by Uwe K. Faulhaber
Jarrell C. Jackman and Carla M. Borden, eds. The Muses Flee Hitler: Cultural Transfer and Adaptation 1930-1945. Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1983. 347 pages.
Until the late 1970s the emigre writer was considered the symbol of the whole exile experience of the German-Jewish intellectual. Initially, researchers had targeted this group because it was extremely accessible. Authors, reporters, poets, and essayists, in short, all those whose profession and avocation were anchored in writing, had produced a large quantity of readily available material in the form of autobiographies, articles, diaries, letters, and personal reminiscences. In addition, the researchers themselves were for the most part either emigre writers or literary scholars at universities whose main interests lay in literary studies. Given the sources and the preponderance of literary inquiry in the field, it was unavoidable that certain misconceptions about the true nature of the Jewish emigre experience arose. The Muses Flee Hitler is an important step in redirecting research to include a broader spectrum of Jewish intellectuals in flight from Hitler's Europe. The volume is a collection of 19 papers culled from two remarkable symposia held at the Smithsonian Institution in the winter and fall of 1980 to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Albert Einstein.
At the February sessions, scholars focused on the exodus of the Jewish intelligentsia from Hitler's Germany and the transfer of the best of central European culture to the United States. Alan Beyerchen set the stage by tracing the virulent antisernitic strain in German culture from the nineteenth century to the Weimar Republic, the persecution of non- Aryan intellectuals in the 1920s and '30s, their expulsion and flight overseas. Subsequent lecturers profiled a great variety of academics, artists, and professionals who had fled to these shores in search of a new beginning. The February meeting recognized and celebrated the resilience of the exiled European intellectuals and assessed their lasting impact on American life and letters.
At the December symposium speakers confirmed, though indirectly, the well accepted notion that the United States of the 1930s and '40s, even with her severe shortcomings, was the safest haven for those few fortunate enough to reach her shores. Officially sanctioned antisernitism and anti- intellectualism in Canada, xenophobic war hysteria in Britain, and Swiss deportation of illegal aliens back into the hands of the Gestapo filled the December descriptions of the grim realities of Europe. Bleaker still were the depictions of ghetto life in Shanghai and of the corruption of South American consular officials leading to yet uncounted numbers of lost lives. Despite some potentially controversial, albeit well-founded and justifiable criticism, the December speakers remained remarkably restrained and united in the spirit of celebrating the successes of the emigres.
The general heading of the second session, "Cultural Adaptation in World Wide Prospective," unfortunately promised more than it could deliver. While the February session dealt with exiles in the United States only, the December session attempted to deal with the entire rest of the world. The seven contributions of this section could hardly do justice to the situation in such disparate areas as Switzerland, Britain, Canada, China, the Caribbean, and South America. Furthermore, the Appendix (pp. 315-320) lists additional countries, i.e., Australia, New Zealand, Soviet Union, Turkey, and Brazil which, regrettably, considering the high quality of the other lectures, do not appear in the present volume.
The general nature of the symposium and the extrinsic constraints which the subject matter places on the researcher forced the authors to inform their readers within well-established factual parameters rather than to break new ground. Since the entire area of Holocaust studies is a rather new field and predisposed to ideological and political interference, it behooves serious scholars to stop and assess both fact and method frequently. Happily, all contributors shared to some degree a keen sense of methodology and scholarly propriety, so that all 19 essays taken individually or in concert give the reader an indication of the status of Holocaust studies at the beginning of the 1980s.
The subtitle of the volume, Adaptation and Cultural Transfer 1930-1945, suggests the central concerns of the conferences. How did the German Jewish intellectuals adapt to their new milieu? How did these artists and intellectuals fare once they had found a place in the foreign country? What impact did these men and women have on their host society? And finally, how did the host societies react to the new arrivals?
Given the diversity of the symposium and the expressed purpose of celebrating the successes of the intellectuals' flight from Hitler, one cannot expect complete answers to the proposed questions from a volume like this. All one can hope for, and all one receives, are preliminary conclusions based on a sampling of the many fields and disciplines represented here.
First among the successes stood a group of intellectual giants who did not seem to be subject to the normal factors governing adaptation and cultural transfer. The biographies of Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and Mies van der Rohe demonstrate the great impact of these men on their environment without compensatory accommodation by them to that environment. These men were afforded the luxury of a choice of environments. Gerald Holten demonstrates this in his article "The Migration of Physicists to the United States." He shows that while the British and the French governments were actively courting Einstein, he deliberately chose to come to the United States. Einstein's choice, according to Holten, had been made as early as the 1920s. Einstein had been fascinated by what he saw in the United States on a trip in 1921. After his return to Germany he published his impressions on his American trip. In this essay Einstein dealt with three areas that had made the United States attractive to him. First, he was particularly taken by the sense of community, volunteerism, and optimism about the future among the younger generation of American students. Second, he noted that science and technology had made great strides. With the resources available to it, the scientific community in the United States had attained a clear lead over Germany. Third, the organizational efficiency and the pragmatic approach of the American scientist struck a familiar chord in Albert Einstein. Long before European scientists, for instance, had begun serious work on his theory of relativity, American scientists were publishing on the subject. Here in the United States, he found a spirit of antimetaphysical investigation quite different from the ideologically encumbered research at home. Holten suggests that Einstein's later decision to stay in the United States was predominantly influenced by his earlier trips to this country because he had found a home in American physics.
Einstein was one of the very few Jewish intellectuals who could make a deliberate choice at that time. He opted for what he saw as the best possible environment for his work on the basis of contacts and personal observations. Long and intimate acquaintance with the United States and with colleagues in physics had facilitated his cultural and personal adaptation to his new country. Einstein was able to participate fully in the American community of scientists and to help shape modem science and modern life.
The case of Mies van der Rohe has striking similarities to that of Albert Einstein. Mies van der Rohe arrived in this country by choice and initiated an important course on architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Shortly thereafter he began to put his ideas on the skyscraper into reality. Again we find, as in the case of Einstein, that the American environment was ready for the ideas that Mies van der Rohe brought with him. In 1919 he had designed a skyscraper for the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. It was a brand new concept for a skyscraper based on American tradition, but already singularly his own. It was based on his ideas of using a steel cage and attaching a skin of glass to it. This design for the office building on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, which was never built, is the core of all of Mies's later designs, which grew from two-dimensional sketches into three dimensions once he arrived at these shores. As Christian F. Otto demonstrates in "American Skyscrapers and Weimar Modern: Transactions between Fact and Idea," American architecture was eminently receptive to Mies's revolutionary designs. It was the fact that he found wide acceptance for his ideas that made him so successful.
The third giant on the list is striking because of his dissimilarities. Although he, too, elected to come to the United States, Thomas Mann did not participate in American life and culture the way Einstein and van der Rohe did. He lived in splendid isolation in the Pacific Palisades and rarely mingled with the American luminaries of politics and culture. While in California, Thomas Mann, seemingly untouched by his environment and by the difficulties of exile, completed his two masterpieces: Joseph and His Brothers, which he had begun prior to exile and the most German of his great novels, Dr. Faustus. Perhaps it is not surprising in this context that the one man among these three who was least involved with matters American left after the war and ended his days in Switzerland. Albert Einstein and Mies van der Rohe, on the other hand, stayed here until their death.
In his introductory remarks in "The Movement of People in a Time of Crisis," Herbert A. Strauss states as his hypothesis that the reception of the emigre was often "influenced by the degree to which his discipline was understood by the state of knowledge and research interests in the institutions or academic departments open to him . . ." (pp. 55- 56). Einstein and van der Rohe were giants in their field before they came. The immensity and importance of Einstein's work in theoretical physics was clearly understood by the American scientific community before his arrival. Similarly, Mies van der Rohe's ideas about a new kind of skyscraper, to which he eventually gave his name, had made the rounds in American architectural circles and were well understood before he arrived at these shores. On the other hand, while Thomas Mann had been translated and had indeed found a large reading public in the Untied States, the nature of his craft was based on an intimate knowledge of German, thus precluding a reception rivaling that of native American authors; hence, when Thomas Mann arrived, he was still regarded as the representative of a national culture, unlike Einstein and van der Rohe, who clearly represented international disciplines.
In the second group of success stories celebrated by the symposium belong those men and women who had worked at German universities and research institutes. Because of their positions in the German academic system, these academics were in the forefront of intellectual and cultural life in Germany. When Hitler came to power, they were among the first groups of intellectuals to be dismissed from their jobs. For many of these university professors who were forced to flee, finding another academic position was their only hope for survival. The lectures deal mainly with four groups who sought academic positions in the United States: chemists, mathematicians, musicologists, and physicists. Immigration to the United States by university professors was facilitated by a specific exemption for university teachers from the usual quotas in the Immigration Act of 1924. In order to take advantage of this special provision of the Immigration Act of 1924 it was, however, necessary for these potential immigrants to circumvent the economic restrictions of the law, particularly the well-known "L.P.C." clause ("likely to become a public charge"), which in fact meant that in order to enter this country the academics needed a firm commitment of a position at a university or research institution.
Placement of these individuals depended on three interrelated factors: first, the economy; second, the social and institutional environment; and third, the discipline in which the individual had worked or the discipline which that individual wished to enter in the United States. New arrivals were faced by a bleak economic picture in the United States. The job market at the university level was in a severely depressed state. Student enrollments had decreased in the 1930s due to a drop in the birth rate during World War I, and as many as 2,000 American college and university instructors had lost their jobs between 1933 and 1936. Herbert A. Strauss estimates that approximately the same number were thought to have lost their jobs in Germany. One of the most important questions discussed at American universities by both administrators and professors themselves was the question whether foreigners should be given university jobs which by all rights belonged to natives. The debate was often heated and tinged with xenophobic resentments and a clear and strong current of antisemitism.
In his superb analysis of the problem, Nathan Reingold in his essay "Refugee Mathematicians in the United States, 1933-1941: Reception and Reaction" shows how strong the anti-Jewish sentiment really was in many of the foremost American institutions. He demonstrates that even placing American-Jewish mathematicians in a fight job market was not an easy matter. Jews were rejected for perceived unacceptable behavior patterns. There was typically only one Jewish member per department. In the case of an addition to that department, other members felt that certain dangers would arise from hiring a second Jew.
When Solomon Lefschetz was elected president of the American Mathematical Society various leading members of the Society expressed fears that the new president would work for his own race; that this was a further sign of political interference by Jews in the United States; and that now Jewish members, Solomon Lefschetz included, would become "very cocky, very racial" (p. 212). The problem was obviously compounded when the job seeker was not only Jewish but also a foreigner who did not even speak English fluently.
Academic administrators were, as a group, against the hiring of foreigners for undergraduate instruction. First, they saw the lack of English as the biggest barrier, expressing their reservations because of the language difficulties, and second, they agreed that the differences in methods of teaching and in dealing with students precluded emigres from teaching in the undergraduate classroom. This general agreement among university administrators left only graduate schools and research institutes as potential openings for the newly arrived academics. That most of them nevertheless succeeded is in great part due to their competence in their disciplines as well as how their accomplishments in those disciplines were perceived by their American counterparts.
Nathan Reingold's lecture on mathematics contains the most comprehensive and the best documented examples in the whole anthology. He shows, through the use of heretofore unpublished material, that it was a few individuals, foremost among them Oswald Veblen and R.G.D. Richardson, and the American Mathematical Society who were responsible for most of the successful placement of the emigres Early on, the American Mathematical Society had taken a position opposing Hitler and thus was in the forefront of promulgating the policy of finding placement for emigres The members decided to place no more than one to three leading mathematicians at any one university in order to avoid "the danger of causing friction and even fanning flames of antisernitism in this country" (p. 213).
Other incoming emigres who could not find firm offers at universities were supported by two-year research grants primarily through the Emergency Committee and the Rockefeller Foundation. The hope was that after two years, members with Rockefeller grants and attached as research fellows to some institution would be able to find a job with the institution. Through 1939, 51 mathematicians from central Europe were placed and by the end of the war the number estimated by Nathan Reingold was somewhere between 120 and 150.
Even the most careful screening of prospective universities and the fame of the applicant, however, did not prevent some problems. Richard Courant, for example, presented a special problem. When Richard Courant, one of the finest minds in applied mathematics of the era, was proposed for a position at Berkeley, the new department chairman roundly rejected him in favor of an American by arguing that too many foreigners were receiving posts at American universities thus blocking the advancement of promising native scholars. Veblen argued in favor of Courant and expressed what seems to have been the opinion of most scholars in the American academic community, namely, that the potential contribution which these foreigners could make to the advancement of American culture was immense and should not be undercut by parochial considerations, that merit was more important than place of birth. But before Veblen tried to force the issue at Berkeley, he had helped Richard Courant to secure a position at New York University.
As the 1930s progressed and the true plight of the emigres began to emerge, Veblen and others in his field switched more and more to a purely humanitarian point of view and began placing mathematicians at four-year liberal arts institutions as well as junior colleges.
The situation in chemistry differed slightly from that of mathematics. Chemistry had traditionally absorbed a large number of German chemists with most immigrants finding a place in industry. Academic institutions had not welcomed chemists and the few who found a place in an American university were special indeed.
Carl and Gerty Corey and Erwin Brand, for instance, worked their way through clinical medicine into academe. All three had an unusual specialization in molecular biology to offer. P. Thomas Carroll shows in "Immigrants in American Chemistry" that those with interdisciplinary specialties in biochemistry and molecular biology found a place in American institutions. Others, like the Nobel laureate James Frank, were originally in physics and turned to physical chemistry after their arrival. Some of these emigre physicists turned chemists were to play key roles in the development of the atomic bomb. In all, Carroll cites eight Nobel laureates and future Nobel laureates who managed to break into academic life in chemistry.
The younger groups of immigrant chemists who had held junior positions at German institutions or who had not yet started their academic career when Hitler came to power, could not find positions at institutions of higher learning. Typically, these men had to make their way in American industry. As a rule those men and women with either international reputations or specialties in fields that were virtually unknown but needed in the United States had little difficulty in re-establishing their academic careers.
Musicology represents yet another variation on the special problems confronting emigre academics. While chemistry, mathematics, and physics had made great strides in this country during the 1920s and early 1930s, musicology hardly existed as a discipline prior to the arrival of the emigre musicologists. For all intents and purposes it was the emigre musicologist who founded the discipline in the United States. In 1934 when the American Musicological Society was founded, its ranks consisted of nine native founding members. In 1980 when Professor Schwarz was giving his lecture "The Music World in Migration," the membership of the American Musicological Society had swelled to over 3,000 members. The rapid growth was due to an enthusiastic group of emigres who obtained jobs at the American colleges and universities teaching one or two courses in musicology and related subjects. These professors had come often from staid European institutions and found themselves teaching lowbrow music appreciation courses to college freshmen who for the most part could not even read music.
The success or failure of finding a job in academe in the United States for a German Jewish emigre depended on several clearcut factors. First, there was the economic situation surrounding the potential institution; second, there was the question of domestic competition in the person's field; third, there was the degree to which Jews were accepted in the departments; finally, it was a question of being able to overcome the language barrier and to function in English in the graduate and undergraduate classroom.
Artists, musicians, performers and writers make up the third group of successes celebrated by the symposium. As a group they faced the most immediate danger when Hitler took over. Whether in the concert hall, on stage, in print, or in the studio, these men and women were the most highly visible Jewish group in German society. Therefore, they were the first to be dismissed from their jobs and to be persecuted when the regime began to remove "racially impure" Germans from all aspects of German life.
When an artist was expelled from Germany he often lost more than just a job-he lost his means of survival, particularly if his craft was dependent to a significant degree on the German language. Even though these artists had assumed the role of outsiders or had deliberately lived in a self-imposed exile in order to create, they had relied on a network of German social support ranging from agents to publishers to an audience, providing the means for economic survival.
When they arrived in the United States, they often faced a doubly stressful situation. On the one hand, in order to create they needed to continue to live on the edge of society, while on the other hand, in order to re-establish the social support that made their existence possible, they needed to adapt as quickly as possible. For many of them the stress was too great. A large group of artists, especially those who were dependent on German, lived in total isolation from the American society and eked out a meager living supported by volunteer organizations or welfare. Those artists who had managed to acquire an international reputation while in Germany had a much greater chance to re-establish themselves and to continue their careers in the United States.
In her essay on Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee, Cynthia Jaffee McCabe demonstrates that even rescue often depended on one's international fame. When Varian Fry arrived in August 1940 in Marseille, he carried with him a master list of some of the leading artists in Europe whom he and his colleagues had selected for rescue. Boris Schwarz points out that the most successful groups of artists to come to the United States during this period were musicians and composers . Foreign-born performers had traditionally dominated much of American musical life and in this respect adaptation and assimilation were easier for them than for other groups of artists. Many of the exiles had had guest engagements in the United States, had made contacts, and were received by friends and colleagues who aided them in continuing their careers. Their craft was an international medium.
Even among writers, however, the medium was not necessarily a barrier to success. Jarrell C. Jackman emphasizes in his essay "German Emigres in Southern California" that many writers indeed were successful, if they were willing to shed their uncompromising attitude toward American society and Hollywood in particular. The list of successes is impressive. Lion Feuchtwanger and Franz Werfel are two examples of writers who managed to continue to write in German and to support themselves in a life style that was far above the average living standard for American writers.
The participants in this symposium again suggested four general areas which were crucial to the success of the emigre artist in the United States. First, there was his reputation; second, his linguistic ability; third, the market opportunities for his work; and last but not least, his temperament. The degree of international reputation that the artist had already achieved when he arrived in the United States bore directly on the extent to which he had to adjust himself to the new milieu. Arriving artists who enjoyed a large following in the United States had to make the fewest adjustments and compromises after they arrived at its shores. Lesser known artists, who had no international reputation beyond the German-speaking countries, were often forced to assimilate completely to the American life style in order to survive. The movie industry in Hollywood, for instance, which was responsible for absorbing many of the German artists, was notorious for its disrespect to the new arrivals. Many of the German writers who cranked out scripts for film productions in Hollywood were resentful of the treatment they got from their American bosses, who were often intellectually their inferiors.
The special problems that emigre writers had with language, the loss of daily contact with their native language and the inability to adapt the English medium to their craft, have been the subject of much research. The contributors to this symposium repeatedly brought up other groups of intellectuals for whom dealing with language was also important. Breaking the language barrier was crucial not only for writers and actors but equally so for academics who sought teaching positions at universities. For most groups, learning English was a significant step to full assimilation and full participation in American life.
Relatively little was said by the lecturers about the economic details involved in artistic success. The market forces governing this field certainly deserve a closer look, and it is an area in which in-depth research is yet to be done.
Among the variables governing the successes of German Jewish emigres in this country, none is more striking and less suited for generalization than the intellectuals' psychological makeup and ideology. They all arrived with some preconceived notions about the United States, and all were forced to bring these notions into line with the realities of life in the States. Success in the overwhelming number of cases meant compromise, and it was generally the more flexible person who succeeded best. Arnold Schoenberg, who had the potential for great success, was initially his own worst enemy. Unwilling to adapt, ever complaining about the lack of performances of his music in the United States, for many years he was forced to five modestly as a composition teacher at U.C.L.A. Toward the end of his life, when he had become bilingual and had moderated some of his views, he received the kind of recognition and reward he so desperately craved. As with other groups of emigres though, the real test of how successful their adaptation had been came after the war. Those artists who had planted firm roots in the United States stayed. Those who had been unable to assimilate or those who could not succeed in their craft, left to return to their native countries after the war.
The success of Jewish intellectuals in adapting to and participating in American society was governed by four correlated factors. The first, most implacable factor was the economy. Most of the emigres arrived in the United States when it was in the deepest depression in its history. The economic situation affected all their lives and in most cases modified their expectations. Opportunities improved significantly in the early 1940s when the economy came out of its down turn and was shifting to a fast growing wartime economy. The second factor was the reputation a refugee had in his field and the importance given to that discipline. In addition, scholars who could readjust their specialization or who brought new expertise to this country were apt to be most successful. Third, the knowledge of English and the ability to communicate with Americans was often a key consideration for employment.
Prior to this symposium the consensus had been that the language barrier had in large measure been responsible for the failure of the German writer in exile. Although this was true, these essays amply illustrate that writers were not the only group that suffered from a lack of native communication skills. Many a scholar did not get a teaching position at a university because of his inability to speak English fluently. Fourth, it was the native prejudice against foreigners and Jews that influenced hiring decisions. In addition to a number of blatant examples of overt antisemitism, the speakers provided numerous examples of hidden bias draped in economic and linguistic arguments.
All four of these determinants for success cut across disciplines and specialties. There was not one set of factors for musicians and different ones for chemists, physicists, writers, or composers. All emigres were subjected to similar forces once they arrived in this country. This common situation should be reflected in all research in this field. Researchers can only use a comparative approach to do the subject justice. The lecturers represented in The Muses Flee Hitler offer viable answers because the anthology affords the reader a distinctly synchronic view.
Although the contributions of the December part of the symposium lacked the cohesion and the perspective of the essays on the United States, two of them deserve special mention. The first is "Canada and the Refugee Intellectual, 1930-1939" by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. The authors investigate Canadian immigration policy in the 1930s and show that the country was virtually closed to Jewish immigration during those years. Canadian immigration policy was antisernitic on its face and as applied. Jews needed special permission to enter the country. These permits were rarely issued. There was a strong antisernitic sentiment from the Prime Minister down to the immigration official at the dock. The authors assert that this bias was not limited to official immigration policy alone. They show that there were quotas for Jews at the university level, in the professions, and in industry. They conclude that in these years Canada lost a unique opportunity to move ahead in the sciences and the arts by welcoming Jewish intellectuals from Central Europe.
Similarly, but under vastly different cultural conditions, the countries of the Caribbean basin also benefited little from the flight of the muses from Hitler's Germany. Judith Laikin Elkin in her piece "The Reception of the Muses in the Circum-Caribbean" traces the immigration policies of countries in that region. Despite the cultural pluralism of these countries, Jews were generally not welcomed. Colombia and Venezuela demanded certificates of baptism as part of their immigration application. The Dominican Republic received a sizable group of Jewish refugees, but only in agriculture. The only country in the region where European intellectuals made any kind of an impact was at Panama University, which at one time had 11 German professors on its faculty. Elkin sees little permanent impact of the refugees upon their host society. The region was generally regarded by the refugees as a temporary haven, and almost all of them, with the exception of some Jews who remained in the Dominican Republic, left during and shortly after World War 11. Elkin deals with a vast region and is necessarily general and tentative in her conclusions, but she makes a valuable contribution to a field that has received little attention. Before these conclusions can be affirmed, a lot more research needs to be done on the Caribbean and on Central and South America.
The symposia and resultant volume are fitting tributes to the one hundredth birthday of Albert Einstein, since he was acknowledgedly the finest mind to escape Hitler's madness, with the greatest impact in enriching the cultural life of the United States. At the outset Herbert A. Strauss tried to place the whole refugee experience in a historical context. At the end of his article, he looked at the flight of the muses from Germany from a futuristic point of view and concluded that future historians will mark the vast transfer of scientific,and cultural knowledge from Central Europe to the United States as the starting point of Atlantic civilization. Ultimately, then, the impact of the cultural transfer on a global scale might be regarded as the beginning of internationalism in Western culture with the United States as its hub. Ironically, it is precisely that kind of cultural internationalism which Hitler and his henchmen sought to destroy when they expelled, persecuted, and eliminated German Jewish intellectuals. Their failure is the greatest cause for celebration. The editors, Jarrell C. Jackman and Carla M. Borden, are to be congratulated for helping to tell this success story.
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