The Atlantic Monthly
April 27, 2012
Although his gentile friends were blind to the radicalizing anti-semitism in Europe, Ludwig Lewisohn saw the truth: European Jews were in grave danger. And it wasn't a matter assimilation could solve -- with each year, they were increasingly targeted and discriminated against, regardless of how they felt about their home nations.
In a January 1936 Atlantic piece , succinctly titled "Jews in Trouble," Lewisohn outlined the status of the diaspora. In short, it wasn't good. More than ever before, Jews were being rejected from the societies of Europe. "They are isolated as savages isolate things or persons accursed or sacred, so that in many cities they suffer hunger because no one will sell them food," he writes.
Lewisohn, an outspoken Zionist, had moved to the United States from Germany early in his life and initially tried to shake his Jewish roots. But as he grew and entered academia, he learned that despite assimilating, he could not escape being labeled a Jew and discriminated against as such. Embracing his identity, he divorced his Christian wife and found a new Jewish one, and he preached Zionism wholeheartedly. To him, saving the Jewish people was a matter of saving the Jewish identity, and he believed that "assimilation as a method of adjustment is totally bankrupt."
"The Jew is damned when he abstains from participation in the majority civilization and equally damned when, heart and soul and mind, he seeks to identify himself with it," he writes.
Prompted by an assertion from a Christian friend who told him "Your people are in trouble" -- in a way that implied that Lewisohn should cut all ties with his ancestors -- he explained why it was impossible to shed Jewish identity and why it was most critical for the Jews to have a homeland: