When One Jewish Medievalist Called Another a Nazi

In 1992, the scholar Norman Cantor published a volume of biographical sketches of 20th-century historians of the Middle Ages. In it, he referred to Ernst Kantorowicz, a German Jew who spent the later part of his career at Berkeley and Princeton universities, as having had “impeccable Nazi credentials.” As evidence, he cited Kantorowicz’s magisterial biography of Frederick II, the 13th-century holy Roman emperor and king of Sicily; the book first appeared in 1927 when Kantorowicz still lived in Germany. Cantor’s accusation—made especially provocative by the fact that Kantorowicz’s mother died in a concentration camp and that he risked his career to condemn Nazism—naturally precipitated many angry protests. Michael Lipkin examines the evidence:

Kantorowicz painted Emperor Frederick II as a redeemer of the German people who united the north with the Roman south [that is, Sicily] and brought the barbaric East under his iron rule. Kantorowicz had a Hindu good-luck symbol, the swastika, put on the biography’s cover, and on its dedication page he recalled laying a wreath on Frederick’s grave in Palermo. “That wreath,” he wrote, “may fairly be taken as a symbol that—not alone in learned circles—enthusiasm is astir for the great German Rulers of the past, in a day when emperors are no more.” Among the book’s enthusiastic readers was Hermann Göring, who gave Mussolini a signed copy for his birthday. . . .

Some scholars have defended the book as a celebration of cosmopolitanism and humanism. . . . And yet, as Cantor observes, the sinister German politics of Kantorowicz’s Germany are never far from the book. It’s filled with the noxious worship of power. It is not Frederick’s cosmopolitanism but his Germanness, inherited from his father, Henry VI, that gives him his vitality, his forcefulness, his greatness. Kantorowicz praises Frederick as the first absolutist; he and the Sicilians, who were “human substance” for the artwork that was Frederick’s state, shared “a unity of blood and speech, of faith and feast, of history and law” without which no nation can exist.

The weakening of Sicilian blood by intermarriage was punishable as treason. Muslims and Jews were allowed to keep their customs but made to pay a “tolerance” tax—it was Frederick who came up with the idea of forcing Jews to identify themselves by wearing gold stars. Pluralism and opposition were “poisons,” to use Kantorowicz’s phrasing, that had to be purged form the body of the state. . . .

[After coming to America in 1939], Kantorowicz worked hard to distance himself from his intellectual and political failures in Germany. Cantor sees Kantorowicz’s “reorientation” as a form of cowardice, but it is easier to understand it as a form of penance.

Read more at Paris Review

More about: Benito Mussolini, Germany, History & Ideas, Middle Ages, Nazism


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7