We Were Europeans
A Personal History of a Turbulent Century
By Werner M. Loval
Gefen Publishing House, 2010, 520 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 22, 2010
Werner M. Loval was born in Germany, but ultimately, after living in other countries, settled in Israel and served in Israel's diplomatic service. He dedicates his book to his twelve grandchildren "in the hope that it will enrich their knowledge of our family's history and our European background." The well-written book is about his family, but all readers will find it interesting and informative. It introduces readers to a significant history of several countries, cultures, and people, and the concept of enlightenment.
Jews lived in Germany for two millenniums, since the days of the Roman Empire. Jews are mentioned as living in Bavaria, the south-eastern part of Germany, since 981. They worked as traders and craftsmen. Loval's traces his family back to Bavaria in the eighteenth century. The family went from bare bones existence in ghettos to emancipation and enlightenment. Today, Loval is a Reform Jew, the liberal wing of Judaism, and a founding member of a Reform congregation in Jerusalem, who played a major role in the birth of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.
Loval tells, for example, about the golden enlightened age of Jewish creativity in pre-Nazi Germany due to an open-minded symbiosis of people and cultures, and how, despite the butchery by the Nazis, Jews survived. Remarkably, he reports, in the second half of the twentieth century, Jews won 32 percent of the Nobel Prizes for medicine, 32 percent for physics, 39 percent for economics, and 29 percent for science, despite the murder of great intellects by the Nazi hordes. He writes how the well-known non-Jewish German novelist Gunter Grass bemoaned the loss of their county's prewar Jewish population and said that it would never again regain the talent and enterprise that its racist insanity destroyed.
He discusses his visits and relationships with German non-Jews. He tells his readers that until 1952, Israeli Jews boycotted Germany; Israeli passports had the inscription saying it was good for all countries except Germany.
Among a wealth of information, he tells about the fights for Reform Judaism, Judaism's liberal religious wing, which began in Germany, and how it took as long as 2006 until the Jewish community in Germany, which is supported by the German government, recognized the German Reform congregation and its college.
And there is a host of humorous matters, such as the fact that today, 65 years after Jews left Schopfloch in Germany, visitors who know Hebrew can hear many words that show the influence of Hebrew, such as bessim for eggs, keleff for dog, and sus for horse.