Friday, September 21, 2012

Up Stream by Ludwig Lewisohn

This is an autobiography of the modern drama critic.  His story is an extraordinary experience of prejudice and a repudiation of assimilation.  Lewisohn was a founding member of Brandeis University and became an ardent Zionist.

His story is amazing because as a young German immigrant his irreligious father encourages his son's acculturation and assimilation into Charleston, South Carolina's gentile community.  Lewisohn becomes a Church going American and is rudely awakened when in spite of explaining his allegiance to Church and country he is labeled a Jew.  When he protests, he is told that his features are "too Jewish" to be ignored!  He tries very hard to overcome the bias against him and when he gets into Columbia College and gets a doctorate he is told that there will not be any job for him.  He is forced to take a job at Ohio in the German department instead of settling down in his beloved field of literature.

He loses his job when his pacifism during WWI is interpreted as sympathy for Germany; his loyalty is questioned and he feels the alienation of one socially shunned.  He comes to the conclusion that the Jew will never be accepted in a non-Jewish environment and encourages a Jewish environment (not necessarily religious) and a Zionist outlook.  He looks toward his Jewish heritage for comfort and finds inspiration in being Jewish.

I am not sure whether his story will resonate with contemporary readers.  His experience seems to coincide with the rise of American isolationism and the curtailing of immigration.  He bore the brunt of its effects.  However, the injustice that he experienced is 'eye opening' since one does not expect such things to happen in America!  Lewisohn's fictional account repudiating assimilation called The Island Within,(also reviewed on this Blog) is a better articulated argument, however, the actual history is worth reading.

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