Chapter 18 The “Jewish Messiah” and the “King of Flesh and Blood”

Agnon’s dead patron, Salman Schocken, had failed in getting his favorite writ- er the in Literature. Was it out of a deep inner need to outdo his ­father, even after the latter’s death, or out of a wish to complete his father’s life’s work, that Salman’s son Gershom desperately sought to achieve that prize for Agnon? There had been five previous attempts, from 1925 to 1951, all of which had ended in failure. An astute businessman like his father, Schocken under- stood that the key to the Nobel Prize lay in publishing translations of Agnon’s works into languages that the eighteen “immortal” members of the Swedish could read, namely English, German, and, above all, Swedish. In 1961 Gershom Schocken signed a contract with Schocken Books in New York, headed by his brother-in-law Theodor Herzl Rome and his brother Theo- dore Schocken, which gave the rights to Agnon’s books in English to the United States publishing house.1 In 1963 Theodore informed Gershom that he was planning to publish an English translation of Agnon’s Guest for the Night2 by Misha Louvish.3 Louvish later became the deputy editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Nonetheless, his young rival Hillel Halkin published a scathing review of Louvish’s translation.4 In June 1963 the indefatigable Gershom Schocken flew to to meet Georg Svensson,5 Nissim Yosha6 and Chief Rabbi Dr. Kurt Wilhelm, who had worked for Gershom’s father Salman until 1948 and who had published a Swedish-language book about Agnon.7 After his return to Israel, Schocken kept up an intensive correspondence with his contacts in . Svensson

1 Gershom Schocken’s correspondence of 1961–1963, Schocken Publishing House archive; Agnon 1968; Skolnik & al. 2006; Laor 1998, pp. 539–542. 2 Agnon 1968. 3 Misha (Michael) Louvish (1909–2001), Austrian-born Israeli Jewish scholar who immigrated to Scotland as a youth, re-immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, returned to Scotland in 1939, served in the British army during the Second World War, and returned to Israel in 1949 . 4 Halkin 1968. 5 Georg Svensson (1904–1998), editor in chief of the Swedish Albert Bonniers Förlag. 6 Nissim Yosha (1933–2011), Israeli diplomat, first secretary of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm during the 1960s. 7 Wilhelm 1952.

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The “Jewish Messiah” and the “King of Flesh and Blood” 525 signed on Viveka Heyman8 who had published a Swedish translation of one of Agnon’s stories, to translate Agnon’s In the Heart of the Seas into Swedish.9 Kurt Wilhelm wrote the foreword to the book.10 Later that year Schocken sold the Swedish-language rights for In the Heart of the Seas, A Whole Loaf, Edo and Enam, To This Day, and Tehilla to Bonniers, which later also re-published the Swedish translation of Agnon’s And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight. The distance between Agnon and the Nobel Prize seemed to shrink.11 The seventy-seven-year-old Agnon celebrated his “seventy-sixth” birthday on the Jewish mythical messianic birth date of Tish’a be’Av 5724, which fell on July 18, 1964; in mid-October, when the Swedish Academy awarded its Nobel Prize in Literature for that year to Jean-Paul Sartre,12 he declined it as a matter of principle, saying, “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own – that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable.”13 Aware of the intrigues, backbiting and infighting within the Hebrew Uni- versity of Jerusalem which had foiled Agnon’s Nobel Prize candidacy before, in late 1964 the astute Gershom Schocken wrote Baruch Kurzweil, Agnon’s most important literary critic and friend, who was on sabbatical in the United States from his chair at Bar-Ilan university. Schocken reminded him of Hugo Berg- man’s 1947 recommendation of Agnon to the Swedish academy, which Kurz- weil had drafted, pointing out the auspicious developments in the translations of Agnon’s works, and asking him to update his recommendation to the Acad- emy for the Nobel Prize of 1965.14 Kurzweil wrote his letter of recommendation in early 1965; for some reason, however, he sent it to the rather than to the Swedish Academy, and signed it B. Benedikt Kurzweil, his original European name.15

8 Viveka Heyman (1919–2013), a Swedish-born Jewish writer, journalist and translator who lived in both Stockholm and in Jerusalem. 9 Agnon 1964. 10 Wilhelm 1964. 11 See Agnon 1925, 1964a, 1966; Gershom Schocken’s letters of June 1 to December 30, 1963, in the Schocken Publishing House archive; Laor 1998, pp. 539–542. 12 Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), prominent French existential philosopher. 13 Sartre 1964. 14 Gershom Schocken’s letter of December 7, 1964 to Baruch Kurzweil. 15 Kurzweil’s letter of January 11, 1965 to the Nobel Foundation, the Nobel Foundation’s letter of January 15, 1965 to Kurzweil, and Kurzweil’s formal submission of Agnon’s candidacy to the Swedish Academy, January 1965, Kurzweil archive; cf. Laor 1998, pp. 543–545.