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Lewisohn, Ludwig


LEWISOHN, LUDWIG (1882–1955), U.S. novelist and essayist. Born into a middle class Berlin family, Lewisohn was taken to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1890. In his autobiography, Up Stream (1922), he wrote of his student years at Columbia University, where he had specialized in English literature with a view to taking up college teaching, but was shocked to find anti-Jewish prejudice barring his way. He was professor of German at Ohio State University (1911–19) and won recognition as a literary scholar with his translation of Hauptmann, Rilke, and Sudermann and critical works such as The Modern Drama (1915) and The Spirit of Modern German Literature (1916). During World War i Lewisohn's pacifism and pro-German sympathies ended his academic career, which was only resumed 30 years later with his appointment as professor of comparative literature at Brandeis University in 1948. From 1919 to 1926 he was an associate editor of The Nation.

Between 1924 and 1940 Lewisohn lived mostly in Paris, where the singer and poet Thelma Spear (1903–1968) kept house for him and maintained a literary salon. Meanwhile, he had become deeply interested in Zionism. He visited Palestine in 1925 and recorded his impressions of its transformation by Jewish colonists in Israel (1925). In another volume of autobiography, Mid-Channel (1929), and in The Answer: The Jew and the World (1939), he told of his discovery of his Jewish heritage and its effect on his outlook. Lewisohn negated the common American assumption that, for Jews, the United States was a home and not merely another exile, insisting that it could never fully replace Zion. The country's non-Jewish majority determined what was American or un-American, and had the power to impose its will and thinking on the Jewish minority. He therefore called upon American Jews to repudiate assimilation and find their way back to their own sources in the land of Israel, where Jews first underwent the group experience which stamped them eternally as a people.

Lewisohn wrote several novels, most of which dealt either with marital problems or with Jewish themes. Among the latter are The Island Within (1928, 19682), The Last Days of Shylock (1931), Trumpet of Jubilee (1937), and In a Summer Season (1955). His other works include Don Juan (1923), Stephen Escott (1930), The Case of Mr. Crump (1931), This People (1933), Breathe Upon These (1944), Among the Nations (1948), and Goethe (1949). He edited Creative America (1933), Rebirth; A Book of Modern Jewish Thought (1935), Jewish Short Stories (1945), and Theodore Herzl: A Portrait for This Age (1955). Between 1943 and 1948, Lewisohn was editor of The New Palestine, and from 1947, of the American Zionist Review. His last works include The American Jew: Character and Destiny (1950) and What is the Jewish Heritage? (1954). His son james lewisohn (1929– ) was poet in residence at the University of Maine.


F.A. Levy, in: jba, 14 (1956/57), 46–55; S. Liptzin, Generation of Decision (1958), 224–33; Chyet, in: aja, 11 (1959), 125–47; idem, in: ajhsq, 54 (1964–65), 296–322.

[Sol Liptzin]

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