Sunday, February 12, 2012

Degenerate Art

The Oppermanns
The Oppermanns

 "It is upon us to begin the work. It is not upon us to complete it."-Talmud.*

The Oppermanns is a beautifully written and touching novel that was included in my reading for a class in the University of Chicago Basic Program where we studied "Degenerate Art" during the Third Reich.  Feuchtwanger's novel is a moving story of a Jewish families in 1930s Germany who are divided in their views about how to respond to both the actual physical and economic threats from the rising National Socialist movement. The family members represented the varying views of changes that were occurring in Germany of the nineteen-thirties with some taking a more benign view and others showing more concern by moving to Paris and elsewhere.  As the book begins the Nazis were gaining more political control and the cultural and economic environment was beginning to change in Germany because of it.  For the first time in its history, the Oppermann’s furniture business was forced to take on an approved Aryan partner in order to keep it running. This is a move that contributes to their eventually losing it altogether.  The family must endure ever more personal tragedies as the worst becomes a reality.  Those family members who departed from Germany were proven to be more prescient in their caution as the ones who stayed too long found not just upheaval in their lives but real danger from the increasing limits placed on Jewish families and other "undesirables".  
Most of all this historical novel captured the cultural and political changes that made possible the burning of books and display of "degenerate art".  As such I would recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the history of Germany in that era.

*Epigraph to the third part of the novel.

The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger. Carroll & Graf, 2001 (1933).

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