Prologue - Jewish Section
Source: FROM THE PRESENTATION
German Jewry Emancipation and its Limits
German Jewry was one of the first Jewish communities in Europe to experience modernisation. The integration of Jews into German society, which began in the late eighteenth century, involved the adoption of the values and cultural assets of the German middle class. This was the heritage of the Enlightenment period. Throughout the nineteenth century, Jews were gradually granted civil rights in the various German states. This process was formally completed following the unification of Germany in 1871. Although German Jews identified with their homeland and made significant contributions to its economic and cultural life, their integration into German society and the German state was not complete. Despite the emancipation, discrimination against Jews persisted in various sectors such as the academy and the military. The late 1870s saw the appearance of the modern antisemitic movement, which called for the ejection of Jews from Germany and the revocation of their citizenship.
In the late eighteenth century, most Jews in Germany lived according to Jewish tradition, as minority on the fringes of German society. Most were poor peddlers or petty merchants. One century later, their condition was totally different. They had undergone a process of rapid urbanisation and had been largely integrated into the German middle class; a few had even become central figures in German economic life. The fact that the Jews' impressive economic ascent coincided with the consolidation of capitalism, which had grave effects on other social strata in Germany, did not elude their opponents. This was one of the factors whose influence was added to the pre-existing antisemitic stereotypes.
More Modern Antisemitism
Modern German antisemitism had a variety of facets. Some German antisemites focused on the religious aspect; others, even at that early time, began to deal with it in the context of the racial issue. Not religion but race. Eugen Duehring: In our day, the basic idea that Judaism and the Jews are not a religion but a race is erupting and ascending. True humanity and true culture should aspire to dispel the fog of the religion, which until now has protected the Jews and camouflaged their worse traits, so that we may be able to see the Jew in his natural and immutable character.' Carl Eugen Duering, Die Judenfrage als Frage der Racencharakters, 1880.
Antisemitic fantasies were expressed in texts such as this: Adolf Steocker, Modern Judaism is a force without religion; it is a force that fights Christianity everywhere. It wishes for peoples to lose their Christian faith and their national affiliation. As a substitute, it offers the idolization of Judaism. If modern Judaism continues to use the spirit of wealth and the might of the press to destroy the nation, disaster will become inevitable. The Israelite people must relinquish the aim to be the masters of Germany.' Adolf Steocker, Das Moderne Judentum in Deutschland, besonderes in Berlin, Berlin 1880.
A Spectrum of Beliefs
German Jewry, which never constituted more than 1 percent or so of the German population, was marked by ideological fragmentation. Along with the religious divisions between the Reform movement and the more conservative Orthodoxy, which began to take shape in the middle of the nineteenth century, political chasms began to divide Jews toward the end of that century. In 1893, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith ( Centralverein Deutscher Staatsburger Juedischen Glaubens the CV) was founded as a Jewish response to antisemitism. It quickly became the representative agency of the majority of German Jews who considered themselves members of the German nation. The Zionist Federation came into being four years later, and additional political organisations followed after World War I.
German Jews or Jewish Germans?
From the words of Ludwig Hollaender, leader of the CV in 1929: What was abandoned due to emancipation was the national element in Judaism, which was in any case but a transient ingredient. That, which is everlasting in Judaism - its spiritual core, its moral contours, and its religious truth - can be fully integrated into the German whole.... In terms of our religion and origin, we are deutsche Juden ¯ German Jews. and in the political sense, we are juedische Deutsche ¯ Jewish Germans. All of the Jewish values, which we fulfill within the German people as Jews make us German Jews , and, in contrast, the circumstances under, which we have become...part of the people among, which we have lived for centuries - among whom we feel integrated, into its language, and into its culture - make us Jewish Germans . Ludwig Hollaender, Deutsche-juedische Probleme der Gegenwart, Berlin 1929, 15¯6.
The German Zionist Federation
The Zionist Federation of Germany ( Zionistische Vereinigung fuer Deutschland, ZVfD) stressed the Jews' intrinsic nationhood and advocated the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The Zionists regarded themselves as loyal citizens of the German state but did not believe that Jews should be integrated into the German people. They considered it pointless to struggle against antisemitism in Germany and urged Jews to focus on the creation of a positive Jewish self-awareness. From the memoirs of Kurt Blumenfeld, German Zionist leader: Zionism should have served as a key to an understanding of the place and status of the Jews in the non-Jewish world. Liberalism attempted to delude the Jews into believing that the differences between them and non-Jews should be considered nothing other than prejudices that are fated to disappear in the course of progressive development. In contrast, I have stressed the value of our unique essence.' Yehuda Kurt Blumenfeld, The Jewish Question as an Experience, Jerusalem 1963, Hebrew, 48.
Reich Union of Jewish Front Veterans (RJF)
In February 1919, the Reich Union of Jewish Front Veterans ( Reichsbund Juedischer Frontsoldaten ) - an organisation of Jewish soldiers and officers who had fought in the German army in World War I - was established in Berlin. The goals of this organisation, which counted a membership of a few tens of thousands, were to commemorate the Jewish fallen, to foster German patriotism and Jewish pride, and to ward off antisemitic propaganda that accused the Jews of evading combat duty during the war. In late 1932, the heads of the Reich Union of Jewish Veterans presented President Hindenburg with a full list of approximately 12,000 Jews who had died or were missing in action from the world war.
Orthodox Jews, who accounted for approximately 10 percent of German Jewry, did not organise under any single political or religious agency. Those who more stringently separated themselves from the liberal majority were known as the Secessionist Orthodox. Others were more open to dialogue with the liberal majority and wished to keep the community united despite the religious disagreements. Both were noted for having integrated into the German surroundings and adopting the German language and culture while continuing to live according to the traditional codes of their faith.
Emigration from Eastern Europe - More
One phenomenon that had a significant impact on the development of German Jewry was the emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to Germany, beginning in the late nineteenth century and peaking toward the end of World War I. Many German Jews perceived the presence of Eastern European Jews as a threat to their social integration and a potential stimulant of antisemitism. German Jewish organisations supported immigrants in distress but tried to encourage them to Germanize themselves in order to be less conspicuous. In the 1920s and 1930s, immigrants from Eastern Europe constituted the poorest and most vulnerable segment of German Jewry.
In the web of the Weimar Republic's many Crises
The period of the Weimar Republic was marked by contradictions in the history of German Jewry. For the first time, Jews attained almost total equality of rights.They began to integrate into the public service, the universities, and the judicial system, and their contribution to German culture reached new peaks. At the same time, however, antisemitic activity increased perceptibly and, after the outbreak of the economic world crisis of 1929, escalated into overt violence. German Jewry tumbled into a severe economic and demographic crisis that threatened its future.
Demographic decline, falling birth rates, increasing intermarriage, and the spreading incidence of conversion led to a sharp decline in the number of German Jews - from 615,000 in 1910 to 564,000 in 1925 - despite the continued influx of Eastern European Jews. Several Jewish communities, which had been abandoned by a majority of their members, fell into a severe economic crisis. Assessments as to the possibility that German Jewry would vanish altogether within a generation or two became common.
The Assassination of Walter Rathenau. The appointment of a Jew, Walter Rathenau, as Minister of Foreign Affairs in Germany in 1922 illustrates the eminence, which German Jewry attained in the Weimar period. At the same time, however, it even more emphatically exemplifies the crisis that beset the community. Rathenau, the highest ranking Jewish appointee in German history, was murdered by antisemitic assassins several months after his appointment. The murder, and the chilly response to it in certain quarters of German public opinion, ominously exposed the problematic reality, which lay at the root of the Jews' integration in Germany: As I soon found out, my colleagues and even my Professor viewed the assassination with reservations. Yes, they could not, as it seemed to me, prevent themselves from finding a certain degree of understanding for the motives [of the assassins]. Who had been murdered? the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had given in to the tremendous demands of the victors as laid down by the Versailles Treaty, and the Jew who had spoken in the name of the German people . I reached the understanding that the attitude of Rathenau, according to which he was first and foremost a German citizen, had been an illusion after all.' Hermann Zondek, Auf Festem Fusse, Stuttgart 1973, 83
More On Austrian Jewry
Following the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jewish community in the new republic became the second largest German speaking community in Europe. In the early 1920's there were over 200,000 Jews in Austria. Most of them lived in Vienna. Alongside the liberal Jews who were assimilated into German culture and mostly members of the middle class, there were many Orthodox Jews of Polish and Hungarian origin. A strong Jewish national movement was active in Vienna and was a dominant force in the Jewish community in the 1930's.
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