Gay was born in Berlin in and emigrated, via Cuba, to the United States in Gilman , a literary historian at Emory University , called Gay "one of the major American historians of European thought, period". His family initially booked passage on the MS St. Louis whose passengers were eventually denied visas but fortuitously changed their booking to an earlier voyage to Cuba.
MY GERMAN QUESTION: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin.
My German Question | Yale University Press
His inquiry rivets without let up, powered by its unremitting candor. It is becoming ever more difficult to recapture the dire atmosphere of the s, and the analytical abstractions of present-day historiography are sometimes deficient in realism. In this poignant book, a renowned historian tells of his youth as an assimilated, anti-religious Jew in Nazi Germany from to —"the story, " says Peter Gay, 'of a poisoning and how I dealt with it. Even before the events of , culminating in Kristallnacht, the family was convinced that they must leave the country. Gay describes the bravery and ingenuity of his father in working out the agonizing emigration process, the courage of the non-Jewish friends who helped his family during their last bitter months in Germany, and the family's mounting panic as they witnessed the indifference of other countries to their plight and that of others like themselves. Gay's account—marked by candor, modesty, and insight -- adds an important and curiously neglected perspective to the history of German Jewry. Paperback pages Yale University Press, 9.
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My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin
His massive study The Enlightenment: An Interpretation two volumes, and , rehabilitated the age of reason and its thinkers, above all perhaps the Scottish philosopher David Hume, as rationalists who consciously rejected Christian myths and superstition and laid the foundations for the modern world of ideas. Men such as Voltaire, he argued, were not irresponsible or impractical thinkers, but provided the intellectual ammunition for the liberal and democratic political ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. The first volume, subtitled The Rise of Modern Paganism, was widely acclaimed far beyond the academic world, and won the National Book award in the US. In his encyclopedic The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud five volumes between and , Gay explored in wonderfully readable prose a wide range of aspects of the European — especially the British, French and German — and the North American middle classes in their heyday. The books are full of obscure and often surprising information, most notably about bourgeois sexuality, which he argued, with a wealth of examples drawn from diaries and letters of the time, was far from being as prudish as popular memory imagined.
Gay describes the new book, a memoir of his adolescence in Berlin under the Nazi regime, as "the story of a poisoning and how I dealt with it. The title "My German Question" is partly a play on "the Jewish question," an outmoded conversational signal by which polite anti- Semites once knew each other. Later the phrase became shorthand for the issue of who was responsible for Jewish refugees, and then for the puzzlement -- which so annoys Gay -- over why Germany's Jews did not escape in time to save themselves. Was your father paralyzed and I am not inventing these snide inquiries by fear that he might make less money abroad?