"BEING AN EXILE," wrote Henry Pachter almost 15 years ago in an issue of Salmagundi devoted to the experience of the German refugee intellectuals who escaped Hitler, "is not a matter of needing a passport; it is a state of mind."
He was right. A body can be banned by a dictator and denied entry by a bureaucrat, a tongue can be forced to stutter unfamiliar syllables, and hands that wrote philosophy books can be made to drive taxi-cabs; but the specifically emigr,e experience happens somewhere in the seascape of the mind. Pachter knew, along with thousands of his fellow-refugees, most of them Jews, that an exile must live simultaneously, and at times forever, in at least two countries: his unrecognizable new one and the ever-changing one back home.
To overcome the unreality and ghostly condition of exile is not easy. For a time, and certainly at the beginning, it is as if one were really nowhere at all. The needs of the body fix us to the streets and street-signs, but most of the true inner life is spent with memory and hope. Brecht said that he was like the man who carried a brick with him to show others what his house had been like. He might have added that with that brick emigres have to build a new house.
That is the essential challenge of exile: how to remain loyal to one's roots and history, and at the same time become useful to the new country. Nostalgia and guilt are always round the corner of the mind. All exiles are torn between adjusting and remembering, between dreaming of a return and being forced to stay; and those that are most successful--or is the word satisfied?--are the ones that manage, somehow, out of the tragedy of their homelessness, to create something absolutely new, something that might never have existed if they had remained in their native land.
History has been full of exiles, and full also of their bittersweet constructive revenge against those that cast them out: what was not wanted at home proved valuable elsewhere. But history has seldom seen a flood of intelligence and sensitivity such as the one which poured out of Europe in the 1930s. The men and women who fled Germany--and, as time and tanks plodded by, so many other nations --were among the most brilliant minds of this century. They touched all fields of human endeavor, from physics to philosophy and in most cases profoundly altered what they touched. Many of the contemporary issues that we discuss today, and many of the objects and processes which determine our lives-- from the shape of skyscrapers and furniture to the atom bomb and opinion polls--are the products of these "aliens."
A history of that movement may seem an arduous, almost impossible task. There was, to begin with, the very vastness of the emigration and the stature of the figures involved. We are speaking of Einstein and Mann and Brecht, of Arendt and Adorno, of Marcuse and Erikson and Bettelheim; we are in the presence of Kurt Weill and Billy Wilder and Josef Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Not to mention hundreds of others who deeply affected 20th- century intellectual history.
The dynamic and fragmentary character of this acculturation has generally been mirrored in the attempts to come to grips with it. Curiously, 1968-69, saw a crop of works on the subject, but they were relatively limited, either because they were anthological (the Salmagundi issue or Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn's The Intellectual Migration) or because they took into consideration only a short period of time (Laura Fermi's Illustrious Immigrants stops in the year 1941). In fact, The Muses Flee Hitler, the collection of papers delivered at two symposia held in Washington in 1980, is a noteworthy continuation of that tradition, offering various overviews of emigration along with specialized looks at chemists, mathematicians and musicians.
However, the story of these refugees has finally found its singular and single voice: it is that of Anthony Heilbut, himself the son of exiles. His voice is remarkable because its great learning does not cancel its even greater empathy: it is able to submerge us in the despair of people whose only remaining baggage is their dignity and their wisdom, and yet keep enough distance from their dilemmas so that readers can situate them in their social context. Exiled in Paradise is a book which avoids getting mired down in those two extremes and frequent temptations of cultural history: the anecdote and the hermetic analysis.
Exile is always bordering on chaos. Previous bonds, customs and networks with which people have defended their identity have been disjointed, and what happens to them will depend on all sorts of accidental factors. This means that a book on exile will tend to be, by definition, on the unwieldy side, overgrown with cross-currents and cross-commentaries. Heilbut does not, indeed should not, impose an artificial order on this bustling wilderness of biographies and floating ideas. But he can, because he himself evidently has musical training, channel the potential disarray into what we may call musical structures. Four or five major figures act almost as symphonic clusters around which the medley of the successes and failures of other exiles develop. And Heilbut weaves two themes, almost leit-motifs, in and out of his material, using them as organizing principles.
The first of these themes is the way in which the German refugees carried with them "the social concerns, the cultivated irony, the good sense," which they absorbed in the fervent fugitive caf,e days of Berlin. Each time he examines the films, the social research, the novels, the politics of the exiles, Heilbut shows the persistence of the primary experiences in the Weimar Republic. He makes a convincing case, although it is hard to be sure whether he is right each time. Some opinions, for instance, in The Muses Flee Hitler, seem to contradict some of his judgements.
The second theme overlaps and intertwines with the first one and is, in a sense, its consequence. The exiles came to America during the rise of Nazism, lived through the Second World War and the extermination of the Jews, and then had to face the Cold War and the McCarthy era. A number of them also remained and became influential during the turmoil of the 1960s and '70s (Reich, Erikson, Marcuse). Their attitude towards their adopted country cannot, of course, be summarized (the divisions between Teller and Szilard on the use of the atom bomb give us an idea of how dangerous generalizations could be), but most ot them came from the left, and therefore harbored, along with relief at being saved and a near-worship for Roosevelt, a certain suspicion of the United States and above all of its culture. Heilbut details the ups and downs of this love-hate relationship with America.
His book, therefore, turns into something more than a panorama about foreigners: it is a way of revealing to Americans themselves what their country really is like. Exiles are able--because they are aliens at the integrating point, with a very strong culture of their own--to act as mirrors for a society whose basic assumptions they may not share. An exile can tell us about where he comes from, if we care to find out; but he can also inform us even more about the people who received, or rejected, him.
By telling the story of the homeless, Anthony Heilbut has also told the story of the place most of them, reluctantly, with enthusiasm, with apprehension, with bricks, came to call home.