HUC Press Publishes Let Me Continue to Speak the Truth: Bertha Pappenheim as Author and Activist, by Elizabeth Loentz

Monday, December 3, 2007

In 1953 Freud biographer Ernest Jones revealed that the famous hysteric Anna O. was really Bertha Pappenheim (1859-1936), the prolific author, German-Jewish feminist, pioneering social worker, and activist. Elizabeth Loentz directs attention away from the young woman who arguably invented the "talking cure" and back to Pappenheim and her post-Anna O. achievements, especially her writings, which reveal her to be one of the most versatile, productive, influential, and controversial Jewish thinkers and leaders of her time. Pappenheim's oeuvre includes stories, plays, poems, prayers, travel literature, letters, essays, speeches, and aphorisms. She translated into German Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women as well as the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln and other old Yiddish texts. She was discussed, as both writer and newsmaker, in German-Jewish newspapers of every religious and political affiliation and in German feminist publications. Pappenheim founded and led the League of Jewish Women in Germany and the International League of Jewish Women. She was at the forefront of the campaign to combat human trafficking and forced prostitution ("white slavery" orMädchenhandel). A pioneer of modern Jewish social work, she founded a home for "at-risk" girls and unwed mothers and advocated on behalf of Jewish women, children, refugees, and immigrants. Her accomplishments are all the more remarkable because she attained them after struggling to recover from the debilitating mental illness chronicled in Freud and Breuer's Studies on Hysteria(1895). 

In her first five chapters Loentz examines how Pappenheim engaged, in words and deeds, with the key political, social, and cultural issues concerning German Jewry in the early decades of the twentieth century: the status of the Yiddish language, Zionism, the "conversion epidemic," responses to the plight of Eastern European Jews, and Jewish spirituality. Loentz shows how, in Pappenheim's unique approach to each of these issues, she balanced allegiances to feminism, the Jewish religion, and German culture. 

Two additional chapters explore how biographers and artists have rediscovered Bertha Pappenheim, rewritten her life story, and renegotiated her identity. 

Pappenheim words live on. In a moving afterword, Loentz describes how Elisa Klapheck and Lara Dämmig reissued Pappenheim's Prayers in 2003 and read one of them in Berlin as the invocation at the opening session of Bet Deborah, the Third European Jewish Women's Conference of Rabbis, Jewish Politicians, Activists, and Scholars. Thus more than half a century after her death, Pappenheim continues to inspire: "Strength, strength / Let me, in breath and heartbeat / Be filled by the rhythm / That carries justice and truth / From you, to you." 

Elizabeth Loentz is Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Distributed by Wayne State University Press
$34.95 313 pages
To order, call 1-800-978-7323 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's first institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.