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Displaced Heimats: The National Landscape in the works of German-Jewish

migr Filmmakers and Photographers


Ofer Ashkenazi

My research project examines the contemplation of the German concept of Heimat by Jewish
intellectuals and artists who were in exile between the years 1933 and 1945. Loosely translated
as homeland, the notion of Heimat traditionally embeds an organic territory, a landscape which
gives rise to the unique characteristics of the national community. Based on generic
representations of the local place as a metaphor for the imagined nation, Heimat iconography
was a vital component in the formation of modern German national identity. In its emphasis on
homogeneous authenticity, however, this concept had often appeared to undermine the
fundamentals of assimilation. Despite and perhaps because of this tension Heimat had become a
vital trope in the literature and visual art of German-speaking Jews. In focusing on the visual
aspects of Heimat-culture, my research analyzes the utilization of generic Heimat imagery in the
works of Jewish migrs. The focus on their participation in and criticism of the production of
Heimat imagery would highlight two hitherto understudied phenomena. First, it would explore
how the artistic contemplation of place enabled men and women of Jewish ancestry to play a
significant role in the German national identity discourse both before 1933 and after 1945.
Second, it would underscore an overlooked yet substantial influence of the Weimar-era Jewish
experience on the formation of post-1945 national cultures in the United States, Germany and
Israel. In emphasizing these two phenomena, this research will argue that the pre-1933 Jewish
confrontation with the imaginary German national space had a vital impact on the ways
national identities have been envisioned in the post-World War II context.

A synthetic, polysemic, and (therefore) ideologically volatile term, Heimat has played an
unparalleled role in the formation and expression of modern German identities. 1 This role has
intrigued several scholars, who emphasized the ways Heimat culture associated the natural
landscape unspoiled by modernitys displacement and alienation and the authentic way of
life of its inhabitants.2 Various scholars have indicated that by the end of the nineteenth century

several new trends in historiography, local politics, preservation societies, literature and visual
culture had constituted Heimat imagery that offered a unique linkage between the provincial
landscape and the (imagined) shared national characteristics.3 Heimat culture, in other words,
provided symbolism in which the local scenery functioned as a metaphor for the abstract
qualities of the nation and facilitated the imagination of the nation as a community [] in
harmony with nature.4 Nonetheless, rather than a mere reactionary longing for pre-modern
harmony, the imagined territory of Heimat reflected an attempt to reconcile the tensions that
characterize times of fundamental social, cultural and political transformations.5 As a modern
concept, therefore, Heimat provided ontological security [] a sense of belonging6 for the
individual and as a nation despite experiences of crisis, fragmentation and alienation.
The constructive role of Heimat in the German nation-building process notwithstanding,
it constituted a major challenge for effective Jewish assimilation in modern Germany. Long
before the Nazi regime had made Heimat a vehicle for the promotion of racist sentiments, it was
an effective means to define and exclude foreigners.7 The notion of Heimat presumes
authentic belonging to a place (a traditional social privilege, as Peter Blickle notes8), which is
essentially different than mere residency. It was also blind to legally defined rights, such as the
ones granted with Jewish emancipation. Furthermore, the association of Heimat with identity
presumes that the landscape of the Heimat and the routines of the community that inhabits it
shape the personality of the individual who genuinely belongs in it. Within a nationalist
paradigm that deems individual identity as an expression of the characteristics of the nation, or
the Volksgeist, the Heimat becomes the vital living center of the Volk and the manifestation of
its uniqueness.9According to this version of German nationalism the Heimat is a realm that gives
concrete (perceptible) form to the imagined difference of the Jew and to the exclusion of Jews.
Acknowledging its chauvinist potential (which was pointed out by many scholars of
modern German nationalism), my study will expose a different facet of the prevalent German
Heimat culture. I intend to emphasize that, parallel to its growing importance in the German
national identity discourse, Heimat has also become a keyword10 in the German-Jewish
identity discourse. The image of the Jew as Heimatlos, as the wandering Jew of history who
had no roots, recurs in many pre-1933 self-reflections on German-Jewish identity. 11 Yet, many
Jewish commentators sought to conceive a new understanding of Heimat which would allow
Jewish integration into the German space. Scholars who addressed this phenomenon habitually

underscored the popularity of Heinrich Heines perception as a model for the Jewish discovery of
a Heimat they could participate in: a spiritual or cultural Heimat, dissociated from a specific
location (and hence from specific original inhabitants).12 Opposing approach with a similar
objective rather emphasized the Jewish rootedness in the German landscape in a way that
would resist the depiction of the Jew as a foreigner (a guest or intruder) in the authentic living
center of the German nation.13 Of course, these positions were challenged by many Zionist
activists who dislocated the German-Jewish Heimat to the Land of Israel (the Hebrew term
Moledet sustains many of the sentiments and ideals attributed to Heimat).14
Deviating from these well documented approaches to Heimat, my study will focus on the
various Jewish endeavors to provide a new concept of space, which would preserve the essential
characteristics associated with the German Heimat and, at the same time, would allow and
encourage integration of foreigners in it. Some Jewish intellectuals participated in these
endeavors through an attempt to redefine the criteria for authentic belonging to the Heimat.
Thus, for instance, the Jewish critic Kurt Tucholsky argued that instead of representing historical
rootedness in the landscape, the German Heimat is the organic space of those who genuinely,
persistently love it. According to this seemingly extraordinary approach, the emotional ties with
the landscape enable the inclusion of those who otherwise would have been ostracized and
silenced by national chauvinism and racism.15 My research will argue that this ostensibly
incomparable understanding of Heimat in fact belonged to an extensive German-Jewish
endeavor to infuse Heimat imagery with progressive middle-class ideals in order to face the
challenge of exclusion. This endeavor was based on a systematic criticism of some stereotypical
characteristics of the national space (e.g., its homogeneity, its ties with the German Volk, its
timelessness, and the harmonious social life in it) together with willingness to embrace other
characteristics, such as the authentic belonging to the place; the influence of the space on the
identity-formation of its inhabitants; and the conception of the space as simultaneously a
metaphor and a concrete place. This combination resulted in a modernized notion of Heimat,
which redefined its locations and often ridiculed its romantic associations.16 Thus, for instance,
the novels of Georg Hermann, and the reflections of Walter Benjamin and Hans Kohn on these
novels, depict the modern city as a new (mostly) Jewish Heimat, in which the protagonist
authentically belongs because he is entirely uprooted; as Hans Kohn wrote, the big city, the
total negation of Heimat, turned out to be a Heimat for its dwellers.17

In this study I am interested mostly in the aforementioned approach to Heimat, which is


based on the strategy of appropriation (i.e., of internalizing cultural premises while expressing
them in a manner that revises their meaning18). It will show how the appropriation of Heimat
imagery had been manifested in the works of Jewish artists in Germany and in exile from the
aftermath of World War One to the final decades of the twentieth century. In emphasizing this
aspect in the works of German-speaking Jews this study would provide a new understanding of
their participation in the national identity discourse in East and West Germany, the U.S. and
Israel.

Ever since the late nineteenth century, Heimat culture had a significant visual component. My
study will underline this component and will focus on the Jewish appropriation of the notion of
Heimat in visual culture. My previous research project examined the key role of Jewish
experience in Germany on Weimar film and the development of its popular genres. 19 While the
analysis of the representations of space was not the focal point of this research, it noted on
several occasions the convoluted contemplation of Heimat in films made by Jewish filmmakers.
Similarly innovative and complex reflections on Heimat are visible, I would argue, in the works
of Jewish photographers of that time period. These observations will be the point of departure for
the proposed research. The main challenge in my previous research involved the analysis of
visual (and audio-visual) images within the historical context and as a way to explore hidden
aspects of the culture which produced and consumed these images. The methodology I utilized in
previous studies, and intend to employ here, includes a few parallel spheres of analysis. I will
employ, first, a comparative examination of numerous relevant documents (films, photographs),
in order to identify the use of similar visual metaphors and the similarities and differences in the
contexts these metaphors have been used. I will look for the references to generic Heimat
imagery and will underscore the deviation and de-contextualization of this imagery in the
analyzed works. I will then locate the specific employment and manipulation of Heimat imagery
within the particular contexts they were produced by the different artists (political, ideological,
institutional and biographical contexts). In order to assess the significance of such appropriated
images, I will then analyze the cultural context in which they have been consumed (their
advertisement in popular newspapers, interviews with artists, reviews, etc.).

I am interested especially in the works of German-Jewish migrs, who experienced in


different frameworks and different age-groups the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the
rise of Nazism. Many of these artists have immigrated to Berlin in the early years of the
twentieth century or were children of Jewish immigrants to Germany. Their adherence to and
revisions of the notion of Heimat should therefore be conceptualized within a transnational
context of cultural transfer.20 Writing the history of the Jewish appropriation of Heimat therefore
requires a research in several different archives in several countries. The main archives I intend
to visit during the years of this research project include the Bundesarchiv (Berlin);
Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv (Berlin); Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin); Bundesarchiv
(Koblenz); The Central Zionist Archive (Jerusalem); The Israel Museum (Jerusalem); The
Spielberg Film Archive (Jerusalem); and the Leo Baeck Institute (New York). I plan to conduct
the research in these and other archives within the first three years of the funded research. I
would examine the collections in Israeli institutions during the first year. The first and second
summers would be dedicated to a close inspection of relevant German archives. The third
summer would be dedicated to a research in North America (due to the unparalleled online
accessibility and search options of the catalogs of American-based collections, I pre-plan a
shorter time period for archival work in the U.S.).

Daat Hamkom research center is an ideal framework for such a multilayered research. The
various scholars in the center engage from different angles and within different historical and
cultural contexts similar themes, faced with similar challenges of forming a suitable
methodological framework. During the first couple of years of the funded research I intend to
initiate workshops that would include the members of the center and would systematically
discuss the theoretical foundations of the spatial-based approach taken by the center. The first of
these workshops was held in May 2014 under the title "Place and Displacement in German and
German-Jewish Culture." It discussed the implications of this approach in the different realms of
scholarship, from musicology to collective memory, critical theory and visual culture. Alongside
with internationally established scholar, the two workshops include graduate students, who are
encouraged to consider how our approach would enhance their research projects. In addition, the
research funding enables the invitation of the most significant scholars in the field of visual to
international workshops in Jerusalem, which would both enrich our research and expose it to the

international community of scholars. During the final two years of the funded project I intend to
prepare my findings for publication as a book length manuscript.
1

Johannes von Moltke, Heimat and History: Viehjud Levi, New German Critique , 87 (Autumn, 2002), 83-105,
here 87. See also: Thomas Lekan, Imagining the Nation in Nature: Landscape Preservation and German
Identity, 1885-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Andrea Bastian, Der Heimat-Begriff:
eine begriffsgeschichtliche Untersuchung in verschiedenen Funktionsbereichen der deutschen Sprache
(Tbingen: Niemeyer, 1995); Johannes von Moltke, No Place like Home: Locations of Heimat in German
Cinema, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
2
Bernhard Waldenfels, Heimat in der Fremde, in Heimat: Analysen, Themen, Perspektiven, ed. Will Cremer and
Ansgar Klein (Bonn: Bundeszenrale fr Politische Bildung, 1990), 109121.
3
Celia Applegate, A Nation of Provincials: the German Idea of Heimat (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1990); Alon Confino, The Nation as a local Metaphor: Wrttemberg, Imperial Germany, and National
Memory, 1871-1918 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
4
Alon Confino, The Nation as a Local Metaphor: Heimat, National Memory and the German Empire, 1871-1918,
History and Memory 5:1 (Spring-Summer 1993): 42-85, here 58, 64.
5
Johannes von Moltke, No Place like Home, 14. See also: John A. Williams, Turning to Nature in Germany:
Hiking, Nudism and Conservation, 1900-1940 (Stanford, 2007), esp. 219-257; Maiken Umbach, German
Cities and Bourgeois Modernism, 1890-1924 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 64-68.
6
Peter Blickle, Heimat: A Critical Theory of the German Idea of Homeland (Rochester, 2002), 78.
7
Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film, (New Haven, Harvard University Press, 1989)
165-166; Celia Applegate, A Nation of Provincials, 197-227.
8
Peter Blickle, Heimat, 77-78
9
Isaiah Berlin, Vico and Herder: Two Studies in the History of Ideas (New York: Viking, 1976), 195-205.
10
Raymond Williams, Keywords: The Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press,
1985), 15.
11
See, for instance, Meyer Kayserling, Die Juden als Patrioten (Berlin: Albert Katz, 1898), 4; Arnold Zweig, Juden
auf der deutschen Bhne (Berlin: Welt-Verlag, 1928), 25-26; Jean Amery, How Much Home Does a Person
Need? At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1983). 50; Hans Otto Horch, Deutsch-jdische Weltliteratur: Neue
Dokumentationen und Handbcher zu Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka und Paul Celan, Aschkenas Zeitschrift
fr Geschichte und Kultur der Juden 17/2007, H.1; See a critical discussion in Henryk M. Broder, A Jew in
the New Germany (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 37-42.
12
For instance: Jakob Wassermann, Mein Weg als Deutscher und Jude (Berlin: G. Fischer Verlag, 1921), 20-21. See
also: Anat Feinberg, Abiding in a Haunted Land: The Issue of Heimat in Contemporary German-Jewish
Writing, New German Critique, 70 (Winter, 1997): 161-181; Uta Larkey, New Places, New Identities: The
(Ever) Changing Concept of Heimat, German Politics & Society, Volume 26:2 (Summer 2008): 24-44.
13
For instance: Berthold Rosenthal, Heimatgeschichte der badischen Juden: seit ihrem geschichtlichen Auftreten bis
zur Gegenwart (Horst Bissinger, 1927. See also: Paul Mendes-Flohr, German-Jewish History in Modern
Times, Vol. 4 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 157. See also: Martin Hirsch, Chronik der
Familie Hirsch, quoted in Miriam Gebhardt, Das Familiengedchtnis: Erinnerung im deutsch-jdischen
Brgertum 1890 bis 1932 (Sttutgart: F. Steiner, 1999), 73-4; Elizabeth Loentz, The Literary Double Life of
Clementine Krmer: German-Jewish Activist and Bavarian Heimat and Dialect Writer, William C.
Donahue, Martha Helfer, Nexus 1: Essays in German Jewish Studies (2011): 109-136. Nils Roemer, German
Cities, Jewish Memories: The Story of Worms (Brandeis University Press, 2010); Michael Brenner, Derek J.
Penslar, In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria, 1918-1933
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
14
For instance: Arnold Zweig, Das neue Kanaan: Eine Untersuchung ber Land und Geist zu 15 Steinzeichnungen
von Hermann Struck (Berlin: Horodisch & Marx, 1925); Ritchie Robertson, Edward Timms, Theodor Herzl
and the origins of Zionism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997); Moshe Zimmermann, Yotam
Hotam (eds.), Zweimal Heimat: Die Jeckes zwischen Mitteleuropa und Nahos (Frankfurt am Main: Beeren,
2005)
15
Kurt Tucholsky, Heimat, Deutschland, Deutschland ber alles, Antje Bonitz, Sarah Hans (eds.),
Gesamtausgabe (Band 12) (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2004), 226-231, here 230.

16

From the book of Jost Herman.


Hans Kohn, Der Roman Des Entwurzelten. Georg Hermann: Die Nacht des Dr. Herzfeld, Gustav Krojanker
(ed.), Juden in der deutschen Literatur: Essays ber zeitgenossische Schriftsteller (Berlin: Welt-Verlag,
1922), 27-40, here 33; Arthur Eloesser, Die Strasse meiner Jugend (Berlin: Das Arsenal, 1919), 7-8, 79. See
discussion in: Todd Herzog, Crime Stories: Criminalistic Fantasy and the Culture of Crisis in Weimar
Germany (New York: Berghahn Books, 2009), 16-21; Erhard Schtz, Berlin: A Jewish Jeimat in the Turn of
the Century? Heimat, nation, fatherland: the German sense of belonging, Jost Hermand, James D. Steakley
(eds.), (New York: Peter Lang, 1996), 57-86.
18
See discussion of appropriation in Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1984).
19
Ofer Ashkenazi, Weimar Film and Modern Jewish Identity (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012).
20
On cultural transfer as a transdisciplinary category, see Lothar Jordan and Bernd Kortlaender, Nationale
Grenzen und internationaler Austausch (Niemeyer, 1995); Ulf Hannerz, Transnational Connections: Culture,
People, Places (New York, 1996); John Tomlinson, Globalization and Culture (Chicago, 1999); Homi K.
Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York, 2004); Thorsten Ltzler, Internationalisierung in Global
Communications eine Einfhrung, Strategisch Kommunizieren und Fuehren, Claudia Langen, Holger
Sievert und Daniela Bell (eds.), (Gtersloh, 2007); Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity (Oxford, 1988);
Frederick Buell, National Culture in the New Global System (Baltimore, 1994).
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