Joseph Roth: The Sublime Novelist of Habsburg Nostalgia and Jewish Pessimism

While he remains little known in the English-speaking world, those who have read the work of Joseph Roth almost invariably believe him to be one of the great European writers—and one of the great Jewish writers—of the 20th century. Born and raised in the heart of Jewish Eastern Europe in the now-Ukrainian, then-Austrian city of Brody, Roth spent the better part of his life in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl. His homeland remained Habsburg Austria-Hungary until his death in 1939—some twenty years after that country disappeared. David Mikics discusses Roth’s life, and the stories he told:

In 1930 Roth wrote Job, the story of an East European Jew named Mendel Singer, whose little son is both lame and unable to speak. Heartbreakingly, Mendel abandons his son when he moves to America. . . . Job was a commercial success, though Roth didn’t make much money from it. Marlene Dietrich said it was her favorite novel. It even became a Hollywood movie, though the studio turned Mendel into a Tirolean peasant and the novel’s wonder rabbi into a Franciscan monk. (“Mendel Singer Gets Baptized” was one reviewer’s headline.)

Two years after Job, on the cusp of the Nazis’ victory in Germany, Roth published his magnum opus The Radetzky March, [which] evokes the comfort supplied by time-honored order and propriety. But Roth also invokes the abyss of loneliness and self-doubt concealed by the old-fashioned code of honor. The endless passage of years, the falling apart of empires, and the death of fathers and sons all imply a fathomless melancholia. Alcohol is a well of oblivion, a tempting means of escape.

In particular, Roth was deeply pessimistic about the Jewish future. In March 1933 he wrote to [his close friend and fellow Viennese writer] Stefan Zweig that in 50 years’ time the Jews would no longer exist. He reminded Zweig that they were both fundamentally European, and nonreligious: “We come from ‘Emancipation’ . . . rather more than we come out of Egypt.”

Accordingly, Roth could be sympathetic to Zionism at times. “Zionism is the only way out: patriotism, okay, but for one’s own land.” But as far as the fate of the Jews was concerned, he inclined toward hopelessness. In June 1932 Roth wrote to Zweig, “They mean to burn our books, and us along with them.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Nazism, Stefan Zweig, Vienna


While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy