Archive for Sexology

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V. Congress of the European Federation of Sexology (EFS)
XIV. DGSS Conference on Social Scientific Sex Research
Berlin, June 29 - July 2, 2000

Yohanan Meroz,
former embassador of Israel to the Federal Republic of Germany and to Switzerland:


I am grateful to Prof. Haeberle for his suggestion that I share with you a few thoughts and reminiscences of and about my father. I discharge this filial duty with profound emotion for the first time in public at the mature age of 80 - and before an eminently qualified audience at that.

Born in this city in 1877, Max Marcuse was the youngest of the four founding fathers - Dr. Haeberle calls them Evangelists - of what became known as Sexual Science, later to gain wider recognition under the English term Sexology. My own academic background being linguistics, I have often felt, wrongly perhaps, that the emphasis on "Seience" is not sufficiently brought out in English, but that is, of course, water over the dam.

My father belonged to a generation of German Jews who believed that the process of full integration into the host nation, which they sought in their great majority, was progressing faster than sceptics had expected, and that the end of the road was in sight. He went further; he held that a comprehensive realization of that objective constituted the only solution to the "Jewish Question", so far as Germany was concerned.

It is true that at that time - I refer to the last decades of the 19th and the first of the 20th century - there existed no other Jewish community which so unequivocally identified itself with the achievements of the host country in every respect, as with its aspirations and apprehensions. They deemed axiomatic that, since their absolute identification and unquestioning loyalty had been amply proven, they were entitled to full-fledged acceptance and trusted that what was still wanting would soon be rectified.

While born into a family that had lived in the Berlin region for two centuries, totally non-observant and wholly committed to assimilation, Marcuse was nonetheless intensely aware of the rich ethical and cultural heritage which he had drawn from bis roots.

He was, of course, strongly opposed to Zionism, yet ready to put up with it, if somewhat condescendingly, when confronted with it among friends or relatives, which happened not infrequently. He had not attended services since he was Bar-Mizva (the traditional admission to the responsibilities of Judaism), yet while not religious in any formal sense, he never thought of himself as an "outsider". When not in his professional sphere he socialized mainly with Jews of all manner of "ideological" persuasion, and in spite of his firm belief in total integration he was critical of people who sought to speed up their "arrival" by embracing the Christian faith.

His first wife, my mother, had not been born Jewish, but while he had not demanded that she convert before they married,he was glad that she had done so on her own and, not uncommon in such cases, she became in some ways a "better Jew" than he. Their marriage broke up after more than twenty years, and they did not leave in 1933 together. By the time she arrived in Palestine, my father had married again, a venture which was soon to end in divorce as well. Eventually the relations between my parents improved once more, but they continued to lead separate lives.

Marcuse had little interest in politics, but he had a discerning eye for the darkening sky above Germany. That someone so wholly assimilated and "germanized", who, among other things, had served as a medical officer in World War I, should resolve to leave in the early summer of 1933, when the quasi-totality of Jews still fondly believed that the curse could and would not last, came as a surprise and shock to all who knew him. One major factor in his timely decision were the first book-burning rituals which had by then taken place. In reply to the many astounded questions put to him he referred to Heinrich Heine's then century-old, far-sighted prophecy that where books were burnt, humans could be expected to follow soon.

But if the decision to leave caused universal amazement, the fact that Marcuse had chosen Palestine for what, as everyone believed, would be but a brief exile, met with utter incomprehension. His reasoning was as simple as it was sad. A few months of Nazi rule had sufficed to show that there neither was nor would be a place for Jews in Germany, no matter how "German" they felt. Not just the rulers, but most of the people too, had made it clear that - to use an understatement - they did not care for them in their midst, and the Jews must simply realize that their hopes had come to nil and get out before it was too late. Moreover, if this could have happened in a country as "civilized" as Germany, it might happen elsewhere too. The sensible conclusion was to go to where we had already once been masters of our fate.

I was too young to grasp fully the extraordinary change in my father's thinking which led to a decision, for which I have been grateful to him all my life. Nor was I until then aware that I had contributed to it in a minor way through something that had happened two years earlier, when I was a second grader at one of Berlin's prestigious humanistic schools, the Friedrich Werdersche Gymnasium, with a large percentage of Jewish pupils.

In a geography-lesson on the Mediterranean I was called to a tiny map hanging behind the teacher and asked to show Palestine on it. My finger had barely started to trace its borders, when he raised his voice and admonished me: "Careful, Marcuse, don't make your fatherland bigger than it is." Neither I nor class had the foggiest notion what he was talking about, but everybody giggled dutifully, as was the rule.

Marcuse Sr., however, had a very clear notion and took the principal to task. A few days later he received a letter from him saying, after 'thorough investigation', that although the teacher had just intended a harmless joke, he recognized that he may have been out of order and apologized. Formally that was the end of a seemingly unimportant, if neither atypical nor insignificant incident, but in retrospect I have come to value this remark of a German school-teacher in 1931 as not the least stepping-stone in the reeducation of an assimilated family. Marcuse was confronted with more than the usual wealth of difficulties when he arrived in Palestine in the summer of 1933. Notwithstanding his courageous decision he was little prepared for what lay ahead, but one thing was clear from the very first day and guided him in all he did: he had not gone into exile but come to what would be home forever. He outlived the War by 18 years, yet he never set foot on German soil again. Altogether he left the country one single time only in 1954, when he came to stay a few weeks with us in Ankara, where I had my first diplomatic post abroad and his second grand-child had just been born.

A major problem, as was the case with most immigrants of "German stock", was the language. In thirty years of life in Palestine and Israel he must have had thousands of Hebrew lessons. He neither gave up nor ever reached a stage where he could use it freely; for each new word he paid with the loss of an old one. Nor had he any English, and except for a little French (not counting classical Greek and Latin) German was his sole means of communication.

He had no ear for languages - as he had not for music.

The official languages of the British Mandate of Palestine were Arabic, Hebrew and English; a basic knowledge of one was required for naturalization. My father dared the examiners three times and sat for the test in Hebrew, torturing both them and himself, and failing as often. On the fourth attempt a kind official took pity and waved him through.

Professionally it was more serious. Some branches of medicine are not desperately in need of many words; in sexology or psychiatry, let alone psycho-analysis, they are an inalienable vehicle, and Marcuse's seientific and practical work extended to all three.

The language problem weighed heavily on his settling down in Tel Aviv, which he had chosen over Jerusalem partly out of an assumption that it would be somewhat less serious there. He was right on that, but even so it limited him considerably.

On the other hand, he had the advantage of being a pioneer in a country where, with rare exceptions - among them Chaim Berlin who had collaborated with Hirschfeld in the twenties -, sexology, as distinct from venerology, was in its infancy. His reputation had preceded his arrival, and major medical institutions, such as the Sick Fund of Histadrut, the powerful General Federation of Labor, had taken early steps to enlist his services, with language help provided where required. Yet, while he was accorded both respect and much practical consideration, he found it difficult to make ends meet; that in itself was not unusual in Palestine in those days, but his commitments as a result of a broken home and another in formation added to the problems, reducing his standard of living to great modesty. The fact that the new marriage, with another son, did not last increased the difficulties further.

From the onset Marcuse devoted special attention to Kibbutzim, the communal settlements, considered by many the crown of Zionist achievement and the backbone of Jewish Palestine up to the early years of the State of Israel. He was astonished, in contrast with what he expected, at what impressed him as extreme conservatism, not infrequently of monasticism, in the sex-life patterns of many of their members, leading frequently to serious crises, on which his views, advice and guidance were increasingly sought. The subject occupied him not only "in the field", but also in numerous lectures and in medical publications in the country and abroad, mostly in Switzerland and in Austria until the Anschluss.

In an article in the SPIEGEL some weeks ago, in anticipation of this conference, the author referred to Marcuse as "living, after emigration, lonely and forgotten in his Tel Aviv flat....". That deseription is, to say the least, much exaggerated, though it is true that for several years he was out of touch with some of the latest developments in sexual science and research abroad; but it is no less true that the imposed suspension of activities in Germany led to a reduction, almost to a stand-still, elsewhere too.

At the same time, in his new surroundings, he gained insight into hitherto little known sectors of the wide domain.

Soon after the war letters began reaching him from Germany, from colleagues and others, among them one-time contributors to the ZEITSCHRIFT FÜR SEXUALWISSENSCHAFT which he had edited till 1932; they expressed sorrow at the "brutal interruption" of his work and the hope that it might be "resumed" at an early date. Most of the letters he left unanswered; with few exceptions he doubted their sincerity. Besides, being well above 70 by then, he had no new projects in mind.

But when in 1961 a German publisher approached him with the proposal to compile a brief compendium on sexual science, he succumbed to the temptation. He was pleased by the prospect of summarizing and commenting at the age of 84 six decades of professional experience; he completed the task in four months. However, when he saw the make-up of the book - ABC GUIDE TO SEX AND EROTICS the picture on the cover and the strange way of naming the author (Dr.MARCUSE TEL AVIV), he had serious doubts, whether he should have responded to the proposal, though he had known, of course, all along that the publisher aimed at "popularization".

And yet, in spite of such second thoughts the volume symbolized a closing of the circle. Marcuse never regretted his decision to go to Palestine, i.e. Israel, despite objective and subjective, professional and personal hardships and economic difficulties; time and again he called it the wisest he had ever made. He had no desire to see the former Heimat again, let alone live there; but he did draw satisfaction from the fact that he would leave behind a final testimony of his role in the history and promotion of a new science in the country where it had been conceived.

May I close these brief remarks by saying how pleased Max Marcuse would be and how happy his descendants are in the knowledge that one of the conference and library rooms at the restituted Archive of Sexual Science in Berlin bears his name.

Yohanan Meroz

29 - 6 - 00

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