Lab­o­ra­to­ry for World Destruc­tion: Ger­mans and Jews in Cen­tral Europe

  • Review
By – December 12, 2011

In Lab­o­ra­to­ry for World Destruc­tion, Robert S. Wistrich con­cerns him­self with mar­gin­al Jews,” or those great thinkers whom he believes were cut off from their own tra­di­tion.” He grounds his dis­cus­sions in Nietzsche’s hope that con­tem­po­rary Jews could once again become the founders and cre­ators of val­ues.” Wistrich argues that dur­ing the peri­od between Bismarck’s Ger­man Empire and Hitler’s rise to pow­er, the con­tri­bu­tions made by Ger­man and Aus­tri­an Jews sig­nif­i­cant­ly imprint­ed the cul­tures of Cen­tral Europe. Beyond that peri­od, how­ev­er, he claims, the demise of this cul­tur­al his­to­ry occurred, in part, due to the social psy­chol­o­gy of envy.” 

Among the intel­li­gentsia of Cen­tral Europe, Wistrich speaks of Stephan Zweig, whose nov­el, The World of Yes­ter­day, indi­cates Zweig’s wist­ful­ness and mourn­ing for the com­mon, human­is­tic cul­ture lost with the rise of Hitler and the destruc­tion that ensued. In a dis­cus­sion of Sig­mund Freud, Wistrich notes that Freud and his con­tem­po­raries were bound by the 18th cen­tu­ry Enlight­en­ment in Rea­son peri­od and found it unnat­ur­al to depart intel­lec­tu­al­ly from that phi­los­o­phy. Nathan Birn­baum, the founder of Aus­tri­an Zion­ism and a spir­i­tu­al­ist, Wistrich explains, believed that only in an inde­pen­dent Jew­ish home­land would Jews final­ly be able to devel­op their dis­tinc­tive social and eth­i­cal genius for the greater wel­fare and redemp­tion of mankind.”

Each chap­ter in this com­pendi­um exam­ines per­son­al his­to­ry and ana­lyzes lit­er­ary ren­der­ings of promi­nent Jew­ish writ­ers, whose fate was deter­mined by the onslaught of anti-Semi­tism and the belief that Jews con­scious­ly mas­ter­mind­ed all the sub­ver­sive forces of rad­i­cal­ism and revolt.” It is a col­lec­tion that will fur­ther the reader’s under­stand­ing of the per­ils of social envy and racism. Index. 

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

Discussion Questions