George Steiner: The Last Viennese Jew

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tags: obituaries, Jewish history

Arie M. Dubnov is an associate professor of history at the George Washington University, where he serves as the Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies.

“Whereas trees have roots,” George Steiner’s father used to tell him, “men have legs with which to they could leave and go elsewhere.” This dictum epitomizes the worldview of the prolific essayist, author and literary critic who died earlier this month, aged 90.

Francis George Steiner was born in Paris in April 1929 to a wealthy Jewish family that had migrated to France from Vienna a few years earlier. He absorbed a scholarly, multilingual atmosphere from his childhood. His father, the banker Dr. Frederick George Steiner, began teaching “The Iliad” to his son in the original Greek at age 6, while his mother, Else Franzos – whom he described as “Viennese to her fingertips” – devised for her son a curriculum in English, French and German.

“My radiant Mama would habitually begin a sentence in one tongue and end it in another,” Steiner recollected in “Errata: An Examined Life,” his literary autobiography.

When Nazi Germany invaded France, the Steiners fled from Paris to the United States, where he continued his studies in a prestigious bilingual Lycée Français high school in Manhattan. Steiner later argued that he was one of only two Jewish students from his school in Paris who had survived the Holocaust.

Read entire article at Haaretz

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