Jews in Space

Six questions for Lena Kugler

Dr. Lena Kug­ler, a lite­ra­ry scho­lar, cul­tu­ral sci­en­tist, and aut­hor from Con­s­tance and Ber­lin was a spe­cial guest at the Muse­ums­nacht 2022, whe­re she gave a lec­tu­re about «Jews in Space: History/ies of the Extra­ter­restri­al Dia­spo­ra.» In an inter­view with Nao­mi Lubrich, she speaks about for­got­ten aut­hors, Jewish sci­ence fic­tion, and the Vul­can salute.

NL: Lena, let me ask you: Of all the Jewish sci­ence fic­tions – and you know many! – why did you choo­se to stu­dy Mar­tin Salomonski’s for­got­ten novel? 

LK: Mar­tin Salomonski’s «Zwei im and­ren Land» (Eng­lish: Two in a for­eign coun­try) is remar­kab­le both in terms of time and space. On the one hand, the sto­ry appeared as a seri­al novel in Berlin’s «Jüdisch-libe­ra­le Zei­tung» (Eng­lish: Jewish-libe­ral news­pa­per) a few months after Hitler’s appoint­ment as Reich Chan­cell­or and as a book one year later, in 1934. On the other hand, it tells of the year 1953, a future in which hard­ly any Jews resi­de in Ber­lin, while a mil­len­nia-old popu­la­ti­on of Jewish refu­gees inha­bit the moon. In 2021, this for­got­ten novel was repu­blished by Alex­an­der Fromm.

NL: Is it imme­dia­te­ly clear that the sto­ry is infor­med by Zio­nist discourse? 

LK: The per­spec­ti­ve of the moon pres­ents con­cepts of dia­spo­ra and home­land, or as I’d say: dia­spo­ric and (qua­si-) Zio­nist con­cep­ti­ons, from a new ang­le. It soon beco­mes clear that the novel is actual­ly about Zio­nism and the Jewish ter­ri­to­ri­a­liza­ti­on pro­jects – but recon­tex­tua­li­zed in a galac­tic set­ting. When it appeared, the novel was adver­ti­sed as a «futu­ristic novel which sol­ves the Jewish ques­ti­on.» The text makes expli­cit refe­rence to the so-cal­led «Juden­fra­ge».

NL: Salo­mon­ski was a wri­ter, but he was also a rab­bi. Does reli­gious Juda­ism fea­ture in the book? 

LK: You could say that the true sub­ject of the novel is the moon. For reli­gious Juda­ism, the moon is an important pla­net, espe­ci­al­ly for under­stan­ding time: The Jewish calen­dar is a lun­iso­lar calen­dar. Obser­ving holi­days and pray­ers depends on kno­wing the moon’s posi­ti­on. Salo­mon­ski, howe­ver, is pri­ma­ri­ly con­cer­ned with the moon as a spa­ti­al pro­s­pect, as the refu­ge and home of per­se­cu­ted Jews, and pos­si­bly all Jews.

NL: The viru­lent anti-Semi­tism of the nine­te­enth cen­tu­ry eli­ci­ted the need for a Jewish sta­te. As to whe­re it should be, Han­nah Are­ndt famously sta­ted «Vor Anti­se­mi­tis­mus ist man nur noch auf dem Mon­de sicher» (Eng­lish: You’re only safe from anti-Semi­tism on the moon). You situa­te her state­ment in a lar­ger dis­cour­se. Who are you refer­ring to?

LK: Han­nah Arendt’s 1941 artic­le was pri­ma­ri­ly about the need for a Jewish fight­ing force to coun­ter Hit­ler. But befo­re her, and in the con­text of so-cal­led ter­ri­to­ri­a­lism (by which I mean the various and recur­ring fai­led attempts to find a Jewish home­land out­side Pal­es­ti­ne), the moon fea­tured repea­ted­ly. Fran­cis Mon­te­fio­re remark­ed that a poli­ti­cal­ly vir­gin ter­ri­to­ry could pro­ba­b­ly only be found on the moon. He was con­tra­dic­ted by Isra­el Zang­will (who, by the way, should also be redis­co­ver­ed!) who respon­ded: «Not even the­re, I fear. For the­re is a man in the moon, and he is pro­ba­b­ly an anti-Semite.»

NL: What are other note­wor­t­hy Jewish sci­ence fictions? 

LK: Very, very many! For exam­p­le, Mel Brook’s «Histo­ry of the World, Part I» was nomi­na­ted as the worst film of 1981 short­ly after its release. It ends with a brief trai­ler pre­view of the never-plan­ned second part, fea­turing a Viking fun­e­ral and an ice-ska­ting Adolf Hit­ler, as well as a pre­view of Jews in space. Accom­pa­nied by dra­ma­tic music, a fleet of Star-of-David-shaped space­ships crui­se through space, nar­row­ly esca­ping an ene­my attack. Ano­ther one is an antho­lo­gy of Israe­li «Zion’s Fic­tion.» The cover shows Theo­dor Herzl, the pro­mi­nent co-foun­der of poli­ti­cal Zio­nism, with Vul­can ears and a space­su­it, lea­ning over the con­trol con­so­le of a space­ship and gazing ear­nest­ly at the pas­sing globe.

NL: Which is the most important Jewish con­tri­bu­ti­on to sci­ence fic­tion in pop culture?

LK: No doubt the so-cal­led Vul­can salu­te, the hand ges­tu­re with which the Vul­cans greet their coun­ter­parts in the series Star Trek. The ges­tu­re deri­ves from the Jewish bles­sing of the Cohanim.

NL: Thank you very much, Lena Kug­ler. May the force be with you!

verfasst am 11.09.2022