"Fictions of Return"

Research project by Dr. Yael Almog, funded by the BMBF (2018-2021)

The project centers on the portrayals of Europe in literature, art and political writings by Jewish emigrants since the 1930s and until the present day. It holds that Jewish thinkers reconceptualized the continent in alliance with Jewish liturgical vocabulary. Europe emerged as a lost homeland for Jews, a terrain from which one is expelled. Feelings of guilt, social isolation, and historical injustice – which have shaped Jewish individuals’ affinity to the continent since the 1930s – enforced this impression. Alongside the establishment of Israel and development of Jewish communities in America, Jews thus began to imagine a relationship to Europe that mirrors the attitude they once possessed toward the mythical Zion before the birth of political Zionism.

Following the oscillation between “diaspora” and “homeland” in Jewish historical imagination, the project scrutinizes Jews’ volatile and interdependent relationship to Europe, Israel, and North America. Works by German-Jewish emigrants and by Jewish migrants to Germany stress the competing roles that the image of Europe as a lethal place for Jews has played in global politics. “Fictions of return” to the continent have thus posed a continual challenge to political theories that describe the mass exile from Europe as constitutive of postwar reality due to its irreversibility, such as Hannah Arendt’s account of totalitarianism.