Hermann and the Death of German Studies

In the U.S., German scholars are constrained to teach only the works of Germans of Jewish background, their courses dwelling on persecution and genocide. Indeed, it is not too far fetched to suppose that German culture as a culture of Germans has disappeared entirely, replaced by the culture of the Holocaust. The Holocaust has not only become a quasi religion capable of eradicating the remnants of German culture, Jews have become sanctified as a people. (Kevin MacDonald, Preface to the paperback edition, The Culture of Critique).

The city of New Ulm, Minnesota, founded in 1854 by a group of German immigrants, is home to an imposing statue of the Germanic chieftain, Hermann. In the year 9AD, a coalition of Germanic tribes under Hermann for the first time in the history of the Germanic tribes ambushed and defeated three invading Roman legions commanded by Quinctilius Varus. The defeat, in the Teutoburger Forest, caused Caesar Augustus and his successors to forego conquering north central Europe. A new imperial policy changed European history for the people of central Europe, who developed independently of Roman rule.

In 1897, the Sons of Hermann, an American national fraternal organization of German Americans, proud of its heritage and desiring to keep it alive for future generations, commissioned a monumental statue of Hermann to be erected in a New Ulm city park. The Hermann Monument is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On September 24, 2009, a two thousand year ethnic celebration commemorating the victory of Hermann the German against foreign aggression took place in New Ulm, MN.

The Hermann Monument, New Ulm, Minnesota

The Hermann celebration was an isolated example of German ethnic identification in this country, even though Germans represent the largest ancestry group in the US. California and Texas have the largest populations of German origin, while the states of the Midwest, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have the most concentrated German populations.

In spite of their numbers, however, the study of the language and literature of the German people has dropped drastically nationwide. In 2006, only 6% of students learning a foreign language nationwide were enrolled in German. Many schools no longer offer German as a subject of study. Some colleges have eliminated whole departments of German and replaced them with departments of non-European languages. The University of Southern California, for example, after dropping its doctoral program about a decade ago, recently eliminated its entire German department. Spanish, of course, continues to grow, though most of its speakers on this Continent are of non-European descent. The languages that are experiencing tremendous growth nationwide in numbers of learners include Mandarin, Japanese, Urdu, and Arabic.

What does this mean for people of European descent? Unfortunately, it means a serious loss of connection to their European heritage and culture. Language is intrinsically connected to ethnic identity and allegiance to the group with which one shares ancestral links. Even where modern day ethnic groups can claim no country of their own, as in the case of the Welsh, the Basques, and the Kurds, retaining their language has enabled these groups to remain viable.

The elimination of German from the curriculum is occurring even in those areas of the country which have a majority German-American population. Notwithstanding Garrison Keillor’s stereotype of Minnesota as majority Lutheran-Norwegian, Minnesota is actually home to 36.7% people of German ancestry. Those of Norwegian background total 17.3%, Irish 11.2%, Swedish 9.9%, and English 6.3% (US Census Bureau Report June, 2004).  A significant number of mestizos have taken residence in Minnesota since the last census, and the Federal Government has placed large numbers of Hmong, a South-east Asian people, and  Somalian Negroes into the Twin City area, no doubt altering the proportions somewhat. The largest faith group is Catholic. Jews comprise .9% of the population.

Suppressed during the two World Wars, German re-established its place as one of the two most popular languages after each War. Until recently, many of the students in German language courses were “heritage learners,” students who wanted to remain connected to the language of their forefathers. In addition, German, along with French, has always been considered a language of research and cultural refinement. Now, however, English has become the language of research, cultural refinement is passé, and economic interests have displaced cultural connections for Whites. Perhaps school districts are receiving directives to remove German. Possibly also the continuing revilement against Germans caused by the unceasing barrage of venomous anti-German Holocaust memoirs, films, and television programs has contributed to the decline in German language learning.

For whatever reasons, the result is that German has all but disappeared from public high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Currently, of the seven public high schools in Minneapolis, all offer Spanish (multiple classes at each level), 6 offer French, 3 Mandarin, 2 Japanese, 1 Arabic, 1 Latin, 1 Ojibwe, (a Native American language), and 1 German. (See here.) The situation is similar in St. Paul. (See here.)

Like the public schools of the Twin Cities, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, is a tax-supported institution and many of its 51,000 students are residents of the State.  UM does not appear on the Hillel list of the 60 colleges and universities with the largest Jewish student enrollments. In the past, significant numbers of high school German teachers were trained at this campus. Students who obtained their Ph.D. were frequently offered positions on the faculties of smaller Midwest colleges.

As mentioned earlier, a number of colleges in the country have eliminated their German departments entirely. Others have rescued them from extinction by changing their concentration away from the traditional study of language and literature to the vocational study of “Business German.” UM retains a foreign language requirement and the University’s German Department (German, Scandinavian and Dutch) continues to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in language and literature.

The focus of its teaching and research has shifted, however, from analyzing literary merit to promulgating politically correct social causes. The following is a comment not only on the state of German studies, but an excellent case study of what university departments in the humanities have become — bastions of the left influenced deeply by Jewish concerns and by Jewish intellectual movements, particularly the Frankfurt School. The following dissertation titles, course descriptions, and faculty publications all reflect the change in direction which the study of German literature has taken.

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Some recent representative dissertation titles include:

Toward a Multiculturalism for the 21st Century: German and Scandinavian Literary Perspectives, 1990–2005

Projecting Deviance/Seeing Queerly: Homosexual Representation and Queer Spectatorship in 1950’s Germany

Reading and Revising the Topography of German culture: Christina Reining on Gender and Sexuality

Representing the Afro-German in Early West German Cinema

The Space of Words: Diaspora and Exile in the Works of Nelly Sachs

Off the Road: Remapping the Shoah Representation from the Perspectives of Ordinary Jewish Women

Negotiating the German-Jewish: the Uncomfortable Writing of Karl Emil Franzos

Writing against Objectification: German Jewish Identity in the Works of Grete Weil and Ruth Klueger

Represented here are the favorite topics of “cultural criticism”: sexism, racism, homophobia, diversity, immigration, multiculturalism, and Jewish victimization. No work from the rich canon of German literature is the subject of a dissertation. Sadly, the literary criticism that grew out of the Frankfurt School and has monopolized the interpretation of literature in English and foreign language literature departments for the last thirty years will no doubt continue. Complacent non-Jewish graduate students are being recruited and trained to enshrine the politically correct ideology permanently into the American University system.

Banner for the University of Minnesota Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch, with Star of David

Below is a quick overview of some key faculty members — all graduates of elite Eastern universities, who publish, teach graduate courses, and advise grad students on dissertations. They also recommend students for grants and fellowships and future employment. Quotations are from the annual magazine of the German Department.

Professor Ruth-Ellen Joeres, Department of German

“She has a vision about how to open up the canon of German Literature and a determination to rewrite history to include women….In Nov. 2006 an interdisciplinary conference titled, ‘Gender, Genre, and Political Transformation’was held in her honor… (on teaching Goethe’s Faust) she has the students read through the lens of their choice: Bakhtian, Freud, gender theory, or queer theory’…. I don’t believe in objectivity.”

Courses include:

Women Writers in German Literature: Writings and Films of Minority Women“In this course the contributions of ‘German’ women of ethnic heritage such as Afro-German, Turkish-German, Japanese-German women are studied. What does it mean to be called, ‘German”?

Topics in Literature and Diversity: Diversity Troubles. One of the required texts for this course is the novel, Der Vorleser, by the contemporary German novelist, essayist, and judge, Bernard Schlink. Published in English in 2008, as The Reader, it was recently made into an American film. The novel deals with the guilt of an illiterate German woman for her actions in a German concentration camp. In 2005, while filming The Reader, Kate Winslet, its star, stated“I don’t think we need another film about the Holocaust, do we? … No, I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust (you’re) guaranteed an Oscar.” (She was right!)

Incidentally, in one of his essays, the author, Bernhard Schlink, son of a Protestant minister, makes the theologically astonishing claim that German guilt for the Holocaust is hereditary and will be carried by subsequent generations of Germans (Vergangenheitsschuld, Diogenes, Zürich, 2007). This inverts a fundamental teaching of Christianity. Christianity teaches that the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are the central events of history and that the Jews are forever responsible for the unforgivable crime of deicide. Schlink, however, suggests that Germans are and will be responsible for the Holocaust for all time, thus ostensibly substituting the Holocaust for the Crucifixion as history’s greatest crime and central event.

Professors Rembert Hueser and Richard McCormick, Department of German

These professors of German Film Studies specialize in feminism, Nazi Cinema, Weimar culture, and gender studies. Recent publications include, “Gender and Sexuality in Weimar Modernity.

Courses include:

German Cinema of the Weimar Republic: Aesthetics and Politics, Gender, and Sexuality, Modernism and Modernity. “Of importance is the question of Weimar sexual ‘decadence;’ was it … something that facilitated the rise of the Nazis? Or was it about the emancipation from rigid gender and sexual identities, something that threatened the Nazis and their sympathizers? Something ‘postmodern’ — or even ‘queer’ in a positive sense?”

In addition to courses in the German Department, students of German are strongly encouraged to participate in classes of affiliated departments. Recommended faculty of affiliated departments include:

Prof. Gary C. Thomas, Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature

Specialties include: 17th– and 18th-century German literature, gender/sexuality studies, and cultural musicology

Publications include: Queering the Pitch: the New Gay and Lesbian Musicology

Courses include: Queer Theory

Professor Richard Leppert, Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature

Publications include: Theodor Adorno – Essays in Music

Courses include: Adorno/Aesthetic Theory

It is indeed puzzling why so many non-Jewish faculty members have adopted the teachings of the Frankfurt School, promoting its agenda to degrade Western culture by glorifying deviancy, multiculturalism and Jewish victimization. One wonders whether they are actually adherents of a position totally inimical to their own White racial interests, or have chosen to be academic Uncle Toms for the sake of tenure and the dependable pay check. Some are clearly part of the homosexual-left culture that is so prominent at the university these days. Their identity as a homosexual victim of cultural oppression is far more important to them — and far more lucrative professionally — than identifying as a White person and having a sense of White interests.

Incidentally, the glorification of Jewish victimization has achieved official academic legitimacy in the rather new discipline of Jewish Studies. Begun only about thirty years ago at colleges with majority Jewish faculties and student bodies, Jewish Studies has quickly grown. The Association of Jewish Studies is now a large network of 1800 members with independent departments on most campuses across the country.

Two influential German Department professors specialize in Jewish Studies and are exceptional in the large number of works they have published, in the number of grants and fellowships they have been awarded, and in the range of affiliated departments to which they belong. Unlike the previously mentioned non-Jewish professors, who corrupt their own ethnic Western interests by adopting the tenets of the cultural revolution, these Jewish faculty members overtly and militantly employ the Frankfurt School’s ideology and methods to promote their specifically Jewish interests. The promotion of specifically Jewish interests was not shared by Jewish professors of the former generation. Until they were replaced by the individuals described below, three German-born Jewish professors, because of their vast knowledge and love of their subject, were highly regarded members of the German faculty. More German than Jewish they promoted German, not Jewish, culture.

Professor Jack Zipes, Department of German (recently retired)

At the present time Amazon is briskly selling an amazing 21 of Jack Zipes’ books about fairy tales, including several pricey compendia. Pertinent to the discussion here are two types of his works about fairy tales: the theoretical, dealing with Frankfurt School deconstruction of fairy tales, and the practical, the use of fairy tales in the public schools.

In Breaking the Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, Zipes provides a Marxist interpretation of folk and fairy tales through the filter of Frankfurt School criticism. His aim is to interpret the socio-historical forces that shaped the tales and to deconstruct and/or reconstruct them to influence and help form the society of the future.

An early chapter in The Utopian Function of Art and Literature is devoted to a discussion between Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno about the Marxist utopian function of the fairy tale.

With the manual, Creative Storytelling: Building Community, Changing Lives, Zipes suggests practical ways to encourage children to deconstruct traditional tales. Co-founder of the theatrical method named, “The Neighborhood Bridges Project,” Zipes has introduced a technique of re-interpreting fairy tales. Used by Minneapolis Public Schools since 1997 it seeks to expose the sexism, racism, and classism in the traditional value system of the fairy tales and of society. For his outstanding contributions to the field of Children’s Literature, Zipes has won several significant awards plus an honorary degree from the University of Bologna!

Prof. Zipes specialties include: Critical Theory (i.e., Frankfurt School theory); Fairy Tales (or rather their deconstruction); Jewish Studies

Publications include

Political Plays for Children

Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion

Don’t bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales

Down with Heidi, Down with Struwelpeter: Three Cheers for the Revolution:

Towards A New Socialist Children’s Literature in West Germany

The Potential of Liberating Fairy Tales for Children

Don’t Bet on the Prince: Feminist Fairy Tales

Walter Benjamin and Children’s Literature, in The Germanic Review

Marx as Moralist

Negating History and Male Fantasies through Psychoanalytic Criticism

Adorno May Still be Right

Marx and Engels Without Frills

Unlikely History: The Changing German-Jewish Symbiosis 1945-2000 (with Leslie Morris, below)

The Yale Companion of Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture

Germans and Jews since the Holocaust

The Operated Jew: Two Tales of Antisemitism

Disparate Jewish Voices and the Dialectic of the “Shoah Business” in Germany

Holocaust Survivor as Literary Pope in Germany

Jewish Life as Stigma, in: Simon Wiesenthal Center Report

Germans and Jews since the Holocaust

Lessons of the Holocaust, in: New German Critique

The Operated German as Operated Jew, in New German Critique

The Negative German-Jewish Symbiosis

Contested Jews: The Image of Jewishness in Contemporary German Literature

The Holocaust and the Vicissitudes of Jewish Identity in New German Critique

Professor Leslie Morris, Department of German

While Prof. Morris holds a tenured position in German, she is also a member of four affiliated centers. Two of these affiliations are especially noteworthy. She is a member of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and a member of the Center for Jewish Studies, of which she was director from 2002–2009

Prof. Morris specializes in 20th and 21st (sic) German/Austrian Literature and in Jewish Studies.

According to her biography in the German Department Magazine“She is interested in issues of exile and Diaspora that are central to the experience of Jews, especially since the 1930’s… to gain a deeper understanding of what ‘Jewishness’ means. (The name) Morris morphed out of Moskowitz.”

Publications include:

Unlikely History: The Changing German-Jewish Symbiosis, 1945–2000 (with German Prof. Jack Zipes)

Berlin Elegies: Absence, Postmemory and Art after Auschwitz

How Jewish is it? The Question of Contemporary German-Jewish Writing

Der modifizierte Jude als Stigmatext

In her book, Unlikely History, the Changing German Jewish Symbiosis, Prof. Morris addresses the topic of holocaust memoirs. She has two concerns. Not only is there a problem with future supply since the last holocaust survivors are succumbing to old age, but Prof. Morris finds many of the memoirs to be intrinsically dull and of limited literary value. She compares the authentic memoirs to the many fraudulent “memoirs,” originally marketed as first person accounts, but later found to be fakes, much to the embarrassment of their publishers. She judges these fake “memoirs” to be more imaginative, moving, and of greater literary value than the genuine accounts. Disregarding standards of academic ethics she suggests that the fraudulent accounts ought to be redeemed and accepted into the body of holocaust literature as genuine memoirs. Not only are the fakes better than the genuine accounts, but their production is unlimited!

Courses include:

Approaches to Analysis: Required readings — “Archive Fever”: Derrida, “History of Sexuality: Foucault, “Moses and Monotheism”: Freud, “Three Case Histories”: Freud

Seminar in 20th Century German Literature and Culture: Listening to German Anxiety — “We will think about the specificity of German anxiety — anxiety about modernity, anxiety about the Jews…”

~Required readings — “We will start with Freud’s, ‘Problem with Anxiety,’ and move to works by Benjamin, Adorno, Derrida, Schoenberg…”

So close is the German Department to the Center for Jewish Studies, with which Prof. Morris is affiliated, that the two Departments recently jointly sponsored a University of Minnesota tour titled, “Jewish Life in Berlin and Prague.” The informational meeting for the trip was held at a community center in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Affectionately known as “St. Jewish Park,” by both Jews and gentiles, this modern day Jewish ghetto has been the home of many successful Jews. These include Thomas Friedman, New York Times journalist, Al Franken, the junior senator from Minnesota, and the Coen Brothers, film makers. In fact, the newest Coen Brothers film, “The Serious Man,” is set in the St. Louis Park of the 60’s. Ari Hoptman, UM German instructor, plays a department head.

The nine day University of Minnesota tour to Berlin and Prague was jointly led by German Department, Prof. Leslie Morris and History Department, Prof. Gary Cohen. Prof. Cohen is also Director of the Center for Austrian Studies, and a faculty member of the Center for Jewish Studies. The UM-sponsored tour included visits with the chief rabbis of both Berlin and Prague, with members of the Israeli Council in Berlin, and Shabbat services and Shabbat dinner with Berlin congregations. Lunch was planned at kosher restaurants.

A Center for Catholic or Christian Studies does not exist at the University of Minnesota. Therefore, there will be no University-sponsored trip titled, “Christian Life in Europe,” with Mass at the Cologne Cathedral and an audience with the Pope.

The most recent issue of German Quarterly, from summer, 2009, explores the possible reciprocal effects of German and Jewish Studies. Responding to the title of this issue, “How Jewish is German Studies? How German is Jewish Studies?” Prof. Morris states in the introduction:

VERY….What I hoped to do with this special issue was to move the discussion about Germans and Jews beyond merely establishing affinities between historical expression and cultural expression. Part of the ‘thought experiment’ behind this special issue was to see what might happen if we were to slip within the hyphen separating ‘the German’ and ‘the Jewish’ and begin a ‘queering’ of German-Jewish Studies that would rupture the intact diacritical mark of the hyphen and destabilize the markers of ‘German’ and ‘Jew.’

Rethinking the links and the ruptures contained within the ‘German Jew’ also necessitates a new conceptualizing of Jewish and ‘queer’ identity; to pull apart the hyphen that sutures the ‘German Jew’ is at the same time to expand ‘queerness’ beyond sexual practice and ‘experience’ and to disrupt what R. block has termed a ‘geographic transversal’ that links Germany and Zion. My calling for a ‘queering’ of German Jewish Studies is a strategy to move us away from ‘constructions of the Jew or the German as either positive or negative, stereotyped or ‘authentic,’ and to consider an approach to German Jewish text that will push the very boundaries of the German and the Jewish. I propose instead that we consider German Jewish writing as inhabiting a new space of a trans-, or a newly imagined community that exists in a border zone of textual and historical memory, projection and fantasy, pathology and desire, and that will always exceed the geographic, linguistic, and ethnic/national markers in which they are enacted.

The next activity jointly sponsored by the University of Minnesota German Department and the Center for Jewish Studies is scheduled in the spring. On April, 13, 2010, Prof. Leslie Morris will present a public lecture titled, “Why Germany Loves the Jews.” The lecture will be delivered at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul.


Trudie Pert is the pen name of a teacher.  Email her.

Unless otherwise noted all material is from the official University of Minnesota website.