Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Chaim Kusnetz (Baron von Habenichts)

b. 1904, Duboy, Belarus
To US: 1923
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Why I Left the Old Country and What I Have Accomplished in America

A true worker-intellectual, Kusnetz was unusual for two reasons: First, he remained religiously observant his whole life, even after he fell under the influence of philosophies critical of traditional religion. Second, he was attracted to psychology and to philosophers of the simple life and self-abnegation, rather than to political radicalism. His inclination toward introspection, in turn, leads him to paint a rather dark picture of his inner life, darker, perhaps, than was warranted by his actual circumstances and relationships. He provides an interesting account of his intellectual development, including his reading in traditional Jewish texts, adventure stories, and psychological literature. In addition, he provides informative descriptions of traditional Jewish life in Belarus, of events in South Russia during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, of his first impressions of America, and of immigrant life in Brooklyn in the 1920s. His introspective account of his courtship and marriage stands in contrast to his wife’s more straight-forward description.