Follow in the footsteps of Hannah Arendt on this walking tour of New York City

(New York Jewish Week) – In 1974, New York Times columnist John Corry could confidently write that “the Upper West Side…block for block, has more famous intellectuals than anywhere else in the city.” To prove it, he wrote about an annual gathering at 370 Riverside Drive, in an apartment overlooking the Hudson River.

“At Hannah Arendt’s New Year’s Eve, West Side intellectuals of European descent gather in one room, and West Side intellectuals of American descent gather in another,” he said. writing. “The Europeans are in the room with the liqueurs and the chocolates. The Americans are in the room with the whiskey.

The idea of ​​Hannah Arendt throwing raucous parties in a Manhattan apartment may surprise those who only know her as the German-Jewish exile whose brooding works include ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, ‘The Human Condition’ and The Always controversial “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” about the mastermind of the Final Solution.

But Arendt’s biographer, Samantha Rose Hill, also wants people to remember Arendt for what one of the philosopher’s closest friends, novelist Mary McCarthy, called “the skeptical spirit” and the Arendt’s “electric vitality”. To show this domestic side of a public intellectual, Hill designed a walking tour of Arendt’s Upper West Side, from the first shabby apartment where she landed nearly penniless after fleeing Hitler’s Europe to to that cozy but indifferently decorated 12A apartment where she poured the liquors and whiskey.

The self-guided version of the tour, narrated by Hill, has just been released via the Gesso app, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut New York, the cultural arm of the German government. Hill is the author of “Hannah Arendt” (Reaktion Books, 2021) and edits an edition of Arendt’s poetry. On her podcast, “Between Worlds,” she talks to guests who have been touched by Arendt’s work.

“I like to think of this walk as a documentary,” Hill, who teaches at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and Underground University, says of the app. “Each stop traces a moment in Hannah Arendt’s life in New York between 1941, when she arrived as a stateless refugee, and her death in 1975. We’ll follow in her footsteps to find out how she settled in the United States.”

On a blustery Sunday afternoon, I joined Hill and a group of about 20 people for an in-person version of the tour, starting at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park. We continued on a loop that took in three of the places Arendt called home in the city — and four decades of the factious, haunted, and distinctly Jewish history of “New York Intellectuals,” the famed circle of writers and mostly Jewish literary critics.

Samantha Rose Hill, biographer of Hannah Arendt, leads a walking tour at 317 W. 95th Street in Manhattan, Hannah Arendt’s first home after arriving in America as a stateless refugee, March 27, 2022. (New York Jewish Week)

The first stop, 317 W. 95and Street, today is a typically expensive condo, but on May 23, 1941, when Arendt and her second husband, Heinrich Blucher, arrived in New York, it was essentially a building for new immigrants. Arendt and Blucher were able to rent two rooms — one for themselves and one for her mother — with a $70 stipend from the Zionist Organization of America.

At this point in her life, Arendt was 35 and had established herself as a formidable political philosopher in a Germany that had no place for her. In 1933, she spent eight days as a prisoner of the Gestapo, imprisoned for research on anti-Semitism that she had done for the World Zionist Organization. Released, she fled to France, where she worked for Youth Aliyah, helping Jews immigrate to Palestine. She was detained again, and this time sent to a French internment camp. She walked out of the camp with false papers and, with the help of American journalist and filibuster diplomat Varian Fry, she was able to escape through Spain and Lisbon to New York.

No wonder the day she arrived at Ellis Island, she wired her first husband, Gunther Anders, saying, “We are saved.

The facade of Butler Library on the Columbia University campus is carved with the names of Hannah Arendt’s intellectual heroes. (New York Jewish Week)

Arendt now had to settle in a new country and a different language – a process made easier by her visits to the next stop on the walking tour: Columbia University. We walked the 19 blocks that Arendt would have walked to campus in about 25 minutes. Hill made us look at the names of the philosophers engraved on the facade of the Butler Library: Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato. “These are the people she fell in love with as a child, reading in her father’s library,” Hill said. “She was standing on a table and reciting Homer in ancient Greek.”

When Arendt came to campus in 1941, however, it was to meet a living thinker: Salo Baron, the eminent Jewish historian and holder of America’s first-ever chair of Jewish history. An old friend, Baron helped Arendt get published in English. This led to a class she taught on modern Jewish history at Brooklyn College. Baron would also hire Arendt to head Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, an organization tasked with rescuing heirloom-free Jewish books and artifacts stolen by the Nazis. As detailed in a recent Jewish Museum exhibit, the JCN under Arendt helped recover some 1.5 million Jewish books and more than 1,000 Torah scrolls.

Hannah Arendt and her husband Heinrich Blucher lived for 10 years at 130 Morningside Drive, a building that would later be saved from demolition thanks to the efforts of liberal activist Marie Runyon, after whom her yard was named. (New York Jewish Week)

The neighborhood must have appealed to Arendt: Although she continued to teach at numerous institutions, including Notre Dame, UC Berkeley, Princeton, and the University of Chicago, New York remained her home and star. A few blocks north of Columbia, at 130 Morningside Drive, she and Blucher were finally able, in 1949, to rent their first real apartment, the next stop on the tour. His guests there included a who’s who of 20andwriters and thinkers of the -century, including critics Alfred Kazin, Elizabeth Hardwick and Dwight Macdonald; poets Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell and WH Auden, and literary power couple Lionel and Diana Trilling.

It’s also where she lived when, in 1951, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” was published and cemented her reputation in America.

(The Morningside Drive building has another claim to New York history: In 1961, two years after Arendt left, Columbia attempted to evict its residents and those of five nearby buildings as part of a project The tenants of 130, led by liberal activist Marie Runyon, fought evictions in a case that was not resolved until 2002. The building was the only survivor of what became the ” Forty Years’ War”, and the courtyard of the building is named in honor of Runyon.)

Arendt’s place in what one writer has called “the controversial center of things” was, however, threatened in 1963 with the publication of “Eichmann in Jerusalem” in The New Yorker. A stop not included in the tour, but included in a useful Goethe-Institut map, is 108 W. 34and Street. Now Bank of America, it is the former site of the Diplomat Hotel. There, in the fall of 1963, Irving Howe, Lionel Abel, and other members of the New York Intellectuals essentially brought Arendt to trial for her coverage of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961.

Many felt that the now-famous phrase she used to describe the Nazis’ genocidal enterprise, “the banality of evil,” downplayed Eichmann’s crimes. Arendt’s defenders noted that in calling the Nazi “a perfectly average man”, she had not meant to suggest that he was not evil, but rather, as the critic Adam suggested Kirsch, to show him “complete contempt for Nazism”.

Worse, and less defensibly, Arendt had shown remarkably little empathy for the Jewish councils and concentration camp prisoners forced and coerced into collaborating with their tormentors. The meeting at the Diplomat was called by Dissent magazine; Arendt was not present, but according to a witness cited by Hill, whenever her name was mentioned, he “was greeted with derisive applause” (whatever that sounds like).

The controversy surrounding “Eichmann” would haunt Arendt for the rest of her life and threaten to overshadow her other contributions to political philosophy. And Arendt’s reputation took another, posthumous blow in 1982 when a biographer wrote about her early love affair and lasting friendship with her teacher, the famous German philosopher and later Nazi Party member Martin Heidegger. How could a person – still a Jew – who had written: “Evil comes from a lack of reflection”, could forgive his mentor for his complicity in the ultimate evil?

Nevertheless, Arendt remains of the moment. Since the rise of Donald Trump and the resurgence of real and would-be autocrats from Brazil to Hungary to Russia, his works are more popular than ever. Arendt’s literary executor, Jerome Kohn, told Hill that sales of some of Arendt’s works have increased 30-fold over the past few years. In an introduction to a new edition of “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, on the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, Anne Applebaum writes that Arendt had analyzed in 1951 a world that looked strangely like our own, with “cynical attacks on the values liberalism,” “the division of the world into warring camps,” a global refugee crisis, and new forms of broadcast media “capable of pumping out disinformation and propaganda.”

Hill said Arendt remains both relevant and useful today, not just because of the political upheavals she experienced and analyzed. “Hannah Arendt doesn’t tell us what to think,” she said. “She helps us think. Her work is poetic, and an invitation to reflect with her on the loss of freedom, fascism, the rise of evil and what it means to love.

Hannah Arendt was able to buy her apartment at 370 Riverside Drive in Manhattan after receiving restitution for income she lost after the Nazis derailed her college career. (New York Jewish Week)

On the tour’s final stop, at this Upper West Side apartment building with views of Riverside Park and the Hudson River beyond — which Arendt was able to afford after receiving restitution of income that she lost when the Nazis derailed her academic career – Hill painted an indelible portrait of the philosopher lying on her green vinyl couch, smoking and thinking before heading to her typewriter to put her thoughts on paper.

Arendt died of a heart attack in 1975, aged 69. After a life of tumult, displacement and controversy, she had found on a quiet Manhattan street what she described, in a 1974 speech at Columbia University, as a “place of her life.” immune to public complaints.

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