Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger

This novel published in 1934, profoundly and accurately describes the brutal control of Germany by the National Socialists (Nazis).  It predicts the program of destroying the Jewish people that eventually becomes known as the Holocaust. What is chilling about this novel are the feelings of dread that a typical Jewish family experience during the gradual Nazi takeover of the country.

The story revolves around a family who have been sustained by a successful discount furniture concern. One brother runs the business, one is a scientist and one is a scholar dilettante.  Each person becomes entangled with the dreadful web of Nazi persecution.  The store must "Germanize" because Jewish owned businesses were outlawed (Note that in real life the famed Warburg bank had to change its name to continue doing business)  The scientist must close down his laboratory and the scholar must flee.

The social pressure to conform and contort the truth toward Nazi doctrines is chilling. The power grab and its assertion over the people is crushing.  When a son of one of the Oppermanns delivers a lecture that ultimately argues in Germany's favor but puts forth initial arguments that fault Germany, he is immediately silenced, rebuked and demanded to be punished; his freedom of speech squelched.  His teacher's outburst is totally irrational jumping to the conclusion that the lecture rejected Germany's glorious past when in fact it did not.  The boy becomes more and more socially isolated as his classmates become indoctrinated and cling to Nazi propaganda and outlook.

What comes out of this novel is the frightening realization of those whose family settled in Germany for generations are homeless.  What is one to do when one is unjustly accused of betrayal of his home?  The physical abuse of the Jewish people is maddening because those drunk with power negate truth and justice.  Terror and brute force become the vehicles for power. The brothers struggle for survival with little prospects.  Zionism and the quest for Palestine become an acute solution for some but most can't come to terms that Germany is not a welcome place anymore.

I personally can not imagine my rights of citizenship arbitrarily stripped.  Prescient in 1934, this book inadvertently underscores the role of the State of Israel as a refuge for those homeless. It is an outstanding accurate description and expression of the despair of Germany's Jewish community.

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