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Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist activist in early 20th-century Berlin, murdered by her political enemies after World War I. She’s the topic of the debut edition of “Long Story Short,” a new podcast on people and ideas in Jewish life.

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Rosa Luxemburg.(Wikimedia Commons)

Rosa Luxemburg was always an anomaly. One of the fiercest thinkers of the early 20th century, this Marxist philosopher and firebrand activist led masses of rebels during a time when politics was governed entirely by men. Living in Berlin, she was of Polish Jewish descent but not at all concerned with the plight of Jews. Unlike her male, dogmatic, and dull peers, she believed in love and passion and life’s small but great joys. In 1919, when she was just 47 years old, she was brutally murdered by her opponents. Long after many of her colleagues have been reclassified as tyrants by history’s unremitting hand, Luxemburg’s popularity is greater than ever; each year, thousands of young activists flock to her grave for inspiration.

But how is Luxemburg relevant to Jewish history? And what, if anything, would she have to say to Sarah Palin and her Tea Party supporters? The critic and essayist Vivian Gornick joined Long Story Short host Liel Leibovitz to discuss these questions in the first installment of Long Story Short, a new monthly podcast about the people, places, and ideas that have shaped Jewish life and history. Each installment will focus on a different subject—from the 17th-century false messiah Shabbatai Tzvi to the 20th century’s princes of punk, the Ramones—and will feature a wide array of thinkers, artists, historians, and intellectuals.

The conversations, leisurely and long, are recorded in Leibovitz’s living room over a bottle of wine and are designed as the antithesis to haste, hype, and the other vulgarities that plague our popular culture. The podcast owes a great debt to the BBC’s long-running show In Our Time, with which it shares the belief that ideas matter, and that rather than be marketed, condensed, tweaked, trivialized, or bowdlerized, they should be passionately discussed. [Running time: 42:27.]

to Long Story Short.

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MonkFish says:

This new podcast is nothing short of inspired! BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, a programme of which I have been an avid listener for eight years, has but two lacunae: first, that its host, Melvynn Bragg, can be a bit of a opinionated prig, second, that, with the exception of a single edition on the Rambam this year, he has avoided jewish topics entirely. My hope is that “Long Story Short” will act as a much needed jewish complement to Bragg.

If this is a podcast, how do we subscribe? You don’t provide a link, nor do you show up in the iTunes store.

jacob arnon says:

“Rosa Luxemburg was always an anomaly.”

Was she? In Eastern Europe, which is from where she hails from, there were lots of Jewish women leftist revolutionaries drawn to violence. Fanya Kaplan, who shot Lenin, for example, also came from a Jewish family.

They are relevant to us only as cautionary tales.

admin says:

We hope to appear in the iTunes story shortly, we will keep you posted! you can subscribe via our RSS feed using the link below the podcast. Thanks.

Esther says:

Well done!!! I truly enjoyed it and am looking forward to the upcoming podcasts!!!

Milton says:

Alas, the link below the podcast failed….is there another method?

Rocky says:

I hope there is one done on Walter Rathenau. 50 years before Henry Kissinger became the first Jewish Secretary of State in the US, Rathenau held a similar position in Germany before being gunned down by disgruntled members of a paramilitary organization at the age of 54.

Dani ben Leb says:

Yes, I had asked for a feature on Walther Rathenau before! Excellent idea.
Aslo while we are in Berlin around that time. Helmut Newton ( real name Hoffman ) the photographer, was a Berlin Jew who grew up close to Rathenau. Newton went on to become one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century often playing with his Prussian heritage in his work over the decades. His father was a button manufacturer and they belonged to that well to do, assimilated German-Jewish world. Newton was taught by Yva, photographer to the Berlin creatives in the 20s. Yva was murdered in a death camp in ’42.
There was also Gershom Sholem around Rosa’s time in Berlin. But I assume ( guessing here ) Communism was a joke to Gershom who’s Communist brother was murdered by the Nazi’s.
Gershom and Martin would of course later kick-it in J-town.

Rocky says:

Dani: Do you mean Helmut Neustaedter who was born in 1920? He changed his name to Newton while living in Australia. Yes, he did have a very interesting life, although I must confess I had never heard of him before your post.

Another interesting Jewish personality in the arts is actor Kurt Gerron, who, during the 1920’s and early 1930’s, was a famous actor of the stage and screen in Berlin. He left Germany in 1933, moving first to Paris and then to Amsterdam. He turned down various offers of employment from the German-American community in Hollywood, was arrested by the Nazis after they occupied Holland and eventually ended up in Theresienstadt. At the camp, he ran a cabaret for the inmates and later co-operated with the Nazis in directing a propaganda documentary, “Hitler Gives the Jews a City”, hoping it might save his life. In the end, he was deported to Auschwitz.

jacob arnon says:

During the interview, Gornick said that Walter Benjamin didn’t go to Palestine because he was “devoted to German literature.”

This isn’t factually true. He stayed on France. He was already in exile from German literature and was doing brilliant work on French literature. He needed to stay there to complete his literary project (Bataille, the French writer and critic who worked as a librarian, saved his papers from destruction.)

Consequently he left only after the German invasion.

He took refuge in a hard nosed form of Communism which was severely criticized by Adorno. He may also have been depressed at the time.

Benjamin, then, like many other Jewish European intellectuals made a number of wrong decisions and ended up dead.

Still, Benjamin, unlike Rosa Luxemburg, cared about his Jewish heritage and would never have disavowed it.

Dani ben Leb says:

my mistake, Thank you for pointing this out. Newton wrote a hilarious autobiography, great read.

Tommie T says:

Both Lenin and Trotsky were very disappointed that so many of the post World War Communist revolutions in Eastern Europe ended in failure. So they only got to kill a few million people. And did not get the opportunity to work the killing machine on the heart of Europe. And only managed to kill a few million people prior to Stalin’s takeover.

I’ve simply discovered your website and revel in every post. I appreciate your own talent.


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Rosa Luxemburg was a Marxist activist in early 20th-century Berlin, murdered by her political enemies after World War I. She’s the topic of the debut edition of “Long Story Short,” a new podcast on people and ideas in Jewish life.

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