What a Life: From Nazi Germany via Neo-Marxism to American Academia

Salomon Rettig
Hunter College of the City University of New York, NY

Series: Political Science and History
BISAC: POL010000

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Edited by I Leslie Rubin, Robert J Geller, Abby Mutic, Benjamin A Gitterman, Nathan Mutic, Wayne Garfinkel, Claire D Coles, Kurt Martinuzzi, and Joav Merrick

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What a Life is a unique book that is part memoir, part historical chronicle, part a social psychological dissertation of the impact of a set of diverse social systems upon a single soul. It is the result of a lifetime of evidence-gathering, thought, and introspection. Salomon Rettig, professor emeritus at the Department of Psychology, Hunter College CUNY, was born into and subsequently experienced three radically different social, political, and economic systems of the twentieth century: Nazism, Neo-Marxism (the Israeli kibbutz), and the academic system of the United States of America. Now in his nineties, he attempts to compare this diverse set of experiences, their historical and political context, and their effect on him, especially as he has related to other people. The results are not very pretty.

He watched Hitler come to power in his native Berlin and experienced the depersonalization of the Jewish population on the part of the Nazis, prior to escaping at the age of thirteen to an orphanage for Jewish Holocaust refugees in British Mandate Palestine. He subsequently worked on a kibbutz for ten years, subjugating his personal will to the will and interest of the collective. Finally, he arrived in the United States, completed his education, and embarked on a career as a professor of social psychology just as the United States entered a historic, post-war period of rapid, unprecedented economic growth. Was it the estrangement from his nuclear family at a very young age, assimilation into the commune of the kibbutz, or something else that led to his inability to relate to the other people in his life, even those as close to him as his first wife?
(Imprint: Nova)

Foreword by the Author’s Son

Chapter I: Nazism (1923 to 1937)

Chapter II: The Kibbutz (1937 to 1947)

Chapter III: USA (1947 to the present)

"Salomon Rettig remembers almost more than he can bear: his mother's songs in Russian; his escape into books which had to be sold before the Nazis discovered them; the beatings and humiliation he suffered as a Jewish child on the streets of Berlin; sitting in class under a portrait of Hitler; the Jewish orphanage and journey aboard the Galilee to Palestine; the record player, the lover, and the tractors on a kibbutz; and then the U.S., the English language, the path to chairing a university psychology department, and life as a husband and father in New York. But the empirical details are not enough for Rettig. With his wide-ranging thinking in the social sciences and a commitment to seeing things for himself, he struggles to make sense of the programmatic, murderous violence of the Third Reich; the failed idealism of the kibbutz movement in pre-1948 Palestine; "the spirit of America" in the 50's, 60's, and 70's; and his own feelings of alienation from systems, countries, and people. Sadness and frustration are on every page. But so is Rettig's indefatigable curiosity about what it means to be a human being, whether in extraordinary or everyday circumstances, and his faith that with communication comes connection: "If I could even conceive of belonging," Rettig writes, "then there was some tiny glint of hope ... [that] I might someday find refuge." - Mark Dow, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English, Hunter College, NY USA; Author of Plain Talk Rising (poems) and American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons

"Overall, I believe the book is intensely rich. As a historical reference, it provides a vivid, first-hand view of life during the absolutely insane, brutality of Nazi Germany. As an auto-biography I was particularly intrigued to learn more about the depth of the author's incredible experiences and the direct ties to the multifaceted view of who he is as a person in all his complexity. It was also extremely interesting to follow the philosophical perspectives within a complex existential web. The connections between realities, thought and behavior were also very compelling psychology revealing deep understanding of human behavior. The linguistic descriptions were also extremely colorful, descriptive and captivating.” - Stephen D. Steinhaus, PhD, HRA Consultant

"Salomon Rettig’s memoir documents his childhood as a Jew in Nazi Germany, his exodus to Israel whereby he escaped the holocaust, his coming of age on a Kibbutz, and his immigration to the United States after the war where he became a social psychologist. His story is emotionally gripping and haunting, and provides a timely account of the processes and consequences of authoritarianism on a personal and collective level. Rettig inspires the reader with his resilience." READ MORE...- Gregory Bovasso, Ph.D., Community College of Philadelphia, USA

Any person interested in social psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, or 20th century history.

Social psychology, Holocaust, kibbutz, Palestine, communism, fascism, Israel, memoir, Nazism, neo-Marxism

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