealth, which is in danger of dejudaization, which is in danger of radical decay, which is in danger—at the very height of its splendor and in possession of the power which is its due—of becoming alienated from world Jewry and historic Jewry.”
Everywhere he looked, Ludwig found this “decay,” spiritually and culturally. Yiddish language and literature, religious practice and the study of sacred texts—all were being abandoned, consciously, “and proud of it as, Heaven help us, ‘average American Jews.’” Far worse, still, was that growing body of Jews who, in seeking a position from which to critique American society, had looked elsewhere, trumpeting their rejection of all things Jewish in support of some “progressive” ideology which left their children “abandoned to ignorance” of most, if not all, things Jewish, including its superior value system.
Ludwig knew this path; he had trod it himself in his early years. Why not, he asked in hindsight, offer this critique of America from out of the permanent values taught by Judaism? It was, he asserted, the responsibility of all Jews to stand in judgment upon whatever society they shared. Such was the true nature of citizenship, of true loyalty. But the assessment and corrective must be, as Jews, the product of a Jewish perspective. Only then could a lasting contribution be made, both for America and for the well-being and future of Jewry, in the States and the Yishuv.
The remedy lies in a radical change of attitude. Jews must analyze and criticize the environment in which they live. They have for that purpose the criterion of their Judaism—of their Jewish culture, tradition, history, temper. Judaism must not be adapted to the cultural Americanism of this hour in American history. Cultural Americanism must be judged and criticized by the criterion of Judaism…. Jews must analyze and criticize their American environment and seek to change and correct it, at least for themselves and their children. It may be said in sober truth that such is their duty as Americans, too. Who is the best citizen? He who consents to ignorance and folly and clamorous vulgarity or he who is at one—though from another angle—with the protesting and re-creative forces of the civilization within which he lives? Every American Jew who rejects the shallow nihilistic slogans of the hour, who sees to it that his children are imbued with reverence for Jewish piety and learning, who actively repudiates the popular wallowing in vulgarity and ignorance and moral slackness—every such Jew not only re-allies himself with his people and its great tradition but performs a service of high and pertinent value to the America of his day. Every such Jew helps to re-integrate American Jewry with the past and living present of the Jewish people. Every such Jew helps to build our freedom in Eretz Yisrael by what he is, since only from being right can right action arise.42
Ludwig’s attendance at Jim’s graduation in June from the Hebrew School of the Brooklyn Jewish Center served to confirm his worst fears for the coming generations of American Jews. Commenting in disgust to Spiro on the hollow lives of the other parents and on their satisfaction with the shallow education received by their children (for which the rabbi, a leading figure in American Jewry, “ought to be ashamed of himself”), he spoke of how, with a little money in their pockets, they “carry on like mad,” wanting everyone to know that “they all made 35 cents yesterday.” Meanwhile, “the poor kids are ignorant as beasts of the field—were never brought into contact with knowledge. Moreover … the place is a cess-pool of unreligion.”43
“What will become of us?” Ludwig had worried aloud that February in the New Palestine. “How are we to be spiritually and culturally integrated with the Yishuv? How is American Jewry to survive Jewishly? From what wells will our English-speaking children draw their sustenance?”—all questions whose answers depended, in part, upon a Jewish center in Palestine whose future self-government looked more questionable with each excuse offered from the hands of Jewish terrorists to the British who still hoped to control Palestine in the future. Condemning both the recalcitrance of the Crown and the attacks upon its soldiers and bureaucrats by the Irgun and the Stern Gang, he spoke of British guilt at the lack of lawfulness and justice in Palestine, for which Britain “must now abide by the consequences of its will,” and in favor of “moral resistance and creative deeds” (“re-possessing the land that is ours” through the building of more settlements) rather than the suicidal acts of those violent few who, out of impatience, “have given our stupid and banal enemy a weapon of incomparable power and effectiveness against us … [and] rendered almost insuperably difficult the task of those Jews who spend themselves in this tragic age to save our people.” Jerusalem, not Masada; life, not death. Only that, and nothing less, could assure the future of world Jewry in the Yishuv and elsewhere. “Across the seas we call out to them: We do not want Masada! Do they compare themselves to the Zealots and Sicarii of old? Well, there is a reading of history according to which those desperate warriors too might well have held their rash and bloody hands against Edom, so that Jews might have lived and children might have been begotten and God praised and good deeds done. That is fundamental Jewishness—to rise above even despair, not to be overwhelmed by it and to invite disaster.”44
Zionist militancy in Palestine and elsewhere was, in fact, already weakening British resolve to retain control over the area by late 1946. Support in Washington for the partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs had been won the previous fall, and a recent call by Truman in early 1947 for 100,000 entry visas to Palestine for Jews caught in displaced persons camps in Europe only emphasized the impossibility of Britain’s position. Ludwig’s most recent appeal for coolheaded action to continue the pressure on British authorities in the Yishuv had come on the heels of a major step forward just days before. When a conference in London under the sponsorship of the Foreign Ministry failed to mediate longstanding differences between Jews and Arabs, Foreign Secretary Ernst Bevin seized upon this face-saving opportunity to condemn their “unreasonableness” and announced on February 14, 1947, that the problem was being put into the hands of the still somewhat disorganized United Nations. Ludwig’s counseling of restraint was well advised, as Bevin further stated on the twenty-fifth that if the UN failed, his government would impose a solution. All within the Zionist hierarchy knew that this could well mean the end of all hope of statehood.45
Returning from a Washington meeting of the Zionist Emergency Council held in response to Bevin’s announcement, Ludwig spoke of being excited and encouraged by the group’s applauding the more hardline rhetoric of Benzion Netanyahu. It was, he proclaimed, a “great show of Zionist strength,” a sign of greater unity within the movement than he had previously witnessed.46
Unfortunately, such unity had not extended itself to the internal affairs of the ZOA, where a move was under way throughout the late winter and early spring, spearheaded again by Neumann, to oust Ludwig from his editorship, the attempt to eliminate the New Palestine having previously failed. The whole business “nauseated” him, Ludwig told Spiro on March 21, finding it incredible that his abilities could still be questioned.47 Hearing of this continuing pursuit, Wise wrote Ludwig about the whole affair, inquiring into both the journal’s future and the personal attacks upon his old colleague and once-again friend. “Things are done behind my back, in fact, there is a constant coil of machinations against me and has been from the beginning of this administration, machinations so sordid and so mean-spirited and so stealthy that I continually shivered at the thought of our cause in such hands.” Though he was in agreement with them ideologically, he could not stomach such men in positions of leadership, representing a cause he held sacred. “As dear Saul Spiro said long ago: Even if they’re right on a certain point, they’re still wrong because their kavanah [spiritual intent] is wrong.”48
“The Neumann group is beginning to emit a skunk-like odor again but I think I can weather the stenches as far as my job and salary are concerned; whether I can save The New Palestine as a decent publication—that is, of course, another question.”49 In an attempt to do just that, while protecting his personal interests, Ludwig again wrote Silver, apologizing for adding to his burden “a set of circumstances” which, though having “its small and sordid side,” was of “crucial importance … [even] in the midst of our great preoccupations.” Despite Silver’s assurances of concern in January over the fate of the journal, “the tactics of dragging the matter out are being used to destroy my functioning within the organization, as though at this moment of our history any major force in Zionism could be flouted…. Our organization and our cause are not helped by deciding nothing except to instigate against me personally certain underlings on the staff,” a reference to Neumann’s communicating with him second- or thirdhand through Carl Alpert, a functionary within the larger ZOA. Once again, what he had written was being censored out of the journal, “stealthily and behind my back,” leaving the organization “look[ing] ridiculous” as it published without any political editorials. With their common concern for the “character” of the movement, Ludwig called upon Silver to make certain that such actions “do not besmirch it.”50
Ten days later, on April 18, having received no response from Silver (in keeping with a now well-established pattern of silence from the ZOA hierarchy), Ludwig wrote Israel Goldstein, threatening to expose all that had occurred regarding his attempted ouster and “the sneer with which the resolution of the last convention” concerning the New Palestine’s continuation had been met by those given the privilege of leadership—all documented in letters and internal memos to which he had access. If there was to be a change of publishing formats, then he wished to see the best of the old preserved in the new, and by him as editor. “The plans are to be worked out in consultation with me as the one expert in our American movement,” he insisted, for he had no intention of abandoning his post, no matter how much pressure would be brought to bear upon him. Such a personal attack, aside from the needs of this Zionist moment, was simply unacceptable and would not occur without a counterattack. This he promised in the clearest possible language. “I will not resign. Neither will I tolerate a ‘discharge’ on any fictive motivation. I will appeal to the Union.… I will publish the letters in question. Under no circumstances will I tolerate the tarnishing of my standing as an editor, a writer, a Zionist which that would involve. Why should I?”51
The decision to discontinue the New Palestine came nine days after Ludwig sent this letter, putting in its place “a high literary publication to appear bi-monthly or quarterly on a subscription basis.” Though it would violate his sense of democratic access for the membership to news and opinion, Ludwig accepted his powerlessness over this inevitability and supported the move at the next ZOA convention meeting of the publication committee. With him as editor, the first issue was scheduled for January 1, 1948.52
If Ludwig’s resolve appeared somewhat compromised, it may have been the result of other concerns. Three days following this decision by the ZOA executive board, Thelma’s attorney threatened court action to regain custody of Jim if visitations did not start immediately. She simply could not believe that her son didn’t want to see her. Now thirteen years old, he was quite capable of expressing his own wishes and being listened to. Thelma firmly convinced herself that Ludwig was poisoning Jim’s mind against her. Ludwig’s attorney, holding affidavits attesting to Thelma’s questionable character and activities, felt confident of a court victory. Nevertheless, that Mother’s Day, Jim went to see Thelma. Her lawyer sent a note to Ludwig’s attorney immediately after the visit. “I don’t think Mrs. Spear will bother you or Ludwig Lewisohn again. I think she was totally displeased with the boy’s general conduct, so that I don’t think she will seek any further visitation.”53
To counterbalance these moments of frustration and worry, Ludwig that spring was greeted by a resoundingly positive reception to the reissue of Crump, its first authorized and legal appearance in America. “After a generation, the story is just as horrifying—and as entertaining—as it was when the smuggled French edition fluttered the literary dovecotes of the twenties,” the New Yorker reviewer wrote on March 29, four days after it went on sale.54 Calling it “an ugly picture and an unforgettable one,” R. G. Davis in the New York Times noted that even after two decades, it continued “to raise some very interesting questions about the relation of art to experience.” In a lengthy discussion of the novel, Davis commented how, as “one of the most remarkable indictments of a woman in fiction … the reader will remember Anne as if he had been forced to live with her for years.”55 Florence Bullock of the New York Herald added a week later that it was “a great and powerful and bitter book” whose “creative surge … seriousness and sincerity” had transformed “the truculent angers of that ill-sorted marriage and its aftermath” into art.56
Crump had caught a wide audience of interest, pressing Ludwig into a marketing campaign of personal appearances and radio programs, in New York and the Midwest, within weeks of its publication.57 The book’s success would continue throughout the year, with requests for radio interviews coming as late as December.58 With so strong a response, negotiations soon began for an English edition, to be published by Penguin. A year later, Ludwig would report that it was selling in the hundreds of thousands, and that a cheaper edition was being discussed with Doubleday. Though Doubleday would pull out of the discussions, a paperback edition would be published by New American Library in 1948, complete with a glossy leering picture of Anne on the cover and a new title, The Tyranny of Sex, all part of the marketing strategy of NAL’s founder, Victor Weybright.59
Ludwig’s literary activity was richer now than it had been for many years, extending into the Yiddish press with David Pinski’s translation of a story by Ludwig that would not be offered in English. Thirty-two years earlier, Ludwig’s translation of Pinski’s The Treasure had appeared. It seemed a fair exchange, renewing as well their earlier association over dinner and a Yiddish theater revival. (“David at 73 or 4 as childlike as forty years ago.”)60 Ludwig was similarly happy to see another of his stories in Zukunft, having promoted Yiddish literacy wherever possible. So, too, did the appearance of his tale of an American in North Africa, “The Endless Test,” excite him when it was published in the June issue of Esquire.61
In August he sketched “a brief striking highly ingenious novel” in his journal. The Messenger would be another tale of assimilation, with the father ultimately becoming a Hasid, while the son joined the Irgun, “as (symbolically) two possible ways—halachoth [paths]—for all men,” spirituality or worldly struggle.62 Never beginning the novel, he instead soon became involved in editing Goethe’s autobiographical materials to produce “A Self-Portrait” for the two hundredth anniversary of the German master’s birth on August 28, 1949, to which would be appended a selection of one hundred of his poems translated by Ludwig. In October he wrote Spiro that he was “having a lot of fun in all the interstices of my regular occupations” with the work on Goethe, and that “both John Farrar and Roger Straus are truly enthusiastic about the project.” Half of the poems were already translated, he reported, telling Spiro that the work “just refreshes and amuses me.”63
Morgenstern’s In His Father’s House was to appear that fall, and Ludwig continued throughout the final weeks of preparation to interest JPS in finding a commercial publisher to bring it out with them. The third volume of Morgenstern’s trilogy, of which Ludwig had translated the second, was now completed, encouraging Ludwig to ask the society to publish the three in one book, to be “advertised as one of the gr-r-r-eat and massive masterpieces of our time—the first to come out of post-war Europe.”64 Grayzel responded that JPS was set to go to printing on its own, and that a thousand-page volume at the low price they could maximally charge their members “is a considerable morsel for the Society’s treasury to swallow.”65 Ludwig assured Jacobs that he understood their “situation,” but was saddened for Morgenstern, knowing the problems he faced financially, and angered that so fine a work could not be treated as it should while “all the purveyors of literary garbage are rolling in money and prestige.”66
There was, as well, the anthology of non-Jewish writings about Jews, Among the Nations, now drastically reduced from its earlier version of a few years before, about to be published by Farrar, Straus and distributed by JPS and the National Hillel Foundation. With the included Galsworthy play to be broadcast the first Sunday after the volume appeared, Ludwig wrote Jacobs asking that all be coordinated to maximize exposure and sales.67 And as if all this wasn’t enough to handle, Ludwig wrote the introduction to Renya Kulkielko’s Holocaust memoir of resistance as a ghetto fighter and survival in prison, Escape from the Pit, one of the earliest accounts in a literature that was to grow slowly until several more decades would pass. This “new literature of martyrdom,” Ludwig wrote, was unlike the earlier Jewish memorial books, for “It was, it is, an heroic literature … of a people that has a great, a burning, a triumphant will to survive—to survive not only in the body, but by its survival to cause goodness and justice and the free spirit of man to triumph over all the foul fury of the powers and principalities of earth.” Other types of Holocaust literature would in time correct this triumphalism, but in the immediate postwar years, amid the struggle for a Jewish refuge, such tales were needed to raise spirits otherwise crushed by the growing awareness of the enormity of what had happened in Europe while the world stood silent. “The tribute we can pay to her and her comrades is one and one only: to read her story, to let it penetrate us to the marrow; to let it change all Jewish lives that have not yet undergone the great and cleaving change; to see to it that the sufferings and the vast heroism of herself and her comrades bear the right fruit of the total dedication of all Israel to its redemption in the land that is its own.”68
Trying to fulfill his responsibility in this redemption, Ludwig grew impatient waiting to hear more about the new ZOA journal. Having heard nothing by July 8, he sent a letter to Neumann in which he “outlined in great detail the complete plan for The American Zionist Review.” Many weeks again passed before Ludwig was indirectly given Neumann’s response to proceed with the journal as he had proposed in his letter.69 Moving ahead with the project, Ludwig gathered materials for what he hoped would be “a source of pleasure and pride to us all,”70 perhaps even a competitor of Commentary if such high-quality manuscripts continued to be received.71
As the anticipated January 1, 1948 publication date grew closer, Ludwig became more anxious. Without final administrative approval of the contents, it could not go to press. Two weeks before it was to be distributed, Neumann’s hold on publication was “circuitously conveyed,” including his criticism that the journal was lacking “conspicuous names” among its authors.72 Believing this another act of sabotage, Ludwig wrote Spiro that the Review’s delay was Neumann’s doing, and that he was no longer going to upset himself with this business. “Truly I don’t give a damn.”
At least not at this moment, when so much else that was positive was happening in his life. The many publications released and in preparation (Anniversary, scheduled for early 1948, was already in bookshops by mid-December) had given him “the feeling of being alive and on the map.” And not just in the States. Maxine Piha, who had translated Adam and The Last Days of Shylock fifteen years earlier, was now rendering Renegade into French, helping to reestablish Ludwig’s literary reputation in postwar Europe, as well.73
More importantly, Edna had signed the divorce papers, freeing all parties. With Arthur Hays’s advice, Ludwig had written to her with a plan that would be obscure enough to evade the press’s inevitable intrusion once they became aware of the proceedings’ implications, including the fact that Ludwig was living with Louise without benefit of marriage, though nearly all who knew them believed they had already wed. What effect this news would have upon custody considerations was easy enough to imagine. Details of the elaborate scheme were sent by Louise to Spiro after all was secure, four days before the new year of 1948 was to begin.
Some months ago it became evident that the lady in question was willing psychologically to get free. (It is our hunch that she wants to get married but perhaps not … ) Now we knew that New Mexico permits the ground of incompatibility but, even so, we were faced with definite problems. So we went to Hays who said it was perfectly legal to use a Hebrew first name in the proceedings and advised going to one of the off-the-beaten-track places in that state which are mainly inhabited by Indians. Thereupon, the lady was given this information, went to a good lawyer who did it just that way for only $100 above the regular fee. No witnesses were needed, no representation required of the defendant—the lawyer out there simply sent the papers to be signed and notarized (we dug out an Italian notary who had never ever heard of the parties concerned). On December 19 the decree was entered, she returned to her maiden name, we have a copy of the decree, duly executed by the judge.
In February, while lecturing in the Midwest, Ludwig and Louise would then go to a small Michigan town, where a judge, merely upon seeing the decree, and with no questions asked, would issue a license and perform the ceremony, again without the press’s knowledge. “We can all put the whole thing from our minds,” Louise told Spiro, who would care for Jim in their absence. “I don’t know if this gives you any indication of what relief we feel—but, believe me, it’s like getting a new lease on life and a stone lifted from our hearts.”74
So, too, did it seem for Ludwig as he now continued to reestablish his literary career. Anniversary had already appeared to mixed reviews, as his work had always done over the many years since The Broken Snare. While one critic thought his discussion of the free spirit’s struggle against social constraints and unmeritorious complacency at once “well done and revealing”75 and “a brilliant jeremiad against our increasingly cheerful acceptance as a people of the second-rate,”76 others found his attack on “middle class morality … irrelevant these days,”77 or worse, “imaginatively undistinguished,” as the New York Times noted, adding in wonderment why someone who could write Expression in America “wishes to keep his franchise on novel-writing and the discussion of divorce.”78
But such criticism held little sway over the book-buying public as the first printing sold out immediately after publication, perhaps on the heels of Crump’s great success some months earlier. Written as a portrait of Edna (renamed Joy, a subject about which she would one day write a moving essay) and of their marriage in the days before its happiness had faded, Anniversary’s wide appeal lay in its tale of ultimate success in finding a soul mate after repeated failure, a search often undertaken in conflict with the demands of family and against the strictures of society. In mirroring their own lives in those of his protagonists, Ludwig had succeeded in touching upon a more universal theme than was his original intent back when he wrote the unplayed script for Katherine Hepburn.
The February 8 issue of the New York Times Book Review had made special note of Ludwig’s latest efforts with Crump and had spoken as well of his work on the Goethe autobiographical volume and on the anthology of gentile works about Jews.79 This latter work was of particular interest to Ludwig in its attempt to correct that “picture of the Jewish people in the literature of the Western world [which] is far from favorable”—its cause, the simple fact that “the Jewish people has willed to remain itself and has striven to preserve its form and guard its character” despite all efforts at dissolution, ancient and contemporary, Christian and Pagan, as he had explained in the introduction to Among the Nations. Of the few anti-anti-Semitic works that had recently appeared, few created portraits of authentic Jews. Rather, drawing upon the highly assimilated whom they may have known, their authors had created little more than bloodless images of individuals fundamentally undifferentiated from themselves. Only a handful of non-Jewish writers were familiar enough with Jewish culture and history to draw portraits that approximated Jews living as Jews. “It is the difficulty which Gentiles at best find in portraying Jews which renders so memorable the works presented here.”80
Ludwig’s efforts were again rewarded with notable sales, aided by JPS and B’nai B’rith Hillel adoptions of the book, the former only after requesting that Crump not appear on the jacket’s references to Ludwig’s other works.81 So, too, as Ludwig had predicted, were sales assisted by the performance of the Galsworthy play on the Sunday morning radio show “The Eternal Light,” broadcast in New York under the sponsorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary.82
Encouraged by this continuing stream of publications, something he hadn’t experienced for over a decade, Ludwig decided to again push the society on the possibility of reissuing some of his earlier JPS publications, as they had previously discussed. Perhaps he thought it possible to include others as well when he arranged the transfer of copyright on a dozen of his Harpers titles to Louise for the sum of a thousand dollars. Up Stream and Expression in America, continuing to be issued through Cerf’s Modern Library, were not, however, those among the properties now assigned to her.83 (In September, she would be named by Ludwig as his literary executor, with full authority to set all terms of publication for materials printed and in manuscript.)84 It appears that he began to plan additional works as well—on South Carolina literary history, on the “mechanical eye” (“it alters nothing,” he wrote in his journal), on the “shift in basis of critico-historical judgment,” and on cemeteries, a concern ever more present as he approached his own death.85
Through late spring and early summer, the Goethe volume grew into two volumes with the help of Louise, faithfully assembling and transcribing the text. In July, Ludwig inscribed a volume of André Gide’s journals for her as a gift of thanks, writing, “To my darling wife and indispensable collaborator on an opus of magnitude equal to this.”86 For Ludwig, the work on Goethe held special significance as affirmation of a great spirit and of all that had been good in his own German heritage, so evilly corrupted by an element equally a part of “that unhappy people,” as he characterized his former countrymen that spring.87
Ludwig’s own work, however, was not meant for them, but for all humanity. He did not wish to rehabilitate Germany. That was to be their own task, if ever they would be worthy and capable of repentance. Writing of his work when completed that July, he emphasized that “I am not interested in establishing better relations between the world and Germany until the German people voluntarily assumes its duty of guilt and expiation, nor would I care to have any word of mine printed in Germany today.”88
When Louise the previous December had spoken of the “stone lifted from our hearts,” she had referred to their personal lives together. For Ludwig, however, this stone of the Holocaust would never be raised. Exacerbating its weightiness that spring were the endless machinations within Zionist leadership circles which he saw as preventing the real work of statehood and Jewish rebirth, in the Yishuv and the Diaspora, from going forth. Of the one, he sketched “An Epistle to the Gentiles” in his journal on January 11, in which he planned to speak of the six million murdered and of their “Indirect Extermination” by the British Colonial Office and the U.S. State Department. “Why?” he asked in letters twice the size of the other notations made that day. He would offer a “Radical explanation of God, man, and the future” in answer to his own question.89 A second entry, on February 7, would raise similar themes, this time in a fictional context complete with a multiethnic cast, including a “Colonial Woman … Young Jewish Couple … German Woman … [and] Reb Yid.”90 Several more times that spring and summer he would be moved to sketch a response to events, past and present, that would deny him the peace he sought elsewhere.91
None was more troubling than the continuing pettiness of the American Zionist leadership in their attempt to oust him from his role as editor. The American Zionist Review, as Ludwig expected, had missed its projected inaugural date of publication that January. Concerned by ongoing delays perpetrated by the ZOA’s president, Ludwig had sent a detailed letter of inquiry the previous December 21, only to wait nearly a month before receiving Neumann’s six-line reply thanking him for his “views.” On February 8, Ludwig had again addressed Neumann, pleading that these historic times demanded an “adequate and dignified organ of expression.” A week later, continuing to use “the device of rendering publication impossible by paralyzing activity,” as Ludwig would soon characterize this tactic to its perpetrator, Neumann sent word that he hoped all would be “cleared up … in the very near future” so that the Review could appear “to the highest credit of our movement.”
Further delay was interrupted by a meeting, on March 23, of an editorial committee organized by Neumann that was to advise Ludwig on contents and policy, as well as contribute to the journal itself. Still unwilling to resign, Ludwig pushed forward with a requested preconvention issue, due out on June 1. But the articles written by the editorial committee members would never be submitted. Returning from a May 12 Toronto United Jewish Appeal appearance at which he was again, embarrassingly, asked about the Review, he again wrote Neumann. But “silence set in and has not since been broken,” Ludwig would complain bitterly in a final letter to Neumann on June 28, 1948. “You may wonder why I remained,” Ludwig continued. “The answer is quite obvious. I did not see why my specific services to this cause which I hold dearer than life, services which, as it happens, few others can render, should be destroyed by unworthy chicanery and ill-concealed sabotage.”92
In the intervening months, during which he had prepared not one, but two never-to-be-published issues of the Review, Ludwig had, in fact, been involved in several ongoing Zionist actions, among them supplying arms to the nascent Israeli army in the last days before the Yishuv declared its independence from Britain. “Stop being so pessimistic!” he insisted to Spiro on March 17. “The money is in Palestine. The Haganah [army] chiefs assure us that the weapons are ready to be bought. The miracle that must be performed is straight and heavy shooting.”93 In this regard, however, even he, knowing the slim odds of victory and the Jewish penchant for moral questioning, was not overly optimistic that victory could be achieved. “I still firmly nourish the hope—if only the Yishuv will not be misled by an ethical sense that has no place in this particular world—that we can fight our way through and face the world with a fait accompli.”94 But when Israel’s independence was declared on May 14, 1948, and rallies in New York and elsewhere overflowed with wildly jubilant crowds dancing and singing in the streets, Ludwig set to paper the soaring emotions that had sustained him throughout a quarter century of effort on behalf of this day. “At last the heart, long broken, learns / That it can be entire /… Though yet embattled, we arise / Reborn on earth to dwell. / Immortal now who lives or dies / For God and Israel.”95
Ludwig’s journey from assimilation to commitment to this hour of triumph had carried him through so many trying years. His old colleague Chaim Weizmann, soon to be named Israel’s first president, had known of only a portion of this odyssey, but understood it well nonetheless. They had shared moments of despair and exhilaration beyond those of personal grief and doubt. “I well remember our first conversations after you published the great book ‘Upstream,’” Weizmann wrote Ludwig on May 21, thanking him for his note of congratulations. “We both travelled a long way since.”96
With the State of Israel now legally established and independent, if not yet secured militarily, Ludwig felt morally comfortable with his decision to abandon the ZOA to its meaningless political pursuits. There was little point in continuing to struggle with its leadership. He could do more for Zionism, Israel, and the Jewish people by redirecting his energies elsewhere. On June 28 he wrote Neumann a three-page, detailed accounting of the efforts carried out against him in the year and a half since the present regime had taken power. He accused them of devious and cowardly behavior, of having only enough backbone to plot and not to confront him openly and honestly. He was not resigning, only responding to what was his de facto dismissal. By accepting their decision to eliminate him, he was saving them from any further need to force his resignation. All he asked for in return for this favor were his contractual entitlements under such circumstances.
Of course, you had not then and have not now the courage to discharge me openly and so cause a scandal among the Zionists both here and abroad who, I am grateful to say, regard me with some degree of affectionate loyalty. Well, I shall relieve you of the burden. Let it be clearly understood: I do not resign. I owe it to the cause and to myself not to do that. But since you have not the courage to accept the situation which you have created I am willing to help you to do so. By the consistent sabotaging of my work, my efforts, my services you have, in point of cold fact, discharged me. In consequence of these facts I am entitled to the arrangements in the Union contract governing cases of dismissals or discharges without cause.97
Of the several possibilities facing Ludwig in a future now freed of the oppressiveness of political maneuvering, none was more promising or more encouraging to contemplate than the invitation he had received and accepted only four weeks earlier, to join the faculty of the newly founded Brandeis University. “I have a piece of news for you,” he had written Spiro on June 2 of his new position as professor of Comparative Literature. Abram Sachar, the university’s president, had met with him in Boston the day before, and after assuring him of the institution’s financial backing and the support his appointment had received from its backers in the Boston Jewish community, Ludwig had consented. “So we have to move in August to Waltham, Massachusetts. Can you beat that?”98
The founding of Brandeis University was a slow and torturous process, and one that exposed to the larger American Jewish community its own ambivalence toward ethnicity and assimilation, debates within its ranks still ongoing now as they were throughout Ludwig’s years at the university and to which he would add in full measure. It was not by chance that those who supported his appointment to the university’s first faculty were all from Boston, for what had begun as an effort to found a secular Jewish institution with broad support throughout the national Jewish community nearly foundered on this very issue, losing virtually all of its backers, financial and otherwise.
A long history dating to the first quarter of the nineteenth century preceded this latest attempt to establish an institution where Jewish culture and education could flourish. Restrictive quotas imposed by Harvard, Yale, and other institutions sought out by college-age Jews in the 1920s rekindled this question. As part of the nativist movement that included changes in immigration laws and the resurgence of the KKK and other racist and anti-Semitic movements, this new restrictiveness went beyond even the discriminatory policies that had admitted Ludwig to graduate school but had left him without financial support or employment opportunities. A meeting of Jewish leaders in 1923 had found them divided not only as to the degree of secularity such a university should practice, but on whether separating Jews from others, as some feared it would, was at all wise, particularly at that moment.
The continuing and deepening anti-Semitism of the next two decades, culminating in the Holocaust, as well as the ongoing restrictive admissions policies in the immediate postwar period, gave new impetus to the idea of a secular Jewish university. A committee to study the idea formed in late 1945, and faced with the sudden availability of a suburban Boston campus in January 1946, set forth its proposal at a meeting of the National (Jewish) Community Relations Council on June 15, 1946.99 It would be “something between Yeshiva University [Orthodox] and the non-sectarian university…. The gamut of Jewish studies [would be available] for those who desire them,” but would not be required. Nor would a rabbinical school be included. The admissions policy was to be similarly nonsectarian and nondiscriminatory, open “to all … regardless of race, color, or creed,” though the expectation was that of a student body, faculty, and board of trustees who were largely Jewish—a “non-quota university supported mainly by Jewish funds and administered by predominantly Jewish organizations,” as Israel Goldstein, the organizing committee’s spokesman, had envisioned it for the council.100
In August 1946, Albert Einstein agreed to lend his name and support to this effort through the Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Learning, established to raise funds for a projected opening in October 1947. The recently closed medical school and nearly defunct veterinary school of Middlesex University in Waltham, Massachusetts, was to be the new university’s home. Lacking accreditation, perhaps because of its unorthodox policy of admitting large numbers of Jews at a time when other such institutions were continuing to impose severe quotas, the one-hundred-acre Middlesex campus with its several buildings seemed a fitting site for what Einstein himself hoped would be an institution attractive to “our best young people and not less, our young scientists and learned men in all fields.” Understanding its potential for “satisfy[ing] a real need,” he pledged to do all he could “to help in the creation and guidance of such an institution. It will always be near to my heart,” he promised.101
Word of the intended opening reached the public on September 2, 1946, through articles in Time and Newsweek, including news that support for the project was coming from Waltham’s Chamber of Commerce and from Boston’s Catholic archbishop, Richard Cushing.102 But Jewish politics over questions of “guidance”—particularly concerning the nature and degree to which the university should be molded in a Jewish cast—and the inability of all parties to fashion compromise in the coming months would lead to Einstein’s break from the project in June 1947, and, ultimately, to Goldstein’s resignation in a futile attempt to regain what many perceived as Einstein’s crucial support. Before long, all but the hoped-for institution’s Boston Jewish backers had pulled away as well. To the credit of those whose foresight and resolve had allowed them to remain, the university’s founding returned to course and continued onward, with the newly announced opening date being fall 1948.103 True to its original intent, the university, now named for Louis Brandeis, whose progressive ideas as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would serve to guide his namesake, was to be truly “Quota Free.” As Newsweek reported on February 2, 1948, “The initial enrollment—to be determined this May—will be limited to about 150 freshmen. To insure complete fairness in choice of students, the board of admissions will see only the academic records of applicants sent in by their principals. Names, addresses, and home towns of the applicants appear on the form above a perforated line, and they are torn off and the prospective students given only a number. Hence the board will not know whether it is admitting one May Chen, George Washington Jones, Moses Blitzstein, or Sean O’Malley.”104 It was a policy that was to remain in place throughout the university’s life, restated by Abram Sachar in late 1956: “Diversification is necessary if we are to fulfill the purpose for which the school was founded—to be a university where, at last, the Jews are hosts, and not guests as we have always been before.”105
On April 25, 1948, the trustees had appointed Sachar as the university’s first president and charged him with the responsibility of readying its campus and gathering a faculty and staff.106 To assist with recruitment, Sachar had enlisted the aid of a young literary scholar, Milton Hindus. Together, they would secure a faculty of young and talented teacher-scholars, who would be supported by leading older voices in their disciplines, individuals who had been barred from America’s seats of higher learning either because of restrictions similar in kind to those that had prompted the founding of Brandeis, or for political reasons, as was the case with the leftward-leaning Herbert Marcuse and others. As Sachar, in his story of these early years, A Host at Last, would write nearly thirty years later, “We turned to the pool of exceedingly talented and capable people who, for one reason or another, were virtually unemployable by then current university procedures.” The purpose was twofold, Sachar admitted: to lend instant prestige to the fledgling university while bringing to bear upon it the wisdom of their years and experience in establishing policy and curricular, and to offer “the earliest students … personal relationships with personalities of great stature, a rare experience in even the elite institutions of the country.”
Of these renowned personalities, none was equal in stature to the first of those invited by Hindus. “In the initial faculty of thirteen,” Sachar noted in A Host at Last, “one man of international stature stood out, Ludwig Lewisohn.”107 Ludwig had called for such an institution many years earlier and was excited by the prospect of its finally coming to be. “I beg you to count on me in every way to support and help and further that plan by any means within my power,” he had written the planning group upon first receiving materials speaking of the possibility of a Jewishly oriented university.108 Ludwig had been encouraged, as well, by the statement issued in November 1946 by the Einstein Foundation’s secretary, Alexander Dushkin of the Jewish Education Committee of New York, that whatever developed programmatically, whatever there would be that was to be “Jewish about Brandeis University … Jewish students will not need to squirm or compromise with their traditions.” In its overall ethos, in and out of the classroom, “Brandeis University can reflect and express for our day the great liberal human tradition which Jews have handed down throughout the generations in an unbroken chain from the Hebrew Prophets.”109
Sachar had first met Ludwig when he came to speak before Sachar’s Hillel group at the University of Illinois in the early 1940s. The “profundity of his [literary] judgments” and the quality of his delivery had left an “enormous impression” that had lasted through the years. He was, as Sachar later concluded, “as good as his best books, which were written by a master stylist.” Sachar’s desire to offer a “dignified place” for “homeless” scholars naturally included a role for Ludwig. He “flourished” at Brandeis, Sachar assessed in an interview many years after Ludwig’s death. “One of our greatest teachers … a perfectionist … awfully difficult for students.” He was at once “ruthless in his criticism of them,” and yet dedicated to them, so that “at the end of the semester they thanked and loved him for it.”110
It was at Sachar’s suggestion that Hindus, whose acquaintance with Ludwig had begun several years earlier with his attendance at one of Ludwig’s many lectures at New York’s 92nd Street YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association), approached Ludwig with the invitation to join in this new adventure.111 But before going to Boston to meet with Sachar, Ludwig sought Louise’s counsel and approval. “Much as the creation of Brandeis and the idea of teaching again delighted and attracted Ludwig,” Louise would later write, “he deferred to me in the decision to make the move. As always, his first thought was for my happiness and well being…. We decided together just as we always discussed and decided together.” Louise, of course, recognized the role Ludwig could play in such an important undertaking. Knowing the difficulties he faced without respite at the ZOA and given his desire to get on with new writing projects, she encouraged his quick acceptance of the offer. “I felt that Ludwig had a unique contribution to make to this new university and that an academic milieu would be a happy and congenial place for us. As you know, my instinct was right.”112
So, too, was Ludwig’s. It was exactly what he needed at this late stage of his life, a place to quietly reflect upon his passage and to produce his final work, without concern for the petty politics he was happily leaving behind. Academic gamesmanship, he was certain, would be as nothing in comparison to what he had experienced over the last several years at the ZOA. “We hate to give up our home here and to be separated from our friends,” Ludwig admitted to Spiro in June, “but you can figure out just about as well as I the reasons for my acceptance. Sachar is no beautiful soul; all college presidents are bastards; but nothing in my whole life has come up to my experiences with this Zionist Administration. No one at Brandeis will interfere with my work or tell me that I’m incapable of doing it. Not only that. I look forward with a sense of liberation toward being a free Zionist again and being able to go to a convention as a delegate and get a few things off my chest. Meanwhile, I won’t have to travel and I’ll have large margins of time for creative work. So there.”113
Of all the possibilities this appointment appeared to offer, Ludwig valued most this freedom to write and to speak out however and on whatever he wished, wherever and whenever he chose to do so. As editor of the New Palestine and a ZOA officer before that, his freedom had been curtailed. From this point on, he would rarely miss an opportunity during what, for most others, would have been their declining years. Ludwig had never allowed himself to truly step back from the procession, and he was certainly ill-equipped at this point in his life to begin. “When we invited him to Brandeis,” Sachar reflected years afterward, “he was already past the conventional retirement age, but his steady productivity continued in articles and books that more than sustained his reputation as one of the most brilliant contemporary men of letters.… He welcomed the post … at Brandeis for the sheltered base that it offered in his twilight years.”114 Painfully conscious of the little time remaining to him, Ludwig was determined to take advantage of this final haven in full measure. A month and a day after’s Sachar’s appointment as president, Ludwig’s position in Comparative Literature as Brandeis’s first full professor was approved by the trustees.115
Two months after the opening of Brandeis, an article appearing in an independent journal, the Jewish Spectator, wished Ludwig well in his new position, albeit “a pity that the range of Dr. Lewisohn’s voice and personal communication should be limited to a group of college boys and girls.” Blame for the loss of his talents to the wider American Jewish world was placed upon the ZOA executive board’s fear for “their 9-to-5 domain of mediocrity.” Would that these self-designated leaders, this “assortment of executive specialists,” had not so badly squandered so uncommon an asset. How much better the larger Jewish community would have been had these “utter ignoramuses in Jewish respects” not been allowed to exercise such poor judgment. When, the author asked, would the American Jewish community demand better for themselves and rise in protest against such outrageous behavior? “I wish Dr. Lewisohn well in his teaching career,” Allen Field wrote. “Still, I can’t help regretting that he left us, we, the masses of American Jewry, because we didn’t really appreciate him,” nor take up the fight against his “inferiors.”
When Ludwig Lewisohn joined the faculty of Brandeis University some months ago, numerous friends of his told me that this was about the best thing that could have happened to him. I am sure it was, for the routine of a professor’s life will give Dr. Lewisohn security and time for his creative writing. Since Lewisohn had managed to produce a distinguished score of books while laboring under the handicaps incident upon peripatetic lecturers for Jewish organizations and editors of Jewish organizational magazines, he will surely make the most of academic life and its leisure. But there is another side to the happy ending of Dr. Lewisohn’s organizational career: the void he has left and which will not be filled so soon. Men of Ludwig Lewisohn’s caliber are too rare not to be missed for a very long time.116