Posts Tagged ‘Books’

>Jewish Texts Lost in War Are Surfacing in New York
NY Times
March 7, 2011

In 1932, as the Nazis rose to power in Germany, a Jewish librarian in Frankfurt published a catalog of 15,000 books he had painstakingly collected for decades.

It listed the key texts of a groundbreaking field called the Science of Judaism, in which scholars analyzed the religion’s philosophy and culture as they would study those of ancient Greece or Rome. The school of thought became the foundation for modern Jewish studies around the world.

In the tumult of war, great chunks of the collection vanished. Now, librarians an ocean away have determined that most of the missing titles have been sitting for years on the crowded shelves of the Leo Baeck Institute, a Manhattan center dedicated to preserving German Jewish culture.

The story of how the hundreds of tattered, cloth-bound books with esoteric German titles ended up in New York includes impossible escapes, careful scholarship and some very heavy suitcases. And while the exact trails of many of the volumes remain murky, they wind through book-lined apartments on the Upper West Side, across a 97-year-old woman’s cluttered coffee table and into a library’s cavernous stacks.

For Jewish scholars, the collection of Science of Judaism texts (in German, Wissenschaft des Judentums) is a touchstone marking the emergence of Jewish tradition as a philosophy and culture worthy of academic study.

“We’re all heirs to the legacy of Wissenschaft,” said Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

The University Library Frankfurt still houses the bulk of the collection, but experts there have determined over several decades that they were missing some 2,000 books listed in the 1932 catalog. In the last two years, a team led by Renate Evers, head librarian at the Leo Baeck Institute, found that her shelves had more than 1,000 of the lost titles.

While scholars say the books in New York are probably not the same copies as those lost from the Frankfurt library, their rediscovery offers the chance to rebuild what one professor called “a legendary collection.” Frankfurt librarians are putting the collection online, while the Center for Jewish History, the institute’s parent organization, is seeking a grant to do the same.

“This is very exciting,” said Rachel Heuberger, head of the library’s Judaica division. “You can reconstruct a collection that otherwise never would have come to life again.”

Scholars say the books were most likely brought to New York from Europe by private collectors and antiquities dealers. In the past 50 years, donors, nearly all of them German Jews who immigrated and prospered here, gave them to the Leo Baeck Institute.

The donors, photographed in their cinched ties and sober suits, represent a generation of scholarly New York immigrants that is nearly gone. They escaped the Nazis, built new lives and created a sophisticated community that centered on books, culture and learning. Their ranks included the political philosopher Hannah Arendt and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Many came to this country hauling suitcases filled with books, and as they settled here, they created academic journals and scholarly institutes. They debated politics during formal dinners in Washington Heights parlors. They took typewriters along on vacation so they could keep working.

Herbert A. Strauss, who came to New York with his wife in 1946, owned one of the lost books, an 1843 volume by Ludwig Philippson. Where he got it, his widow, Lotte, has no idea. A historian and a professor, he was always coming home to their Upper Manhattan apartment with his arms full of new tomes.

“He was not only married to me,” Mrs. Strauss said. “He was also married to his desk.”

When he died in 2005, she donated 4,500 of his books to the Leo Baeck Institute.

The couple had met in Germany, and escaped together to Switzerland just steps ahead of the Gestapo. They recounted their ordeals in separate memoirs published in 1999.

Mrs. Strauss, 97, a great-grandmother, recalled meeting her husband. “I was fascinated by him,” she said. “He was good-looking and he had new ideas.”

On a recent afternoon in her sun-drenched apartment, Mrs. Strauss pulled out her husband’s brittle papers. There were Nazi-era ration cards decorated with swastikas — red for bread, blue for meat. There was a lifeguard certificate from Berlin that showed a young man, sleeves rolled up past his elbows, smiling at something off-camera.

Did he carry books with him when he came to New York?

Mrs. Strauss laughed. “We came here poor as church mice,” she said. “You went as you were; you didn’t carry a thing.” She was eight months pregnant and had one dress to her name. Mr. Strauss built his library, and their life, in New York.

Ludwig Schwarzschild, a dermatologist, brought his library with him when he came to the United States in 1934. Although his practice north of Frankfurt was shuttered by the authorities, he, his wife and their two young children were able to take most of their possessions out of Germany, said their daughter, Lore Singerman, of Annapolis, Md.

Mrs. Singerman, 78, remembered a Manhattan childhood of heavy European furniture and crowded bookcases. Reading was highly prized — prayer books, The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic.

Her father owned one of the lost Wissenschaft volumes, an 1888 edition of a Hermann Cohen book. His family donated it to the institute in 1970, the year he died. Mrs. Singerman does not know where her father got the book, but said, “If it was in German, he probably brought it with him — he didn’t buy German books here.”

Fred W. Lessing, another German Jewish donor, built such a vast book collection at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y., that he ordered catalog cards from the Library of Congress to keep track of it all. He was chief executive of a Yonkers metal company, but his passion was his library and discussions with professors and writers.

Mr. Lessing scoured auction catalogs for treasures, with a special focus on the history of the Enlightenment. His children knew enough not to touch his “good books,” said his daughter Joan Lessing. “His library was part of our lives,” she said. “Books were in every room.”

Mr. Lessing gave the institute an early-20th-century edition of a volume by Adolf Eckstein, but his daughter did not know where he had gotten it.

Even the Frankfurt librarian who cataloged the entire collection, Aron Freimann, came to New York. After arriving in 1939, he went on to work at the New York Public Library.

Today, his granddaughter, Ruth Dresner, lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. She keeps her grandfather’s catalog on her shelf — she calls it his “magnum opus” — and plans to leave it to her children.

“I’m 80 years old, and I’m very devoted and dedicated to perpetuating tradition,” she said. “I am very proud.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 9, 2011

A caption on Tuesday with an article about Jewish texts lost in World War II that have resurfaced in New York described an accompanying map incorrectly. It is a map of central Europe, not only of Frankfurt.

Jewish Texts Lost in War Are Surfacing in New York –

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>The Curious Journey Of Curious George
Intelligent Life

The little storybook monkey had many big adventures, but none so dramatic as what his German Jewish creators experienced, writes Erica Grieder …

The little monkey had a happy life in Africa—eating bananas, swinging on vines. When he was captured, by a man in a yellow hat, his distress was written on his face. He gaped at his body, clearly shocked to find it trapped in a brown sack, winched at the neck. But the little monkey quickly recovered his equanimity. By the time he boarded the rowboat, he was sad to be leaving Africa, but a little curious, too.

Thus began the adventures of Curious George, one of the most popular and enduring children’s characters of all time. During the course of seven original stories by H.A. and Margret Rey, he moved to America, joined the circus, and became an astronaut. Those are big adventures for a little monkey. But none was quite as dramatic as what had happened to his creators in real life. “Curious George Saves the Day”, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through March 13th, makes that much clear.

Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein were German Jews from Hamburg. Hans, born in 1898, lived near the zoo and taught himself to draw there (also, how to bark like a seal). After the first world war he tried to scrape together a living drawing posters for the circus, but soon packed up and moved to Rio de Janeiro. He was there, selling bathtubs, when Margarete arrived. She was working as a photographer, and knew Hans as a family friend.

Hans and Margarete married in 1935, and shortened their name to make it easier in Portuguese. The next year, they packed up their pet marmosets for a honeymoon in Paris. Louise Borden, in her short biography of the couple, mentions that the marmosets died during the cold and rainy crossing, even though Margarete knitted them a pair of sweaters.

They planned to stay for two weeks. That turned into four years. The Reys, working together, were becoming established as the authors of children’s books. He drew the pictures, and she wrote the text (and occasionally modelled the animal poses). The monkey who would become world-famous made his first appearance as Fifi, in stories about a giraffe called Raffy who made friends with nine little monkeys. There was a brave one, a strong one, a good one; all were without tails, the Reys explained, because the illustrations were already cluttered with the monkeys and the gangly giraffe. Fifi was the curious and clever one. The Reys decided he should have his own book.

As the decade drew to a close, no Jews in Europe felt safe. The Reys were working, but in letters to his publisher H.A. made it clear that progress had slowed. In September 1939 the couple left Paris for the Chateau Feuga, tucked away in the Dordogne region. ‘It feels ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books,’ wrote H.A. Rey. At one point French police turned up at the castle—they were suspicious about what the strangers were up to—but finding the illustrations scattered around, left them in peace.

The Reys returned to Paris several months later to find that the situation had grown more ominous. Refugees were streaming into Paris, and streaming out for safer destinations farther south. Ms Borden describes the preparations the Reys made for their escape: they tried to buy bicycles, but the only one they could find was a broken tandem. Hans bought spare parts, and spent an anxious few days fixing up a couple of single bikes. On June 12th 1940, the couple left Paris. The Nazis arrived less than two days later.

The Reys made their way to the south of France, and spent several weeks in a makeshift refugee camp in a high-school gymnasium before proceeding to Lisbon. From there they arranged passage to Brazil, and months later to New York. They carried with them the first drawings for the Curious George books, and showed them to police as proof of their occupation. The first book, ‘Curious George’, was published in 1941. The little monkey arrives in New York and strolls off of the ship with a smile, holding his papers in one hand and a little red valise in the other. A policeman salutes in welcome.

Curious George has his share of troubles in America. For example, he had to go to the hospital after swallowing a puzzle piece. The emotional clarity of Hans’ illustrations is brilliant in these scenes of setback. Sitting alone in his hospital bed, with a single fat tear rolling down his cheek, the little monkey is the picture of distress. And he is occasionally naughty. The exhibition displays a hand-written list, from Hans, of Curious George’s infractions: obstructing traffic by sitting on a light, escaping from jail, monkeying with the police.

But these were just bumps in the road. George’s intentions are never malign, and order is quickly restored from chaos—sometimes with an assist from the man in the yellow hat, sometimes with reassurance from other understanding adults. Over time, George becomes fully integrated. He goes to Hollywood. In 1957 he travels to outer space, just weeks before Laika became the first animal to actually do so. He visits the circus, an interesting venue. Janet Davis, a sociologist, has explored the circus as a place where 20th-century Americans worked out some of their feelings about social and cultural change. George’s adventures there bring out his status as both outsider and insider. He’s a monkey, sure, but he’s also a hero, and a highly relatable character.

The Curious George stories were an international hit, allowing for a few cultural variations. In Britain his name is given as Zozo; the publishers thought it would be disrespectful to have a mischievous monkey named after the sitting king. Whatever the case, children around the world were taken with George’s unwitting mischief, and charmed by the cheerful, brightly coloured illustrations. But his story of travel, migration and cultural collision has a paradigmatically American dimension.

Against the backdrop of the Reys’ own dramatic travels, these children’s stories assume a poignant cast. The Reys became American citizens in 1946, and stayed in New York the rest of their lives. They never talked much about their narrow escape, and even today the story is not widely known. This is perhaps because, despite the direct biographical parallels, the Curious George stories give so little indication of their dark historical backdrop. The outlook is resolutely cheerful. George explores his new world fearlessly, and his confidence is justified. Strangers are kind to him. Authority figures are corrective, not punitive. The inevitable misunderstandings are quickly sorted out and forgiven. He is just a fictional monkey. But those would be good standards to help any newcomer feel at home.

‘Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey’ was organised by the Jewish Museum in New York. It is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until March 13th

Erica Grieder is the South-West America correspondent for The Economist. Picture credit: Curious George, and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. © 2010 by HMH.


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The Diary: Simon Sebag Montefiore

By Simon Sebag Montefiore / Life & Arts – Published: January 28 2011 22:03 | Last updated: January 28 2011 22:03

Jerusalem has always driven people mad: the Jerusalem syndrome is a madness caused by the disappointment of finding that the real, messy, chaotic, angry place is not the Celestial Holy City of the imagination. One hundred visitors a year – mainly Christian pilgrims – go insane and are committed to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre. Many emperors, conquerors, leaders, Jews, Muslims and Christians have, in their way, succumbed, losing touch with reason when it comes to Jerusalem.

In 2000, the British Journal of Psychiatry described the syndrome as a “psychotic decompensation … related to religious excitement induced by proximity to the holy places of Jerusalem”. The study warns tour guides to be aware of the danger signs in their groups and these include: an obsession with taking baths; compulsive fingernail/toenail clipping; preparation, with aid of hotel bed linen, of toga-like garb, always white; screaming; ranting; procession to shrines and delivery of sermons there. Even writers about Jerusalem have been known to suffer bouts of the syndrome: my wife Santa thinks we’ve all been suffering from it in our house. She is very glad my book Jerusalem: the Biography is out.
. . .
On the subject of family, it is tempting to write Jerusalem’s astonishingly dramatic history as a succession of massacres and conquests but cities are really created by families over centuries. I found myself researching an epic family saga of dynasties – royal, aristocratic and sometimes obscure.
When I am in Jerusalem I always stay in either the American Colony Hotel in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah or the Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the guesthouse beside the Montefiore Windmill. Sir Moses Montefiore founded the Montefiore quarter and windmill (a real one he exported from Kent) in 1860, the beginning of the expansion of the Holy City from within its walls to create New Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab suburbs. It was thanks to this great-great uncle that I wrote my book: indeed our family motto is “Jerusalem”. He founded the Montefiore quarter for poor Jews but it was so dangerous to be outside the city walls that, initially, its inhabitants crept into the city to sleep.
During the 20th century, the King David Hotel was built almost next door. During the Arab Revolt of 1936-38, “the Montefiore” area came under Arab attack; during 1948, Arab irregulars tried to storm it while the British, based around the King David Hotel, fired on Jewish forces and blew the top off the Kentish windmill. Now it’s one of the loveliest parts of the city outside the walls, the site of the city’s literary festival.
The American Colony has a parallel history: a mansion built at almost the same time but by the greatest Arab family, the Husseinis. Rabah Al-Husseini, its owner, sold it to a sect of American evangelist millenarians, the American colonists led by the Spafford family. They had settled there in 1888 to prepare for the apocalypse but became a much-loved Jerusalemite institution. Later they converted the house into a hotel: in 1948, Bertha Spafford, the founder’s daughter and now a Jerusalemite matriarch, tried in vain to prevent an Arab ambush, launched from the hotel grounds, of a Jewish convoy of ambulances. In the 1990s, the Oslo peace talks started there.

Read the rest of the article online at / Life & Arts – The Diary: Simon Sebag Montefiore

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