German as Pariah, Jew as Pariah

Anson Rabinbach

in Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780520220560
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520923669 | DOI:
German as Pariah, Jew as Pariah

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The correspondence between Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers that began in 1926 and ended only with Jaspers's death in 1969 attests to a friendship that underwent periods of greater and lesser intensity, that often reached heights of intellectual brilliance, but that also descended to trivia and gossip, not to mention an inexhaustible variety of physical ailments. This long friendship between such temperamentally opposite individuals, the passionately engaged and identified Jewess and the Protestant German patriot who once called himself a “norddeutsche Eisklotz,” a North German ice block, had many facets: mentor and student, older man and younger woman, Heidelberg professor and American public intellectual, each of which would alone merit discussion. This chapter focuses on one perhaps understated yet striking theme in their letters and in Jaspers's writings of the mid-1940s, the juxtaposition — at times explicit, at times implicit — of the status of Jews and Germans as pariahs. It proposes that Arendt's interpretation of the Jews as a pariah people — which appears at the very outset of their correspondence and is in her (and Jaspers's) judgment a “negative” concept — became, after the war, the source of Jaspers's hope for a new, post-Hitlerian German identity. This transposition is most clearly expressed in Jaspers's Die Schuldfrage (1946), which appeared in English as The Question of German Guilt, where, in an astonishing reversal, the Germans are described as a people deprived of their statehood and excluded from the community of nations because of the enormous suffering they had inflicted on others, above all, the Jews.

Keywords: correspondence; Jews; Germans; pariahs; German identity; Die Schuldfrage; Karl Jaspers

Chapter.  6100 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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