Snapshotsof German-Jewish History and Culture
A Compass for a German-Jewish Childhood: Emil Bernhard Cohn’s Jüdischer Jugendkalender 1934 (Almanac for Jewish Youth)
In this Snapshot, we would like to invite you to leaf through one of the most popular books on a German-Jewish child’s bookshelf in the early 20th century: Emil Bernhard Cohn’s Jüdischer Jugendkalender (Almanac for Jewish Youth). Including a striking and unique use of visual language, this almanac reflects the changing fate of German-Jews in the 1920 and 1930s. The multi-talented Cohn – a playwright, scholar and rabbi – developed this popular novelty format for German-Jewish children in the years of the Weimar Republic.
The Jüdischer Kinder- und Jugendkalender series was designed to educate German-Jewish children about Jewish culture and traditions in a playful manner. It aimed at fostering a positive and confident German-Jewish identity. From its first appearance in 1928, the almanac enjoyed great popularity amongst German-Jewish families. In its early editions, the publication presented German-Jewish culture as part of German culture. This presentation changed dramatically after 1933. The edition held at the Leo Baeck Institute London was published in 1934 and marked a shift from promoting a confident German-Jewish identity in Germany to looking towards the prospect of emigration.
Cohn’s compendium of texts presented the reader with a diverse scope of literary genres and included interactive elements alongside traditional biblical stories, children’s plays, factual texts, music and poetry, written in German as well as Hebrew. The volumes also featured riddles, humorous texts, photographs, crosswords and last, but certainly not least, beautiful illustrations. The almanac introduced the young reader to diverse layers of Jewish history and culture ranging from Jewish magicians to adaptations of Chassidic stories as well as reflections on the history of Jewish surnames.
The ascent of National Socialism, however, led Cohn to change the content of his almanac. This shift is evident in the 1934 edition with the appearance of texts on subjects such as emigration, as exemplified by the story Erich und Manuel – Eine Marranengeschichte (Erich and Manuel – A Marrano Story). The 1934 volume also attempts to counter popular anti-Semitic fantasies such as the idea of the ‘weak and sickly Jewish body’ by featuring successful Jewish athletes such as the boxing world champion Max Baer and the sprinter Theo Levy. Despite the profound changes in the almanac’s outlook, the 1934 edition continued to entertain the German-Jewish youth with beautiful illustrations and humorous elements.
The changes in Germany’s political landscape also severely impacted the life of Emil Bernhard Cohn and his long-standing illustrator, Marianne Brodsky. Brodsky was born in Kiev in 1912. She escaped Nazi Germany and ultimately emigrated to Australia where she died in Canberra in 2003. Unfortunately not much is known about her later life.
Luckily we know much more about Emil Bernhard Cohn’s (1881-1948) biography. Cohn grew up in Berlin and studied philology with a focus on oriental languages and soon became interested in Zionism. He completed his studies in Heidelberg obtaining a PhD in Oriental Studies. However, instead of pursuing an academic career, he returned to Berlin, to the Berliner Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, and became a rabbi. As a rabbi he held different posts in Berlin, Essen and Bonn.
At the same time Emil Bernhard Cohn pursued a successful career as a playwright with his works premiering in major German theatres as well as in the USA. One of his plays was also enacted by the Habima Theatre Group in Mandate-Palestine. Throughout his life, Emil Bernhard Cohn was a prominent member of German-Jewish intellectual circles socializing with famous figures such as the actor Alexander Granach or the poet Else Lasker-Schüler (see Snapshot: Farewell to a Poet). He also remained devoted to the education of Jewish children throughout his career. The Jüdischer Kinder- und Jugendkalender is indeed one of his main contributions to this field. Yet everything changed for Emil Cohn in 1935: He was arrested by the Gestapo but managed to escape to Amsterdam in 1936 whilst on leave to attend his son’s Bar Mitzvah. In 1939 he fled to the USA via Cuba where he lived until his untimely death in a car accident in 1948.
The copy of Emil Bernhard Cohn’s Jüdischer Jugendkalender in the LBI Pamphlet Collection includes a personal dedication to a boy called Micha Battsek written by Emil Bernhard Cohn himself. It was added to the book on the 6th of November 1936 in London. Micha Battsek was the son of the German-Jewish émigré, Kurt Battsek who was an early member of the AJR (Association of Jewish Refugees). It is likely that Emil Bernhard Cohn met the Battsek family on a visit to his brother Hans who lived in London at the time.
We would like to thank Professor Gabriele von Glasenapp and Deborah Horner for lending us their expertise for this Snapshot. The featured picture of Emil Bernhard Cohn has been provided by courtesy of Deborah Horner.
Further reading recommendations:
- Gabriele von Glasenapp, Jüdische Kinder- und Jugendliteratur, in Hans Otto Horch (Ed.), Handbuch der deutsch-jüdischen Literatur, (Oldenburg: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 527-538.
- Deborah Horner, Emil Bernhard Cohn – Rabbi, Playwright and Poet, Jüdische Miniaturen Band 49, (Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2009)
- Annegret Völpel, “1928. The first issue of the Jewish Children’s Calendar, edited by Emil Bernhard Cohn is published […]”, in Sander Gilman and Jack Zipes (Eds), Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture 1096-1996 (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 485-491.