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When Demanded by The Nazis in 1938 If He Was Jewish, J.R.R. Tolkien Responds With A Classic Burn

January 9, 2019 By Pat Smiles

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When Demanded by The Nazis in 1938 If He Was Jewish, J.R.R. Tolkien Responds With A Classic Burn

During Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler was determined to purge Germany of any culture that was not Aryan. Hitler then handed this task over to one of his most capable propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels then organized a team of “regulators” to investigate the works of any suspected Jewish artists, music, literature, fine arts and press. Thus requiring a license to be able to work or produce in Germany.

Eventually, this censorship led to even the scrutiny of art and literature that was produced outside Germany.

In 1938 J.R.R. Tolkien had just written a hit novel titled, ‘The Hobbit’. He and his British publisher began communicating with a Berlin-based Publishing house about the possibilities of a German translation of his book.

It should be noted that in a private prior conversation with his British publisher that was documented, Tolkien stated that he hated Nazi “race-doctrine” as being “wholly pernicious and unscientific.” He also said in the prior conversation, that he had many friends that were Jewish and had even considered canceling the pursuit of a German translation.

So when Tolkien received a letter from the Berlin Publishing House demanding to know if he was Jewish or if he could prove his Aryan heritage by producing documentation, he was incensed. He then penned a letter of response back to the Rutten & Loening Publishing House. It was an impeccably penned classic “burn” that only a writer of the caliber of J.R.R. Tolkien could write. Here is the letter;

25 July 1938 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your inquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and remain yours faithfully,

R. R. Tolkien




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