Joseph Roth, the Jewish Literary Genius Who Mourned the Austrian Past and Foresaw the Coming Doom

The Habsburg empire, that awkward and anachronistic multiethnic conglomeration sometimes called Austria-Hungary, produced some of 20th-century Jewry’s most outstanding figures: Theodor Herzl, S.Y. Agnon, Martin Buber, Sigmund Freud, and a bevy of ḥasidic rabbis, like the first Satmar rebbe Joel Teitelbaum—to name but a few. Thus it may not be surprising that this empire’s greatest elegist, the novelist Joseph Roth, was himself a Jew. Considering several recent books about the Habsburgs and their domain, David Pryce-Jones turns his attention to Roth:

“The empire is doomed,” says a cynical Polish count, [in the 1932 novel The Radetzky March], evidently speaking for Roth, “The instant the Kaiser shuts his eyes, we’ll crumble into a hundred pieces. The Balkans will be more powerful than we. All the nations will set up their own filthy little states, and even the Jews are going to proclaim a king in Palestine. Vienna already stinks of the sweat of the Democrats.” Or again, “This era no longer wants us! This era wants to create independent nation-states. People no longer believe in God. The new religion is nationalism.”

A lesser writer might have been nostalgic evoking the past [as he does], but Roth is making use of this particular story for what it has to say about authority and obedience. “I hate good books by godless fellows,” and perhaps Roth was tilting at himself when he goes on, “and I love bad books by reactionaries.” What I Saw is a collection of the feuilletons Roth wrote in Berlin from 1920 to 1933. In May that year, Goebbels organized a ceremonial burning of books the Nazis took against, The Radetzky March among them. Roth moved to Paris, where his health broke down as he became an alcoholic and had to deal with his wife’s schizophrenia and earn a living as well.

“The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns,” Roth wrote to [his friend, frequent correspondent, and fellow Jewish elegist of old Austria, Stefan] Zweig. Or, in another agonized letter, “National Socialism will strike at the core of my existence.” Roth, the last freakish defender of the Habsburgs, was rebuking Zweig, literature’s playboy, for hesitating to take a public position against Nazism. “I fear for your immortal soul. . . . I am afraid you don’t quite see events straight.” Yet another letter is an outright accusation, “I am no agitator. But if you have something on your conscience write it down. It will do you good.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Austria-Hungary, Joseph Roth

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas