History, Imagination, Exile
Edited By Paul Lerner and Frank Stern
Introduction (Paul Lerner and Frank Stern)
Paul Lerner and Frank Stern
“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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