Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is Professor of History and Director of the Undergraduate Program in Judaic Studies at Fairfield University.

He has written a wide range of books, including the newly released Hi Hitler! How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture and the edited collection, "If Only We Had Died in Egypt!" What Ifs of Jewish History From Abraham to Zionism. Rosenfeld is also the author of Building after Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust, The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism, Munich and Memory: Architecture, Monuments and the Legacy of the Third Reich, and the co-edited work, Beyond Berlin: Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past.

Recently I asked Rosenfeld about what he was reading. His reply:
The historical legacy of the Nazi era continues to fascinate me and I have begun work on a new book about the history of the Fourth Reich. As part of this project, I recently finished reading a (by now, surely forgotten) novel from 1944, Erwin Lessner’s Phantom Victory: A Fictional History of the Fourth Reich, 1945-1960. This future history (or to be technical, retroactive alternate history) was written by an Austrian World War I veteran and emigrĂ© to the United States and features a nightmare scenario in which the United States neglects to follow up its military victory over the Nazis with a hard peace and thereby enables the Nazis to return to power and establish a Fourth Reich. The plot and characters are reasonably engaging (the founder of the Fourth Reich is a charismatic peasant named Friedolin who leads the Germans back to power via feigned penance for their crimes), but the book is mostly of interest for articulating the fears of many Americans in the mid-1940s that their government would repeat the mistakes of 1918 and set the stage for yet another world war.

On a related note, I recently finished a very different future history, Howard Jacobson’s new novel, J. There are numerous connections between this novel and Lessner’s, the most important being its expression of contemporary fears relating to larger political trends. In Jacobson’s case, it is the upsurge in European antisemitism, particularly in Great Britain. Jacobson explored this topic in his recent novel, The Finkler Question, but J deals with the subject in a much more dystopian way: by imagining a future Britain in which the J--- (the word is never printed in the novel) have somehow been expunged from British life root and branch. The novel is engrossing and asks readers to toggle back and forth between the real history of 20th century antisemitism (mostly in Germany) and an imaginary future world, in which contemporary events (mostly in the Middle East) have led Jew-hatred to boil over. Jacobson’s depiction of how this event shapes British life generations later and how Britons ultimately realize they need the J--- in their lives for dialectical reasons is provocative and deeply unsettling.
Visit Gavriel D. Rosenfeld's website.

--Marshal Zeringue