Auerbach, Berthold

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AUERBACH, BERTHOLD (1812–1882), German author and a leader of Jewish emancipation. His work is marked by the constant attempts to reconcile his different identities as a religiously free-thinking Jew, as a writer from southwest Germany with strong regional bonds, and as a liberal kleindeutsch-borussian patriot. Born at Nordstetten in Wuerttemberg, Auerbach, after some initial training for the rabbinate at Hechingen (1825–27), became interested in law and philosophy and continued his studies at the universities of Tuebingen, Munich, and Heidelberg. As a Burschenschafter he was persecuted by the authorities and arrested for two months at the Hohenasperg stronghold, where he wrote his first novel, Spinoza, Ein Denkerleben (1837). Four years later, Auerbach published his five-volume translation of the philosopher's works. In this early period of his work, he tried to establish himself as a firmly Jewish author, e.g., in his pamphlet Das Judentum und die neueste Literatur (1836). In this he criticized the "Junges Deutschland" authors like Heine as well as their German nationalist opponents gathered around the influential editor, Wolfgang Menzel, but he also recognized the ambivalence of many liberal non-Jewish authors in their attitude towards Jews. Nevertheless Auerbach stressed in his second historical novel (Dichter und Kaufmann (1840), about the German-Jewish poet Ephraim Moses *Kuh) the importance of Bildung as the only means for full bourgeois emancipation. The failure of his Jewish writings made Auerbach turn to a more general discussion on Heimat in his popular Schwarzwaelder Dorfgeschichten (1843–54). After the failure of the revolution of 1848, Auerbach wrote several long social novels, Auf der Hoehe (3 vols., 1864, popular in English as On the Heights), Das Landhaus am Rhein (5 vols., 1869), and Waldfried (3 vols., 1874), whose old-fashioned esthetics let their popularity soon decline.

Auerbach fervently strove for a reconciliation of Jewish emancipation and the German national movement. Judaism meant to him a rather ethical monotheism ("Mosaism"), probably one of the reasons for his popularity among a broad educated public. His specific point of view, however, was denounced by Reform rabbi and journalist Ludwig Philippson as "lack of religion" ("Confessionslosigkeit," azdj, 39 (1875), 466). In private letters to his relative Jakob Auerbach (Briefe, 2 vols., 1884), the author shows full awareness of the threat to the position of Jews in German society by the newly emerging antisemitism.


E. Wolbe, Berthold Auerbach (Ger., 1907); A. Bettelheim, Berthold Auerbach (Ger., 1907); M.I. Zwick, Berthold Auerbachs sozialpolitischer und ethischer Liberalismus (1933). add. bibliography: J.S. Skolnik, in: Prooftexts, 19:2 (1999), 101–25; Th. Scheuffelen, Berthold Auerbach (Ger., 1986); H.O. Horch, in: A. Kilcher (ed.), Metzler Lexikon der deutsch-juedischen Literatur (2000), 19–23.

[Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]

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Auerbach, Berthold

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