Hunting the bookshelf Saturday evening for something different to read, I stumbled across the translated correspondence of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem.
Benjamin and Scholem were Jewish scholars, and their collected correspondence is apparently something of an epistolary classic.
The two were Jewish intellectuals of some prominence, and the correspondence documents their lives in the decade before World War II. Sholem had moved to Palestine, while Benjamin lived a life of itinerant, scholarly poverty, wandering Europe in those dark days – especially dark for a Jew – leading up to World War II. From a Benjamin letter, written from Berlin in February 1933 (this is a month after Hitler became chancellor).
The little composure that people in my circles were able to muster in the face of the new regime was rapidly spent, and one realizes that the air is hardly fit to breathe anymore – a condition which of course loses significance as one is being strangled anyway.
I know little about their scholarship, but the discussions of the rise of Naziism – often made with chilling subtlety – are deeply moving. There’s also a bit of dark comedy, as Benjamin spends significant time in almost every letter complaining about his impecunious state:
I sit here with dark thoughts indeed as I watch all my attempts even to scratch together the bare minimum – at the very least to settle my bill – go awry, because events at Berlin Radio have completely robbed me of the income I could always rely on.
Must learn more about Kabbalah and the work Benjamin and Scholem were doing.