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
© Marva Gradwohl & Elena Haschemi Schirazi