A German LifeUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Jewish Culture and Contexts
Werner Scholem never took the easy path. Born in 1895 into the Berlin Jewish middle class, he married a young non-Jewish woman of proletarian background. He was the youngest member of the Prussian Parliament in the 1920s, one of the leaders of the German Communist Party, and the editor of the influential journal The Red Flag. As an outspoken critic of Stalin, he was soon expelled from the party, only to take up a position at the head of a revolutionary Trotskyite faction in the years before 1933. Reviled by the National Socialists as a Communist and a Jew, he was among the first to be arrested when Hitler rose to power and, after a long incarceration, was murdered in Buchenwald.
In Werner Scholem: A German Life Mirjam Zadoff has written a book that is at once a biography of an individual, a family chronicle, and the story of an entire era. It is an account of the ruptures within a society and of the growing insecurity in which German Jews lived between the two world wars—and especially of two brothers who chose opposing paths out of the shared conviction that there was no future for Jews in Germany after the First World War. While Werner pinned his hopes on a universal revolution he would never see, the younger Gerhard emigrated to Palestine where, as Gershom, he would choose revolutionary Zionism and the reanimation of ancient strains of Jewish mysticism.
List of Abbreviations
Prologue. The Politics of Love [A Wartime Wedding in Hanover · Of Versatile Disposition · Defiant Love · Prominently Forgotten · Quiet Heroines · On the Biographical Intention]
1. Two Utopias Seated at One Table [Betty's Premonition · Memories of the Summer of 1914 · Send the Old Men to War Instead · A Proletariat of Longing · Confused · Against Kaiser and Father · In "Orcus"—the Underworld · Family Systems]
2. In the Shadow of Revolution [Red Flags Waving Above the Old Palace · Revolutionaries and Kabbalists · The Language of the Barricades · The Revolution Devours Its Fathers · Deputy Judenbengel · With the "Kommunistens" · Precipitous Heights · In Alliance with Trotsky · Oh the Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear]
3. Exile in Germany [Unlawful Times · Wayward Paths to Exile · Imprisoned in the Tower of Berlin · The General's Daughters · A Kafkaesque Trial · In Goebbels's Hands · Like a Dead Man in His Grave · The Masks of Job]
Epilogue. The Idea of Heimat [Graves · Names · Who Is a Jew?]
"[A] rich, eminently readable and multilayered biography that does justice not only to the intimate personal details of a neglected life but, in doing so, lights up broad contours of German history from the Kaiserreich through Nazism and beyond."—The Times Literary Supplement
"This biography is a major contribution to German-Jewish Studies and to the history of German Communism in the 1920 and 1930s. The tone is sober, the approach factual rather than interpretative, allowing a great deal of ground to be covered and a rounded portrait to emerge… Zadoff’s biography, which has been fluently translated by Dona Geyer, is a fitting work of restitution for a life cut short unjustly."—Journal of Modern Jewish Studies
"A beautifully written, extremely moving, and brilliantly researched work. It is, on one level, a biography of Werner Scholem, whose odyssey through the Weimar Republic ultimately led to his death in 1940. But it is also the story of two brothers-the Communist, Werner, and Gershom, the committed Zionist and great Kabbalah scholar. Finally, it is a cultural history of German Jewry and the interwar Left in all its varieties. Mirjam Zadoff rightly concludes that there is no way to separate these strands, which all come together in this extraordinary book."—Anson Rabinbach, Princeton University