‘The Effingers’, so you know what Berlin was like before and after the Nazis | babelia

After the Nuremberg Race Laws, posters like this one in Schwedt proliferated all over Germany with the slogan:
After the Nuremberg Race Laws, posters like this one in Schwedt proliferated all over Germany with the slogan: “Jews are not welcome here”.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

What a monumental novel: what narrative energy, what mastery of the cast of characters! and what a capacity for living creation! All this masterfully supported on nearly a thousand pages. Los Effinger is one of the great family sagas of 20th-century German literature, and is comparable only in terms of literary achievements and historical significance with Los Buddenbrook. But while the novel which Thomas Mann won him the Nobel Prize portrays the German Society of end of century in the provinces, Los Effinger It is closer to us, since it is located mainly in the first half of the 20th century, and in the capital of Germany.

Few books better illustrate the evolution of Berlin during the decades of its greatest splendor as a center of cultural sophistication and technological and economic advancement than this gripping chronicle of the time. But, contrary to Mann’s stately parsimony, Gabriel Tergit endows him with the freshness and grace —as well as a sober clairvoyance— which already characterized his international success Käsebier conquers Berlin (tiny). With a commendable lightness, like brief snapshots, focused with dryness and precision, the key moments of politics are assembled, scenes in the living room and in the street with letters between relatives.

However, if we wanted to extend the comparison with Los Buddenbrook, Tergit’s novel has an added value: it describes the time leading up to the great cataclysm from the point of view of a Jewish family, or rather two Jewish families. On the one hand, that of the wise watchmaker Mathias Effinger and his sons, who went to make their fortune in Berlin and London during the years of great industrial expansion; and on the other hand, that of the socialite banker Oppner, who, in the Berlin of Kaiser Wilhelm I, belonged to high society. Two opposing worlds shake hands: that of the modest and pious village craftsmen, and that of the splendid and refined Berliners of the upper middle class, through the two protagonists of the novel, the sons of Mathias, Karl and Paul, who marry the daughters of ‘Opner.

The economic expansion of Bismarck’s Germany is reflected in the social and economic rise of the first generation; in the problems facing the second generation, the author plastically translates the decadence and social upheavals caused by the First World War into the family environment. Significantly, it was the women of the two families – hitherto relegated to the home – who imposed themselves. Feminist journalist Marianne and her cousin, theater actress Lotte, emancipate themselves from those around them and find recognition and an independent life (without male support). In these two characters, Gabriele Tergit (pseudonym of Elise Hirschmann) poured a large part of his own biography, as in general in the novel, which is based on the history of his ancestors.

Only that the author minimizes his experiences with the persecution of the Nazis who already in March 1933 attacked his Berlin apartment. The iron-reinforced gate withstood the attack. Barely a few brushstrokes that Tergit devotes in the novel to the atrocities that followed Hitler’s seizure of power. Very short scenes, where, for example, he describes what Bertha, the sixty-year-old daughter of old Mathias, sees in the once idyllic village of Swabia during the night of broken glass: “Bertha made her way through knee-deep rubble, torn fabrics, broken and broken objects. She had to lift her skirts to walk through the place. Then he saw a well-dressed gentleman with a gray goatee. He was alone in the middle of a room, he pulled out a knife and shouted, “I won’t let that Jewish bird live! And he stabbed a little yellow canary in his cage that kept chirping .”

She was a woman. It was not easy to find a place in the literary world. Then his name was blacklisted and his book was burned.

Gabriele Tergit, the famous author of cheese beer, she is today, like so many Jewish writers of her generation—Nelly Sachs, Anna Seghers or Mascha Kaléko—a little less than forgotten. It is difficult to understand why this is not part of the canon of German literature. Probably because she was a woman, and for a court reporter – and a doctorate – it was not easy to find a place in a male literary world. And when he did, his career was cut short by the Nazis, his first book burned, his name blacklisted. Driven into exile, it took two decades to write Los Effinger, still in precariousness and with changing addresses, and when finally published in 1951 his good work, the Germans didn’t want to know anything about their recent past, and even less if a Jewish émigré told them about it.

How much Jewish culture had permeated and defined this previously advanced Germany in so many ways, no one wanted to acknowledge anymore. Tergit expressly did not claim to write a review. With his book, he simply wanted to show a way of life and a culture irretrievably lost in 1935, with the Nuremberg Race Laws“What I want is for all German Jews to say: ‘Yes, that’s how we were, that’s how we lived between 1878 and 1939’; and that they put it back in the hands of their children saying, “So that you know how it went”. who reads Los Effinger, no doubt you will better understand what this world was like and how its destruction was possible.

Cover of 'The Effingers', by Gabriele Tergit.

Author: Gabriel Tergit.

Translation: Carlos Fortea.

Editorial: Asteroid books, 2022.

Format: paperback (904 pages, 34.95 euros) y Ebook (20.99 euro).

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