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Czechs, Germans, Arabs, Jews: Franz Kafka's “Jackals and Arabs” between Bohemia and Palestine

  • Dimitry Shumsky (a1)

Franz Kafka's short story “Schakale und Araber” (Jackals and Arabs) was published in October 1917 in the monthly journal Der Jude, the intellectual organ of German-speaking Zionism founded and edited by Martin Buber. The narrator, an unidentified and pleasant-mannered European man traveling in the desert, makes a stop at an oasis in an Arab area. The circumstances of his journey and its objectives are unknown. It becomes apparent from his story that the man has come to the Arab desert merely by chance “from the far North,” and that he has no intention of remaining in the area for long. All of a sudden, shortly after his “tall [and] white” Arab host has retired to the sleeping area, the narrator finds himself completely surrounded by a pack of jackals. One of them, who introduces himself as “the oldest jackal far and wide,” approaches the man and implores him to solve once and for all the long-standing dispute between the jackals and the Arabs, as the traveler alone—a man hailing from those countries in which reason reigns supreme, which is not the case among the Arabs—is capable of doing so. Once the jackal elder has related to the European traveler the story of his tribe's tribulations, and how they have been compelled to reside alongside the “filthy Arabs” from one generation to the next, another jackal produces a pair of scissors, which, according to the jackals' ancient belief, is to serve the long-awaited man of reason “from the North” to rescue them from their abhorrent and hated neighbors. But at that moment, the Arab caravan leader appears, wielding an immense whip. The reader learns that not only was the Arab awake while the jackal elder sought to persuade the European man to undertake the salvation project and listening attentively to the jackal's words, but in fact, he has been well aware of the jackals' intentions for a long time:

It's common knowledge; so long as Arabs exist, that pair of scissors goes wandering through the desert and will wander with us to the end of our days. Every European is offered it for the great work; every European is just the man that Fate has chosen for them. They have the most lunatic hopes, these beasts; they're just fools, utter fools.

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1. “Schakale und Araber” appeared together with another short story of Kafka's, “Ein Bericht für eine Akademie” (A Report to an Academy), under the joint title “Zwei Tiergeschichten” (Two Animal Stories); see Kafka, Franz, “Zwei Tiergeschichten: I. Schakale und Araber,” Der Jude II (1917–18): 488–90. The notations that follow refer to Kafka, Franz, Collected Stories, ed. Josipovici, Gabriel (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993).

2. Kafka, Collected Stories, 176.

3. Ibid., 175.

4. Ibid., 177, 178.

5. Ibid., 178.

6. Ibid., 178–79.

7. Ibid., 179.

9. Milful, Helen, “Kafka—The Jewish Context,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 22 (1978): 227.

10. On Der Jude's national Jewish orientation and its position in the German Jewish intellectual world toward the end of the First World War and thereafter, see Brenner, Michael, The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in Weimar Germany (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 3335.

11. Tauber, Herbert, Franz Kafka: An Interpretation of His Works (London: Secker & Warburg, 1948), 70.

12. Neider, Charles, Kafka: His Mind and Art (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949), 81.

13. Sokel, Walter H., Franz Kafka—Tragik und Ironie; Zur Struktur seiner Kunst (Munich: Albert Langen, 1964), 146.

14. Németh, André, Kafka ou le mystère juif (Paris: J. Vigneau, 1947), 3538.

15. Rubinstein, William C., “Kafka's ‘Jackals and Arabs,’Monatshefte für deutschen Unterricht 59, no. 1 (1967): 1318.

16. Ibid., 16.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., 14–15.

19. Tismar, Jens, “Kafkas ‘Schakale und Araber’ im zionistischen Kontext betrachtet,” Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 19 (1975): 311–13.

20. Binder, Hartmut, Kafka-Handbuch (Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, 1979), 2:329.

21. Robertson, Ritchie, Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 164.

22. Sander L. Gilman offered a different “Jewish” interpretation, emphasizing the centrality of the difference in eating customs between the “jackals” and “Arabs,” and regarding Kafka's story as a parody of the Jewish customs of ritual slaughter and kashrut. See Gilman, Sander L., Franz Kafka, The Jewish Patient (New York: Routledge, 1995), 150–53.

23. On this point see Milful, “Kafka—The Jewish Context,” 227, 230.

24. Brod, Max, Über Franz Kafka (Frankfurt: Fischer Bücherei, 1966), 271; see also Weltsch, Felix, Religion und Humor im Leben und Werk Franz Kafkas (Berlin-Grunewald: F. A. Herbig, 1957), 38.

25. Beck, Evelyn Torton, Kafka and the Yiddish Theater: Its Impact on His Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971), 1230; Anne Oppenheimer, “Franz Kafka's Relation to Judaism” (PhD diss., Oxford University, 1977), 42–46; Liska, Vivian, “Neighbors, Foes, and Other Communities: Kafka and Zionism,” Yale Journal of Criticism 13, no. 2 (2000): 348–49; Bokhove, Niels, “‘The Entrance to the More Important’: Kafka's Personal Zionism,” in Kafka, Zionism, and Beyond, ed. Gelber, Mark H. (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2004), 2627; and see also Wagenbach, Klaus, Franz Kafka: Eine Biographie seiner Jugend (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1958), 176–81.

26. See, e.g., Binder, Hartmut, “Kafkas Hebräischstudien: ein biographisch-interpretatorischer Versuch,” Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 11 (1967): 530–33; Pawel, Ernst, The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984), 241; Robertson, Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature, 224–25; Alter, Robert, Necessary Angels: Tradition and Modernity in Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 4142; and Alfred Bodenheimer, “A Sign of Sickness and a Symbol of Health: Kafka's Hebrew Notebooks,” in Gelber, Kafka, Zionism, and Beyond, 259–70.

27. Stölzl, Christoph, Kafkas böses Böhmen (Munich: Edition Text + Kritik, 1975), 134–36; Milful, “Kafka—The Jewish Context,” 230; Binder, Kafka-Handbuch, 1:375; Pawel, The Nightmare of Reason, 63–70, 290; Robertson, Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature, 13–14, 141–42; Kieval, Hillel J., The Making of Czech Jewry: National Conflict and Jewish Society in Bohemia, 1870–1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 99100, 138–41; Alter, Necessary Angels, 39–42; and see also Ritchie Robertson, “The Creative Dialogue between Brod and Kafka,” in Gelber, Kafka, Zionism, and Beyond, 283–96.

28. Wagenbach, Franz Kafka: Eine Biographie seiner Jugend, 181–82.

29. Binder, Hartmut, “Franz Kafka and the Weekly Paper ‘Selbstwehr,’Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 12 (1967): 135, 140; and Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry, 126.

30. Cohen, Arthur A., introduction to The Jew: Essays from Martin Buber's Journal “Der Jude,” 1916–1928, ed. Cohen, Arthur A. (University: Alabama University Press, 1980), 1011.

31. Spector, Scott, Prague Territories: National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Franz Kafka's Fin de Siècle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 191–94.

32. Tismar, “Kafkas ‘Schakale und Araber,’” 314.

33. Oppenheimer, “Kafka's Relation to Judaism,” 268.

34. Botros, Atef, “Literarische ‘Reterritorialisierung’ und historische Rekonstruktierung—Zur europäischen und arabischen Rezeption von Kafkas Schakale und Araber,” Leipziger Beiträge zur jüdischen Geschichte und Kultur 3 (2005): 229–30.

35. Ibid., 230–38.

36. It is sufficient to mention in this context Hugo Bergmann's article “The Genuine Autonomy,” in which he particularly emphasized the centrality of the issue of Arab–Jewish relations for the future of the Yishuv, and also traced the first outlines of its solution by way of the binational arrangement, and the article “On the Arab Question” by Hans Kohn, also one of the leading members of Bar Kochba in the prewar period, who for the first time in the Zionist movement raised the Nationalitätenstaat model (i.e., a binational state), in reference to the political future of Palestine. See Bergmann, Hugo, “Die wahre Autonomie,” Der Jude 3 (1918–19): 368–73; and Kohn, Hans, “Zur Araberfrage,” Der Jude 4 (1919–20): 567–69.

37. Bruce, Iris, Kafka and Cultural Zionism: Dates in Palestine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), 154–57, 185–88.

38. Ibid., 154.

39. According to the Austrian population census method, which adopted the category of “everyday language” as a criterion for defining one's national affiliation, Prague's population in 1900 numbered some 415,000 “Czechs” (speakers of Czech on a day-to-day basis) and 33,776 “Germans” (speakers of German on a day-to-day basis), while the 27,289 members of the Jewish religion were divided among these two groups—55 percent Czech speakers as an everyday language, and 45 percent German speakers.

40. Spector, Prague Territories, 191–92.

41. Ibid., 20.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., 17–20, 234–40.

44. Ibid., 176.

45. Tramer, Hans, “Prague—City of Three Peoples,” Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 9 (1964): 305; Kestenberg-Gladstein, Ruth, “The Jews between Czechs and Germans,” in The Jews of Czechoslovakia: Historical Studies and Surveys (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968), 1:3233; Stölzl, Kafkas böses Böhmen; Riff, Michael A., “Czech Antisemitism and the Jewish Response before 1914,” Wiener Library Bulletin 29, nos. 39–40 (1976): 820; Cohen, Gary B., “Jews in German Society: Prague, 1860–1914,” Central European History 10 (March 1977): 2854; idem, The Politics of Ethnic Survival: Germans in Prague, 1861–1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981); and idem, “Jews in German Liberal Politics: Prague, 1880–1914,” Jewish History 1, no. 1 (1986): 55–74.

46. Stuart Borman, “The Prague Student Zionist Movement: 1896–1914” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 1972), 28–29, 157; Michael A. Riff, “The Assimilation of the Jews of Bohemia and the Rise of Political Anti-Semitism, 1848–1918” (PhD diss., University of London, 1974), 189–90; Stölzl, Kafkas böses Böhmen, 93; Cohen, The Politics of Ethnic Survival, 262; Zohar Maor, “Mistika, yetsira u-sheiva el ha-yahadut: ‘Cḥug Prag’ be-tehilat ha-mea ha-esrim” (PhD diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2005), 79, 150, 172–74, 247, 275–77; and Aschheim, Steven E., Beyond the Border: The German-Jewish Legacy Abroad (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 13. See also Iggers, Wilma A., “Die Prager Juden zwischen Assimilation und Zionismus,” in Berlin und der Prager Kreis, ed. Pazi, Margarita and Zimmermann, Hans D. (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1991), 22; Binder, Hartmut, “Paul Eisners dreifaches Ghetto: Deutsche, Juden und Tschechen in Prag,” in Le monde de Franz Werfel et la morale des nations, ed. Reffet, Michel (Bern: Peter Lang, 2001), 111; and Rozenblit, Marsha L., Reconstructing a National Identity: The Jews of Habsburg Austria during World War I (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 37.

47. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry, 3.

48. Ibid., 10–12.

49. Ibid., 25–27.

50. Ibid., 4, 198–200.

51. Ibid., 48–58, 60–63, 198–99.

52. Ibid., 100.

53. Ibid., 113, 198–203.

54. For information on the ethno-language composition of the population of the apartment buildings of Bergmann, Kafka, Brod, Kohn, and Weltsch, see, respectively, Archiv hlavního mĕsta Prahy (AHMP), fond sčítaci operaty, I–131, 1900; AHMP, fond sčítaci operaty, I–602, 1900; AHMP, fond sčítaci operaty, I–527, 1900; AHMP, fond sčítaci operaty, I–349, 1911; and AHMP, fond sčítaci operaty, V–125, 1901–10.

55. Cohen, “Jews in German Society,” 49–51.

56. For Bergmann and Kafka, see AHMP, fond školní katalogy, Neměcke st. gymnasium, Stare Město, 1–8 třída, 1893–1901/K. k. deutsches Staats-Gymnasium Prag, Altstadt, 1893–1901, Klassen-Katalog, I–VIII Klasse; for Brod, see AHMP, fond školní katalogy, Gymnasium neměcké statní, Stepanská ul., 1–8 třída, 1894–1902/K. k. Staatsgymnasium, Prag Neustadt, Stephansgasse Hauptkatalog, 1894–1902, I–VIII Klasse; for Kohn, see AHMP, fond školní katalogy, Neměcke st. gymnasium, Stare Město,1–8 třída, 1902–10, K. k. deutsches Staats-Gymnasium Prag, Altstadt, 1902–10, Klassen-Katalog, I–VIII; for Weltsch, see AHMP, fond školní katalogy, Neměcke st. gymnasium, Stare Město,1–8 třída, 1901–1909/K. k. deutsches Staats-Gymnasium Prag, Altstadt, 1901–1909, Klassen-Katalog, I–VIII.

Hartmut Binder found that the study of the Czech language in Bohemian German high schools fell into the category of “relatively compulsory study” (relativ obligater Lehrgegenstand), and that German-speaking students for the most part did study the Czech language (Binder, “Paul Eisners dreifaches Ghetto,” 116). And yet, according to statistical data from the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, only 38.6 percent of all the students in Bohemian German high schools chose to study the Czech language. See Hellmut, Karl, “Die Gymnasien und Realschulen in Böhmen im Schuljahre 1906–07,” Deutsche Arbeit 7, no. 4 (January 1908): 244.

57. Judson, Pieter M., “Inventing Germans: Class, Nationality and Colonial Fantasy at the Margins of Hapsburg Monarchy,” Social Analysis 33 (September 1993): 4748.

58. Shmuel Hugo Bergmann Archives, Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Arc 4° 1502/156.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. Bergmann, Hugo, “Jüdische Schulfragen,” Revue der israelitischen Kultursgemeinden in Böhmen (October 1903): 3.

62. See Bergmann, Hugo, “Der jüdische Nationalrat,” Selbstwehr, November 1, 1918, 2.

63. Bergmann, Hugo, “Prager Brief,” Jüdische Volksstimme, January 15, 1904, 5.

64. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry, 113.

65. Bergmann, “Prager Brief,” 4–5.

66. Brod, Max, “Zikhronot mi-tekufat ha-hitbolelut,” in Prag vi-Yerushalayim, ed. Weltsch, Felix (Jerusalem: Keren ha-Yesod, 1954), 5354; see also idem, Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie (Munich: Kindler Verlag, 1960), 178.

67. Brod, Streitbares Leben, 234.

68. See note 56 herein.

69. Brod, Max, Ein tschechisches Dienstmädchen (Leipzig: Axel Juncker Verlag, 1909).

70. Ibid., 11.

71. Ibid., 20–21.

72. Ibid., 118–19.

73. Ibid., 20–21.

74. Ibid., 118.

75. Havránek, Jan, “The Development of Czech Nationalism,” Austrian History Yearbook 3 (1967): 230.

76. Brod, Ein tschechisches Dienstmädchen, 118.

77. Ibid., 119 (emphasis added).

78. Ibid., 118.

79. Ibid.

80. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry, 124.

81. Herrmann, Leo, “Ein tschechisches Dienstmädchen,” Jüdische Volksstimme, April 20, 1909, 9.

82. Spector, Prague Territories, 174.

83. See Shumsky, Dimitry, “On Ethno-Centrism and its Limits: Czecho-German Jewry in Fin-de-Siècle Prague and the Origins of Zionist Bi-Nationalism,” Jahrbuch des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts 5 (2006): 184–88.

84. See, e.g., Kedar, Aharon, “Brith Shalom [1925–1933],” Jerusalem Quarterly 18 (1981): 56; Gorny, Yosef, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882–1948: A Study of Ideology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 122–25; Shapira, Anita, Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 164–69; Lavsky, Hagit, Before Catastrophe: The Distinctive Path of German Zionism (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1996), 141; Ratzabi, Shalom, Between Zionism and Judaism: The Radical Circle in Brith Shalom, 1925–1933 (Leiden: Brill, 2002).

85. Bergmann, Schmuel Hugo, Tagebücher und Briefe, ed. Sambursky, Miriam (Königstein/Ts.: Jüdische Verlag, 1985), 1:2738; and Bergmann, Hugo, “Bemerkungen zur arabischen Frage,” Palästina 8 (1911): 190–95.

86. Epstein, Yitzhak, “She'ela ne'elma,” Ha-shiloaḥ 17 (1907–1908): 193206.

87. Bergmann, “Bemerkungen,” 195.

88. Epstein, “She'ela ne'elma,” 196.

89. Ibid., 194–95.

90. Ibid., 195.

91. Bergmann, “Bemerkungen,” 191.

92. Epstein, “She'ila neelama,” 195; Kimmerling, Baruch and Migdal, Joel S., The Palestinian People: A History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2627.

93. Bergmann, “Bemerkungen,” 191–92.

94. Ibid., 192.

95. Ibid.

96. Ibid., 195; see also idem., Tagebücher und Briefe, 1:35.

97. See, respectively, “Volkssagen im heutigen Palästina,” Selbstwehr, July 22, 1910, 1–2; “Von der deutschen und der jüdischen Palästina-Bank,” Selbstwehr, May 13, 1910, 2; and “Zur Lage der jüdischen Kolonien in Galiläa,” Selbstwehr, September 16, 1910, 4.

98. “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, December 9, 1910, 5.

99. “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, July 14, 1911, 4.

100. “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, February 3, 1911, 4; and March 17, 1911, 4.

101. “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, July 14, 1911, 4.

102. Bergmann, “Bemerkungen,” 192, 190, 195; and “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, July 14, 1911, 4.

103. Bergmann, “Schulfragen,” 3; “Palästinanachrichten,” Selbstwehr, July 14, 1911, 4.

104. “Matai ha-milḥamah hi ha-hekhraḥ: ḥalifat ha-mikhtavim ben Hugo Bergmann le-ven Max Brod,” Molad 3, no. 26 (1970–71): 268–72.

105. Letter from Hugo Bergmann to Robert Weltsch, May 30, 1921, in Tagebücher und Briefe, 1:162.

106. Ibid., 161.

107. Emphasis added. Franz Kafka to Martin Buber, May 12, 1917, in Letters to Friends, Family, Editors, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), 132.

108. Kafka, Franz, Letters to Felice, ed. Heller, Erich and Born, Jürgen, trans. Stern, James and Duckworth, Elisabeth (London: Secker & Warburg, 1974), 16.

109. Binder, “Kafka and the Weekly Paper ‘Selbstwehr.’”

110. Tismar, “Kafkas ‘Schakale und Araber’”; Robertson, Kafka: Judaism, Politics, and Literature, 164; and Spector, Prague Territories, 191.

111. Friedman, Isaiah, The Question of Palestine, 1914–1918: British–Jewish–Arab Relations (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 12, 67.

112. Heller, Joseph, “Emdotehem shel Ben-Gurion, Weizmann and Jabotinsky be-sheila he-aravit—mekhkar hashva'ati,” in Idan ha-ẓiyonut, ed. Shapira, Anita, Reinharz, Jehuda and Harris, Jay (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 2000), 217.

113. Porath, Yehoshua, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement: 1918–1929 (London: Frank Cass, 1974), 28; Mandel, Neville J., The Arabs and Zionism before World War I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 226–27; and Morris, Benny, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881–1999 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 6267. On the nationalist-autonomist movements among the Palestinian Arabs on the eve of World War I, see Tauber, Eliezer, The Emergence of the Arab Movements (London: Frank Cass, 1993), 150–51.

114. Kafka, Collected Stories, 179.

115. Ibid., 176.

116. Kieval, The Making of Czech Jewry, 97.

117. Ibid., 101.

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