Symbolic Jews

Arnheim is a polymath (and a Jew), a successful German industrialist and published author on many topics in the arts and sciences. He is apt to quote poets and philosophers at business conferences, which puzzles many of the attendees, but then those more insightful see his value.

But the world being what it is, with its ingrained prejudice against a life dedicated primarily to its own self-interest and only secondarily to the public good, and its preference for chivalry, public-spiritedness, and public missions above private enterprise, these magnates were the last people in the world to leave this out of their calculations, and they energetically made use of the advantages offered to the public good through customs negotiations backed by armed force, or the use of the military against strikers. On this road, however, business leads directly to philosophy, for nowadays only criminals dare to harm others without philosophy, and so they accustomed themselves to regarding Arnheim junior as a kind of papal legate for their efforts. (I,206)

Meanwhile, the banker Fischel, also a Jew, has reached a career plateau and his wife Clementine, not Jewish, despises him. But what particularly wounds him is his daughter Gerda’s behavior.

Gerda was twenty-three, and the favorite bone of contention of both her progenitors. Leo Fischel thought it was time to start thinking of a good match for her. But Gerda said,”You’re old-fashioned, Papa,” and had chosen her friends in a swarm of Christian nationalists her own age, none of whom offered the slightest prospect of being able to support a wife; instead, they despised capitalism and maintained that no Jew had yet proved capable of serving as a great symbol of humanity. Leo Fischel called them anti-Semitic louts and would have forbidden them the house, but Gerda said, “You don’t understand, Papa, they only mean it symbolically”… (I,221)

Hitler was twenty-four in 1913, a fellow Austrian and would no doubt have been to Gerda’s liking.


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