Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 November 2019
One thinks of the Czech Jews of the inter-war period, perhaps like the Italian Jews of the Renaissance, as uniquely charmed: at a time when elsewhere in central and eastern Europe Jews were subjected to ever-increasing antisemitism, the Jews of the new Czechoslovak Republic enjoyed extraordinary cultural integration and social acceptance. Moreover, they carved out identities as Czech Jews not only by assimilation, but also in other forms. In an epilogue to this richly textured, extensively researched, and theoretically sophisticated work Hillel J. Kieval relates an anecdote, told to him years after the fact, from Max Brod's visit to Prague in 1963. While Brod was meeting a number of old friends in the home of the playwright František Langer, someone noted that each of those present represented a different form of Czech Jewish identity: Brod had opted for Zionism; Langer for Czech acculturation; Eduard Goldstücker, a professor of Germanics, for identification with German culture; and Arnost Kolman, a philosopher and mathematician, for communism. Kieval points out that these identities were chosen rather than inherited, and also that they overlapped: Brod, for example, was as much a representative of Jewish–German synthesis as of Zionism.
Kieval's Languages of Community both confirms this image of the Czech Jews and undermines it by demonstrating that the development of this community in the period before the First World War was fraught with intense struggles against emerging Czech nationalism. In these interlinked essays Kieval's primary emphasis is on the way in which the conflicts over language shaped the identities of the Czech Jews—a persuasive emphasis given the centrality of language in the definition of nationalisms in the Habsburg empire. The fact that German was the primary spoken and written language of urban Jews was a particular irritant to Czech nationalists, who in the nineteenth century were seeking to turn Czech into the language of a new national culture. Like other Jews in the multi-ethnic empire, Czech Jews were caught between the German culture of the regime and the culture of their indigenous environment. However, unlike the Hungarian Jews, who underwent Magyarization in the mid-nineteenth century, Czech Jews in the major cities and towns remained wedded to German culture (even as those in the countryside were much more linguistically Czech).
To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.
To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.