Wege Der Verheißung: Jewish Thought And The Portrayal Of History In Franz Werfel’s Work

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Austrian Literature
Franz Werfel
German Exile Literature
German Literature
Jewish Studies
German Literature
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Tearney, Thomas Abraham

Franz Werfel (1890-1945) was a Bohemian Jew who throughout his life explored Catholic themes in his work. In the wake of the First World War and the collapse of the multiethnic Habsburg Empire, Austro-Hungarian Jews like Werfel were tasked with defining their place in a new Europe comprised of more religiously homogeneous nation-states. While several studies have approached the topic of Werfel’s process of religious and political identity formation, no scholar has approached the question of religion and terrestrial harmony through a thorough examination of his dramatic experimentation with history. This dissertation provides close readings of the plays Paulus unter den Juden (1926), Der Weg der Verheißung (1935), and Jacobowsky und der Oberst (1944), as well as an examination of his final novel, Stern der Ungeborenen (published 1946). In all of these works, Werfel’s creative approaches to the depiction of history through his use of dramatic simultaneity, miracles, and time travel alter the dynamic of the relationship between Catholicism and Judaism. By relativizing, reversing, or doing away with history, Werfel is able to question the absolute nature of competition between the two religions. What is revealed is a reciprocal dependency between Judaism and Catholicism, where neither religion is exclusively in service to the other. Granting both of these religions equal validity and emphasizing faith in general over dogmatic practice, Werfel also makes a case for tolerance on earth. Just as religious opposites complement one another in an eschatological sense, so too can these opposites assist one another during the struggles of earthly existence. While the urgency of cooperation was amplified by the Second World War, these works demonstrate that for Werfel, this need already arises from the difficulty of waiting for ultimate redemption itself, a burden shared by Christians and Jews. The conclusions of this study can shed new light on broader questions of minority identity formation, European modernism, the Jewish relationship to history, and novel ways to combat anti-Semitism.

Liliane Weissberg
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