On Some Tomorrow
ITH THE ACADEMIC YEAR about to end and a new summer lying before him, Ludwig wrote Grayzel on June 2 that he would be “skipping Commencement” and settling into his seasonal quarters at Gloucester. Aside from his annual appearance at the B’nai B’rith Institute, he would now be able to devote his uninterrupted attention to the Morgenstern translation. But not having received a response from his last note explaining the delay, he wondered if Grayzel was still interested. Morgenstern had visited with Ludwig and Louise just days before and had left the impression that the arrangements still held. Ludwig needed only this final confirmation, as soon as possible. “Tasks are many; time is tight; life becomes more and not less complicated.”1
With “Louise’s assiduous assistance,” the translation was completed and on its way to Grayzel by July 20. Ludwig’s admiration for Morgenstern’s story had deepened over the many days he had spent with the text. Though it was “not faultless,” he had found “the greater part majestic and moving.” Nine years after the Holocaust had ended, little else was in print that could communicate the physical and spiritual horror of that event. In Ludwig’s judgment, it remained “the one adequate word that has hitherto been said in any Western language.” It was his hope that a commercial publisher would be sought so that what had happened could be shared beyond the boundaries of the Jewish world.
Only one reservation remained, which Ludwig continued to remind Grayzel to consider seriously, the removal of those references to the Soviet Union which placed it in so positive a light. “According to our agreement,” he had changed but fifteen lines which “must stand on your account as well as on my own.” There could be “no compromise … on the precise wording that I have used.”2 When ten days later he learned of Morgenstern’s request for a copy of the translation, he advised Grayzel to set the book’s type first and only then send it along. Concerned that Grayzel might back down if Morgenstern pressured him to return to its original wording, Ludwig again reminded him that “Soma knew and agreed to such changes,” without which neither the translator nor JPS should “lend our names.” Lest Grayzel misinterpret his motives, Ludwig added that his refusal was not based “on account of a McCarthy or such trash, but as a matter of veracity and decency.” To chronicle the murder of millions of Jews by one country while praising another responsible for similar acts was wholly unconscionable to him.3 When Morgenstern’s suggestions came to Ludwig the following week, he agreed to consider only those which would add to “the preservation of his legendary tone.” With Labor Day soon to signal the approach of a new year at Brandeis, he hoped that the changes suggested by Morgenstern which were “worth consideration” could wait until after September 15.4
By then, Ludwig had been hospitalized, suffering from the “complications” of a virus which antibiotics seemed unable to alleviate. Tests were being run, though Louise had been reassured at Beth Israel Hospital that she had “nothing to worry about, so I am feeling much more cheerful,” she wrote Grayzel on September 17. The tests appear to have been more precautionary than essential, as Ludwig, through Louise that day, asked that Morgenstern’s manuscript be returned. This unexpected hiatus would allow him to work on the author’s suggested changes.5
Ludwig’s absolute unwillingness to compromise what he saw as the truth took on a more strident tone in the shadow of illness and thoughts of his own end. There was no time left now for a more gentle approach. In a severely critical review of Oscar Handlin’s history of American Jewry, Adventure in Freedom, Ludwig took the Harvard historian to task. “To him freedom for the Jews means generally freedom not to be a Jew or freedom to be as little of a Jew as possible—freedom, in the last analysis, to disappear,” he wrote for the September 18 issue of the Saturday Review. What Handlin praised, Ludwig added, was not true freedom, but “adjustment” and “differentiation”—Hank Greenberg, comic strip writers, John Garfield, and Macys, not Zionists, Jewish day schools, burgeoning congregations of all stripes, and the over two hundred Hillel chapters across America. It was the difference between what Handlin characterized as “the yoke thrust on from without” and what Ludwig saw as “authentic and heroic,” those early signs of a “great renaissance” of Jewish consciousness in America. “He does not like it,” this Jewish life expressing itself religiously and culturally. “Very well. But to slant history according to a dislike is hardly sound or scholarly practice.” Rather should he have understood that “all Jews are born as such and live as such and die as such…. The only choice open to any Jew is the choice between emptiness and mimicry and servility on the one hand and Jewish learning and fullness and piety on the other.”6 It was as forthright a pronouncement as he could offer in what would prove to be his last opportunity to discuss this issue in the general press.
Ludwig repeated much the same idea in his Brandeis Hillel sermon for Rosh Hashanah that October. Recovered enough to go home, he resumed his usual schedule rather than curtail his activities. Standing before the many students gathered for High Holiday services, he spoke of the observance of Jewish tradition as central to Jewish survival, and of “intense study and devotion” as the key to maintaining their role as a “chosen people,” so sorely needed by the world. As a nation, and not merely a religion as some would have them, they were tied to Jews wherever they were. And as the youth into whose hands would fall the future, they carried the responsibility of breathing new life into traditional Jewish moral values, both within their own communities and in Israel, the very spiritual center of all Jewish life. To the larger world, the Jews occupied a unique position, one which placed upon them a particular responsibility, for unlike all other nations, the Jews stood before the world with unsullied hands and hearts. The task ahead for his college-age congregants was to maintain and deepen, through study, through prayer, through action, this uniqueness so that the world could be redeemed. “Strive to make Israel a pure nation,” he demanded of them, “so that it can be an example to the rest of the world.” This alone was their “true destiny as Jews.”7
What, then, was the demand upon the Jews of his own generation in this season of renewal? Nothing less than the resolve to protect Israel and save America by confronting their Christian neighbors with the charge of complicity in the Holocaust and their desire to repress this guilt as motivation for the drawing of a moral equivalency between Arab aggression against Israel and Israel’s fight to survive. Previously indifferent to the slaughter of Jews, Christian America now silently approved of the current policy to arm only the Arabs, many of whom, as in Egypt, Iraq, and the former Palestine Mandate, had been Nazi sympathizers and collaborators, he now argued in the New Frontier.
From all corners of America were heard “phrases … glibly used and their content taken for granted … that we live in an age of anxiety. Fear is abroad in the land … of communist onslaught on civilization or … of atomic war,” or from “the so-called intellectuals … of the loss of freedom.” But these “are all causes operative in the foreground of the mind … of which the function is to hide the true and deeper origins of our fear and dismay”—that “repression of conscience and consequent sickness of the soul [which] goes deep into the history of our time. Whole nations have corporately practised it; world policies have been built upon it. From it have arisen the frozen and re-iterated lie and the exculpatory myth,” first “practiced by Hitler and Stalin,” and now broadcast by the U.S. State Department. “Note what this lie and this myth serve,” Ludwig demanded that October—“the festering repression of … the extermination of the six million Jews in Europe,” what Bertrand Russell, “that brave and gallant English Christian,” had just recently “rightly called, The greatest crime in world history.’”
“Were Americans guilty of that crime” to the extent that they would wish to repress their complicity, Ludwig could hear his fellow Jews asking, the fear of being charged with dual loyalties underlying their willing disbelief. And so he rehearsed the facts once again—“the niggardly debates and small squeamish concessions in regard to letting in a paltry few of the fugitives from the Pagan fury of Europe,” the endless “affidavits for friends or kinsmen,” and all that made Americans “guilty of silence … of indifference.” Was his charge then not well founded? he asked. “Do you suppose that a great and humane people, like the American people, is not inwardly wounded by the dreadful moral deterioration that overtook them?”
Do not consent to this repression, he warned his Jewish readers, any more than to its consequent anti-Israel policy, not only for their own sake, but for all Americans. “To do so is to outrage their integrity, betray their Judaism and help to deliver America, their country, into the foul bonds of a pseudo-totalitarianism of which they, they—you and I, my fellow Jews—will be the first victims. Help to repress the American conscience,” he warned, “and you will be digging for yourselves and your fellow-Americans of other faiths the grave of all you now think you are clinging to and defending.”
Ludwig was certain that Christian America was aware of this truth. “Somewhere within the Christian conscience this story lives. It has been defiled and outraged at deep-deepest levels.” Now, only the Jews could free them from the repression they suffered, and thereby lead these conscience-stricken Christians to their redemption. “I have said that this is a time of the testing of Jews, of the Jews of America. The test is a test of their moral and their civic virtue. They, even in a state of alienation, know—they alone know—with utter certainty that the frozen lie is a lie and that the myth was created to allow Christendom to ‘deny’ or ‘repress’ its ineffable crimes against the Jewish people.” And since they “know these facts,” and know them to be “against the true interests of America … how dare they be silent and supine?” Why were there no large demonstrations, no letter-writing campaigns, no delegations to the State Department and the president, all of which, as in the early war years, “did honor to Jewish moral courage and to the Jewish name”?
If there was fear throughout American Jewry in the wake of this repression, “then it is the duty of Jews not to harbor that fear,” a fear born of guilt they do not possess. Rather, “as the prophetic people … the guardians of God’s Law, all we should ever fear is unrighteousness.” The reproaches of the repressed, “the fearful and the witless,” were to be shunted aside, or “we are lost indeed … betraying our Americanism as well as our Judaism.” Instead, “from this confused and bedeviled hour in history,” he appealed to his fellow Jews to rise to the best that was in them. “Who are we, what are we, what destiny are we shaping for ourselves as Jews and as Americans, if we are silenced by frozen lies and foul myths; if we, though few, do not speak out; if we, though a minority, do not see that wrong is wrested from the scaffold and right is no more upon the throne?”8
When the Morgenstern translation finally arrived at Ludwig’s door on October 20, he set to work immediately, making what changes he believed compatible with Jewish “interests” as historical facts and current political realities dictated. In returning the final version to Grayzel on October 25, “one from which you may set up” the presses, he cautioned that they could not “back down on this,” however much Morgenstern continued to insist on a return to the original. What “might have been acceptable in the insane days of 1930” would seem now to be “just bad jokes.” After all that had been agreed to, Morgenstern had “stormed and argued” for the restoration. “You will recall my warning,” Ludwig reminded Grayzel.9
Ludwig felt that the hour was desperate and that compromises of fact or principle simply could not be made. Nor could any further weakening of education be tolerated. Writing to Spiro on November 8 concerning the latest developments at Brandeis, Ludwig railed against the growing dominance of the social sciences over the humanities, as if they were a new gospel filled with absolute truths about the human condition and a holy writ laying out for humanity what was required of it to achieve redemption. “Confusion of confusions” and “the fraud of frauds,” to Ludwig these specious fields of study were the “present destroyer of the world of the mind … prevent[ing] any turn for good in this vile world, any return to God and His Law.”
Ludwig was equally intolerant of the study of the history of ideas, of which Brandeis was gaining a solid reputation under the guidance of one of its major practitioners, Frank Manuel. “A madman, a profoundly self-hating Jew,” Ludwig judged, “able, no doubt, in his own perverse way, but a most evil influence on the campus.”10 Earlier that year, Manuel had defended the broadest possible options within the Jewish world, declaring the period of Jewish sectarianism over. “There is no ethical or national necessity for a monistic attitude,” he was reported in the Justice as arguing before a large Hillel gathering one Friday evening. “Instead, virtue, as well as reality, lies with pluralism.” Still, he emphasized his personal ties to Jewry out of “the realities of my emotional situation,” however much he involved himself in the affairs of the country of his citizenship. Deeply “conscious of their immediate history,” he urged his college audience to safeguard the rights of all, so that the Jews’ own rights would be protected.11 As a veteran of the Spanish Civil War (where he had lost a leg), a Nazi war crimes trial interrogator, and an analyst of Palestine affairs in the late 1940s, he could speak with some authority.
Abbie Hoffman years later recalled Manuel’s presence on campus during this time as that of “one of the greats … a one-legged giant” who “awed [Hoffman] by his raw intellect.” Life had left him skeptical of all claims to absolute truth, if not cynical regarding humanity itself. “History is made up of nothing but Grimm’s Fairy Tales,” Manuel told his young students.12
Ludwig, of course, could not countenance such a position, but was politician enough to realize that he was outnumbered, and increasingly so. “I’m on perfectly good terms with him and his minions,” among whom Ludwig would have included Abraham Maslow, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Szilard, Irving Howe, Max Lerner, and the many others of a similar turn of thought, all part of what Hoffman accurately assessed to be at Brandeis “the most exciting faculty in the world … for its size.” If Ludwig was to have any credence among the students, he could not afford to confront these younger men head-on. “It isn’t worth the trouble,” he admitted to Spiro that fall.13 Of what use could he be if he isolated himself? Rather, he worked hard at remaining a part of the intellectual fray, waiting for an opening to land his ideas as forcefully as possible using all the skills of a lifelong fighter. Arthur Polansky, a professor of art at Brandeis, years afterward recalled watching Ludwig at a faculty meeting in these last years. “He was old, small, white-haired, constantly jovial and conscious of the affectionate acceptance of his colleagues. Smoking and coughing and laughing, he seemed to be at the center of a small group in animated conversation. Now and then, he would fall silent and observe the speakers, and at times he would simply interrupt with a comment—sarcastic or benevolent.”14
Similar comments, of course, found their way into Ludwig’s essays during this period. With unending resolve, he worked to find a place for every polemical piece he wrote, sometimes persisting for several years, as he did with his essay on Jewish literature and the arts, delivered as a lecture back in December 1952, and appearing at last in the December 1954 issue of Congress Weekly. Both the general press and Jewish venues like Commentary had repeatedly rejected the piece. “What ails us?” he could now ask this far larger audience, as he had those who had come to hear him two years earlier. “Sloth and conformity sliding into and with the mob,” and above all, “spiritual obliteration,” he answered once more. If there was as yet so great a reluctance to publish such admonitions, he was confident that one day they and so much more would appear in response to an intensifying renewal of the Jewish spirit. “A Jewish culture will arise in America when it is demanded,” he repeated, for such demands would indeed be heard as “a matter of life and death.”15
How comforting it must have been for him to read in the Justice, two weeks after his essay appeared, that Jewish students at Brandeis were raising objections to the presence of Christmas decorations on campus, even openly questioning Sachar’s policy of “pan-sectarianism.” While some Jewish students appeared indifferent or accepting of both Christmas and Hanukkah symbols throughout, others protested that “this is a Jewish school supported by funds of Jewish people. By God, there’s to be no Christmas trees around here.”16
Some, at least, were visibly taking Ludwig’s message as their own, not out of a narrowness of vision or heart, but as an affirmation of personal identity and Jewish perpetuity, values now at the core of their lives much as they had become for his friend of the Paris years, Edmond Fleg. Like Ludwig, Fleg had grown up in a highly assimilated home but had chosen a different path, sacrificing “the highest honor and the highest station in letters or politics,” which would otherwise have been his, “had he merely … been known as a Jew … [having] no preoccupation with his Judaism in either his life or his work.” Instead, both men had chosen, “through inner necessity alone, the more difficult and nobler path of authentic Judaism and of the both creative and didactic proclamation of that Judaism.” Ludwig went on to speak of Fleg as “a ‘returnee,’ a baal tshuvah, like Herzl, if one likes, or above all like Franz Rosenzweig, one who as he wrote, ‘having been born of Israel and having lost it, felt it reborn in his heart, more living than himself.’” To Fleg he sent that “old, old wish” which he himself would have been thrilled to receive (was it to himself that he sent it?), “that he may live to that age of the first and greatest of our prophets and see a rebirth of that Jewry of which he has been leader and example.”17
A few days later, early that January of 1955, Ludwig spoke to “a large and intently interested audience” as a part of the general education sequence required of all students. “There was never much doubt or question that I was going to be a writer,” he told them, adding that in his early years he was “successful, but life was meaningless.” Not until 1925, with Up Stream, did he experience “the first, tentative return to the self,” more affirmatively taken in 1928 with The Island Within, a book that had “shown where to go from there.” Tragically, “I have not been followed, not even after the enormous, unspeakable, world-shaking events that have taken place since then.” Ludwig encouraged his students to read The American Jew, “the book you young people need worse than bread.” They were not to be discouraged by how little of their Jewish heritage they knew, he reassured them, admitting to having known less than many of them at their age, but willing to learn rather than to remain “cut off from the world” whose center was Jewish for him, as it was for them. “A Jew cannot be an artist except as a Jew. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a Jew to develop his full potentials amid the thousandfold falsehoods of the Dispersion.” And this was as true for the Jewish artist as it was for any other Jew. “The sole salvation is in Judaism,” and not in some ideological fancy, not even that of the Left with its apparent tolerance. “The liberals love the Jews to death—they love the featureless liberal, but not the man who assumes the spiritual lineament of his tradition.” Asked if so strong an assertion of a Jewish identity was in conflict with that of being an American, he answered, “I take a backseat to none as an American. But I have been a Jew for 5000 years. The highest ideals of Americanism are the ideals of Judaism.” The question, rather, was whether one could remain a Jew in America. “America need not be Exile—if total integrity prevails,” Ludwig assured those who had gathered for what the Justice judged “an evening that will surely remain in the consciousness of those who were privileged to attend.” Where one lived was far less an issue of concern than how one lived. “The bottom of our problem is the apparent meaninglessness of history. If you find the meaning of history, and of your own life, it will be a meaning so powerful that your life, and work, is guided by it.”18
The open questioning that followed Ludwig’s lecture that evening was frank and, at times, combative as he refused to yield a single step on either the fundamental need to affirm the identity to which one is born and reared, or the necessity of grounding all morality in an authority beyond man. “No ethic that is not metaphysically validated is worth a tinker’s dam. If nothing is absolutely valid, nothing is valid. And where there is no compulsion, it is easy to reneg.” Such a position was vigorously, and rancorously, opposed. “They did not spare each other,” an editorial in the Justice reported the following week, as students and academics took sides, some “becoming unnecessarily harsh” toward Ludwig. “Forgetting the niceties of formal academic discourse they went to the roots of the fundamental problems posed by Ludwig Lewisohn. Heated words were spoken, questions of an intensely personal nature were asked and answered, all for the sake of truth,” the sympathetic editorialist pointedly commented. “We are fortunate to have on our faculty men of varying and original minds who are willing to speak so freely and honestly of matters which deeply concern us all,” the Justice wryly added, matters related particularly to the “special character” of Brandeis.19 How Ludwig must have enjoyed raising the temperature of the university that evening, and finding among the students some who would take seriously the position he had come to defend.
This would be his legacy, if there was to be any, though there could be neither certainty nor control over “posthumous fame,” he told Viereck in late February. “Hell, if it is destined to come, it will come. If not, it was probably not deserved—provided civilization endures, as we have known it.” He remained more uncertain of this possibility in America than elsewhere. “We here in America are sinking into a gulf of illiteracy,” evidenced, he believed, by the eclipse of his own writings. New editions and translations of his work were now appearing in Denmark, Norway, Argentina, and Israel, but not in America, where his latest efforts had been received with a far smaller response than in past decades. This, he was equally certain, was due in no small part to those critics and editors who were “all against me because I never for a moment fell for their Soviet Utopia,” all further evidence of the precariousness of civilization’s future in America. “I was never that sort of fool,” he explained to Viereck, “and out of belated shame of their folly they hate me. But surely that can’t last,” he added hopefully, even if “it has lasted a good many years now.” He would leave his legacy to that higher judgment beyond the moment, secure in the knowledge that he had done his best, and was continuing to do so in his advanced years. “We seem, in spite of much,” he reassured Viereck on receiving his latest poems, “to be going ahead still which, at our age, is much, is far more than most people can say.” (Viereck had himself remained quite active over the years, supporting Senator McCarthy’s efforts to silence dissent and winning the continuing gratitude of a host of Nazis and Nazi-sympathizers who, in May 1955, ten weeks after Ludwig’s last letter to him, honored Viereck with a seventieth-birthday testimonial dinner, complete with a book of congratulatory messages from the likes of Franz von Papen.)20
“Here we have sunk to a level of mass-un-culture that is frightening,” Ludwig wrote to his European agent that winter, explaining that he wanted these foreign editions “for the reviews!”21 He wanted some response, some intellectual recognition, some acknowledgment that his ideas could stir another whose reaction, whether positive or negative, he could respect. Yet he took on additional work despite the uncertainty, if only because this never-ending stream of projects was directed toward his own people, each task offering what might prove to be his last opportunity to reach them. “I seem, usually, to have some literary or editorial task on hand. I have again now: as the American and over-all editor of an Encyclopedic Handbook of Jewish Knowledge,” a book he would not see to completion.22
With so much else to do—literary projects, journal articles, out-of-town lectures, and three advanced courses to teach—Ludwig still could not refuse another refugee’s request to render his work into English for wider publication. Jacob Picard’s response to Ludwig’s lecture in 1945 had begun a friendship that had lasted through the years. Ludwig, in fact, had known of his work as a writer in German for Jewish journals and as the author of Der Gezeichnete (The Marked One) in 1936. Unknown to Picard, Ludwig had already translated one of his stories as a part of his effort to renew the lives of refugee authors in those early postwar days.23 Picard was now asking Ludwig to add his name to that of Heschel, Shalom Spiegel, Jacob Marcus, and other distinguished scholars in an effort to win JPS’s approval to publish a translation of the volume Ludwig had read so many years before.24 Ludwig, of course, agreed to lend his support,25 as he did for Picard’s attempt to secure the necessary funds from the Department of Cultural and Educational Reconstruction of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Soon, Ludwig would find himself translating Picard’s short story chronicle of German Jewish life beginning in the seventeenth century.26
Never silent, Ludwig was just then completing a volume of selections from the literary and Jewish writings of the founder of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, to which would be added a preface by the Israeli prime minister. It seemed an appropriate choice, for David Ben-Gurion, like his predecessor, had cast himself in the role of “a legendary figure, radiant with grace and splendor … a vitalizing, educating force … the man of thought and of action alike.”27 To this preface, Ludwig added a seventy-two-page introductory “Portrait for This Age,” interpreting Herzl’s life and work against the backdrop of “all occurrences and characters in Jewish history during the last century and a half … [particularly] that civic emancipation which set in with the French Revolution and was destined to give rise to so much apparent glory and achievement and in the end to so much disaster and to so much shame.”28 Throughout, there were elements he knew only too well, parts of a story whose pattern he had seen in Heine and Fleg, and in so many others he had known as friends or colleagues. But it was as a mirror within which Ludwig could so clearly see his own reflection that Herzl now offered the greatest service.
An attempt has been made to define and describe the psychical pattern of Theodor Herzl. It may be restated as follows: The concentration upon the only son by his parents, their boundless indulgence of him, their boundless admiration for him and exorbitant hopes for him—especially his mother’s—hampered his maturing and crippled his judgment both of the world and of himself. He seemed to himself a prince in exile, unknown, unloved, unvalued. Only immediate and brilliant success, only wealth and glory could rescue him. Since these did not appear, he devaluated the world and mankind which would not grant him these rewards and assumed for many years a pose of harsh cynicism. And in the measure in which he needed compensatory wealth and glory, they never came. He remained, despite inner protestations, merely a not quite top-ranking journalist and a mediocre playwright…. The situation of Herzl and his parents, the Oedipus complex, his mother’s consuming ambition for him: the brooding, intense, forever reiterated cry, expressed or silent—If not I, then you, you, you must raise us out of obscurity and discomfort into the light of the world!—in how many families, in how many thousands of Jewish families, especially in that period of the false emancipation, did not this thing happen, was not this pattern formed? My son must be a doctor—a doctor of some kind, or especially in Central Europe, a writer, an artist, a luminary of some sort in the world of the Gentiles. And so societies of that kind, as Herzl himself complained again and again, are filled with Jewish intellectual and artistic mediocrities for whom their world had little use and who therefore often enough became radicals and foes of that order which, according to them, had used them ill…. Then came the great awakening. His repressed hurts and sorrows as a Jew leaped into consciousness. He transmuted himself into a man of action. He became, as the Vilna Jews cried out to him, a melekh, a king. The old wounds were, as the diaries show, never wholly healed; a complete compensation was never achieved. But for those last eight years he burned with a continuous flame and was himself consumed by that flame. He was priest, altar, and sacrifice upon the altar he himself had built. When his ashes had crumbled upon that altar the glory he had striven after was achieved.29
A lengthy review of Ludwig’s Herzl appeared in the Justice when the book was published in May. Speaking warmly of the introductory “Portrait,” the student reviewer noted how “it manages to give a cool and objective analysis of the man and yet pulses with a beat as dynamic and intense as its subject.”30 How Ludwig must have appreciated these kind words from the generation he most wanted to influence.
Despite signs of declining energy, Ludwig remained a part of the disputatious world of Brandeis, often taking the less popular position, even in curricular matters, for the sake of the future. In reviewing the requirements for graduation placed upon science majors, Ludwig argued that a similar regimen of humanities courses be demanded of them as of students who were majoring in one of the non-science disciplines, “the kind of courses which fit into the minds of humanities majors who are also human beings.” And when it was proposed that the language requirement for all be lowered from three years to two, he responded that “whatever we do we ought to require more and not less. Three years of a language is terribly little.”31 (Ludwig, of course, did not confine himself to Brandeis regarding curricular matters, offering a “Jewish Reading List,” ending with What Is This Jewish Heritage?, to the readers of the Saturday Review the same week he insisted upon this greater commitment to the “general education” of his university’s students.)32
Yet, while Ludwig continued his involvement in all of this, and perhaps because of it, his role in the university was judged by Sachar and others to be too personally taxing. Perhaps charitably, Ludwig was offered the position of university librarian that March of 1955, the first to hold this title at Brandeis. The library had come under repeated attack from students and faculty, who had found its collection and facility inadequate.33 A director of administrative services was already on staff to care for the daily operations. It would be Ludwig’s job to add his good name to fundraising efforts that would allow for expansion of site and holdings. The New York Times reported on March 17 that Ludwig would resign his endowed chair in Comparative Literature to assume this new post of guiding the ever-expanding collection of some one hundred thousand volumes, a nine-hundred-fold increase over what it had been when he first arrived on campus in 1948. Ludwig, however, insisted upon retaining his course on Shakespeare,34 a symbol of the road he had traveled since first being denied the teaching position at Porter Military Academy more than a half century earlier. And when the new academic year began in the fall of 1955, Ludwig would refuse to be relegated to this “honorary” status, and instead would step in to supervise the general operations of the library where he could.
The unexpected change of positions slowly revealed its virtues that spring, as Ludwig came to see it as a reward he had earned. “Both morally and legally the university owed me life tenure beyond retirement and this seemed the best way to assure me that,” he explained to Spiro. “I shall, of course, have nothing to do with techniques. I’ll get the budget and determine purchases, which means policy,” while continuing with Shakespeare, which, as he told Spiro, “is the core course of the English curriculum. The more I think of the arrangement, the better I think of it.” Not that he was tiring, he insisted. “Today I do everything I ever did in full vigor. But that may not always be so and this job can be exercised with a good deal of physical ease.”35
In a Summer Season, now revised, would soon appear to less than enthusiastic reviews, one critic seeing its “bitter and prophetic views upon this decadent time of troubles … expressed more vigorously in better books than this one.”36 But Ludwig knew that he had written it with less than full enthusiasm, in part as a vehicle to earn some additional income, even if he had sought to make it didactic. Clearly, it suffered from the absence of a Jewish center. He was probably unhappy with the critical response, taking pride, as always, in whatever he had attempted. In the months ahead, he would have the summer on the beach at Gloucester once again, and more lecturing at two B’nai B’rith Institutes at Wild Acres, North Carolina, to express the Jewish voice that could not have been spoken in the novel.37 As the academic year drew to a close, there were the usual final exams to be graded, and commencement to attend. It would be his last.
Before leaving for the summer, Louise wrote Grayzel, asking for copies of Morgenstern’s Third Pillar The book had finally appeared, and Ludwig was anxious to see his work in print before the reviews reached him during the summer months.38 As Ludwig had been when first agreeing to undertake the translation, the critics were moved by this tale of Polish Jewry’s destruction. And while Morgenstern fared well enough at their hands, it was Ludwig who earned special recognition in the New York Times for having “caught admirably” the style of the tale’s telling, something which Ludwig had, in fact, worked hard at improving through his judicious editing. The collaboration of the two writers had produced a book whose “power lies beyond the sum of its separate merits in something not analyzable which enables us to grasp in a vision the meaning of a dread episode in human history which a hundred straightforward reports have failed to convey.”39
When Ludwig returned to Brandeis for the opening of the new academic year, it was as university librarian and J. M. Kaplan Professor of Comparative Literature. He had succeeded in retaining the professorship that had meant so much to him.40 With him that September came a portion of Picard’s Marked One, now translated. Picard had been unaware of Ludwig’s agreement to translate those stories that had not previously been available in English. Included with Picard’s letter of thanks on September 7 was an additional story not previously published with the original German edition, Picard hoping that Ludwig would consent to this last bit of translation.41 Ludwig agreed, adding that Grayzel had now asked that he retranslate those others already in English so that the text would be “stylistically uniform.”42 Within days, the final stories were on their way from Picard.43
The new semester, together with more personal interruptions, would delay Ludwig’s work on this new material. Shortly after returning to campus, he and Louise traveled to New Jersey for Jim’s wedding, “a happy event,” Ludwig was to tell Picard on September 16, though ultimately their marriage would end in tragedy. In an ironic twist to Crump, Jim would years later murder his wife, despite the caring relationship she had worked so hard to establish. But all this—the killing, the trial and imprisonment, the adoption of Jim’s four children, the cause célèbre that grew up around Jim’s release from prison and his eventual parole—were far in the distance, safely out of Ludwig’s imagination. Instead, he and Louise celebrated the marriage and stopped for a few days in New York before coming home to Brandeis, where, as always, Ludwig would soon be caught up in that community’s affairs.44
Construction of the campus’s three chapels had been completed that summer and now awaited dedication. On September 6, three days before Boston’s archbishop, Richard Cushing, was to ceremoniously open the Catholic chapel as the first of the three to be consecrated, Father Leonard Feeney led a demonstration on Boston Common against the Jews for “dishonoring and desecrating the Blessed Sacrament at Brandeis University.” It had turned violent as supporters of Cushing clashed with Feeney’s.45 On September 9, Cushing thanked the university, noting without incident that it “deserves the praise of all men of good will.”46 Two days later, the Berlin Chapel was dedicated for the use of Brandeis’s Jewish students under the aegis of Hillel. Sachar noted that while it stood together with the other chapels “in an aesthetic grouping to emphasize the common quest,” the religious differences among the three had not been glossed over. “The task which we have in a democracy is to encourage respect for the specific values of each of the historic faiths rather than to fall victim to the blandishments of the lowest-common-denominator approach.”47
After seven years of waiting for a permanent Jewish religious presence on campus, a chapel, a Hillel chapter, and a rabbi as its adviser had come to Ludwig’s Brandeis. Two weeks after the chapel’s dedication, Ludwig informed a meeting of the senior faculty called by Sachar “to share … some of the administrative problems on the non-academic side” that he and his close colleague Simon Rawidowicz were planning a Shabbat gathering “to discuss fundamental problems of human attitudes and moral behavior.” It was Ludwig’s hope that such gatherings might foster “a moral and spiritual atmosphere” on campus, hoping, as well, that “something comparable” might be organized for Protestant and Catholic students now that the chapels offered a focal point for such activities.48
Not that Ludwig romanticized the powers of Jewish tradition to transform those who adhered to it. He had lived within the Jewish world too long for that. But he believed that even within the radically different context of America it could play the positive role it had for centuries in Eastern Europe. There, too, Jews had lived within an unholy world. “The Jews … constituted a unique society,” he wrote that month in a review of Sholem Aleichem’s memoir, The Great Fair. “As nearly all the other societies of man have been unredeemed societies, sprinkled with saints, so this was a redeemed society sprinkled with rogues.” Even those like Sholem Aleichem, who did not fulfill the demands of the tradition, “never really dropped out of the consecrated framework or dreamed of doing so and at every moment of heightened emotion and heightened responsibility instantly re-allied themselves joyously with that sanctification of life, of the whole of life, by which their community lived.”49 With expectation and a modicum of faith in his students, Ludwig believed that that day might once again be experienced in America, if only through their own efforts.
Certainly, the example of their parents was less than worthy of emulation. Fearing rejection and exclusion, if not a loss of status and property, perhaps even of civil equality, they had done all that was possible to show themselves as indistinguishable from their gentile countrymen. In “A Small Essay on a Large Topic,” Ludwig again spoke out against those who, while not denying their Jewish identity, in order to assuage otherwise guilty consciences, had engaged in just those “common causes, common activities … which have or seem to have a common denominator”—those believed capable of “proving to the non-Jewish world the identity of Jewish acts with non-Jewish acts, the indistinguishableness of Jewish purposes, endeavors, institutions from non-Jewish ones.” Such “efforts are vain,” an impossible denial of “the uniqueness and incomparableness of all things Jewish [which] are bound to be conspicuous.” Such self-imprisonment, such self-denial of who one was as a Jew by “trying to be Jews on a minimum of Jewishness and of Judaism and to propitiate and please the non-Jewish world by a display of this minimal character,” was, in fact, a sign of deeply felt insecurity which the “profoundly Jewish Jews” did not share. It was these traditionalists within the Jewish community, Ludwig insisted, who truly demonstrated their “faith in this American society.” There was nothing profoundly new in this, he admitted in that season of Atonement. If Jews sought to be free, then there was, simply enough, but one path to seek, “the freedom to be oneself.” He had tried his best to achieve this freedom in searching for his own teshuvah, and hoped now to pass along these simple lessons to those who would truly listen with opened hearts and souls.
For I must end with a commonplace. All important endings are commonplace endings. No new moral discoveries, as Goethe said, are to be made. Man is known. The trouble with these Jews is that their Judaism is superficial and ignorant and that, in addition, their knowledge of man and human destiny is superficial. They are illiterate. They are unaware of permanent factors in human life and character which no superficial social science babble can change or even touch. If, by an unescapable destiny, you are such and such a creature of God, your only freedom consists in accepting that destiny fully, richly, intensively, in being what you were meant to be with happy devotion and with courage. Who ever dreamed except modern diaspora Jews that you should or could conciliate an unredeemed world by vain oblations, by propitiatory gestures, by spiritual self-evisceration? No classical Jew ever dreamed it, no true Christian, no philosopher among the Pagans in the world. These particular American Jews are flying in the face not only of destiny, not only of their Judaism but of the eternal wisdom and funded experience of man himself. No wonder they are insecure. No wonder they are afraid. And all their actions and attitudes are calculated to intensify their fears. For these actions and attitudes constantly re-evoke the unacknowledged causes of their fears which can be allayed only by a total return to the moral center of their lives as Jews.50
The appearance of this “Essay” in September would be the last time Ludwig would see a new piece of his writing in print. In mid-October, the ZOA’s Midstream would reject his “Reflections on Crisis.”51 Critical of the secularization of the new State of Israel, it ran counter to the journal’s prevailing ethos. A final summation of his thoughts would have to be left to the lectern and not to the printed page, as was perhaps appropriate for someone whose voice had touched so many thousands. “No one not wholly bereft of historical vision, of historical insight will imagine that the Medinath Yisrael [State of Israel] can serve its function either as a nation or as a factor among nations unless it houses a people that will be in the deepest sense a different people, a goy kaddosh [holy nation],” he had recently insisted in a speech delivered to mark the founding of Bar-Ilan University, an orthodox institution in Israel. Jews, like others in this troubled world, were suffering from that “long crisis … of moral lawlessness and self-worship” caused directly by “a century of merciless secularism [that] has demonstrably ended in ineffable cruelty of man to man and in spiritual anguish, cosmic homelessness, frantic confusion.” In its wake, “two great nations, the Russian and the German, cast off the millennial restraints deliberately and on principle and threw the Western World into an icy, blood-soaked desolateness. Formlessness succeeded the precarious forms of yesterday; chaos invaded cosmos. Frightened soothsayers saw the end of man.” Chief among the victims of this crisis had been the Jews, the Soviets attempting to destroy Judaism, the Nazis the Jews themselves. “One system murdered the soul; the other the body.” The very existence of the Jews was an intolerable reminder to the “idolatrous slave-states” of that other way which is life. To these spiritual nihilists, the Jews were “the living incarnation, even in sin, apostasy, indifference, of God and His Law, of form, cosmos, obedience.” They could not abide the Jews’ survival, and in their attempt to destroy this reminder of what they had themselves abandoned, they had turned the Jews into a symbol of that very crisis affecting all. “The destruction of so vast a proportion of the living Jewish people is a description, a definition, of the nature of the human crisis,” Ludwig emphasized, “of its lawlessness, of its idolatrous character.”
In the Jews’ own attraction toward this secularism, Ludwig believed he had found elements of this same “nihilist rebellion against the foundations of human civilization” and a vision of “the godlessness of the universe.” He urged Jews everywhere, and more so in Israel, to reject even the most humane promises of this rebellion, what he termed “this pseudo-humanitarian apostasy,” and to join in the teshuvah he saw occurring in isolated corners, Jewish and otherwise. It was his deepest hope that all, and particularly the Jews, long the bearers of godliness, would step onto this path which led to righteousness and life.
Slowly, painfully, everywhere there are those who are awaking from the nihilist nightmare; there are those who are preparing the turning-point of the long crisis of secularism and idolatry; there are those who are beginning to realize that man’s freedom consists exclusively in his choice of a Law which he shall obey and that this Law must be, in different senses for different groups, but supremely for the Jewish people, the Law of God. Greater is he—our sages reiterate—who is commanded and obeys than he that is not commanded. First guard the majestic form of life; first impose an intelligible world upon chaos; first practice obedience to the sources of your being and the immanent command of your destiny.52
A second dedication of the three chapels, at which U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan spoke, and the presence at Brandeis of world-renowned theologians Jacques Maritain, Paul Tillich, and Leo Baeck, gathered on October 30, 1955, for an academic convocation, must have appeared as proof to Ludwig that there were, indeed, spiritual stirrings even in the most secular of corners. Baeck’s emphasis that day on what a half century earlier he had identified as The Essence of Judaism—its conception of God and those moral commandments which flowed from it, “eternal and unchanging” despite “ceremonial forms [that] are transient and modifiable”—could only have confirmed for Ludwig the worthiness of the challenge he had given his people. Baeck, as the leader of German Jewry in its darkest years, had seen mankind at its worst and knew of the need to oppose the idolatrous nihilism against which Ludwig had repeatedly lifted his voice.53
In the weeks that followed, Ludwig continued attending to his responsibilities, teaching, administering the library, and translating the remaining Picard stories while slowly weakening until he became ill in late November. On December 19, Louise wrote Picard, explaining that the “circumstances” which had delayed the completion of his manuscript’s translation had been “exceptional,” but that Ludwig had nevertheless finished the work. “My husband has been very sick with pneumonia and is still convalescing,” Louise added with concern.54
Picard responded with a short note the next day telling her that he had suspected as much.55 When the translations arrived a week later, Picard devoured them, unable to “wait even an hour,” as he wrote Ludwig and Louise on December 28. His excitement over Ludwig’s ability “to achieve the special flavour of my niggun [melody]” had been surpassed only by his surprise at finding a copy of Ludwig’s “Introduction” among the materials he had received, unaware even that Ludwig had been writing it. “I was flabbergasted,” he declared. “No other word to describe it.” Uncertain that he deserved Ludwig’s praise, he had accepted it as “the judgment of a creative mind and an expert,” someone with “much understanding of the artistic as well as the achievement in the subject matter of these small stories.” In confidence, he told Ludwig how these stories had kept him alive during the Hitler years. “I sometimes felt that I was called to it.” Picard closed his long letter by wishing Ludwig a “steady recovering” and thanked him for his “generous comradeship,” a rare find in the writers’ world of mostly “literary snobs who don’t know anymore what this is, telling a story.”56
Ludwig would have appreciated Picard’s feelings of isolation amid the need to artistically have his thoughts heard. In September he had written Picard of his own doubts for the future of literature in America and his place within it. “Is there such a thing?… Our best hope, our only one, is in some posterity. And that hope is precarious.”57 And so, when in his final piece of writing58 Ludwig applauded Picard—“marked and destined to a peculiar fate,” as Ludwig characterized the German Jew in the twentieth century—it was as though he were speaking of himself and his writings for the last time, “of narrative [that] is meditative rather than dramatic … freighted with deep historic and spiritual implications.”59
Picard’s letter of December 28 arrived at Brandeis after Ludwig had gone with Louise to Miami Beach to complete his recovery. But on the very day that Picard had written, Ludwig suffered a heart attack. By the morning of December 31, 1955, he was gone. “Ludwig had pneumonia in November,” Louise wrote Viereck after the funeral, and “did not get strength back although no clinical indications of anything abnormal” could be found. He was, quite obviously, physically worn out. “We went to Miami for recuperation—and it happened suddenly! Thank God—he did not know.”60
Obituaries appeared in newspapers and journals throughout the United States, as befitted a person of Ludwig’s reputation. He would not have been surprised to see that not all were kind, even in death. “Lewisohn’s creativity as a writer was often demeaned in the public mind by the scandals of his personal life,” read the New York Times notice of his death, among the first to appear, on January 1, 1956, highlighting “divorce squabbles, disputes about custody of the child and alimony bickering” as having “tended to obscure the intensity of Mr. Lewisohn’s deep moral convictions as an artist…. A Lewisohn book was almost always calculated to stir up controversy, either critical, legal, or both,” it went on, before acknowledging that “Nevertheless most critics regarded him as an important intellectual” searching for, as Ludwig himself had written in The Island Within, the “ultimate satisfaction of life … that clarity and balance of which the fruits are wisdom and understanding, dignity and grace of life.”61
But the New York Times, as with so many other obituaries in the general press, overlooked, by accident or design, the very substance and goal of this search, of which Ludwig himself had written, in concluding his essay on Herzl, that “in those years of his burning and self-consuming … [there] radiated … an indescribable influence upon all who knew, saw, heard him; therefore he transcended his own lack of specifically Jewish content; therefore the myth and the legend into which he and his life were transmuted inhered in his very character and destiny and are, for that reason, permanently justified.”62
“His whole life is the story of the odyssey of the human soul in quest of God,” Joseph Shubow wrote in Opinion, the journal Ludwig had helped to establish a quarter century earlier. All would “mourn the passing of one of the most gifted men of our time … an unerring guide to the American Jew, to world Jewry,” who had “felt justified in calling upon the Jews to help save humanity as they saved themselves.” Such was “the precious heritage and sacred bequest of one of the noblest sons of our people.”63
In March the Jewish Spectator carried Harold Ribalow’s tribute to Ludwig. “In time, American Jewry may reach the maturity when it will be able to gauge its loss with the passing of Ludwig Lewisohn. At the moment, there is a gap in the lives of those alone who seek to attain a personal fulfillment in their Judaism and Jewish heritage.” Anticipating biographers yet to come, Ribalow spoke of those “others [who] will write at greater length” of this “variously gifted novelist, short story writer, literary and drama critic, translator, pamphleteer, educator, scholar, Zionist, and intellectual Jew.” But would they ever “judge him aright … his passion … so deep and his convictions so overwhelming that, at one time or another, his complexities mystified the best of his friends?”64
Of these complexities, certainly the contrast between his minimal ritual practice as a Jew and “the fervor of his exhortations to others” was the most obvious, a charge to which Ludwig pleaded guilty, with mitigation. As Milton Hindus wrote in his memorial essay for the Jewish Frontier, Ludwig, “without exculpating himself in any way,” had pointed “to the circumstance that he came to what he regarded the true way so late in life, that he had started from the Enlightenment and the skepticism of his father’s house without the benefit of so much as a ceremony of Confirmation in the Jewish faith, and that he had not undertaken any Hebrew studies until he did so on his own after he had reached his thirtieth year. When we consider these facts, it is astonishing how far he went and not, as his critics would have it, that he went no further.” It was upon this “true way” which he was confident would be “confirmed by the future,” that Ludwig had been “willing to stake his position in the history of the Jews.”65
At Brandeis itself there was evidence that history might now be turning in Ludwig’s direction. Hillel’s activity was growing, and the university’s first Jewish Arts Festival was to be held in March.66 Ludwig’s voice was noted by students in other ways, including a full-page tribute to him in the Justice written by Soma Morgenstern’s son, Dan Morgenstern. “The man is no longer with us, but in his works he will live on. His magic word will be a continued inspiration and comfort for generations to come, as long as Jews seek to live as Jews in Galuth.”67 The winter issue of the student literary journal, the Turret, was dedicated “To the Memory of Our Beloved Teacher and Friend, Ludwig Lewisohn.” Quoting a lengthy passage from The Permanent Horizon, it spoke of Ludwig as one of “those in every age to whom God speaks as he spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”68 Perhaps the greatest student tribute came later that spring when those whom he had taught, in and out of the classroom, those whom he had most hoped to reach, dedicated their Yearbook to him, “because we share his understanding that the mission of education is to transmit the quality of civilization, because we admire his faith in the sacredness of the human soul as well as in the unique destiny of men and peoples, and because we shall always be grateful that he lived among us, enriched our lives, and sought with courage and candor to build our University out of the mind and heart of his convictions.”69
On the evening of February 14, 1956, the campus gathered for a more formal tribute at which Ludwig’s friends and colleagues spoke of his life and work. “Gathered in the earth with the fathers and ancestors whom he revered,” Milton Hindus declared, “he is no longer alone, crying as he so often did in vain in the contemporary wilderness, but is become one with the monitions of all the mighty dead to whose message he so desperately attempted to attune our ears.”70 Abram Sachar and Maurice Samuel added their thoughts,71 and then Arthur Lelyveld rose to honor Ludwig.
Those of us who hold the memory of Ludwig Lewisohn in profound affection need not be disturbed by the fact that he was not always loved and not always understood. He would have rejected popularity as evidence of the shallowness that was the target of his unremitting attack, and he would have scorned being too easily understood as he scorned the imprecise word and the easy half-truth. The coherent and ultimately unitary message that he spoke and wrote in incisive and often fiery words was, though lucidly recorded, not a simple message. It was the creative end-product of a life of baffling complexity and incomparable richness of knowledge and experience. All this abundance was impressed into the service of his ultimate mission, to illuminate it and to support it. For Ludwig Lewisohn was a man with a mission—he was, in the best sense of an abused term, a preacher—exhorting, correcting, berating “the average intelligent American Jew,” striving to awaken him to the perplexities and crises of the times in a dimension equivalent to the intensity of his own commitment.
Of these crises, Lelyveld revealed, none was more critical to Ludwig’s sense of mission, nor more trying to him as he attempted to communicate its enormity and consequence for the future, than the Holocaust.
His greatest frustration may well have been the fact that the heights of his indignation were unequal to the enormity of the evil that this world, our world, had done to the Jewish people—that his abhorrence of the perpetrators of that unspeakable crime was, in the inescapable presence of 6,000,000 corpses, too frequently unechoed—indeed, it was not even understood. When he called the age in which we live “the foulest in human history,” he offended the facile Panglosses and the prissy souls, but his words were carefully chosen and supported by the ineradicable facts of twentieth-century degradation: the mass exterminations, the calculating disregard of sanctities, the ruthless destruction of inherited values. He spoke the cold truth in words that will live long after those whom they made uncomfortable will have been forgotten.72
Some years later, Saul Spiro said of Ludwig that “he was kindly and open of heart,” and that “an unshadowed spirit, almost that of a child played over the face of this Talmud-Chacham [wise man].” When they first met after Ludwig’s return from Paris and Spiro had found him already steeped in the Jewish heritage he had come to call his own, he had thought he saw in Ludwig the expression of “our geonim [rabbinic leaders] and sages of old. His features were a blending of the classic and Semitic. His eyes were full of dreams and reveries. His noble soul was mirrored in them.” In the years that followed, the expression in his eyes had deepened and intensified with learning and experience and a vision of a darkening world. “From time to time a fire flashed from them, a consecrated fire which pierced one through and through,” revealing “profound thoughts and stubborn hopes and the vigor of the fighter of the spirit. For it must be made clear that Ludwig was an untiring optimist who believed in humanity with all its faults.”73
Ultimately, it was this posture that had allowed Ludwig to fight on with a sense of final vindication for himself and the world. Thirty-five years before his death, he had had a vision of his last days, born of his awareness that the struggle Up Stream would not be easy.
I have a vision of an old man of a new moral order. Neither you nor I will be that man. But the hope of his coming may sustain us…. His eyes are serene and full of memories. He has worked at his chosen task without fear of penury; he has loved freely and magnificently…. The sun is setting for him now. But he is beyond wanting, needing, striving. He has had his dawn, his noon, his afternoon. The sun sinks upon the open page. If there is life beyond earth he is unafraid. If there is none, he is at peace. The end is as fit as the beginning; the darkness is as beautiful as the dawn.74
Though anger at the world and some within it often welled up within him, he had tried to practice this patience of spirit where ultimate matters were concerned, a patience born of a vision of that better future, though slow to dawn and beyond his own years, that would certainly come to be. Six months after his death, in an issue of Judaism dedicated to his memory, Ludwig echoed this earlier call for sustained effort and patience in his posthumously published “Reflections on Crisis”: “One of the symptoms of our age of barbaric confusion is this demand for immediate consequences in the realm of the practical.” But “we want no haste toward action,” he countered. Rather, as he looked out upon the Jewish landscape, he counseled “re-thinking prior to action,” as the rabbis had so wisely taught, “since only from Torah right action could arise.” Jews were not to be like other peoples, but were “to turn their vision inward, to test the idols of the market-place by the norms of their Judaism and to cease to bow down to them. Out of these two simultaneous trends, once they have truly set in, profound changes, however slow and gradual, may be expected to arise.”75
He would not see this new age, but he had grown somewhat content with the belief that it would one day arise, hoping that he might still witness in his own final days some evidence of its beginning. He had lived long enough to see that change was painfully slow. And yet, he had learned that it could be experienced with perspective, even effected if one set out upon its path as he had so many years earlier. “In a summer season, when soft was the sun I went forth in the world, wonders to hear,” he had told his readers through the epigram for his final novel, borrowed from the Vision of Piers the Plowman.76 Through all of his work, he had tried to tell the story of this journey, with all of its tragedy and triumph, withholding nothing he believed essential, certain that the telling itself would prove redemptive to those who took seriously its message, if not in this generation, then in generations yet to mature. “This is the story of a man in this age,” he had written nearly a decade before his death.
That it could happen to him marks the age as an evil one. The man, moreover, was a Jew. And this fact will at once rob his story of many readers, perhaps, if the truth were faced, of nearly all. For Christians have a very sore conscience about the Jewish people, knowing it to be different from all other peoples and seeking to interpret that difference as a kind of wickedness. But many Jews, too, will shun this story; for they are afraid of the world and have reason to be so and shy away, almost with the quick instinct of animals, from the divine and dreadful truth about themselves. Nevertheless, by God’s help, I will try to tell this story, confident that, though it be neglected today, it will be heard and come into its own on some tomorrow.77
Such confidence only deepened during Ludwig’s last years. At its center lay a profound faith that had taken a lifetime to achieve, a faith that he had tried, as well, to pass on to those experiencing a need similar to what had given birth to this faith within himself. Few in the world, he believed, could sustain themselves without answering this inner call. “I pray and hope at this solemn hour,” he had offered to those observing the Day of Atonement with him, “that we have all done teshuvah—that our souls will not fall as blinded things into the darkness and the void … [and] that we be persuaded and convinced, as Job was, that we shall see ultimately into the heart of things and be able to say with him: v’ani yadathi goali chai. For I shall behold my Living Redeemer.”78