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.

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Read more at New Yorker

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

 

Jerusalem’s Economic Crisis, Its Arabs, and Its Future

Oct. 18 2018

The population of Israel’s capital city is 38-percent Arab, making Arab eastern Jerusalem the largest Arab community in the country. Connected to this fact is Jerusalem’s 46-percent poverty rate—the highest of any Israeli municipality. The city’s economic condition stems in part from its large ultra-Orthodox population, but there is also rampant poverty among its Arab residents, whose legal status is different from that of both Arab Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Haviv Rettig Gur explains:

Jerusalem’s Arab inhabitants are not Israeli citizens—in part because Palestinian society views acceptance of Israeli citizenship, [available to any Arab Jerusalemite who desires it], as acceptance of Israeli claims of sovereignty over the city, and in part because Israel is not eager to accept them, even as it formally views itself as having annexed the area. Nevertheless, they have a form of permanent residency that, unlike West Bank Palestinians, allows them unimpeded access to the rest of Israel. . . .

There are good reasons for this poverty among eastern Jerusalem’s Arabs, rooted in the political trap that has ensnared the Arab half of the city and with it the rest of the city as well. Right-wing Israeli political leaders have avoided investing in Arab eastern Jerusalem, fearing that such investments would increase the flow of Palestinians into the city. Left-wing leaders have done the same on the grounds that the Arab half would be given away in a future peace deal.

Meanwhile, eastern Jerusalem’s complicated situation, suspended between the Israeli and Palestinian worlds, means residents cannot take full advantage of their access to the Israeli economy. For example, while most Arab women elsewhere in Israel learn usable Hebrew in school, most Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem teach from the Palestinian curriculum, which does not offer students the Hebrew they will need to find work in the western half of the city. . . .

It is not unreasonable to argue that Jerusalem cannot really be divided, not for political reasons but for economic ones. If Jerusalem remains a solely Israeli capital, it will have to integrate better its disparate parts and massively develop its weaker communities if it hopes ever to become solvent and prosperous. Arabs must be able to find more and better work in Jewish Jerusalem—and in Arab Jerusalem, too. Conversely, if the city is divided into two capitals, that of a Jewish state and that of a Palestinian one, that won’t change the underlying economic reality that its prosperity, its capacity to accommodate tourism and develop efficient infrastructure, and its ability to ensure access for all religions to their many holy sites, will still require a unified urban space.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli economy, Jerusalem