Heine, Heinrich (Harry, Chaim)

   German poet and essayist. Heine was a great German lyric poet, whose radical politics and strong criticism of the government made life in Germany difficult for him. After the French revolution of 1830, he moved to Paris and lived there until his death. Heine had a tormented and inconsistent attitude towards Judaism, and for many he symbolized the ambivalent position of German Jews in the 19 century. He grew up in Dusseldorf when it was under French occupation and received a mainly French education. The French armies had thrown down the walls of the ghettos wherever they conquered, and granted civic rights to the Jews. They suffered a profound shock when these rights were taken away again in 1813 after Napoleon’s defeat. Many preferred baptism, though Heine was not one of them at this point. His childhood left him with only a smattering of Jewish knowledge but a permanent awareness of being Jewish, and he was active in Jewish affairs while a student in Berlin in the 1820s. Yet in 1825 he unexpectedly had himself baptized, changing his name from Harry (Chaim) to Christian Johann Heinrich. Both before and after his baptism he mocked those who ‘crawled towards the cross’ and his conversion was a matter about which he was always defensive. However, it made him eligible to receive his doctorate from the University of Gottingen, which he did a few weeks later. Heine had chosen Jewish themes for some of his poems as a young man. He grew close to Judaism again in his old age when he produced some of his finest Jewish writings, such as a poem in praise of Judah HALEVI. He declared that he did not need to ‘return’ to Judaism since he had never really left it. Yet at all periods of his life he was prone to make barbed statements, such as his calling Judaism a misfortune, not a religion. He was a pronounced example of a sufferer from what would today be called a crisis of identity. After his death, as during his life, Heine was disliked by extreme German nationalists and anti-Semites. The city of Düsseldorf refused a monument to him in 1897 and his grave was destroyed when the Nazis occupied Paris. His poem Die Lorelei (1827) was so popular, however, that the Nazis had to allow its inclusion in German anthologies, ascribed to an ‘unknown author’. HELLER, Joseph b. 1923. American writer. Heller was born in Brooklyn and, after serving in the American Air Force in World War II, studied at the Universities of New York, Columbia and Oxford where he was a Fulbright scholar. He worked for various magazines until the success of his novel Catch-22 (1961) enabled him to be a full-time writer. Catch-22 remains his most famous work. It is an attack on the corruption and absurdity of military life and is hilariously funny. Subsequently he applied the same treatment to the corporate world in Something Happened (1974), to the government in Good as Gold (1979) and to the religious establishment in God Knows (1984). The expression ‘a Catch-22’, meaning a no-win predicament, has become part of everyday speech.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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