Ernst Kantorowicz, the Jewish Medievalist Whose Book Hitler Loved

In 1927, the young German scholar Ernst Kantorowicz published his groundbreaking biography of Emperor Frederick the Great, who ruled Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. The book, which combined immense erudition with nationalist enthusiasm, earned its author a full professorship at the University of Heidelberg at an unprecedented early stage in his career; Hermann Goering sent an inscribed copy to Mussolini and Hitler told one of his generals that he had read it twice. Kantorowicz himself was involved in right-wing circles from World War I until the Nazis came to power, then left Germany for the United States in 1939 and spent the rest of his career as a professor at Berkeley and Princeton, where he wrote a highly influential study of medieval political thought. Reviewing a recent biography of Kantorowicz by Robert Lerner, Robert E. Norton tells part of this fascinating figure’s story:

In many ways . . . Ernst Hartwig Kantorowicz was representative of the assimilated Jewish haute bourgeoisie in Wilhelmine Germany. Born in 1895 into a family of considerable wealth (his father owned a thriving liqueur firm) in Posen in West Prussia (now Poznań in Poland), Kantorowicz instinctively, even proudly, saw himself as an unhyphenated German. Later in life he would say he was of “Jewish descent, not Jewish belief.” His family celebrated Christmas and Easter, and only scattered Yiddish words were ever spoken at home. As a youth he attended the exclusive Royal Auguste-Viktoria Gymnasium, where he learned Greek, Latin, and French. Along with the values of the Prussian [educated middle class], he also imbibed a kind of reflexive patriotism and nationalist pride that was frequently stronger among Jews than among their Gentile compatriots. . . .

[In the late 1950s], several publishers . . . pleaded with Kantorowicz to allow another reprinting of his biography of Frederick II. Without explaining why, he steadfastly refused, at one point saying only: “the man who wrote that book died many years ago.” It was probably another death that stiffened his resistance to resuscitating the portentous emperor.

Kantorowicz had left most of his family behind in Germany when he made his escape in 1938, including his cousin Gertrud Kantorowicz and his mother, Clara. In 1942, aged sixty-five and eighty respectively, they had managed to reach the Swiss border, where they were caught, transported back to Germany, and shuttled among a succession of camps. In February 1943, Kantorowicz’s mother died in Theres¬ienstadt. There is no record of his ever commenting on his mother’s death, but a friend in Princeton reported him as having once said, “as far as Germany is concerned they can put a tent over the entire country and turn on the gas.”

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: German Jewry, History & Ideas, Holocaust, 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