Research Unit Knowledge

Humanist Tradition and Philological Understanding. Jewish Literary Scholars in Germany after 1945


This historically oriented doctoral research project focuses on Jewish literary scholars in Germany after 1945. It investigates their engagement after the Holocaust with a German intellectual tradition that had been paramount to the drive for emancipation among the German Jewish bourgeoisie before 1933: Weimar classicism and the humanist ideal of enlightenment. The hope for emancipation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was linked to a teleological, rational conception of modernity that went hand-in-hand with a profound affirmation of the Enlightenment and of classical literature of the Enlightenment era on the one hand and a mostly distant if not adverse attitude to romanticism on the other. The normatively charged dichotomy between ostensibly enlightened/humanist classicism and mythical/nationalist romanticism forms a powerful leitmotif even after 1945. It allowed for a seamless continuation of the enlightened tradition as representation of »das Andere Deutschland«, as exemplified in the »Goethe Cult« emerging around 1949.

The literary scholars Käte Hamburger (1896–1992), Hans Mayer (1907–2001), and Peter Szondi (1929–1970) rejected this continuation of tradition in different ways. Their works questioned the conventional dichotomy between classicism and romanticism, thereby making a significant contribution – so the hypothesis of this project – to correcting a misguided engagement with the Holocaust. The project will examine their literary and theoretical historical interpretations against the background of their respective biographical experiences as both an engagement with the Holocaust and a reflection on philological methods and hermeneutics.