Saturday, December 22, 2018

Kurt Tucholsky and the Hereafter

On December 21 in 1935, Kurt Tucholsky, the famed German Jewish satirist, journalist, poet, author, and playwright took his own life in Swedish exile. Tucholsky had left Germany for France, then Sweden even before the Nazis came to power, knowing that they would be after him and that their rise would lead to dictatorship and war. He had tried to defend his editor Carl von Ossietzky who was persecuted for treason, but to no avail. His books were among the first to be burned at the Opera Square in Berlin.

But the acid critic also had a whimsical, spiritual side, and we experience it in the book "Hereafter. We Were Sitting on a Cloud, Dangling Our Legs". "Hereafter" was originally a loose series of humorous short stories. Tucholsky wrote them between 1925 and 1928, while he was on assignment in Paris for his paper, Die Weltbühne (The World Stage). This is the first time these stories are collected in a book — adorned with pictures of little angels from Berlin's cemeteries —, and also the first time they are translated into English.

In these stories, Tucholsky imagines himself after he died, sitting on a cloud, and watching earth from afar. Right from the start he finds a friend who shows him around in heaven; clouds one can mess with and crumble, floating spirits and grumpy ghosts, masquerade balls on lunar satellites, quivering astral lights, meteors flying by and twinkling stars, with an avant-garde Earth Cinema, a Mountain of Laughter with "cascades of laughter, snickering streams, bleating laughter and the gleeful laughter of children, and trickles of laugh-tears dripping by," and a sanatorium where the water itself is being cured. And, of course, "He" is invisibly present, a pedantic God who counts everything uses the weather to punish people and invites interesting new souls to receptions. Tucholsky's Alter Ego and his newly found friends also talk a lot about the life they left behind, and how it was when they still had it. It sounds like this:

“The strangest part is,” I said, “to think that you did this thing or that for the last time in your life. One of those times had to be the last time. One year on February fourteenth was the last time you got into a car …And no one knows, of course. Only operas have finales. You get into a car, comfy, drive, get back out, and never know that’s the last time. Because then maybe your illness sets in, your long confinement in bed …no more cars, ever. Last time in your life you were eating sauerkraut. Last time making a phone call. Last time making love. Last time reading Goethe. Maybe even years before your death. You never know.”
“But it’s good, not knowing,” he said, “isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” I said. “But every time you do something, you should think, ‘Do it well. Savor it. It might be the last time.’”
In Tucholsky's heaven, souls can have a second chance and be reborn if they want to — they should just not forget to have their memories wiped out. Seventy years later, they will come back, somewhat embarrassed and wiser. For their angelic friends on the cloud, bathing in the sunlight, waiting for them, the time has not passed.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Advent, Advent! A Place They Called Home is Finally Out!

Event at the Leo Baeck Institute Today

Final Reminder. Today at 6.30 pm, our book A Place They Called Home will be introduced at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, at 15 W 16th St (near Union Square). Leo-Baeck-Director Bill Weitzer will be speaking, and also Yale historian David Sorkin and the editor of the book, Donna Swarthout. Donna, as well as a half dozen authors in the audience will be available for questions during and after the Q & A that follows the panel.

If you can't make the event, the book is now for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at independent book stores (and faster than the Amazon page implies). It can also be purchased as an ebook for all formats and readers. The retail price for the 208 pages hardcover is $19.95, respectively $9.99 for the ebook. The book has twelve pictures and also includes a background chapter on the citizenship law.

About the Book

"Donna Swarthout has collected personal stories reflecting a quite unexpected phenomenon: descendants from formerly persecuted German-Jewish families are reclaiming German citizen­ship. These men and women have moved forward from their tragic past though they carry the pain and grief of their parents and grandparents with them. They trace their roots back to the country of Goethe and Einstein, recapturing family legacies and discovering a new Germany. Will present-day Germany become ‘a place called home’ for these individuals too? The answer is left open."
–Julius H. Schoeps, chair of the Moses Mendelssohn Foundation

"Inspiring and gut-wrenching. These deeply personal accounts of a modern Jewish generation struggling to re-establish family roots in a new Germany while paying honor to their martyred forebears tell a timeless tale of human redemption—the homecoming."
–Ralph Blumenthal, journalist and author of  Miracle at Sing Sing

"Donna Swarthout’s book opens minds to a difficult history while tugging at your heartstrings.”
–Eugene DuBow, Founding director of the AJC Berlin

"This book offers the reader a compelling view of a better and hopefully more peaceful future between Germans and Jews."
–Sharon Adler, publisher at

"An important facet of the history of the special relationship of Jews to Germany."
–Lorenz S. Beckhardt, author of  Der Jude mit dem Hakenkreuz

Book Details:
Title:              A Place They Called Home
Subtitle:         Reclaiming Citizenship. Stories of a New Jewish Return to Germany
Editor:           Donna Swarthout
Publisher:      Berlinica Publishing LLC
Distributor     IPG / Small Press United
Format           Hardcover / Ebook
ISBN:             978-1-935902-65-2 

LCCN:           2018952729
Pages:            208 / with 12 bw pictures / 1 chart
Dimensions:   6’’x 9’’
Release:         December 10,  2018
Sugg. Retail:  $19.95 (HC) / $ 9.99 (ebook)



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