Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
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The Experiences of Exile

Samuel M.Rapoport (Berlin)


Dear Conference Participants!

I would like first of all to apologize that I cannot be present with you. Unfortunately my health does not permit it.

My name is Mitja Rapoport. The name will not be familiar to all of you. But there are thousands with this name. It is one of the most common Jewish names.

By profession I am a Biochemist, a medical Biochemist, and I have a long career as a teacher behind me. I am over ninety years old. And it is a blessing, when one can say of himself that he still has it all pretty well together, as one says. I would like to say a few words to you and your conference from the standpoint of a 90 plus-year-old man. I wish you - this conference - every conceivable success. The fact alone that it is taking place is already a great success. For it is gathering together so many different experiences and points of view. I would like to relate a few of my experiences to you.

First there is the fact that I was born in the border territory between the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia, that I then lived in Odessa, that in 1920 I went into exile when we fled - to Vienna. I then spent my entire childhood and youth in Vienna until 1937, when my existence was again threatened. Hitler was at the gates. I accepted a stipendium to go to the USA, and during the first year I spent studying there, I lost my fatherland Austria. And again I had to adapt anew, assimilate anew. And so I was in the process of having a successful career as a scholar in the USA.

But I was an irrepressible revolutionary spirit. I had grown up with the memory of beautiful red Vienna, with its social and cultural accomplishments. It was destroyed by Hitler. I clung to the dream of socialism, and because of that I came to the attention of the McCarthy committee and had to leave the USA too. In 1950 during one of the wars - the Korean War - we quietly had to leave the USA, and after a period of time waiting in Vienna, I received a call to Humboldt University in Berlin. And there for 25 years I held a teaching position.

What have I learned from all these experiences? The first thing that I have learned is how important it is, to get to know people and to establish trusting contact with them. That brings luck and happiness with it - in the encounters as well as also in life. This begins naturally with the choice of a wife or life companion. Here, too, one must experience this great luck and happiness. Secondly I have learned how beautiful it is to experience something new, a new culture, which one did not know, an old culture, which one did not know - another. And so my life - these many exiles - has been a great school of culture, which has enabled me to have a broad horizon. How beautiful it is, that humanity bears so many different flowerings of culture. And even if they do not all taste the same and are not equally pleasant. One should make an effort, whether it is a question of innovations or rediscoveries of something old.

I have a big worry. And this worry, even if I probably will not experience it personally, concerns a great danger for humankind. Humanity is being threatened to a degree such as one can scarcely imagine. The threat is unique by its growth alone. It is not, for example, that there will not be enough to eat, but the problem will be the distribution of food. And beyond that at some point there will not be sufficient resources. Humanity is threatened by the garbage dumps, which it is creating. It is threatened above all by a permanent danger of war. We read and hear today about threats, which apparently are coming from North Korea, Iran and elsewhere. In these cases we are dealing with a few atomic weapons, which these countries are alleged to be producing. And at the same time people overlook the fact that the largest stocks of atomic weapons in the USA and Russia suffice to destroy the world ten thousand times over.

I would like to call on you, wherever culture is cultivated, to help defend culture, to seek what all people share in common. And in this sense I greet the conference.

© Samuel M.Rapoport (Berlin)

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For quotation purposes:
Samuel M.Rapoport (Berlin): The Experiences of Exile. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

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