“Not Chosen, But Laid On Me By God”:
The Surviving Letters of Franz Rosenzweig
and Margrit and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
(1917 – 1929)

From the “Introductions”:

The letters offered here are part of a sequence of remarkable exchanges that began in 1913, when Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig had a long conversation in Leipzig with Rosenzweig’s Christian cousin, Rudolf Ehrenberg. The conversation continued in Eugen and Franz’s wartime correspondence that ends with the affirmation of “Judaism despite Christianity” (first published in 1935 and soon after hailed as “the purest form of Judaeo-Christian dialogue ever attained”). The letters offered here pick up almost immediately after the  conclusion of that correspondence; the conversation became more complex after Franz fell passionately in love with Eugen’s wife, Margrit, and she came to return his love, but continued through personal and political upheavals until Franz’s death in 1929. Eugen continued to bear witness to the life-changing power of their encounter till the end of his own life in 1973.

The existence of the hundreds of letters Franz wrote to Margrit was neither acknowledged nor addressed by their heirs until after Franz’s widow, Edith, died in 1979. In 1985, Eugen and Margrit’s son, Hans R. Huessy, read a single letter aloud at a conference in Berlin on his father’s life and work; the following year, Harold Stahmer presented other letters at a conference in Kassel on Rosenzweig’s life and work. The first excerpts were published in Stahmer’s paper in the Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook in 1989.

The Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund had commissioned Ulrike von Moltke to transcribe Franz’s correspondence with Margrit and Eugen in 1985, a task she completed in 1990. In what can only be described as a labor of love, she went on to transcribe most of the letters that Eugen and Margrit wrote each other during the years in which the so-called “Gritli letters” were written. (Without the years she spent familiarizing herself with the letters—and the correspondents’ handwriting—without her transcription and her careful ordering of the often undated letters, no published version of any part of this extraordinary triangular correspondence would exist.) In 2002, the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund made the complete transcriptions of Franz’s letters available on the Argo Books website, and shortly afterward, a heavily edited edition was published by the Bilam Verlag in Germany. In 2003, Michael Zank compared the two editions of the correspondence in a ground-breaking article in Modern Judaism, a version of which is included in the ebook available for download here.

Because so many of Franz’s letters to “Gritli” were written while he was writing The Star of Redemption, they have been the subject of considerable interest and speculation since their publication. Because much of that speculation has sought to set “Gritli” against her husband or otherwise exposed one or the other of them to insult, the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund decided in November of 2020 that the time had come to offer concrete evidence of the couple’s mutual commitment and its continued strength despite Franz’s love for Margrit.

As Rafael Rosenzweig says in his foreword to the Bilam edition, Edith burned Margrit’s letters to Franz shortly after his death in 1929, but the letters the Rosenstock-Huessys wrote each other in those years survive, and are offered here, interleaved with Franz’s letters to them both (and a few from other people, including both Franz’s wife, Edith, and his cousin Gertrude Oppenheim), in hopes that reading the two surviving sides of this remarkable triangular correspondence in sequence will give scholars a chance to replace speculation with something more closely resembling the “whole story”: how Eugen assumed what Franz himself called a “superhuman burden” in those years, and how his extraordinary acceptance of Franz’s and Margrit’s relationship survived even the casual personal attack Franz made on Eugen’s mother, only to reach a crisis in 1925, when Franz demoted the relationship Eugen felt had been “not chosen, but both sent and laid on me by God” to an ordinary love affair by demanding that Margrit return all the letters he had written her since 1917. It is an extraordinary story.

The Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund offers these letters here in the belief that they offer important insight into the complex relationship between these three people, at a time that was crucially important for their lives and work. By way of introduction, the Fund offers two essays that address the history of the correspondence and the transcriptions on which all scholarly debate on the letters is based.

The Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Fund dedicates this edition of the combined surviving correspondence of Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen and Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy to Ulrike von Moltke, in gratitude for the many years she dedicated to transcribing the letters.

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"Not Chosen": Letters 1917-1918
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"Not Chosen": Letters 1919
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"Not Chosen" Letters 1920-1921
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"Not Chosen": Letters 1922-1929
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This edition is the only existing source of the surviving correspondence in uncensored and unabridged form, drawn directly from the original hand-written letters. Ulrike von Moltke’s transcriptions of Franz Rosenzweig’s letters are complete and were proof-read, corrected, and somewhat enlarged by Michael Gormann-Thelen und Dr. Elfriede Büchsel before they were posted online in 2002. Her transcriptions of the letters Eugen and Margrit wrote each other in those years are not complete and have not been edited; the Fund felt it was more important to make their side of the correspondence available than to wait until a scholarly edition could be completed. The Fund is committed to transcribing the “missing” letters of the couple’s parallel correspondence, and hopes to issue a complete scholarly edition of the combined correspondence in future.

Because of this unique triangular correspondence’s unhappy history with editing, the Fund decided to include all the transcribed letters in this volume. That means that readers interested primarily in Franz Rosenzweig’s letters will find that after 1921, it is more a collection of letters written by the Rosenstock-Huessys to each other. In future, the Fund hopes to bookmark all letters that mention Franz, his life, his work, and his friends, so that readers may, if they prefer, jump ahead to the next letter of more particular interest; at the moment, that is not possible. This edition ends with a handful of letters Eugen and Margrit wrote to each other in the year after Franz’s death, but which speak to the story told by the earlier letters. The Fund is grateful to Stephanie Brenzel both for suggesting and for creating the “Epilogue.”

Even this “unedited” edition has taken time. Over the course of 2021, David Bade reformatted the online (Gormann-Thelen/Büchsel) version of the “Gritli” letters,” and Stephanie Brenzel reformatted the transcriptions of the Rosenstock-Huessys’ “internal” correspondence. Dr. Brenzel then interleaved the two correspondences to create the chronological record presented here. (Those familiar with the Bilam edition will note that some letters have been moved within the sequence based on close reading and context.) Dr. Brenzel is the first person to read the entire correspondence closely in twenty or thirty years, and the Fund is profoundly grateful for her close attention to the text and the many hours she volunteered to produce this book. Wilbur Nelson of Permafrost Publishing created the ebooks of the correspondence for download, and the Fund is grateful for his collaboration on this project as well as for his many years of support.

We are particularly grateful to Michael Zank for his kind permission to print a version of his article comparing the two editions of the “Gritli letters,” granted in memory of Harold Stahmer, who died in 2020. An expanded version of Raymond Huessy’s 2015 article “Eugen and Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy in ‘Rosenzweig Studies’” from Culture, Theory, and Critique is included less for its take on scholarly work since 2003 than because, like Professor Zank’s piece, it includes the only available instances of certain material in English. The rest of the combined correspondence exists only in German.

Because of the flexible nature of ebook fonts and the short time available to produce this edition, we have not been able to reproduce the many drawings which Franz Rosenzweig scattered through his letters. We have replaced them with glyphs, where possible, and with description, where not; since Ulrike von Moltke’s transcriptions make frequent use of parentheses and square brackets, glyphs and descriptions appear in “French brackets.” A drawing of a star may be given as {✡} or {✩}, depending on context; drawings of arrows or circles may be given as {→}or {⚪}. Drawings without handy glyphs to replace them are simply described, as in {Bogen} or, regrettably, just {Zeichnung}. Readers interested in the drawings will find many (but not all) of them reproduced in the Bilam edition, where a listing of people mentioned in the correspondence may also be found.

Acting for the Rosenstock-Huessys’ legal heirs, the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Literary Heirs have decided to waive copyright in all letters, documents, and work, both published and unpublished, by Eugen and Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy. Authors and scholars are free to cite, quote, translate, and publish any and all letters, documents, and work by either Eugen or Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy. The Literary Heirs and the Huessy family request only that this freedom be exercised with fairness and decency.

The work of others, where it is included in works in which copyright has been waived, is unaffected by the Literary Heirs’ decision; permission to cite, quote, translate, and publish that work must still be sought from the current holders of copyright.