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Franz Kafka, “Bambi,” and German Literature’s Jewish Animals

In Bestiarium Judaicum: Unnatural Histories of the Jews, Jay Geller examines the ways Jews have been portrayed as, or compared with, animals in Central European writings. German-language Jewish literature itself has a peculiar history of using animal imagery; Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (where the main character turns into cockroach) and Felix Salten’s Bambi—which likely reflects the author’s Zionist sentiments—are among the best-known examples, but hardly the only ones. Paul Reitter elaborates in his review:

Some of the Jewish intellectuals of Central Europe [in the 1920s and 30s] saw their cultural position, and the self-consciousness that resulted from it, as extraordinary and exceptional. In their attempts to evoke this position, they seem to have turned increasingly to nonhuman figures. In a 1921 letter to his friend Max Brod, Franz Kafka offered what is now probably the most famous description of the plight of German-Jewish writers in Central Europe: “With their back legs they stuck fast to the Judaism of their fathers, and with their front legs they found no new ground.” . . .

Kafka played with the associations between Jews and mice in the last story he wrote, “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk,” which was published in 1924. The “mouse folk” live with danger and enemies close by, much like the Jews of Central Europe did then. . . .

[Even] if Kafka’s animal studies are a special case, written in a style entirely his own, they also reflect a larger literary phenomenon. From Heinrich Heine, in the early 19th century, to the Austrian . . . Felix Salten, on the eve of World War II, a number of German-[language] Jewish authors wrote stories with anthropomorphized animals. For the most part, their animal figures evoke the plight of European Jewry without concertedly allegorizing it—though the temptation to read them as allegories is often strong. . . .

Geller catalogues the key animal associations in the German [anti-Semitic] imagination—Jews and pigs, Jews and wolves, Jews and dogs, Jews and apes, Jews and rodents—and discusses their evolution over the centuries, providing commentary on widely circulated instances of these stereotypes, from the bestiaries of the Middle Ages to graphic representations of Jews as animals in Nazi propaganda. He considers how the animalizing of Jews facilitated the Holocaust, looking, as he does so, at reflections on “the construction of the Jew-animal” by Jews, like Primo Levi, who were in occupied Europe at the time of the Final Solution.

Read more at New Yorker

More about: Animals, Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Bambi, Franz Kafka, German Jewry, Literature

Being a Critic of Israel Means Never Having to Explain How It Should Defend Itself

April 23 2018

The ever-worsening situation of Jews in Europe, writes Bret Stephens, should serve as a reminder of the need for a Jewish state. Israel’s critics, he suggests, should reflect more deeply on that need:

Israel did not come into existence to serve as another showcase of the victimization of Jews. It exists to end the victimization of Jews.

That’s a point that Israel’s restless critics could stand to learn. On Friday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the fourth time to the border fence with Israel, in protests promoted by Hamas. The explicit purpose of Hamas leaders is to breach the fence and march on Jerusalem. Israel cannot possibly allow this—doing so would create a precedent that would encourage similar protests, and more death, along all of Israel’s borders—and has repeatedly used deadly force to counter it.

The armchair corporals of Western punditry think this is excessive. It would be helpful if they could suggest alternative military tactics to an Israeli government dealing with an urgent crisis against an adversary sworn to its destruction. They don’t.

It would also be helpful if they could explain how they can insist on Israel’s retreat to the 1967 borders and then scold Israel when it defends those borders. They can’t. If the armchair corporals want to persist in demands for withdrawals that for 25 years have led to more Palestinian violence, not less, the least they can do is be ferocious in defense of Israel’s inarguable sovereignty. Somehow they almost never are. . . .

[T]o the extent that the diaspora’s objections [to Israeli policies] are prompted by the nonchalance of the supposedly nonvulnerable when it comes to Israel’s security choices, then the complaints are worse than feckless. They provide moral sustenance for Hamas in its efforts to win sympathy for its strategy of wanton aggression and reckless endangerment. And they foster the illusion that there’s some easy and morally stainless way by which Jews can exercise the responsibilities of political power.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Anti-Semitism, Gaza Strip, Israel & Zionism