Ernst Loewy writes from the Kibbuz: Flight to Palestine

In the letter of May 8, 1936, Ernst Loewy tells his parents about his life in the Kwuzah (Kibbutz). The initial anticipation gives way to disappointment about everyday life in the Kwuzah. In particular, Ernst Loewy experienced little freedom for individual development. He attributed this to the centrality of work in the way of life of the residents.

[…] Lieber Pips,

Du fragst, wie das innere Leben der Kwuzah ist. Ich wollte noch nicht früher darüber schreiben, ich wollte erst einmal ein paar Wochen hier sein, um Euch richtig darüber schreiben zu können. […] Über das ganze innere Leben der Kwuzah bin ich persönlich äußerst enttäuscht. Die Menschen, die hier leben, sind reine Proletarier, die weiter nichts kennen als nur ihre Arbeit, das Essen und das Schlafen – an geistigen Dingen haben sie nicht das geringste Interesse. Am Tag arbeitet man, nachts schläft man, und am Schabbath geht man spazieren. Mit geistigen Dingen beschäftigt man sich nicht. Es gibt keine Vorträge, man liest keine Bücher. Hier ist das reinste Proletariat. Das zeigt sich in vielen Dingen. Über das geistige habe ich schon geschrieben, dann das allgemeine Leben – die Menschen hier haben einen sehr, sehr kleinen Lebensstandard. Man ist mit dem Geringsten hier zufrieden. Anstatt sich das Leben hier einigermaßen angenehm zu gestalten, legt man jeden Piaster fort. Daß die Kwuzah reich ist, davon sieht man nicht das geringste, wenn man sieht, wie hier mit allem gegeizt wird. Einmal jährlich darf jeder ins Kino gehen, drei Marken bekommt hier jeder monatlich, zwei paar Strümpfe darf jeder in der Woche tragen, u. so vieles mehr. […]

Nun zur Hauptsache: meiner Ansicht nach ist das Leben in der Kwuzah sehr unfrei. Der einzelne Mensch hat keinen eigenen Willen mehr, was er tut, ist alles nur für die Kwuzah. Persönliches und Privates, soweit es das überhaupt gibt, kommt immer weit nach dem Allgemeinen.

Ich glaube, daß der Mensch auch persönliche Ziele haben muß, und dieses gibt es in der Kwuzah nicht, es gibt nur eine Gemeinschaft. Um einmal zusammenzufassen – in der Kwuzah gibt es weder Freiheit noch Eigentum – nur einige Rechte (z. B. 3 Marken monatlich), viele Pflichten und noch mehr Verzichte. Ich muß Euch leider sagen, daß mir das Leben in einer Kwuzah nicht gefällt.

Für uns natürlich ist es etwas anderes – wir sind noch jung und haben es sehr gut hier – viel besser als die Chawerim der Kwuzah. Wir sind wie in einer Schulklasse – allerdings in einer Schulklasse von Freunden. Daß ich aber nicht mein ganzes Leben in einer Kwuzah bleibe, dessen bin ich mir schon jetzt ziemlich sicher, nicht das Landleben ist es, welches mir nicht gefällt, sondern das Leben in diesen Formen. […]

Nun muß ich aber Schluß machen, der Brief wiegt sicher über. Eure Briefe, lb. Pips und Mutter, werde ich nächste Woche weiter beantworten. Für heute seid alle geküßt von Eurem Ernst […]

[…] Dear Pips,

You ask what the inner life of the Kwuzah is like. I didn’t want to write about it earlier, I wanted to be here for a few weeks first to be able to write to you about it properly. […] About the whole inner life of the Kwuzah I am personally extremely disappointed. People who live here are pure proletarians who know nothing but their work, eating and sleeping – they have not the slightest interest in spiritual things. They work during the day, sleep at night, and go for a walk on Shabbath. They do not occupy themselves with spiritual things. There are no lectures, no books are read. Here is the purest proletariat. It shows in many things. I have already written about the spiritual, then the general life – people here have a very, very small standard of living. People are satisfied with the least here. Instead of making life here reasonably comfortable, one puts away every piaster. That the Kwuzah is rich, one does not see the least bit of it, if one sees, how here with everything is stingy. Once a year, everyone is allowed to go to the movies, everyone gets three stamps a month, everyone is allowed to wear two pairs of stockings a week, and so much more. […]

Now to the main thing: in my opinion, life in the Kwuzah is very unfree. The individual has no will of his own anymore, what he does is all for the Kwuzah. Personal and private, as far as it exists at all, always comes far after the general.

I believe that a person must also have personal goals, and this does not exist in the Kwuzah, there is only a community. To sum up – in the Kwuzah there is neither freedom nor property – only some rights (e.g. 3 stamps monthly), many duties and even more renunciations. I am sorry to tell you that I do not like the life in a Kwuzah.

For us, of course, it is different – we are still young and have it very good here – much better than the Chawerim of the Kwuzah. We are like in a school class – but in a school class of friends. But that I will not stay my whole life in a Kwuzah, of that I am already quite sure, it is not the country life that I do not like, but the life in these forms. […]

But now I must close, the letter surely outweighs it. Next week I will continue to answer your letters, dear Pips and Mother. For today, you are all kissed by your Ernst […]

Ernst Loewy was a German-Jewish librarian, publicist and exile researcher. He was co-founder and chairman of the “Gesellschaft für Exilforschung”.

As a schoolboy, Ernst Loewy experienced open anti-Semitism even before 1933. In the fall of 1935, his parents decided that he should leave Germany. After a four-week preparatory period on an agricultural estate near Berlin in December 1935, he was accepted into the Youth Aliyah program. In April 1936 he arrived at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim near Jerusalem, where he lived until 1938. He kept in touch with his parents by letter. They were also able to flee to Palestine after the November pogroms.

The Youth Aliyah was founded in 1933 and goes back to the initiative of the resistance fighter and teacher Recha Freier. The goal of the organization was to bring as many children and young people as possible from National Socialist Germany to Palestine and to involve them in the construction of the country. This project was based on a strictly religious worldview, which was relaxed after the November pogroms due to the humanitarian emergency. From its official start in February 1934 until March 1939, the organization was able to rescue some 12,000 young people to Palestine. There were also conditions attached to the aid: Parents could not accompany their children to Palestine and were required to pay part of the cost of their children’s departure, housing and education.

The young people were obliged to receive training in handicrafts, agriculture or horticulture, as well as lessons in Palestinian geography and Hebrew. While still in Germany, the preparation of the young people for their later life in Palestine began in training centers. At the end of the preparation period, representatives of the Youth Aliyah determined the suitability of the young people. In Palestine, the young people were placed in children’s villages or kibbutzim (rural settlements), where they lived together in a large community, attended school, or worked in agriculture or crafts as part of their training.

Letter: Loewy, Ernst, letter of May 8, 1936 to parents, in: Eckert, Brita (ed.), Ernst Loewy. Jugend in Palästina. Briefe an die Eltern 1935-1938, Berlin: Metropol Verlag 1997, pp. 56ff.

Context: Asmus, Sylvia, Ernst Loewy, in: Asmus, Sylvia (ed.), Exil. Experience and Testimony. German Exile Archive 1933-1945 of the German National Library. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag 2019, B8.3

Translation from German to English © Minor Kontor / We Refugees Archive.