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The Jews of Eastern Europe - Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Romania - had the misfortune to have settled, usually by invitation, sometimes by coercion, in one of the most fought-over pieces of real estate on the planet. There is no other people that lives on such a footing with their God They know that while they may be punished they will never be abandoned.

His culture does not run on money, of which there is little, but on prayer, of which there is an abundance. His is an economy of prayer lying under a layer of material poverty. Isolated by law for centuries from the Christian inhabitants of these Christian countries, the Jews of Eastern Europe were also isolated by culture from the assimilated Jews of Germany and Western Europe. Despised by both Christians and Jews, they learned to despise themselves and their unique culture.

They knew nothing of nationality, Jewish or otherwise. With no rights, only obligations, they yearned for escape, not from their culture but from their oppression. They wanted to escape to anywhere, as long as it was West. But culture and oppression are linked in a sort of ecological dependence.

Like the Native Americans, and the tribes of the Amazonian jungle, culture dissipates without the pressure of oppression and its provocation to resistance. Now he is despised because he is poor and merely strange. So he becomes part of a nation, to the benefit of neither the Jew nor the West: "Anyone deserves the West who arrives with fresh energy to break up the deadly, antiseptic boredom of its civilisation, prepared to undergo the quarantine that we prescribe for immigrants.

We do not realise that our whole life has become a quarantine, and that all our countries have become barracks and concentration camps, admittedly with all the modern conveniences. The immigrants - alas -do not assimilate too slowly, as they are accused of doing, but if anything much too quickly to our sorry way of living. This is a skill honed by oppression. If they can get the necessary exit papers and if they can get into the quota, they go to America: "America signifies distance.

America signifies freedom. In America he can still speak Yiddish, he thinks, just because of all the Jews there already! In the preface to the edition, Roth notes the dismal fact that it is the German Jews who now must learn again to wander, either rounded up into ghettos or forced abroad like their Eastern brethren by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws.





Joseph Roth



Judíos errantes


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