Morgenstern, Soma

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MORGENSTERN, SOMA

MORGENSTERN, SOMA (1890–1976), novelist, journalist. Soma Morgenstern was born as Salomo in Budzanow, Galicia, and although reared in a ḥasidic environment and familiar with the languages of the multiethnic culture of the Habsburg monarchy, his father provided him with a tutor in German. He attended a gymnasium in Tarnopol and studied law and political science at the University of Vienna from 1912. Like his friend Joseph Roth, he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War i and was commissioned. In 1921 he received his doctorate; however, did not work as a lawyer, deciding instead to become a writer. Attracted to the theater, he worked as an assistant to Max *Reinhardt and freelanced as a critic of drama, music and literature in Vienna and Berlin. In 1927 he joined the staff of the Frankfurter Zeitung, and from 1928 to 1933 was its cultural correspondent in Vienna. He later wrote for Die Weltbuehne. In 1932 he began work on his first novel, inspired not only by the music of Modest Mussorgski, as his friend Alban Berg noted, but also by the world congress of Agudat Israel in 1929 in Vienna, which he attended as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung. He conceived an entire trilogy, Funken im Abgrund, the first part of which was printed in 1935 in Berlin under the title Der Sohn des verlorenen Sohnes and tells the story of the return of an assimilated Viennese Jew to East European Judaism. Morgenstern fled to Paris in 1938, escaped from a concentration camp in occupied France in 1940, and made his way via Morocco and Portugal to the United States in the summer of 1941. The English version of The Son of the Lost Son, translated by Joseph Leftwich and Peter Gross, and its sequels, In My Father's Pastures (1947), translated by Ludwig *Lewisohn and The Testament of the Lost Son (1950), completed the trilogy. Funken im Abgrund is a unique paean to the vanished Jewish life in rural Eastern Europe, revealing remarkable narrative power and with lengthy detailed description. It tells the story of the son of an apostate Jew who returns to his father's native village, where he rediscovers the values of authentic Jewish life. In his later work The Third Pillar, translated by Lewisohn in 1955 (the German original, written between 1946 and 1953, was published under the title Die Blutsaeule in 1964, and a Hebrew translation appeared in 1976 under the title Ammud ha-Damim), he attempts to come to terms with the Holocaust; combining realistic and fantastic elements, it is set in the same locale as the trilogy, and told in biblical language. Abraham *Heschel called it "the only Midrash about the Holocaust." A passage from it has been incorporated in the liturgy of the Yom Kippur martyrology in the Maḥzor for Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, published by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement (1972). Morgenstern died in New York.

bibliography:

A. Wholesale, in: Midstream, 23 (1977); M. Grossberg, Oesterreiche Literarische Emigration in den Vereinigten Staten (1970). add. bibliography: H. Altrichter, in: H.-J. Boemelburg (ed.), Der Fremde im Dorf (1988), 211–30; I. Schulte, in: Exilforschung, 13 (1993), 221–36; R. Kitzmantel, Eine Ueberfuelle an Gegenwart. Soma Morgenstern (2005).

[Wolfe Kelman /

Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]