A man who
started his career as a primary school teacher, who studied law, wrote
many juridical works that still shine because of their originality (if
not because of the lasting value of their ideas), wrote notorious novels
and hundreds of published poems (styling himself the Poet of the Jewish
Song) must be a gifted man. But a man, who after his violent death, is
still cherished, at once curiously by both homosexuals in Holland as well
as ultra-orthodox people in Israel and the United States. Such a person
must also be capricious.
This man is the Dutch poet Jacob Israel
de Haan (1881-1924). In Amsterdam in the shadow of the Westerkerk, where
Anne Frank once lived, there is a subtle but big monument for homosexuals
consisting of three huge polished pink marble triangles. Chiseled onto
these stones are the hungry words of this tragic alleged arch-homosexual:
"For Friendship such a Boundless Longing." At the same time one could
hear his name invoked in Tel Aviv during one of the violent demonstrations
of the strictly orthodox, against the defiling of the Sabbath. Who was
this strange man, who can still move such a diverse public seventy-five
years after his death? A man who was part of the British Mandate in Palestine
for five years until he was murdered? Of whom the then governor of Jerusalem
Ronald Storrs, himself a cultivated man and connoisseur of literature,
described in his memoirs as a "tragic, haunted figure" adding that "he
was an intellectual version of Vincent van Gogh, whose dreadful glare
of an unknown terror blazed in his eyes also."
Jacob Israel de Haan was born in 1881 into
the family of a Dutch small town chazen, a cantor who was also
a teacher, a sexton, in short a Jack-of-all-trades in a small community.
The father, seems to have combined devoutness with cynicism, perhaps a
byproduct of the constant poverty in which his class of Jewish functionaries
lived. The mother, who had a big influence on her son, had mystical leanings.
The parents produced ten children. Many of them were gifted (De Haan's
sister Carry was a well-known writer and self-taught philosopher), but
several children also had a streak of insanity and at least one of them
was committed to an asylum.
The young Jacob Israel was sent to teachers'
seminary and became a teacher in Amsterdam. Because of his awkwardness
and unattractive frog-like appearance he seems to have been one of those
teachers who was ridiculed fairly often. Paradoxically, however, his pupils
loved him for his devotion and a kind of impishness that appealed to their
While teaching, De Haan started to write
poems and short sketches. He became editor of the children's page of the
leading Dutch socialist daily newspaper Het Volk. He also tried
to ingratiate himself with the foremost Dutch poets and writers of the
day. In this process he showed a characteristic which would astonish many
people who moved in his orbit. He was the man who could not be snubbed.
De Haan had a special knack to literally pester people into actually liking
him, which is perhaps the highest art of making friendships. Many of the
well-known writers he accosted tried--unsuccessfully--to keep him at bay
yet became fascinated finally and ended up, more or less, as friends.
At this stage in his life De Haan published,
in 1904, his notorious novel Pjpelijntjes. Pjpelijntjes takes place
in De Pijp, the poor working-class quarter behind the Heineken Brewery,
just beyond the old center of Amsterdam. It was also the dwelling place
for students and struggling artists. Vaguely Dickensian or Gissing-ish,
in his novel De Haan describes in the peculiar naturalistic, lively style
of the time the life of two students, Sam and Joop, with their usual environment
of landladies, noisy neighbors, artisans, etc. Not unique in itself save
for the unabashed homosexual relations between the two young men. Moreover,
there is no defensiveness or explanation whatsoever of the then still
dubbed "unnatural love," only the infinite yearning for homoerotic affection,
which he expressed later so poignantly in the words on the Homo-Monument.
As could be expected, the novel created quite a stir. He was dismissed
both as a teacher and as editor of the children's page. In addition, during
the process of publishing, this eccentric had become engaged to be married
to a non-Jewish medical doctor who was nine years his senior--in fact
they had met when she had examined him for his appointment as a teacher.
Because of the scandal Dr. Johanna van Maarseveen attempted to buy up
and destroy the whole first edition of Pjpelijntjes, in cooperation
with the psychiatrist and defender of homosexuality A.Aletrino, who found
to his horror that the questionable novel was dedicated to him, an apparently
happily married man.
Meanwhile, De Haan was much applauded for
his poems, especially bymiddle-class Dutch Jews, who experienced for the
first time a poet who was actually proud of his Jewishness and his religious
heritage. After a flirt with socialism De Haan returned to the fold and
rhapsodized about the rhythm, intimacy and festivity of Jewish holidays
and Jewish religion in general. In the past, as in his poem "A New Carthage,"
he had rhapsodized about the tortures and torments of boys and men. A
few years later De Haan would publish a second novel, Pathologieen--or
Pathologies: The Downfall ofJohan van Vere de With--in which
the main theme was the exquisite physical tortures an older man had in
store for a young boy. Again this same sex erotic leitmotif was elaborated
without any moral asides. Pathologieen is still considered
the only Dutch work in the genre of Decadent Symbolism, on a par with
Oscar Wilde's Portrait of Dorian Grey and Karl-Joris Huysman's
A Rebours. Not all of his new admirers were aware of the homosexual
and sado masochistic streak in this religious poet. Those who were hoped
to find in him a repentant sinner.
Coinciding with these literary activities
sacred and profane, De Haan was married and studied law. In 1916 he was
awarded a doctor's degree for his thesis about the semantics of juridical
conception liability. He was inspired by Lady Victoria Welby, a well-known
British semanticist. The semanticists of that time, like the Esperanto
cultists, had special hopes for world peace if only everyone could clearly
understand the words and meaning of everybody else. De Haan's thesis caused
a bit of a commotion in judicial circles. Therefore, it was not wholly
without reason that he had built up expectations of a professorship at
the University of Amsterdam. The authorities there, however, had their
doubts about a man who as a teacher tried to disturb public exams by making
his pupils laugh while they were hard pressed by their examiners. When
a professorship in criminal law (which was not a special subject for De
Haan anyhow) passed him by in 1917, he was very disappointed. The spiritual
crisis this slight caused De Haan, a man who burned with ambition all
his life, was aggravated by growing doubts about his marriage. It is not
clear to what extent his homosexuality and his homosensual leanings played
a part in this. His wife had showed, and would continue to show herself
as a woman extremely tolerant of the many antics of her fickle husband.
Until the end of his life De Haan would ask her to convert to Judaism.
Since she pleaded being a convinced agnostic who could not take up any
religion, he would never divorce her. Yet, he began to have his meals
outside the home declaring that he could not eat kosherly there. In addition,
he finally turned to Zionism, and to the orthodox branch of Mizrachi,
a process inaugurated by his Jewish poems.
In 1919, two years after the Balfour Declaration,
this Poet of the Jewish Song took the next logical step and emigrated
to Palestine "anxious to work at rebuilding Land, People and Language"
as De Haan put it to Chaim Weitzman in his application for a passport.
The same letter assumed his stance with aplomb. False modesty was never
one of his faults. With a mixture of the martyred doubts many Zionist
emigrants had, and the pride of a well-established position, De Haan wrote:
"I am not leaving Holland to improve my condition. Neither materially,
nor intellectualy will life in Palestine be equal to my life here. I am
one of the best poets of my Generation, and the only important Jewish
national poet Holland has ever had. It is difficult to give up all this."
De Haan went to Palestine as the appointed
correspondent for the leading Dutch newspaper, the Akemeen He!ndelsblad,
with a substantial yearly salary of six thousand guilders. Until his
death on June 30th 1924, he would write no less that 393 dispatches (it
would be about 2500 pages in book form), which were devoured by the public
because of the enchanting and, at the same time, maliciously humoristic
style. De Haan organized, via this medium, several collections for buying
Dutch cows, whose fates were followed closely by readers of the newspaper.
The cows, by the way, were not sent to the new colonies of Zionist farmers,
but to his pet charities, orphanages.
The Palestine De Haan entered on a bitter
stormy winter day in January 1919 was above all an intricate country.
Arguably it had the most confusing political conditions of that politicaly
complicated moment when the Versailles Peace Conference was about to begin.
One might call it a natural habitat for this cranky man. It was the "twice
promised country," to the Arabs in the Arab Revolt T.E. Lawrence existentialized
in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and to the Jews (or rather in practice
the Zionists) by the Balfour Declaration calling for creation of a Jewish
Homeland. De Haan arrived there as an ardent, even fanatical, Zionist.
Indeed, the first secret Zionist report about him refers to his ranting
anti-Arab remarks made at a party.
Even stronger than the ethnic divisions,
however, was the fact that this country was an amalgamation of three monotheistic
religions. The predominately Islamic part, which was overwhelmingly Sunni,
was in this respect perhaps the most homogeneous. Christianity varied
from the earliest denominations like Nestoranism to the modern Protestant
variations. Each was supported by its own foreign power, the Orthodox
Churches, until recently, by Imperial Russia, the Roman Catholics by Italy
and France, and the different Protestants by England and Germany. The
Jews were also divided. The indigenous claimants were the Sephardim, who
were economically the most assimilated into the rest of Arab/Palestinian
society. Then there were the Ashkenazi, who had--generations before--immigrated
to this land (mostly Jerusalem) to study the Torah, or Jewish Law.
An added incentive was the belief that at the end of time, when the Messiah
would come and raise the dead, the first to come alive again would be
the ones buried in Jerusalem. The Jewish colonists from Eastern Europe,
a fruit of the nineteenth- century pogroms and the failed revolution of
1905 in Russia formed the third part. They were mainly settled in rural
colonies where they farmed vineyards and citrus groves and hired Arab
labor. The final faction--of which De Haan was a part--were the Zionist
immigrants. These Zionist immigrants mandated themselves as the true and
only representatives of the Jewish people for the whole world. Convinced
by Zionist propaganda that they were returning to their age-old homeland,
that they had an undeniable right to the entire country and that they
had a special mission to regenerate the Jewish people, they formed an
aggressive and extremely disturbing faction, also for the rest of the
Jewish population. The last turbulent four years in the life of De Haan
will bear this out.
During the first year or so De Haan was
taken up by a crowd he dubbed "the nice people of Jerusalem." The bazaars
and donkeys enchanted him. He was an item at the salon of Annie
Landau, head mistress of the Evalina de Rothschild School, an institution
where Jewish girls could receive vocational training. Annie Landau was
one of the brilliant hostesses of Jerusalem, comparable to her more famous
contemporary Gertrude Bell in Baghdad. A spinster of the undisputed Jewish
orthodox brand but catholic in taste, she gathered around her British
officials, the Arab /Palestinian elite, Italian bishops and Greek patriarchs,
besides Jews of all kinds. Annie Landau was one of the few who would stand
by De Haan in later years. At the same time De Haan found a spiritual
home on the Deutsche Platz, the quarter of strictly orthodox Ashenkazi
Jews mentioned above, who lived in Chalukkah on alms collected
in the Diaspora. They were members of the international organization Agudath
Israel and the leading rabbi of the Jerusalem branch, Chaim Sonnenfeld,
became his teacher. Far from being only an unworldly praying community,
the Deutsche Platz extended itself to several Jeruslemite Jewish
institutions dating from before Zionist immigration. There was an orphanage
for girls and one for boys (not surprisingly the latter was De Haan's
very special pet). There was also an excellen t Jewish hospital led by
Doctor Moshe Wallach, well known in international orthodox Jewry.
During this first phase De Haan was not
only one of the Jerusalem bunch, but also played a part in the Zionist
movement. In 1920 the British arrested a number of radical revisionist
Zionists who dared to defend themselves when anti-Jewish riots broke out.
Among those indicted was the soldier and songwriter Vladimir Jabotinsky,
who had formed the fighting Jewish Legion for the Allies in the First
World War and founded the militant Irgun and Betar. Arthur
Koestler called Jabotinsky the best orator he had ever heard in any language.
De Haan was one of his defense lawyers in the show trial that followed.
With his usual flair for drama, De Haan made his entrance into the courtroom
carried on a stretcher, because he had a back-ailment (so he pretended)
that made walking impossible. Moreover, together with Jabotinsky, he was
one of the founders of a law school, instituted by the British because
there was a need for well-qualified jurists who knew the conundrums of
the combined Ottoman, Arab, British and--not to be forgotten--War Law
governing this country. Due to his Lectureship at this law school, De
Haan could at last adorn himself with the much coveted title Professor.
In Jerusalem, especially among his cronies, he became known as "Professor
Gradually he became critical of Zionism
and, in particular, the aggressive Zionism he found in Palestine. Since
the publication of Deriudenstaat by Theodore Herzl in 1896, Zionism
had prepared itself for much. Palestine was an agricultural and pastoral
province with a reasonably well-developed rural economy similar to that
of its Arab neighbors. Zionism tried to establish farming settlements
with subsidies from its followers, a practice that disturbed many of the
natural processes of the country. First of all the standard of living
of Zionist immigrants was higher and, therefore, the wages for them were
higher than for the indigenous peoples. More serious, however, were the
different life styles. Most of the Zionist colonies lived in kibbutzim,
a socialist experiment where not only was property shared on an equal
basis, but also free love was supposed to be a way in which one could
shake off the shackles of the past. In short, most of the sincere ideals
of the Zionists clashed with the traditional Arab society they found there.
This has now become a well-rehearsed historical tragedy. But De Haan was
one of the relatively few Zionists (definitely not the only one) who saw
that in time there was a danger in his aggressive ideology, and with his
usual vehemence he warned against it. His newspaper articles became more
and more remonstrative about the pioneers and Zionism.
It is difficult to know how far sympathy
for the nationalist Palestinian cause played any real part in De Haan's
changed views. Certainly this movement appealed to his sense of justice.
Besides he lived in the garden-house of an Arab family of three brothers
and wrote many affectionate poems about them. But he also clearly sympathized
with the Jews when they were victims of the Arab riots that broke-out
from time to time during his stay in Palestine. A bigger part of his resistance
against Zionism was his position on orthodoxy. It is not well known that
over the years Zionism has consistently played down the orthodox objections
against their exclusivist pretensions. For instance, during this time
the Zionists, with the support of the British High Commissioner, founded
a Chief Rabbinate in Palestine. According to the adherents of the Agudath,
a Chief Rabbinate was a severe infringement on its members. Not only was
the institution itself an assault on the autonomy of each Jewish rabbi
in general, but also the Zionist Chief Rabbinate was elected partly by
non-orthodox and even agnostic Jews. Zionism, indeed, was, and is, a secular
movement feigning to represent orthodoxy as well. In 1922 there was a
clash when the Zionists, with support of the Mandate, raised an excise
tax on the unleavened bread for Passover to finance their institutions.
The Agudath refused to pay and were brought to court where De Haan
defended their case in the famous Matzos Trial. He lost after an appeal.
The crucial turning point came the same
year when Lord Northcliffe, founder of the Daily Mail and the tabloid
press in Britain, visited Palestine en route to India. Of the many opposing
Palestinian delegations who were received by the press baron one was from
the Agudath, headed by De Haan. He spoke about the tyranny of the
official Zionist movement. The journalists of the Northcliffe party gleefully
reported all that back home. As a result of this contact, De Haan was
appointed correspondent for the Daily Express, a one-penny paper
that made much of everyday scandals. Already in Dutch circles he was the
reputed volksperrader, traitor of his own people, and now his views spread
throughout Great Britain and its Global Empire. Although his messages
were short and few compared to his articles in the Handelsblad (the
news from the Middle East in the Daily Express was more concerned
with the mysteries of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings
in Egypt than with the intricate Palestine politics) the Zionist authorities
both in Palestine and London became very worried. There was a great potential
danger from these critical reports from a Jew who actually lived and worked
right on this hot spot.
In Jerusalem De Haan became the object of
a veritable boycott. His students refused to attend his lectures and after
a lot of wrangling he was dismissed as a teacher once again, in this case
by the British government which was not able or willing to resist Zionist
pressure. There is an oft-repeated anecdote that illustrates how much
of an outcast he had become. When walking through Jerusalem with a Dutch
tourist, the latter noticed that the Jews they encountered along the way
spit on the street. The tourist commented that this was a sign of disrespect.
De Haan answered, "Oh no, they spit on the street out of respect for you,
your presence. Otherwise they would have spit in my face."
Several times during these last two years
De Haan was threatened with murder. In fact, one of his most moving articles,
about a year before his death, was titled "25" and began with the sentence:
"How silly is the 25th, when one is not murdered on the 24th." In it he
describes his many conflicting feelings about receiving the message that
he would be murdered on the 24th of May. For most others these threats
would have bcen considered as warnings to leave the country or at least
stop the mischief. But at this stage De Haan was beyond redemption. Never
a cautious or stable man, he probably grew more or less unsettled by the
collapse of his last ardent faith in a just cause as well as the shattering
of all his worldly ambitions. In the essentially provincial Jerusalem,
where everybody knew everybody else, he had become De Verlatene, The
Forsaken; this was the title of one of the best novels by his sister Carry
van Bruggen, published years before, which dealt with the quandaries of
Jewish assimilation. The Handelsblad was publishing fewer and fewer
of his articles, the editors having become wary of this strange man. And
of course there were the inevitable rumors. Even one that he planned to
convert to Catholicism. Arnold Zweig's scbliisselroman about De
Haan, De Vriendt kebrt Heim or De Vfiendt Goes Home (published
in German in 1932 and in English in 1933) captures many of the absurd
and extravagant myths about his activities during this final period in
his life. Ignoring the storm gathering around him, De Haan prepared the
publication of poems, Kwatrijnen (Quatrains), which posthumously
would surprise his new orthodox friends because of their sensuality. For
Your tubular hand, your probing finger.
The darkness .. smells of roses, of wine.
All our tomorrows this lewd pinch will linger.
But for now: blessed pleasure be yours,
Nevertheless, there are still enigmas about
the immediate cause of his murder. It is true that in June 1924 De Haan
busied himself preparing for a journey to London to plead the orthodox
cause. But was this really a threat? Forever the idealist, he refused
to travel except with a Palestinian passport, which still did not exist.
And according to sources, he no longer had a valid Dutch passport. A final
motive might have been pecuniary in that he tried to discredit Chaim Kalvarisky.
Kalvarisky, a one-time manager of the Rothschild colonies, was approached
by the Zionists to use his many Arab connections for bringing about a
rapprochement between these two groups. For this purpose a fund was raised
and Kalvarisky, so it seems, embezzled the money. There are signs De Haan
knew about it (in his estate was found a receipt from Kalvarisky's bank
account!). It is possible that trying to bust this racket was the last
straw. At any rate, early in the morning of 30 June 1924 De Haan was leaving
the synagogue of the Shadre Zedek hospital of his still staunch
friend Wallach, where he had just recited Kaddish for his father
who had died a month before. Suddenly he was shot three times. He died
instantly. He was 42 years old.
For a time this brutal murder drew worldwide
attention, especially in the Arab press where he was lauded as an Arabophile.
Even the British Mandate Government put up large multi-lingual posters
offering a reward for the capture of his killer. Because of the controversial
character of the deceased, however, the real perpetrators--a "Bolshi"
hit man from Odessa contracted by the highest council of the socialist
Zionist Haganah, including among others Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later
the second president of the State of Israel-found it easy to divert suspicion
to Arab fathers avenging homosexual approaches to their sons. One thing
is sure. A man like De Haan might have had any number of murderers, and
for a wide variety of motives. Despite the spins from many sides, it was
common public knowledge at that time this this was a political assassination.
The poet Jacob Israel de Haan earned the dubious fame of being the object
of the first political murder in the history of Zionism. Criminal statistics
show that Jews, in general, and that goes for Zionists also, are not of
a violent nature. Although the shock about this crime was also genuine
in Palestinian Zionist circles, De Haan was not the last case. After him
came two high-profile internecine celebrity terminations of champions
of perceived appeasement with perceived enemies--in the Thirties Chaim
Arlosoroff and in the Nineties Yitzhak Rabin. Still, considering what
the stakes are in the Zionist experiment and how vehement the discussion
are about it by diverse claimants, three political assassinations in seventy-six
years is not many.
Israel de Haan,
translated from the Dutch by Ludy Giebels and William Levy
three Ketofiem: in early morning
One wanders about, keeping arcane
In fresh bread his shameless angering,
Doesn't eat, because that gives dead brain,
Throughout the years you bathe in sapping misery,
That soaks your bones, your desire will laxative,
Lusts stalk your heart; there's a conispiracy
Never vanquished, senseless, insane, exhaustive.
Hear, with the dawning of each day,
Roaring mocking laughter from the Ketef.
Guard your salvation, break your fresh morning loaves
Waking and praying, in salt dip it
That keeps the Ketef from your orbit,
And not get lost falling among those misty loafs.
There is a Ketef, who wanders in hunger.
Summer afternoon, when the sun rays gossamer,
In a more beautiful summer, blue heaven is bottomless
You dreamt with enchanted glances, no incandesces
No shadow glides across the faces
Of high heavens, sweeter and soft as a kiss,
The air shelters scents of tree and flower,
See: poppy, rose, winetulip in colors occur...
Guard your salvation; the dark Ketef flutter
An oxhorn in the most beautiful summer hour,
Is his shape, scratching with a shudder,
To bore the point into your innocent core.
Oh, heart, my heart, the golden caduccus,
God's secret letter, may well guard your languor,
So that you stay safe from the cruel anger
Of that Ketef and save your eternal graces.
But from the Ketofiem three
The most scandalous is the Ketef-Merire.
A naked man, like fiery fur
From his body grows a costume alI astir
From red hair, hundreds of eyes
Bloom fiercely, their glances atomize
Glowing through daylight and nighttime blur.
Every eye has his sickness, which limits
When the Ketef to eternal lament
Enchanted by your purity, makes you submit
And in the depth of his murderous heart
Has but one eye, the pupil black as night
And around that not white, but bleeding red.
Whom he looks at with what falls shrieking dead,
Eternally lost in its greedy power,
That no strength does break, no entreaty feather.
The Ketef Jochoed-Tschorrjiem went right
For cruel, tender plunder when night
With trembling wings raised itself and
Languidly the sky was opened by a tired sun.
Fagged from nightlife, soft and tight
Stepped his feet, bent over and dun
just a little with eyes overrun
He walked dreamily, cheeks toned not bright,
Wilting as two sad blooms contrite.
He met on this blossomy debaunchee
Elijah, in blessed memory,
The prophet, who thus reproved hin:
"Where to, depraved devil, every fiend
To whom your eyes laughed you condemn
That he finds no peaceful work, no end,
That his soul eternally dies on the rim--
Does not your heart ever tire of this perversion?"
The Ketef politely riposted a neat reply:
"My soul longs never so much for turgid lusts
Then when it is satisfied and tired
Repulsed by joys and still not rests
Before its wings are scorched by new delight.
To Jangakauf Israel the Levite
I go this morning, so sparkling bright,
Never having seen such a dapper day, but his sight
In dreams even more beautiful morns dawn,
His rosy mouth laughs at his soul
Where more radiant light scrolls than earthly aureole.
That slender hand, sees, around his neck adorned
Petals from a mayflower in the warm morn,
How beautiful he is, he becomes more so, stubborn
Him I will with tender cares and self-scorn,
So that his soul, that is without a borne,
Will flower eternally in an exquisite obscure vector
Outside God's light, for the Ketofiem the sector
In tepid shadow hidden from my porn.
But Elijah, blessed be his name
Struck the Ketef with the shame
Of his damnation: "No, thou will not horn
That flowering boy, in spirit mighty
Of God, keeper of Holy Israel,
Who drives back rivers to where they dwell?
For whose will storm foamed seas roar,
Who disperses and gathers humanity,
I beat you, Ketef, cursing nonplused
That cannot break the power of your lust.
Where thou hears my name or reads it
Thou will flee, like a squally fear advocate
Birds flee from the wind, and my name will fit
Against your slackening lust, swift as a wild arrow,
Hearts screened by a gold shield from sorrow."
Elijah, Elijah, blessed be he,
Who from that Morning Ketef kept me free.
Upon my heart this story is written,
Deceit and salvation, with silver letters
On red silk in a wallet it is woven
From golden threads, not for material benefit,
But with Elijah's name against the evil
Of Ketofiem and of apostate seculars:
In a mild summer night I was stripped bare
Quickly by one of the Ketofiem in a joyful sweat;
Astonished he found and read my amulet
Seeing the name of Elijah he fled into despair
And powerless with him away I lay
Safely waiting the dawn of day,
Saved by the prophet without compare.
Guard your salvation, many a Ketef does stalk,
Thou art beautiful, Oh, Friend, pray to prophets
God's law and justice your heart does not say quits,
Your soul does not prance with demons like a dork.