Courage of the Spirit tells of one man’s struggle under the Nazis. Many books have been written of the spiritual heroism of the Jewish people as they rebuilt their lives after the devastation wrought by Hitler’s attempt to wipe out every last Jew. “Courage of the Spirit” is such a book. It portrays the spiritual struggle of one man during the first half of the twentieth century—the author’s father, Rabbi Dr. William Weinberg, who survived under Nazi and Communist tyranny to become the first State Rabbi of the community of Holocaust survivors in the German State of Hesse. This book stands out because the author was told those stories of heroism firsthand by family members.
It is fitting that the book is now available to the public just 75 years after Rabbi Weinberg was arrested and incarcerated by the Nazis in the notorious Fortress Spilberk in Brno following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. The author writes, “To be a Jew was to invite a firing squad, and the worst of all was a roar of laughter and ridicule. Everyone was free to take out his hatred on the Jew; he was the only one who could not retaliate, for the offender had the police, the church, the army, and the whole society lined up before him.”
Rabbi Weinberg’s saga serves as a tour of the ideologies and principles of the contemporary world, but it also encompasses the movements that shape Judaism today: Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative, as well as political Zionism. It is a story that spans thousands of physical miles, by freight train and on foot, from the Galician Shtetl to cosmopolitan Vienna and Berlin, and to Stalingrad and central Asia and back as Rabbi Weinberg kept one step ahead of the Nazi armies. It is a story that spans the mental and emotional journey from the medieval Shtetl, the great empires, and the weak democracies and totalitarian regimes that followed, and finally, to freedom.
Along the way, we meet significant figures in Rabbi Weinberg’s life: Martin Buber and Mannes Sperber, the founders of Israel’s Marxist-Socialist party, Rabbi Leo Baeck, and Albert Einstein. We are shown a window into life in a Nazi prison and concentration camp, the day-to-day life of Jews in Nazi Berlin, and the vagaries of survival under Stalin’s totalitarian shelter.
“This book reconstructs these events from conversations with my father, from family notes, and from historical documentation,” says the author, Rabbi Norbert Weinberg.
“Courage of the Spirit” is the first part of a trilogy. The second part will follow the account of Irene Gottdenker, the author’s mother, who openly survived the Holocaust in the guise of a Pole of German descent and witnessed the destruction of the Jews in Lwow and Warsaw. The third part will examine the rebirth of Jewish life in the refugee camps in Austria and then in the city of Frankfurt, Germany, and the environs.