Joseph Roth, “The Wandering Jews”

Joseph Roth, “The Wandering Jews”

Joseph Roth’s The Wandering Jews (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE-German/DE-English).

Joseph Roth is best known for his fiction, particularly Radetzkymarsch (Amazon US, UK, CA, DE-German/DE-English), but in fact he spent most of his working life as a journalist and feuilletonist.  (Roth’s biography is a fascinating one; start with Wikipedia (EN, DE) and explore from there.)  The Wandering Jews is a non-fiction work and details Roth’s findings from his trips through European jewish communities.  It presents the “Eastern Jew” and describes his plight in the west.

It is a particularly interesting book because though we know it must have had personal meaning to Roth, nowhere does he confess this.  Translator Michael Hofmann makes this point in his preface by pointing out that Roth himself is “everywhere and nowhere” in the book, “chiefly nowhere”.

We don’t know that the little cruciform town in the swampy plains … is Roth’s birthplace, the town of Brody in Galicia; that the Western momentum of the book … was also that of his life; that he had himself been through Vienna and Berlin, and at the time of writing, was in Paris (where he felt happiest); that his father-in-law was an installment seller in Vienna, his uncle a tailor, and his grandfather a rabbi.  Finally, nowhere does he even say he is a Jew! [xvii]

Let us end here simply by recommending the book as a fine example of the kind of quality non-fiction produced by a talented feuilletonist of 1920s Europe.  And allow me to indulge myself with a quotation concerning the city where I live:

In a Jewish welfare office the Eastern Jew often finds himself treated no better by his coreligionists or fellow nationals than by Christians.  It is terribly hard to be an Eastern Jew; there is no harder lot than that of the Eastern Jew newly arrived in Vienna. [57]

(Page numbers refer to the Granta Books 2001 paperback edition.)

(The photo accompanying this article is a public domain photo found at and described as “Lakhva in 1926 (then Łachwa, Poland), ulica Lubaczyńska (Lubaczynska Street)”.)