Last Friday, our discussion of The Oppermans centered upon chapters 50-56, wherein some characters have begun to come to the sober realization that the “barbarism of cavemen” (i.e. the German Nationalists) were now “being written into the laws of the country.”
Now in Switzerland, Gustav learns that his home in Berlin has been confiscated by the Nazis. Dr. Bilfiger, an acquaintance of Gustav’s colleague Frischlen, shares accounts of atrocities taking place throughout Germany where several internment camps have been set up. The words “made jagged wounds in [Gustav’s] flesh. Bilfiger has written documents to support his claims.
Gustav learns that a school chum whom he expected to reunite with in Switzerland has been placed in a camp. Gustav argues with a man who continues to believe that “things will settle themselves in Germany” and that “weeping and wailing only injures Jews.” Gustav threatens to throw this man in a lake. On the other hand, he has not yet entirely resolved that he can use his fury as a weapon, thinking that the expression of such fury might best be left to others.
Speaking on the phone to Sybil Rauch and Friedrich Gutwetter (whose ideas about the “new man” that will emerge as a result of German Nationalism has increased his popularity, Gustav staunchly disagrees with their cavalier attitudes about what’s going on in Germany. Sybil reveals her ambivalence as she vacillates about her allegiance to Gustav or Gutwetter.
Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Rector Francois clashes with Vogelsang (who has now become Minister of Education) over whether “Beanpole” Ritterskeg (a Nationalist hero but an academic failure) should be allowed to pass his courses. Vogelsang believes that “Rules” (academic standards) should be “no more than cobwebs before a machine gun.”
Klara and Lavendel make plans to leave Germany for their estate in Switzerland; the Wolfsohn’s, on the other hand, even though they realize that “the worst is yet to come,” don’t have the means to leave Berlin.
Throughout our discussions we were enjoined to withhold judgment on the novel’s characters. We have the hindsight of the consequences of the Nationalist rise to power, but in 1933 many of the figures were conflicted about how to make their decisions. What decisions would we have made without that hindsight? To what extent would an urge for self-preservation serve as a defense mechanism?
This Friday the study group will conclude its discussion of The Oppermanns with a discussion of Chapters 56-67 focusing upon how circumstances and characters developed.
Our informal discussion group meets via Zoom every Friday from 12-1 (click HERE). All are welcome to attend.
The Noon Study Group will be on recess from Friday, September 29 through Friday October 6.
When our group resumes on October 13, we will begin discussing Avi Jorisch’s Thou Shalt Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World (2018). This collection of observations and vignettes profiles wondrous Israeli innovations that are collectively changing the lives of billions of people around the world and explores why Israeli innovators of all faiths feel compelled to make the world better. This is the story of how Israelis are helping to feed the hungry, cure the sick, protect the defenseless, and make the desert bloom. Copies of Jorisch’s book are available through a variety of internet outlets. Check the CBI web site for updates.If you have questions, please contact Jay Jacoby at firstname.lastname@example.org.