How my Father's Thesis, Written Almost a Century Ago, Sheds Light on Our Modern Dilemma
This is the link to my recording of the presentation:
This Shabbat, February 27, Shushan Purim, marks the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Dr William ( Wilhelm) Weinberg, z"l, who passed away 45 years ago, on Shushan Purim, 1976.
I open my presentation with an audio recording of a Purim celebration in a DP Camp in Germany in 1948. The speaker is my father, whose words, in German, speak of the significance of Purim and Hanukah to the survivors.
Follow the link
Dr. Weinberg (
b. April 3, 1901,Dolina, Austro-Hungarian Galicia) earned his doctorate in
Political Science in 1928 on "Parliamentarism: System and Crisis". He
went to Berlin in 1932 to study for the Rabbinate under Rabbi Leo Baeck at the
Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums and was active in Jewish Zionist
(As a young
man, before prison and exile. A student ID photo and a photo from a vacation on
the Dalmation coast.)
In 1935, he was imprisoned
by the Nazi regime for two years. He was awarded his ordination in absentia in
August 1938, with a thesis on " A Study
of the Psychology of Jewish Heretics.”
(His prison record card)
He fled, first to Vienna, and then to Brno, Czechoslovakia , where
he was again imprisoned by the Nazis in 1939.
spent a half-year in a notorious political prison , an old castle, Spilberk(
(Inside the castle)
At the outbreak of World War II, he was released on the German-Soviet demarcation line inside Poland. He spent the war years working as a chemist near Stalingrad and later Frunze( Bishkek), Kirghizia.It is not far from the border of Xinjiang Province, where the Chinese government now has concentration camps for Uighur Muslims “reeducation.”
(My father after 15 years of imprisonment and exile, back in
At the end of WWII, he was
able to return to Austria and was
appointed to establish a Jewish People’s University for refugees in the DP camps in Hallein, near Salzburg,
Austria, in 1947 and then served as a lecturer for the refugees under Jewish
Central Committee, USA Zone, Austria; he began research on “Life and Struggle of Jewish DPs in
(At the dedication of the synagogue in Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria, with the reminder” Zakhor Et Asher Asah Lekha Amalek: Jude- Vergiss nicht das K.Z. ( Jew, do not forget the Concentration Camp!)
In 1948, he was called to served as the first Landesrabbiner (State
Rabbi) of Hesse in Germany and as Chairman of the Union of Rabbis of Germany.
His chief task was to unite the German and East European survivor communities
and coordinate efforts between the American occupation officials and the new
German government, especially in fighting the resurgence of Nazism and anti-Semitism.
(From the Monthly Bulletin of the US High Commssioner’s Office in Germany, Nov,
He came to the United States of America in 1951, where he served as
a Rabbi to several congregations and was a member of the Rabbinical Assembly of
America. He passed away March 16, 1976.
Implications for today from his experience then:
In the early 1920’s my father enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the
University of Vienna, where he did his studies in Staatswissenschaft—Political
When my father first typed his thesis, Hitler had just recently
come out of Landsberg prison and had not had a single electoral victory. His
Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei had barely scored a few seats in
the Reichstag. Nazism was at this point so insignificant that my father did not
mention it in his thesis. It was the Goldene Zwanziger (Golden Twenties) in the
Weimar Republic and the Roaring Twenties in the United States, and the world
economy was solid. For the most part, Woodrow Wilson had succeeded in his goal:
“The world must be made safe for democracy.”
Democracy was safe—or so it seemed to everyone—but not to the
highly observant student of political science, William Weinberg, who was just
twenty-five and very astute when he typed his thesis in 1926, which he titled “Parliamentarism: System and Crisis.”
He finished his studies and successfully defended his thesis, and
on November 14, 1928, he received his signed doctorate. The date was significant:
it was ten years, almost to the date, of the armistice on November 11, 1918,
that ended the Great War to “make the world safe for democracy.” Ten years
later, almost to the date, the opening act of the genocide of the Jews,
Kristallnacht, Night of the Broken Glass, would occur on November 9, 1938.
Cover of the Thesis
Pay good attention to the name and signature on the doctorate:
Innitzer of Austria
What irony that the same Innitzer had invited the Anschluss to
protect Austria from civil war
Theodor Cardinal Innitzer, Archbishop of Vienna.
Cardinal Innitzer and the Austrian bishops had admonished Austrian Catholics to
vote Ja in the plebiscite, had subscribed that admonition with a fervent
"Heil Hitler" (TIME, April 11).
The Pope was furious at him and the Cardinal would come to regret his decision.
Relevant for us today:From the Thesis:[ Excerpts and underlining with my
translation of the original German]
signs of this crisis can be found in all European states, not only Italy and
Russia, where new political systems instead of parliamentarism are being
created. We have in mind those countries with strong parliamentary
constitutions—France, England, Germany, and the smaller states. Overall, we
find an inability of the parliamentary system to guarantee a proper and stable
leadership and create a good and lasting government and provide a beneficial
and orderly administration.
Aftermath of WWI and failure of governments before, during and after]…. As a
result, there has been an all-around failure of belief in the system. The
masses see how the parties tear and throw at each other, as the members of
parliament speak and speak without end and achieve nothing concrete
They have become disillusioned and mistrusting, and seek other forms of
political leadership, so that the idea of a dictator is today popular in many
European states. Parliamentary rule is evermore unpopular; its existence is in
danger. Many political thinkers, historians, and philosophers of history see
its imminent demise.
origins of this decline go to the origins of the parliamentary system.
parliamentary system has two key foundations. The first foundation is the
principle of democracy: the people alone determine their own fate. The second
foundation is the principle of representation. Since it is impossible for each
citizen to be directly and constantly involved with all political questions, he
chooses a representative who is appointed and makes decisions in his name.
is therefore a representative democracy. It is in this very principle of
representation from its beginning that there is a danger. . . . Montesquieu and Rousseau, in their time already foresaw
this danger and recognized the contradiction between the democratic and
will of the people cannot truly be expressed only through their elected
representatives, they pointed out. The representative must, willingly or not,
twist and falsify the will of the people. . ..
prophecies of the theoreticians of modern democracy have shown: the more
that the parliamentary system has developed, and the greater the State has
become, so more rich and complicated has the political life become; more and
more, the parliament becomes independent, absolute, and unaccountable to the
people, a world to itself.
has become a science with its unique discipline, methods, and secrets. Today,
it is so complicated and twisted that the common man with average reasoning
ability cannot find his way in it. All questions and problems in the political
world become part of a completely new system, and its solution no longer
depends on the real necessities, but rather on the laws and tendencies of the
politician has become a new entity. He is no longer the representative of his
thousands of fellow citizens; no longer the fighter and the spokesperson for
is rather a man for whom politics is his calling, who has become an expert in
the wisdom and secrets of the hidden science of politics.
must also be added that the legal framework today is no longer managed by
the parliament; instead, it has become completely a matter of the state
bureaucracy. This happens, naturally, when one thinks of what degree of
knowledge and expertise that today is necessary to shape a law.
the politician loses the common interest of his constituents, and less and
less does politics arise from the realistic needs and wants of the people. Its
key issues of contention have nothing to do with real life, and it becomes
purely tactical politics for its own sake.
parliament has ceased to be a suitable apparatus for dealing with the public
good, resting on the most possible broad foundation; it stands upon artful
delegates no longer represent the people against the state authority and its
bureaucracy to adopt policies necessary for civil life; they fail to act as a
vent for individual initiative and freedom of the soul. The delegates’ legislative effectiveness is identified with
the will of the state and its political activity and his attachment to the
influence of the party organization; he restricts himself to the influence of
the party leader.
is no wonder that the people are disappointed and indifferent to parliament, to
the parliamentary politics, which then loses their loyalty.
in different countries people are looking for a new political form to inherit
the role of the parliamentary system. In Europe, there are now two such
systems: Fascism in Italy and Sovietism in Russia.
the advocates of “just dictatorship” intend is the application of
extraparliamentary means to achieve political demands. It is understandable
that those who have a far and wide view and can move above the needs of
separate groups can, seeing the hardship of the totality, see this machine that
makes much racket and much of little good, and therefore they are dissatisfied.
They think of the dictator [as someone] who can lead the people by stark will
over all difficulties.
provides the great concept that is missing in fascism. The Soviet state is
established upon a new foundation: the economic basis of means of production
derived from the Marxist concept that economy is the central force of history.
The Soviet system organizes life so that the individual can find his purpose
fulfilled to the highest in the productivity of the factory under the control
of the workers.
lies in the overestimation of the significance of economics. A people cannot
establish their political organization on the basis of economics alone. It is
also too fully subject to industrialization.
. On the one
side, the labor organizations bend parliament to their will; on the other, the
corporations back nationalist movements, such as Awakened Hungary, fascism,
Orjuna in Yugoslavia, and the Ku Klux Klan in America, which press on
parliament. In cases, as in Italy and Russia, it has been taken over
The thesis continues with a discussion of various attempts at reforming the system and adopting methods of direct democracy by the initiative process, which had become part of American polity by then, and by stating the value of more direct voter choice of the representatives, as in the British system. The ideas of plebiscites and referendum return rule to the people, not the party machinery.
Nevertheless, he concludes, it is to be presumed that the parliamentary system of necessity has to survive, as it is still the one essential and necessary form of a structured society. This makes the need for reform even more vital to prevent the demise of parliamentary democracy.
However, we can recognize that voting for a leader, independent of a party system, as well as voting by referendum, are also too easily manipulated by vested interests, left and right.
These same problems that plagued democratic government then still follow us today. Politics by the mathematics of polling, sound bites, focus groups, unaccountable bureaucrats, exacerbated by todays technologies of tweets and retweets and the likes.