Thursday, May 26, 2016

Quote of the day - The City without Jews

“A human wall encircled the beautiful, calm, and noble parliament building. The wall extended from the city’s university and went all the way up to the Bellaria. This one morning in June at 10 o’clock, it seemed that the whole of Vienna had gathered to witness a historical event of unprecedented magnitude…. And again and again, an excited one would step forward and address the audience around him; and again and again, the same call could be heard:

‘Out with the Jews!’

…Suddenly, the masses cried out with one voice:

‘Let’s cheer for Dr. Karl Schwertfeger: hip, hip, hooray! Long live the liberator of Austria!’

…‘You’ll immediately hear what will happen. Our chancellor Dr. Karl Schwertfeger will explain meticulously the “Deportation of all Non-Aryan People from Austria Act’…

…‘Ladies and Gentlemen! I am here to introduce an act and an amendment to the constitution which together will do nothing less than to enforce the deportation of the non-Aryan, Jewish population of Austria.

…Throughout my five years as party leader, the so called liberal press and the social democratic press alike, or, in other words, all the newspapers published by Jews have tried to make me look like some sort of boogeyman. They portrayed me as an angry anti-Semite and as a fanatic hater of Judaism and the Jews. Today, now that the power of the press has come to an irrevocable end, I feel the urge to declare that all of this talk is nonsense. Oh, yes, I’m brave enough today to stand here on this very platform and to declare that I’m a friend of the Jews rather than their enemy!

…Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cherish the Jews. …I am prepared to admire the down-to-earth Jewish virtues, their extraordinary intelligence, their efforts to climb the social ladder, their exemplary sense of family, their internationality, and their ability to adapt to any milieu!

…Nonetheless, that’s exactly the reason why, with time, I came to believe that we, the non-Jews, can no longer live amongst and with the Jews. It’s either hook or crook. We have to either lose our Christian ways, our very essence, or renounce the Jews.

…They’ve taken control over our economy, our spiritual and our cultural life.

…And now that we hold the power in our hands, we’d be fools, no, our own enemies and the enemies of our children if we did not make use of this power and drive away the small minority that is destroying us. This has nothing to do with catchphrases and slogans such as “humanity,” “justice,” and “tolerance,” but with our mere existence, our very lives, and the lives of future generations!’

…And 10.000 throats answered from the street: ‘Out with the Jews!’

Dr. Schwertfeger let the excitement fade out, received handshakes from his fellow ministers, and then started talking about how the law would be implemented. One would proceed with utmost care and fairness and in accordance with the demands of humanity and the terms of the League of Nations….” - Hugo Bettauer, The City without Jews (1922)
The City without Jews is a satirical work describing the unforeseen consequences of the deportation of Jewish people from Austria. It’s not a great work of literature but it is a short, lively story with some darkly funny moments.* That it was written as political satire with no knowledge of what was to happen in Austria or to the author himself and the comedic treatment of the situation and the leading anti-Semites (allegedly based on real political figures) make it a difficult book to read. Its prescient details – the greeting “Heil!” gains popularity after the deportations, for example – leave a knot in your throat.

In an interesting coincidence, two of the characters who are government representatives are Secretary of the Treasury Trumm and Privy Councilor Tumpel, who argues shortly after the expulsion that “the Indogermanic naivety of our people ventures out again!”

In 1925, following open calls for his death in Austrian Nazi publications and the release of the Expressionist film based on the popular book, Bettauer was murdered by a young Nazi named Otto Rothstock. Pleading insanity, Rothstock was sent to a psychiatric institution, from which he was released within months.

* I’ve read some reviews suggesting that Bettauer at times falls into anti-Semitic stereotypes, but I believe they’re missing the point. As a satirist Bettauer – a Jewish man who converted to Evangelicalism in his late teens, possibly to try for a career in the Austrian military – was likely using and exaggerating these stereotypes for comedic and critical effect. This would seem to be confirmed by the stereotypes of Austrian Christians, who often state themselves that they have to expel the smart and adaptable Jews for whom, in their honest simplicity, they’re no match. Some of the funniest moments are in the descriptions of Vienna in the months and years after the Jews have been deported – style, glamour, and sophistication gone; the city giving way to “ruralization”; women wearing dirndl skirts (“which, indeed, look very nice when worn in the open country. Here, they looked like a bad joke or caricature”); cultural establishments turned into beer halls; businesses going to pot; and so on. I think what Bettauer is trying to do is to show how the anti-Semitic stereotypes implied a contrasting, and amusingly stereotypical, picture of non-Jewish Austrians.

No comments:

Post a Comment