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Three Times Homeless
I am three times homeless: a native of Bohemia in Austria; an Austrian among Germans; a Jew throughout the world.
Of all the remarks attributed to Gustav Mahler, this one is perhaps the most famous. From a geographical and ethnic perspective it is, of course, completely accurate. Throughout his life, Mahler was conscious of being an outsider, never quite 'at home'. However, the saying also contains an important spiritual truth. Here Mahler clearly identifies himself with the archetypal romantic figure of 'The Wanderer', celebrated in the titles of three songs by his beloved Schubert, as well as in the same composer's famous 'Wanderer' Fantasy for Piano and great song cycle Winterreise ('Winter Journey'). Mahler may also have had a much older figure at the back of his mind: the legendary 'Wandering Jew', according to tradition punished for mocking Christ as he carried his cross by being condemned to wander over the face of the earth until Judgement Day. In the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Austrian Empire, anti-Semitism was, as we would now say, 'institutionalised'. The Church still taught that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for the death of Christ, and that their dispersal throughout the world (the so-called 'diaspora') was their divinely ordained punishment. Wherever he went, and no matter how much success he achieved as an artist, Mahler continued to run up against anti-Jewish attitudes expressed sometimes in the form of mild, unthinking prejudice (routine 'Jewish jokes') and at other times as pure, virulent hostility.