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Feuchtwanger and Judaism

History, Imagination, Exile

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Edited By Paul Lerner and Frank Stern

This collection of essays is devoted to the Jewish themes that ran through Lion Feuchtwanger’s life, works and worlds. Beginning with a selection of Feuchtwanger’s unpublished writings, speeches, and interviews, the volume examines the author’s approaches to Jewish history, Zionism, Judaism’s relationship to early Christianity and to eastern religions, and Jewish identity through his works, above all his historical fiction. Essays also trace translations of his works into English and Russian, and the meaning of his writing for various communities of Jewish and non-Jewish readers in Britain, North America, and the Soviet Union. A final section frames the issues around Feuchtwanger and Jewishness more broadly by considering the condition of exile and expanding the focus to communities of émigré writers and political figures in North America and beyond.
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Introduction (Paul Lerner and Frank Stern)

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Paul Lerner and Frank Stern

Introduction

“When I am asked why I am a Jew, I can only answer: ‘I can’t help it.’”1 With these deceptively simple words, Marta Feuchtwanger began a brief reminiscence written for the immediate family, in which she grappled with her and her late husband’s Jewish identities and backgrounds. This seemingly banal formulation captures the self-evident, matter-of-fact quality of the Feuchtwangers’ Judaism, but at the same time it belies the depth and complexity of Lion Feuchtwanger’s Jewish identity, an identity born both of the rejection of the strict orthodoxy of his childhood and of his lifelong fascination with Jewish tradition, history and Jewish sources.

Marta goes on to say in her typically down-to-earth manner that she and Lion were not proud of their Judaism because it was not something they had accomplished and therefore could not be a source of pride. Rather it was simply who they were. Channeling Gertrude Stein, she concludes her sketch with the refrain “I am a Jew – I am a Jew – I am a Jew.”2 While Lion Feuchtwanger may have put it somewhat differently, there is no denying that Judaism lay at the core of his being and his creative work; it was what he was and what he knew best, as Marta noted. She even claims that Judaism had an adverse impact on her husband’s health; rising at five every morning to study Torah after working late into the night marked his...

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