Barbara Honigmann has just been awarded the Goethe Prize, one of the most prestigious German literary prizes. On this occasion, we are pleased to republish her portrait of Jakob Wassermann, a writer who is symptomatic of the unease felt by a generation at the idea of being both Jewish and German – or of not really being either, which we published last year. Wassermann said he believed in a possible symbiosis of the two identities, while deploring the condition of the Western Jew of his time, cut off from his past. Through the figure of the author of My Way as a German and as a Jew (1921), Barbara Honigmann’s text plunges us into the heart of a tension experienced as an internal tug of war.
Evguéni Tchirikov, born in 1864 to a penniless Russian noble family, was famous in his time. He died in Prague in 1932, and the president of the Czechoslovak Republic attended his funeral in person. He lived in exile there, having written The Beast from the Abyss, a story-poem about the Revolution in which he showed the same severity towards the Reds as towards the Whites. But since his death, Tchirikov has sunk into oblivion and it was by chance, while reading, that the great Russian translator André Markowicz discovered The Jews, a play written by Tchirikov in 1903, just after the pogrom of Kishinev. The action takes place in the apartment and store of the watchmaker Leiser Frenkel. We see his family, and the friends – Jewish and non-Jewish – of his son and daughter, talking feverishly about the situation of the Jews in Russia in the period before the revolution. They discuss Zionism and assimilation, exile and religion, socialism and America, Marx and the Talmud. Past pogroms are evoked while rumors of future pogroms rustle. Produced by Meyerhold in 1906, the play was banned in Russia but performed throughout Europe and in the United States – before disappearing. The Jews does not even appear in the sixteen-volume Russian edition of the complete works of Chirikov. This week, we publish an interview with André Markowicz about this work, which he considers absolutely unique in the history of Russian literature.
Finally, in this week following the first round of the Turkish presidential elections, we publish François Azar’s article on what he calls “the new visibility of the Jewish community” in Turkey. From 100,000 people at the beginning of the century to 10,000 today, it is one of the last Jewish communities in the Muslim world. It seems to be on borrowed time today, but it has nonetheless undertaken a patient work of cultural and linguistic restoration, as shown by the Turkish series broadcast on Netflix Kulüp [The Club], which François Azar comments on.