“In the 1940s Hirsch used to tell his debutantes who wanted nose jobs that “you can change your noses, but you can’t change your Moses.” In remembering Hirsch, Berman stressed the significance of the Jewish nose as a hallmark of his opposition to simple-minded acculturation. Hirsch was one of the first generation of Reform rabbis who were also Zionists. He saw Jewishness as unalterable: Jewish authenticity was tied to the unalterability of a Jewish identity, represented by the Jewish body.
How can one bridge these two moments: the desire to alter the Jewish face before the beginnings of modern aesthetic surgery of the nose and its seemingly widespread practice among Jews following the Shoah? How can one recognize the desire to mask and the simultaneous desire to reveal? As a cultural historian, I mentally raced through my readings of Marcel Proust. In his Remembrance of Things Past, a series of novels written to recapture the world of the 1880s and 1890s, there is a self-reflexive passage in the novel entitled Swann’s Way. Here the narrator is talking about the arrival of the immediately identifiable crypto-Jewish character Charles Swann at the dinner hour, disrupting his schedule:
After two shy peals had sounded from the gate, she would inject and vitalize with everything she knew about the Swann family the obscure and shadowy figure who emerged, with my grand- mother in his wake, from the dark background and who was identified by his voice. But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account book or the record of a will; our social personality is a creation of the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as “seeing someone we know” is to some extent an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the person we see with all the notions we have already formed about him and in the total picture of him which we compose in our minds those notions have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice as if it were no more than a transparent envelope, that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is these notions which we recognize and to which we listen. And so, no doubt, from the Swann they had constructed for themselves my family had left out, in their igno- rance, a whole host of details of his life in the world of fashion, details which caused other people, when they met him, to see all the graces enthroned in his face and stopping at the line of his aquiline nose as at a natural frontier . . .
The point of Swann’s nose is clear: for Proust it is a map of the world in which the Jew is the boundary marker that defines the limits of what is French. This boundary is risky to traverse and more over, in spite all other protestations of equality, still visible. The nature of this self-consciously constructed and internalized identity of the Jew as diseased, as polluting, is reflected in his physiognomy. The new nose (faux nez) is a mask identical to the new persona adopted by the Jew. Proust recognized that such a view possessed such power that even Jewish writers like himself (i.e., writers who felt themselves stigmatized by the label of being “Jewish”) needed the mask to disguise the nose. (Proust’s uncom- fortable relationship to his mother’s Jewish identity haunted his life almost as much as did his gay identity.)
Swann is more than a visible Jew who desires some form of invisibility. He is also a member of the elite who marries a courtesan. This link between Jew and prostitute is mirrored in Proust’s manner of representing the sexuality of the Jew. For Proust, being Jewish is analogous to being gay—it is “an incurable disease.” But what marks this disease for all to see? For to the turn-of-the-century mind, syphilis in the male must be written on the skin, just as it is hidden within the sexuality of the female. Proust, who dis- cusses the signs and symptoms of syphilis with a detailed clinical knowledge in Cities of the Plain, knows precisely what marks the sexuality of the Jew upon his physiognomy. It is marked upon his face as “ethnic eczema.” It is the infectious nature of that “incurable disease,” the sexuality of the Jew, that Proust’s Jew fixated upon his courtesan.
The Jew’s sexuality, the sexuality of the polluter, is written on his face in the skin disease that announces the difference of the Jew. For Proust, all of his Jewish figures (including Swann and Bloch) are in some way diseased, and in every case, this image of disease links the racial with the sexual, much as Proust’s image of the homosexual links class (or at least, the nobility) with homosexuality. (“Homosexuality” is a “scientific” label for a new “disease” coined by Karoly Benkert in 1869 at the very same moment in his- tory that the new “scientific” term for Jew-hating, “anti-Semitism,” was created by Wilhelm Marr.)
The image of the infected and infecting Jew also had a strong political and personal dimension for Proust. And yet, how can one reconcile the notion that the internalization of the image of the Jew is a reflex of a false set of values generated by society and in- ternalized by the powerless (even though they are wealthy and well-placed)? For the ability to “see” the Jew who was trying to pass as a non-Jew within French society is one of the themes of the novels, a theme which, after the Dreyfus affair in the late 1890s, had overt political implications. Seeing the Jew was seeing the enemy within the body politic, the force for destruction. And Proust’s “racial” as well as sexual identity was tied to his sense of the importance of class and society for the definition of the indi- vidual. Thus, Proust’s arch Jew, Swann, was visibly marked by him as the heterosexual syphilitic, as that which he was not (at least in his fantasy about his own sexual identity). But was syphilis a dis- ease of the body or of the soul?
One clear problem is the notion, which develops at midcen- tury, that the reconstruction of the face is the reconstruction of the face not of the Jew, but of the syphilitic. In 1834 the Berlin surgeon Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach, the central figure in nineteenth-century facial surgery, wrote that “ . . . a man without a nose [arouses] horror and loathing and people are apt to regard the deformity as a just punishment for his sins. This division of diseases, or even more their consequences, into blameworthy and blameless is strange. . . . As if all people with noses were always guiltless! No one ever asks whether the nose was lost because a beam fell on it, or whether it was destroyed by scrofula or syphilis.” The surgeon’s moral imperative was evident: correct and hide the fault, no matter what its cause, so as to allow the individual to pass as whole and healthy.
Theodor Billroth, the famed nineteenth-century Viennese surgeon, often carried out “plastic operations with artistic ability to correct defects of beauty (Schönheitsgebrechen) . . . one could see his joy when he was able to successfully improve the appearance (verschönern) of a damaged person, so that that person was no longer the object of pity or horror.” Whatever the cause of their disfigurement, Billroth’s Viennese patients struck their observers with the same pity and horror, the classical hallmarks of ancient tragedy, as did the victims of syphilis. One of his most distin- guished students, Vincenz Czerny, pioneered the modern reconstruction of the saddle nose, a nose without a bridge. Recounting a case in 1895, Czerny stressed that the patient came from “a healthy family (without a history of rickets or lues) and had suf- fered a depression of the osseous nasal skeleton through a fall on his nose, when he was 3 years old.” It was a childhood fall (as in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy) and not inherited syphilis that was the cause of the child’s deformity. But all deformed noses (and souls) in this world were assumed to be syphilitic in nature! Even Socrates’s proverbially ugly nose is read in the nineteenth century as a clinical sign of syphilis.
(It seems odd since Socrates had his nose long before the illness was introduced into Europe in the fifteenth century—but this argument was made by a scholar arguing against Columbus having “discovered” syphilis in the Americas and having carried it back to Europe!) The unclean nose embodies all of the horrors associated with the illness and the bad character of those who have it.
According to nineteenth-century medical science, the Jew had a special relationship to syphilis (through the agency of the prostitute). But this special relationship could literally be seen on the Jew. The British pamphleteer Joseph Banister saw the Jews as bearing the stigmata of skin disease (as a model for discussing sexually transmitted disease): “If the gentle reader desires to know what kind of blood it is that flows in the Chosen People’s veins, he cannot do better than take a gentle stroll through Hat- ton Garden, Maida Vale, Petticoat Lane, or any other London ‘nosery.’ I do not hesitate to say that in the course of an hour’s peregrinations he will see more cases of lupus, trachoma, favus, eczema, and scurvy than he would come across in a week’s wan- derings in any quarter of the Metropolis.”11 The image of the Jew’s nose is a delicate anti-Semitic reference to the phallus. For the nose is the iconic representation of the Jew’s phallus throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed, Jewish social scien- tists, such as the British savant Joseph Jacobs, spend a good deal of their time denying the meaning of “nostrility” as a sign of the racial cohesion of the Jews. It is clear that for Jacobs (as for Wilhelm Fliess in Germany) the nose is the displaced locus of anxiety associated with the marking of the male Jew’s body through circumcision, given the debate about the primitive na- ture of circumcision, and its reflection on the acculturation of the Western Jew during the late nineteenth century. Indeed, even the putative blackness of the Jew’s skin reflected the infec- tion of the Jew with syphilis! Jews bear their diseased sexuality marked on their skin like the leper.
This view is to be found in Adolf Hitler’s discussion of syphilis in fin-de-siècle Vienna in Mein Kampf (1925). Hitler links the Jew, the prostitute, and the power of money:
Particularly with regard to syphilis, the attitude of the nation and the state can only be designated as total capitulation. . . . The invention of a remedy of questionable character and its commercial exploitation can no longer help much against this plague. . . . The cause lies, primarily, in our prostitution of love. . . . This Jewification of our spiritual life and mammonization of our mating instinct will sooner or later destroy our entire offspring.
Hitler’s views also linked Jews with prostitutes and the spread of infection. Jews were the arch pimps; Jews ran the brothels; but Jews also infected their prostitutes and caused the weakening of the German national fiber. Jews are also associated with the false promise of a “medical cure” separate from the “social cures” that Hitler wishes to see imposed: isolation and separation of the syphilitic and his/her Jewish source from the body politic. (Hitler’s reference here draws upon the popular belief that particularly the specialties of dermatology and syphilology were dominated by Jews, who used their medical status to sell quack cures.)
Between the eras of Proust and Hitler began the aesthetic medical alteration of the Jewish nose. The means to change the nose, and perhaps the character, was supplied by Jacques Joseph, a highly acculturated young German Jewish surgeon practicing in fin-de-siècle Berlin. Born Jakob Joseph, he had altered his too- Jewish name when he studied medicine in Berlin and Leipzig. Joseph was a typical acculturated Jew of the period. At the univer- sity he had joined, like many Jewish students, a conservative dueling fraternity and bore the scars of his saber-dueling with pride.
Like many acculturated Jews, such as Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, Joseph “relished the test and adventure of the duel, the so-called Mensur, which was considered manly and edifying.” The scars (Schmisse) from the Mensur were intentionally created. Students challenged each other to duels as a matter of course, without any real need for insults to be exchanged; being challenged was a process of social selection. “Without exclusivity—no corporation,” was the code of the fraternities as late as 1912. The duelists had their eyes and throats protected, but their faces were purposely exposed to the blade of the saber. When a cut was made, it was treated so as to maximize the resulting scar. The scar that Joseph bore his entire life marked him as someone who was satisfaktionsfähig (worthy of satisfaction), someone who had been seen as an honorable equal and thus had been challenged to a duel. Marked on the duelist’s face was his integration into German culture. The more marginal you were the more you wanted to be scarred.
Such scarring was not extreme among the medical students of the day. The scar marked the individual, even within the medical faculty, who was seen as a hardy member of the body politic. This was the context in which the Jewish fraternities (most of which did not duel) sought to re-configure the sickly Jewish body into what the early Zionist Max Nordau called the “new muscle Jew.” The Jewish fraternity organ- ization stated in 1902, that “it desires the physical education of its members in order to collaborate in the physical regeneration of the Jewish people.” For some Jews, a dueling scar marked the so- cially healthy individual. At the very close of the nineteenth century, after Joseph and Herzl left the university, Jewish men were strenuously excluded from Christian dueling fraternities. Being a member of a frater- nity, like being an officer in the army, was a badge of truly belong- ing to the in-group in the society. It was a sign of being a German. With the expulsion of the Jews from the dueling fraternities, this sign of belonging was denied Jewish men. In 1896 the Christian dueling fraternities had accepted the following proposal:
In full appreciation of the fact that there exists between Aryans and Jews such a deep moral and psychic difference, and that our qualities have suffered so much through Jewish mischief, in full consideration of the many proofs which the Jewish student has also given of his lack of honor and character and since he is completely void of honor according to our German concepts, today’s conference . . . resolves: “No satisfaction is to be given to a Jew with any weapon, as he is unworthy of it.”
Jews are different and thus dishonorable; they are unworthy of sat- isfaction, even if those with facial scars, look just like “real Germans.” The visible scar advertises and guarantees the purity of the group. Because Jews cannot be pure, they must be denied the right to scar and to be scarred in duels. For a Jew to bear a facial scar is to hide his sickly essence from the mainstream. This duplicity is what is meant by “Jewish mischief.”
By the 1920s such seemingly false scarring comes to be part of the German discourse on aesthetic surgery. The aesthetic sur- geon Ludwig Lévy-Lenz tells the tale of a young man who, having won money in the lottery, came to him and wanted him to create artificial dueling scars through a cosmetic procedure. In this way, he could pass as someone who was worthy of being challenged to a duel. Lévy-Lenz refused to do the surgery and the young man went to a barber who scarred him with a straight razor and in doing so severely damaged his salivary glands. The visible scar enabled the young man to pass as a man of honor. But was it an authentic mark of honor or merely cosmetic?
The scarred Jacques Joseph was trained as an orthopedic surgeon under Julius Wolff, one of the leaders in that field. In 1893 Wolff had developed a surgical procedure to correct the saddle nose, which followed up James Israel’s earlier work repairing the syphilitic nose in the mid-1880s. Wolff’s major surgical innovation was not cutting the graft from the forehead, thus avoiding a tell-tale scar. More important, he established the “law of the trans- formation of the skeleton.” This argued that every function of the skeleton could be described through the laws of mechanics and that any change in the relationship between single components of the skeleton would lead to a functional and physiological change of the external form of the entire skeleton. Wolff’s wide-ranging contributions to the practices of his day included developing a therapeutic procedure for correcting a club foot with the use of a specialized dressing that altered the very shape of the foot. Orthopedics, more than any other medical specialty of the period, presented the challenge of altering the visible errors of develop- ment so as to restore a normal function.
Joseph’s interests did not lie with the foot, even though the feet were often considered another sign of Jewish inferiority, but elsewhere in the anatomy. In 1896 he undertook a corrective procedure on a young child with protruding ears, that, while successful, caused him to be dismissed as Wolff’s assistant. Joseph’s procedure was his own, but it paralleled the work of the American otorhinolaryngologist Edward Talbot Ely who had corrected a “bat ear deformity” on a twelve-year-old boy in 1881. Ely undertook the procedure because the child had been “ridiculed by his companions.” In Berlin in the 1890s, this sort of operation was seen as “beauty” rather than “real” surgery. When Joseph was dismissed, he was told by his Jewish supervisor Wolff that one simply did not undertake surgical procedures for vanity’s sake. A child’s protruding ears were not in the same class as a functional disability, such as a club foot or the reconstruction of the external ear, which had been a major problem for surgeons from the earliest written accounts. (The congenital absence of the external ear [microtia] was often attributed to hereditary syphilis. This would have been grounds to operate!)
Yet, according to the child’s mother, the boy had suffered from humiliation in school because of his protruding ears. It was the child’s unhappiness with being different that Joseph was correcting. Abnormally big and protruding ears alone might account for the child’s unhappiness. But it was the specific cultural mean- ing of protruding ears at the close of the nineteenth century that really added insult to injury. They were understood in Central Europe to be a sign of Jewish identity.
An old European trope about the shape of the Jew’s ears can be found throughout the anti-Semitic literature of the fin de siècle. The racial anthropologist Hans Günther summarizes the turn-of-the-century view that Jews, especially the males, have “fleshy ear lobes” and “large, red ears” more frequently than other peoples do. They have “prominent ears that stick out.” According to Günther, prominent ears are especially prevalent among “Jewish children; one refers to them in Austria as ‘Moritz ears.’” Moritz (Morris) was a typical Jewish name of the day. They are the “elongated ears” that appear as the “ill-shapen ears of great size like those of a bat,” according to an English-language anti-Semitic text of 1888.
In his major paper of 1910 on the correction of “prominent ears,” William H. Luckett of New York comments obliquely about the “odium attached to these ears.” In the American cultural context, these may have been the jug ears that dominated the caricatures of the Irish (and which contemporary Irish aesthetic surgeons continue to treat aggressively in modern Eire). They may also have been the ears of the Jewish immigrants on the lower East Side. The stigma they evoke is repugnance at a visible sign of dif- ference, a difference ascribed to the character as well as to the body. Luckett reports that one of his patients suffered “the constant harassing by classmates [which] frequently is the cause of so much distress as to produce a very bad mental condition in the child as well as in the parents, and to warrant our surgical inter- ference.” The strife that a big-eared child sows among his class- mates spreads so much unhappiness in the world that the surgeon’s larger duty, as well as the needs of his patient, demands that he operate.
The “scientific” belief in the visibility of the ear as a racial marker is also a major subtheme of one of the major works satirizing the world of turn-of-the-century Prussia, Heinrich Mann’s Man of Straw (1918). In that novel, Mann’s self-serving convert, Jadassohn (Judas’s son?) “looks so Jewish” because of his “huge, red, prominent ears” which he eventually has cosmetically reduced. He goes to Paris to have this procedure done. Mann clearly intends the ugly ears to be read as a sign of the Jew’s lack of good character. They give the lie to any claim of conversion away from Jewishness. They mirror the shallow characterlessness of the Jewish parvenu.
The association of Jews with syphilis is not merely a fantasy of anti-Semitic rhetoric, which classified them either as carriers of the illness or as being immune to it. This also reflects disapproval of no- table Jewish scientists such as Adolf von Wassermann and Jadassohn for choosing to study and treat such a disreputable disease.
This image of the “Jewish ear” flourished into the twentieth century. Adolf Hitler was convinced that Joseph Stalin was Jewish (as he claimed all Bolsheviks were) and arranged to have photographs analyzed to see whether his ear lobes were “ingrown and Jewish, or separate and Aryan.” Race is written clearly on the body—especially on the ear. As late as in the 1970s in Central Europe “men request plastic operations of the ears more frequently than do women.” No wonder. A standard textbook on physical anthropology published in 1974 still listed the ear as a sign of Jewish racial identity: “The ear is large, wide in its upper part, and provided with a large lob.”31 From its inception the operation on the ear is a deracializing operation that is gendered in complex ways. It comes to have the same significance for Jewish males as the Jewish nose and the circumcised penis. It is a sign of the male child’s humiliation. The desire to pass as normal, which is the re- sult of the felt need to be completely “male,” created the need for a new specialty that would dispel psychic pain by intervening in the body of the male child. For Jewish women and girls with big ears, long hair obviated surgery and allowed them to pass.
After being dismissed from Wolff’s clinic, Jacques Joseph had opened a private surgical practice in Berlin. In January 1898, a twenty-eight-year-old man came to him, having heard of the successful operation on the child’s ears. He complained that “his nose was the source of considerable annoyance. Wherever he went, everybody stared at him; often, he was the target of remarks or ridiculing gestures. On account of this he became melancholic, withdrew almost completely from social life, and had the earnest desire to be relieved of this deformity.” The symptoms were analogous to those of the young boy whose ears Joseph had repaired.
Joseph took the young man’s case and proceeded to perform his first reduction rhinoplasty, cutting through the skin of the nose to reduce its size and alter its shape by chipping away the bone and removing the cartilage. On May 11, 1898, he reported on this op- eration before the Berlin Medical Society. In that report Joseph provided a detailed scientific rationale for performing a medical procedure on an otherwise completely healthy individual: “The psychological effect of the operation is of utmost importance. The depressed attitude of the patient subsided completely. He is happy to move around unnoticed. His happiness in life has increased, his wife was glad to report; the patient who formerly avoided social contact now wishes to attend and give parties. In other words, he is happy over the results.” The patient no longer felt himself marked by the form of his nose. He was cured of the “disease of nostrility.” In his own eyes, he looked less different from the group he desired to join, the non-Jews. Joseph had undertaken a surgical procedure that had cured his patient’s psychological disorder! Yet, he had left scars that pointed to the procedure itself, and this became a major concern of Joseph. He warned his colleagues that “disclosure to the patient on the problem of scarring is very important. Many patients, however, will consider even simple scars too conspicuous.” He raised the specter of a court case in which the “unsightly scar might represent a greater degree of disfigurement than the enlarged cartilage [of the nose] presented previously”. More centrally though, surgical scars, unlike dueling scars, reveal the inauthencity of the body and the effort to pass by means of medical intervention.
On April 19, 1904, Joseph undertook his removal of a hump from within the nose using cartilaginous incisions. He retrospec- tively commented that in 1898 he had used the extranasal procedure which “caused a scar, but this scar will be hardly visible after a short time, assuming that the incision is sutured exactly.”35 But “hardly visible” was not sufficient. Even the slightest scar was enough to evoke a visual memory of the too-big nose. The invisibility of the patient hinged on the elimination of the scar. Both patients needed to become (in)visible to pass, and Joseph had learned that only invisibility left his patients happy.
Joseph’s claim to fame was his solution to the problem of the visible scar. His procedure to remove the excess bone and cartilage intranasally (from within the patient’s nose) is still used today, as are the surgical tools he used to carry out the procedure. But oth- ers also claimed to have recognized this problem earlier and to have corrected it. His priority as the first surgeon to use the in- tranasal procedure was challenged in 1923 by the Berlin surgeon Friedrich Trendelenburg, who described undertaking (and docu- menting) such a procedure in 1889.36 Joseph’s procedure also par- alleled one developed by John Orlando Roe in upstate New York.
Large numbers of Joseph’s patients needed to become invisible to become happy, but the men and women had different vi- sions of happiness. In his summary paper on the reduction of the size of the nose published in 1904, Joseph commented on the psychology of his male patients: “The patients were embarrassed and self-conscious in their dealings with their fellow men, often shy and unsociable, and had the urgent desire to become free and un- constrained. Several complained of sensitive drawbacks in the exercise of their profession. As executives they could hardly enforce their authority; in their business connections (as salesmen, for example), they often suffered material losses. . . . The operative nasal reduction—this is my firm conviction—will also in the future restore the joy of living to many a wretched creature and, if his de- formity has been hindering him in his career, it will allow him the full exercise of his aptitudes.” According to Joseph, the patient “is happy to move around unnoticed.” The visibility of the Jew (often defined in the nineteenth century in terms of his mercantile ability) made it impossible for him to compete equally with the non-Jew in the economic world at the turn of the century. Only vanishing into the visual norm and passing as non-Jewish in terms of his appearance enabled the young Jewish male to become part of the general society. Passing thus meant functioning more fully as a male, because masculinity was defined in economic terms.
Such a transition became possible in late nineteenth-century Germany when the legal restrictions, which limited the Jew (and especially the Jewish male), were lifted. Jewish women were still bound by the limitations applied to women in late nineteenth- century Europe, but Jewish males generally could enter into the world of masculine endeavors as long as they were not too evi- dently Jewish. No law bound them (unlike African American males in the United States at the same moment) from becoming officers, doctors, lawyers, or businessmen in the general society, but the powerful social stigma associated with the Jews continued in spite of civil emancipation. Thus one did not want to appear Jewish—one needed to be able to pass as German or French. A twentieth-century commentator notes about Joseph’s procedures that: “Even today, 70 years later, one often hears the erroneous re- mark that rhinoplasty is an operation for vanity’s sake. That is not true. Vanity is the desire to excel. The average rhinoplasty patient wishes to be relieved of a real or imagined conspicuousness of his nose.”40 The route to happiness lay not in standing out but in blending into the dominant group whose silently taking no notice of one was the key sign of one’s acceptance. Being (in)visible is being intensely visible, but as a member of a group which defines itself as the norm, as beautiful and healthy. Friedrich Nietzsche quite insightfully noted that we are only aware of our bodies when we become ill. This was the boundary Joseph’s patients desired to cross. They wished to forget their bodies, to become one with those they imagined had no worries about the acceptability of their bodies. This is the essence of passing and it set the model for all aesthetic surgery for the future. In order for such a model even to appear effective, all awareness must be on the level of con- sciousness; no unconscious desire or hidden goals can influence the individual. Physical change must alter consciousness. But the male Jew’s hope of passing, of vanishing into the world of the Ger- man or the French, depended not just on the alteration of all-too- visible ears and noses, but on the surgeon’s ability to alter the most hidden and secret aspect of the male body.
Proust’s fascination with the Jewish body was a reflection of this European, scientific discourse about the fixed nature of the body and the desire of Jews to alter their own visibility. His ambivalent sense of belonging to high culture in France was heightened by the split in his cultural world by the Dreyfus affair. As much as Franz Kafka on the eastern frontier of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Marcel Proust, hidden away in his cork-lined room in Paris, saw his own body (Jewish, gay, French, Catholic) as the object of contestation. For Proust, syphilis marked the Jewish body.” [Jewish Frontiers: Essays on Bodies, Histories, and Identities]