"Heine? Den Juden liest man nicht mehr." appears in Chapter 8 of We Are Prisoners

It's bad enough how Graf wrote it. He's recounting the experience of having all his favorite authors tossed aside by his new acquaintance Schorsch. He takes aim at Schiller, Lessing, any number of other classic German authors. But in this case, Graf attributes the comment to Schorsch: "Heine? Nobody reads the Jew nowadays." As if the fact that he is Jewish is another reason not to read him. It does imply a certain amount of bigotry. However, the original translation - "Heine? Nobody reads the Jews nowadays." - is certainly not an accurate one, and in its mistake goes one step further toward attributing a blanket condemnation to Schorsch when there is none.

Chapter 8 - Twice Hanged

Jung frequently came to see me. He was entirely different from what I imagined a poet would be. The first time he visited I wanted to discuss poets and poetry with him just as I used to do with Maurus. But he was not the least bit interested; one the contrary, he hardly listened at first, and then he actually became angry at such talk. “Rubbish!” he exclaimed repeatedly in his hoarse voice. Anything literary seemed distasteful to him. His demeanor was almost always dark and sinister, and when he actually laughed it sounded forced and nervous like a horse neighing. He argued with me sporadically and called me “bourgeois” when I shyly told him my troubles.

“It doesn’t matter at all whether you write a book or not! First you must become a real man! – It’s all rubbish!” That’s how he preached to me, gnawing all the while on a matchstick. He came by nearly every day. He was a riddle to me; everything that he said sounded strange. I never warmed up to him. He looked at my books, cursed Schiller, and told me to come with him. He smiled wryly and proclaimed suddenly, “What use have we for Schiller today! … It’s all nonsense!” I followed him. He sold the books, took me to a pub, and we drank the money away. I went along without opposition, for the last thing I wanted was to be “bourgeois.” Whenever he had no money and I didn’t have any either, he would grab some books, make some statement such as, “Ach, Heine! Nobody reads the Jew nowadays!” or “A revolutionary shouldn’t be caught with that boring Lenau.” He took my volumes of Lessing and cursed about the reading of classics. Then he led me into a second-hand bookshop and sold everything we had brought. I never ventured a protest and went along with everything. He always pocketed the money and said grimly, “Come along!” Then we went from one pub to another and spent the money on drink. If there was plenty of money we ordered cognac; if there was only a little, we had beer. Towards evening we went to the Café Stephanie, where artists gathered, and borrowed from acquaintances.

I liked this turbulent life. It didn’t leave any time for reflection, and it cast a veil over life. When I awoke in the morning I had a horrible hangover, and the world appeared hateful and depressing. The only remedy was drinking, chasing around, and meeting up with people.

I got to know all sorts of writers, artists, and other frequenters of the cafés. I sat there among them completely ignorant and tried to look important. They philosophized, argued, and psychoanalyzed. I listened with the utmost attention but didn’t understand a word. They brushed aside the literary greats and eternal values with a phrase – simply wiped them out. I sat there astounded like the novice that I was and didn’t say a word. It was a new world. So this is the beginning of your career, I thought.

When there were no books left, Jung taught me to pawn. I took everything I could do without to the pawnshop, and that’s how I kept my head above water. I began a wild Bohemian life. We drank, bowled and danced the whole night through at somebody else’s expense. Even if one had no money, another did.

These people were much more clever and agile than I. When I eventually began to speak a little, I was mocked. They looked at me puzzled, almost with pity.

In the Action Group I grew better acquainted with Schorsch. We met often and quickly became close. We read Stirner, Nietzsche, and Kropotkin, and Schorsch explained everything quite simply. In a short time we were the best of friends. I complained to him of my troubles, and latched on to him. He worked by the hour at a pastry shop and, when I told him that I had worked as a baker, he advised me to go to the bakers’ lodge.

“You have to find the easiest way to keep your head above water,” he said, “then you can do what you want the rest of the time.” In his free time he read or met up with friends. He was older than I and had had a much harder life. We often talked for hours together. He explained what it was to be an individualist. It meant denying everything – the State, society, the law, and the family – and disregarding ethical ideas and everything that the bourgeois had invented. For these dogs had spent centuries devising the whole system with the utmost skill, and adapted it to their own use simply so that their comfort might not be disturbed, that they might sit tight on their possessions, and that the foolish proletariat might work for them and make them even more wealthy. He did not tell me this excitedly, but drily, almost naively. But his deductions were always convincing to me. Everything was clear to me right from the beginning. What Jung and the literati and all the café folk disputed only bewildered me.

“Morality? – What is that? – A mental aberration!” he began in the style of Stirner, and identified everything that pens us in as an idée fixe. I listened eagerly, and much of what he said literally sounded like a revelation to me. I grew more at ease with myself, my shameful conduct toward Maurus didn’t oppress me so much, and strange conclusions began to form in my mind.

I went to all the anarchist meetings. These people told me that the individual was the victim of society. I soon realized that this was a valuable idea for me, for I interpreted it this way: you can do what you like, it is always society that is to blame; you are merely a victim, without responsibility.

Finally, finally, I had something – yes, but what exactly? A new religion, a system of morality especially adapted for myself. I exulted inwardly. I felt absolutely free.

But with all this knowledge my life grew wilder. It became intolerable even to me. Things couldn’t go on like this. Suddenly the impulse came over me to stand on my own feet. I talked it over with Schorsch. He gave me tips in the search for work. I went to the bakers’ lodge and had my name entered for employment. The café society of which I had become a part started to annoy me. In the end I hardly saw anybody but my neighbor Schmocker and Schorsch.

I was unable to go on paying so much rent, so I moved to another room in a different street together with a friend of Schmocker’s. He was stingy, odious, and pedantic. He kept on seeing bugs all day long, and was constantly wiping the walls, and he wanted to force me to do the same. I just let him go on with his apparitions. What did I care for the imaginary bugs that didn’t bite me!

It was about this time that the police started coming every Sunday at eight in the morning and searched my room for Socialist literature. Each time it was two crime detectives. They poked their nose into everything, pulled out clothes and books, left everything lying about, and went off with a few leaflets and pamphlets. My roommate was furious and made an uproar. I kept quiet and went to Schmocker with a request that he pacify his friend. It didn’t help much.

I hardly had bread to eat and was constantly hungry. Every day I went to the bakers’ lodge. There was no opening. Schorsch sometimes brought bread and margarine and scraps of cake. My roommate had a good position. He set out all his provisions on the table, and in the morning before leaving he put it on the windowsill to the bugs away from it. I was hungry and took some of the food. He made a fuss, and I was furious. I finished up his cheese and said, “You miser!” From quarrelling it escalated to fighting. I threw him down on the floor. He seemed to take it in stride and went out. Late that night he came home and went after me. I was already asleep, and it made me furious. I sprang out of bed like a tiger and let out a terrible howl of rage, like a tiger, and grabbed hold of him. A bitter struggle began. The landlord came in and cursed us. People knocked from the floor below. We didn’t stop till the landlord separated us by force. We were both covered with blood; both of us went to bed. The next day I gave notice.

Eight days before I moved out, a letter from Eugene came from out of the blue and was dated from a hotel. He had come from America with his wife to fetch his illegitimate daughter. I hurried to the hotel. There sat a fat, bloated man together with his gaunt wife, and he laughed broadly as a greeting. I sat down.  He knew all about me. Emma and Theres, who always had a weakness for him, had secretly given him the task of setting me back on the right track. He took on the role of overbearing father figure, gave me some money, ordered a meal for me, and promised to come in the next few days to discuss further plans. Then the couple went home.

“If you obey me, you shall have what is coming to you,” he had said at the station when he was leaving. I waited eagerly with anticipation for what was to come.

Two days later – I was sitting alone in my room – Maurus appeared pale and gloomy. As soon as he opened the door I knew what was coming. I shrank back against the wall, expecting that he beat me to a pulp. But he stood still, pale with anger and trembling a little. He spoke little, but his look was terrible. I lowered my eyes.

“Have you really spent all the money?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Cur! Scoundrel!” he hissed, and his voice shook. He was almost crying from rage, “Oskar! Why did you lie so horribly? Why didn’t you tell me, you – ” He came a step closer. Now it was coming. But no, I felt the cold perspiration in my armpits, I was ashamed, and yet I was glad that at last he knew. I had stolen three hundred marks from him and spent them. He broke out into the bitterest reproaches. It overwhelmed me; I was silent and stupefied. His voice started to break, and then I began to cry, too.

“Do you know what you are? You are the lowest criminal, the meanest scoundrel in the world!” he said at last. I looked up. He looked at me with the most scorn one could muster. Then he left. He had not struck a single blow; no, even in his most furious words there had been the sound of sorrow. It was almost as if, in his heart, he had wanted to say, “Oskar! Why were you such an ass? Why did you have to burn this bridge, too?!” I just sat there. Alone, utterly alone. It really seemed at the moment as if I were walled in on all sides by hostile darkness.

I swallowed. Then I heard a noise outside. Suddenly I remembered the landlord and his family, and my roommate who might come at any minute, and all the rest. I clenched my teeth, got up hastily, went to the washbasin, sponged off my face, combed my hair, and behaved as if nothing had happened. I began to whistle and noticed that I was still trembling. I drove all thought of Maurus out of my head and went out.

For long hours I wandered through the streets without a care or concern. When I returned home it was late at night. This time I crept softly into bed so as not to wake my roommate.

 

 

 

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