This week I finished Marcel Reich-Ranicki‘s autobiography, The Author of Himself. He was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the foremost literary critic in post-war Germany. As I read him, I thought of my friend Hedy Epstein, whose family, like Reich-Ranicki’s, was killed in the Holocaust. She admitted that from 1945 to 1970, she hated all things German until she had a surprising insight.
Once, when Reich-Ranicki was in China, he unexpectedly ran into Yehudi Menuhin: “I asked him what he was doing there. He answered briefly: ‘Beethoven and Brahms with the local orchestra.’ And what was I doing? ‘I’m giving lectures on Goethe and Thomas Mann.’ Menuhin was silent but not for long: ‘Ah, well, we’re Jews of course.’ After a moment he added: ‘That we travel from country to country, spreading German music and German literature, and interpreting it—that’s good and how it should be.’”