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The German-Jewish Epoch of 1743-1933:Tragedy or Success Story?

Solveig Eggerz
Summer 2007

by Amos Elon,  
Henry Holt and Co.,  
446 Pages,  
The relationship between Germans and Jews was not a relentless progression towards the Holocaust. Rather the Holocaust ended a pattern of gradual Jewish integration into German society, a pattern often interrupted by official scapegoating of the “foreigners,” the Jewish minority in response to German economic or military failure.  
Amos Elon, in his book, The Pity of it All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch 1743-1933, offers a view of German-Jewish relations that stresses not only anti-Semitism but also the success story of Jews living in Germany and contributing to German culture.  
The relationship began peaceably with Jews entering the Rhineland and the Danube Valley right behind the Roman legions. Emperor Constantine’s decree of 321 AD, the earliest record of German-Jewish interaction, instructs the Roman magistrate of Cologne regarding relations with the local rabbi. Elon describes this Jewish community as “an early urban middle class of traders, surgeons, apothecaries, and craftsmen in gold, silver, and precious stones.” Jews in Roman times owned property, practiced all trades and professions, and did not live separately, even in Frankfurt, where they later lived in the most miserable ghetto in Europe.  
The intolerance of the church, however, ended this period of peaceable integration. By the 15th and 16th centuries Jews were reduced to living at subsistence levels as rag dealers, peddlers, vagrants, or even highwaymen, thus integrating on the lowest level with German criminal elements, as depicted in Johann Schiller’s play, The Robbers.  
Economic Gap  
Thanks to the backward nature of finances in the German principalities in the 18th century, a handful of Jews rose to privileged positions as “court Jews.” Clad in colorful Spanish and French coats of the nobility, accessorized by white stockings, silk scarves, and white wigs, court Jews oversaw the transportation of sacks of gold coins, secured loans, and procured luxury goods for their rulers. Because it lacked Italy’s banking system and France’s centralized bureaucracy for streamlining financial transactions, Germany had more court Jews than any other European country.  
But the remaining 80% of Jews wore traditional dark Jewish robes and barely eked out a living. Excluded from “guilds and crafts, subject to rigorous restrictions, refused residence permits in many towns,” Elon notes, they were “reduced to peddling trinkets, charms, discarded household goods, and used clothes or to begging.”  
Moses Mendelssohn, “The German Socrates”  
The beginning of real integration of Jews into German Christian society came with a brilliant young scholar, Moses Mendelssohn, who entered Berlin in 1743 through the Rosenthaler Gate, the entrance reserved for cattle and Jews. He enrolled in the seminary of the chief rabbi of Berlin, David Frankel, where religious scholars recited sacred religious texts in Hebrew and spoke not German but a dialect, Judendeutsch. After teaching himself German, Latin, French, and English, Mendelssohn read Enlightenment writings such as John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and texts by Spinoza, Euclid, Aristotle, Plato, Newton, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire.  
Even after becoming a prominent Enlightenment scholar, Mendelssohn retained his Jewish roots. He promoted a “Hebrew Enlightenment,” encouraging Jews to speak both high German and classical Hebrew, smoothing their way with a translation of the Pentateuch and the Psalms into German. A Jew could practice Judaism and be an Enlightenment German, he felt, because Judaism, unlike Christianity, was a religion of reason. But his ideas were not welcomed by Jewish zealots who viewed reading anything but Hebrew and Judendeutsch as heresy.  
Mendelssohn became known as “the German Socrates.” His Letters on Sentiment (1755), according to Elon, virtually founded German philosophic-aesthetic criticism. Along with two Germans, the playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the bookseller and publisher, Friedrich Nicolai, Mendelssohn founded the Berlin Literary School. The three met almost daily to discuss philosophy and religion in rationalist terms, always favoring cosmopolitanism and rejecting patriotism. Germans admired Mendelssohn, but the gap yawned between such “exceptional Jews” and the disdained majority of Jews. But by the 19th century Jews had come to consider Mendelssohn their patron saint.  
Bildung and Kultur  
Gradually Jews transformed their thinking from what Elon calls a “hermetically closed system centered on divine sacraments to an emancipated agnostic culture centered on man.” Once German Jews began to speak German, they embraced the concept of Bildung — the refinement of the individual self and character in keeping with the ideals of the Enlightenment, as exemplified by the main character in Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister.  
While Jews were replacing their religion with Bildung and voluntarily adopting German ways, the reactionary German leaders only hardened their stance against the “foreign nation” that lived in their Christian society. Hence legal emancipation came slowly to German Jews. Yet the shared culture drew Jews and Germans together. As a consequence of Bildung and Kultur, Elon notes, within two or three decades many Jews became 100% German.  
In the late 1780s and 1790s, the literary salon, modeled on the French court, became a primary means for promoting Bildung and Kultur. Largely apolitical gatherings, the salons made up for the lack of German intellectual court life, but they reflected less Mendelssohn’s cult of reason and more the romantics’ cult of “feeling and friendship.”  
The most influential of the salons was launched in 1791 and run by a prominent woman of letters, Rahel Levin. Unlike Mendelssohn, Levin disliked her Jewish identity and preferred total Jewish assimilation to German culture. “Her religiosity was of the heart and, like that of other romantics, couched in the mystical imagery of Christianity: Christ’s Passion and the Mother of God,” Elon notes.  
After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1806, the literary salons were replaced by secret, patriotic societies, held in the homes of Christian aristocratic nationalists. Jews converted at the highest rate since 15th century Spain when about 60% of Jews obtained what the poet Heinrich Heine called “the entrance ticket to European culture.” But Elon notes the lack of sincerity in such conversions:  
“The act was undertaken, more or less casually, to conform, escape stigma, gain professional rights, bolster social status, win a government or academic post, marry. Before conversion most converts were non-practicing Jews; after conversion, they were non-practicing Christians.”  
French Civil Code  
Napoleon’s defeat of Prussia in October 1806 had positive consequences for Jews living in German lands — or so it seemed at first. The French imposed the French civil code on German leaders, thus emancipating the Jews, an action resented as French meddling and therefore rescinded at the first opportunity. Unfortunately German leaders developed an antipathy towards civil liberties simply because they were French and therefore disliked as much as cosmopolitanism. The post-war backlash hit Jews on two counts: they were cosmopolites and they favored French equalities. Ernst Moritz Arndt, a leading patriotic poet, known for being anti-French, summed up this antipathy for all ideas French: “Cursed be their vaunted humanism and cosmopolitanism.”  
While Jews were emancipated in many German cities under the French legal code, hard-nosed Frankfurt maintained its oppressive attitude towards Jews until 1811 when French pressure finally forced Jewish emancipation. The resistance was strongest in Prussia where most German Jews lived. Finally in 1812, after rejecting many drafts of legislation, King Frederick William III approved an edict of emancipation, but paragraphs 8 and 9 enabled exclusion of Jews from government positions and teaching posts. Three years later, when the French were defeated, the king suspended the edict.  
The problem with the 1812 edict, Elon notes, is that it coincided with the new nationalism rising from below. Thus it proved fatal to both Germany and its Jews, a plague on Europe for more than a century. “It would condemn German Jews to continue living in a twilight of favor and misfortune, forever straining to be (and not to be) themselves, Germans, Jews, equals, free,” he concludes.  
Irony of Jewish Patriotism  
Under French rule, Jews were liberated under the French civil code. Yet Jews — intent on expressing their patriotism — volunteered for Prussian army service in the German war of liberation against Napoleon. Jews sought to demonstrate that they were no longer a Jewish “nation” but citizens of a fatherland. In 1813 Rahel Levin volunteered to tend wounded Prussian soldiers.  
The new romantic movement was enflamed by a hatred of the French and fortified by a reawakened mediaeval tribalism. Followers called for a sacred union of church, people and state. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the leading philosopher of the day, defined nations in organic terms, as born of a common “mystical experience of the soul.” Ignoring Jewish willingness to fight for the fatherland, the patriotic elite, such as the founders of the Christian German Eating Club, lumped Jews together with the French and other cosmopolitans, excluding them all from the club, along with the female gender.  
Odd outbursts of anti-Semitism occurred during the 19th century. Particularly troubling were the “Hep Hep” riots that suddenly erupted in 1819 in Wurzburg. These seemingly spontaneous riots spread across Bavaria, to central and southwest Germany,. to cities along the Rhine, then north to Bremen, Luebeck, and Hamburg. Because of the Latin term, hep, an acronym for Hierosolyma estperdita, Jerusalem is lost, Jews were troubled by the suspicion that the riots were stimulated by intellectuals.  
Rahel Levin, Rahel Varnhagen following her marriage to Prussian diplomat August Varnhagen, exemplifies the confused sense of identity among German Jews. Responding to the bizarre hep hep riots, she expressed a cool sadness “on account of the Jews” and chastised her fellow Germans: “Their newfound hypocritical love for Christianity (may God forgive my sin) and the Middle Ages, with its poetry, art, and atrocities, incites the people to commit the only atrocity they may still be provoked to: attacking the Jews!”  
It seems that most Jews, unlike Rahel Vamhagen, wanted to retain their Jewish identity. Responding to intolerance and desiring integration into German society, they converted in order to gain full civil liberties that guaranteed freedom of employment and education. They wished, however, to retain their Jewish identity. The majority of Jews who converted did so during times of social anxiety.  
In the early part of the 19th century the feeling among Jews was that despite assimilation — language, dress, custom — they had not achieved emancipation. Some Jewish intellectuals — Eduard Gans, Leopold Zunz, Moses Moser — sought to reconcile Jews to Germans and also to help Jews remain Jews. But their attempts proved futile. When Gans applied for a position on the law faculty at the University of Berlin, citing the 1812 edict of emancipation, the government issued a new royal decree known as “Lex Gans,” explicitly outlawing employment of Jews in universities.  
German Patriotism Allied with the Christian State  
By the 19th century, German Jews were no longer a nation within a nation that isolated itself by customs and language. In fact Jews were highly patriotic. They revered German culture and identified with the German fatherland whenever Germans would let them. Unfortunately, this surge of Jewish patriotism coincided with a post-Napoleonic German patriotism that emphasized the centrality of Christianity to the German state. The new German patriotism was “strangely double-edged,” Elon notes. “It manifested itself both as a liberal campaign against the absolutism of the German monarchies and as a regressive rejection of the ‘anemic’ rationalism of the Enlightenment, an appeal to tribal instincts, ethnic purity, and ‘blood.’ It spread xenophobic fears that Jewish emancipation might threaten the national integrity of the Christian state.”  
This was not the inclusive, liberal patriotism, the blend of allegiance to Germany and religious freedom that Jews advocated. The works of the first German Jewish painter, Moritz Oppenheim, reflected that blend as in his depiction of Jewish soldiers returning from the Franco-Prussian war, “The return of the Jewish volunteers.”  
Other Jews, such as the social critic, Ludwig Borne, feared patriotism, the “nationalist monster,” that in its excessive form was “a deceitful virtue that in its fervor surpassed all other known vices.” Instead Jews should adhere to their traditional roles as cosmopolites. From that position they should “civilize German patriotism.” Raised in the cruel restrictions of the Frankfurt ghetto, Borne associated Jewish emancipation with the expansion of liberty for all humans. The whole world was a school for the Jews, and they were also “teachers of liberty.”  
Heine — The Innermost German Voice  
Perhaps the most ironic example of Jewish integration into German culture is the case of poet Heinrich Heine. Because his Jewishness prevented his attaining a legal or academic position, he converted, an action he contemptuously described as “crawling to the cross.” However, Heine “had been only marginally Jewish before his baptism,” Elon states and as a convert, “he identified more with his fellow Jews than ever before.”  
Heine’s attitude was always ambivalent, his expression always ironic. He worshipped Napoleon as Europe’s liberator, yet he viewed the German language as his true fatherland and the German Kultur of Kant, Goethe, and Schiller, including the concept of Bildung, as the tradition worth upholding. And, through his poetry he became the innermost voice of the German soul, the best loved German poet after Goethe. His Book of Songs, published 1827, described German sentiments. His poetry written from his exile in Paris captured the authentic feeling of homesickness for Germany.  
Irony was Heine’s means for dealing with disappointment and anger. He spared neither the Jews nor the Germans, calling the Jews “an ethical people, just like the Germans.” But his poem “To Edom” (Edom is a name Jews gave to their enemies), written just prior to his reluctant conversion, indicates the complexity of his feelings:  
You endure the fact I breathe,  
While your rages I must suffer.  
Day by day our friendship deepens,  
Day by day I’m more like you  
Now we’ve grown so close together,  
That I’ve started raging too.  
Like most German Jews, Heine was repelled by the ragtag, Yiddish-speaking Jews who poured into Germany from the East each time eastern governments launched a pogrom. But Heine grew disheartened with the eager assimilation of German Jews. “I prefer the Polish Jew,” he stated, “with his grimy fur, his flea-bitten beard, his odor of garlic, and his wheeling and dealing to many others in all their savings-bond splendor.”  
The Failed Revolution of 1848  
Jews came to believe that German unification, under a constitutional monarchy rather than emancipation edicts, would serve as Shakespeare’s “rising tide” that would raise all boats including that of the Jews. But the despots who ruled the 36 German principalities proved to be obstacles. When King Louis-Philippe was deposed in 1848, riots spread to towns throughout Germany. Rebels demanded universal suffrage, freedom of the press, and the formation of an all-German democratic parliament. Among the Jewish leaders for social reform was Ludwig Bamberger, who had grown up in the Jewish community of Mainz, the city where French influence had continued long after Napoleonic rule.  
Jews took an active role in the rebellions that spread to Mainz, Konstanz, Breslau, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Hamburg, Dresden, Duesseldorf, Munich. To meet the rebels’ demands in Vienna the emperor dismissed his unpopular chancellor, Metternich, and despots appointed prominent liberals as ministers in governments of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Hannover.  
On April 1, 1848, a “pre-parliament” met in Frankfurt to plan general elections to an all-German national assembly. The delegates included five prominent Jews. “The prospect of equality under the law, separation of church and state, universal suffrage, and freedom from arbitrary rule generated unbridled enthusiasm and support among young men only a generation or two out of the ghetto,” Elon states. Traditionally Jews had observed and supported social actions from the sidelines. Now “for the first time in German history, the traditional passivity of Jews was giving way to active political involvement and street action.”  
Despots promised liberal constitutions. “No sign of change was more dramatic than the shift of the situation of Jews,” Elon notes, citing the tiny principality of Hesse-Homburg as the first to grant full equality. Other principalities and cities followed.  
The case was different in Prussia where most of the German Jews lived. Frederick William IV resisted granting a liberal constitution, giving in only after 10,000 Berliners surrounded his palace and mounted the barricades. Finally, in March 1848 he acceded to all the demands. Unfortunately, the rebels were too quick to dismantle the barricades.  
Failure of 1848  
The revolution of 1848 turned out to be as disappointing as the temporary edicts of emancipation that occurred in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war. Yet 1848 marked a sea change in thought. Brave political thinking occurred within a German state that did not really exist. During the period May 1848-June 1849 the elected National Assembly met continuously in St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt and included some of the brightest minds in Germany, among them many Jews.  
“Not since the federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia had so many learned and idealistic minds come together in an elected national parliament,” Elon notes. Among them were seven German and two Austrian Jews, including Gabriel Riesser, a Hamburg lawyer who founded the magazine Der Jude, and Johann Jacoby, a doctor from Konigsberg.  
During the debates, Jews asserted a new self-awareness. When it was suggested that Jews’ civil rights be debated separately because of Jews’ national character, Riesser verbalized what many Jews felt: “We are not immigrants — we were born here — and so we cannot claim any other home: either we are Germans or we have no homeland. Whoever disputes my claim to this my German fatherland disputes my right to my own thoughts, my feelings, my language — the very air I breathe. Therefore, I must defend myself against him as I would against a murderer.”  
France as a Model  
The Frankfurt deputies looked to France as model. But Germany was not the centralized state France had been before the 1789 revolution, but a collection of 36 absolute sovereigns. Riesser pushed for unification into a federated reich, feeling that Jewish emancipation would follow unification. Finally the notion that Jews were a nation within a nation was receding. “Like most other German Jews, he hoped that within a federation united by law and a common language and culture, Jews would no longer stand out; they would simply be one among many ethnic groups and warring historical tribes — Saxons, Bavarians, Prussians, Hessians, Silesians, and others.”  
But King Frederick William IV of Prussia would not share his power with a representative body made up of “butchers and bakers,” as he put it. When a delegation of deputies offered him the imperial crown, thus making him part of a constitutional monarchy, the king simply turned his back on the delegates and walked out. He followed up on June 18, 1849 when Prussian troops shut down the parliament, thus depriving Germany of a draft constitution that Elon calls “the most liberal and progressive of all legal instruments of its kind in mid-century Europe.”  
A resurgence of nationalism, expansionist goals, and militarism followed 1848. In 1850 the king allowed a new constitution that reinstated the doctrine of a “Christian state.” Jews were still barred from high positions in government, the judiciary, universities, and state schools.  
Despite the failure of the revolution of 1848, the year 1848-49 was a year of progress for Jews. Suddenly they had become Germans who entered the new liberal parties and formed bonds with other liberals that lasted for 3-4 decades.  
“Never before had their representatives been so outspoken, insistent, and conscious of their rights,” Elon notes. “Liberals of all faiths drew closer to one another than ever before. Three or four decades after almost the entire Jewish intellectual elite had disappeared in the first wave of conversions, a new generation of vocal leaders had emerged. Hardly a single overt anti-Semitic remark either from the rostrum of the National Assembly or in the endless debates in the revolutionary state parliaments was reported.”  
The Wrong Kind of Unification  
In August 1870 Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck provoked a war with France and defeated Napoleon III at Sedan. Oddly enough Jews responded with patriotic fervor. Calling the war a “national necessity,” the writer Berthold Auerbach said his patriotism made him feel more German. But Leopold Sonnemann, the Jewish publisher of Frankfurter Zeitung, the leading liberal newspaper of Germany, “detested Prussian militarism and authoritarianism and predicted that the new unity achieved through war would come at the expense of freedom.”  
Indeed, when unification finally came in 1870 as a consequence of war, it did not lead to the democratic federation envisioned by the Frankfurt national assembly. Proclaimed at Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors, the new Reich was, in Sonnemann’s words, “the worst possible solution to the so-called problem of German disunity: a federation of absolute rulers presided over by the Prussian king now addressed as Germany’s ‘Kaiser.’”  
Part of the problem was the changing nature of German nationalism. “Before the establishment of the new Reich, it had centered on unification and had been the cornerstone of a liberal ideology opposed to social and religious prejudice; with the establishment of the Reich, it became conservative, xenophobic, conformist, and worshipful of the militarists who had brought it about.”  
Peaceful Years  
The first three years after unification were peaceful ones for Jews. In 1871 the new Reichstag passed a new emancipation law recognizing Jews as equals, outlawing all restrictions on civil and political rights that are derived from religious differences. Jews quickly made economic progress. By 1870 over 60% of all Prussian Jews were of secure middle class status. “Jews had become,” Elon notes, “the most upwardly mobile social group in Germany.”  
But in October 1873 the stockmarket crashed and the anti-Semitic scapegoat syndrome was activated. “One is struck,” Elon notes, “by the sharp contrast between the optimism of the relatively easygoing years before 1873 and the gloom that prevailed afterward; an abyss opened between Germans and Jews.” And the flare-up of Judeophobia, reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of the Crusades or the Black Death, lasted until the end of the new empire in 1918.  
Tens of thousands of middle class and aristocratic families lost everything. And the Jews were blamed. They were said to be “inferior” and “immoral,” Elon writes. “It was not an accident that so many stockbrokers happened to be Jews. At whose expense had they been enriching themselves?”  
Reform Judaism  
Typical of the Jewish experience was the frequent alternation between cordiality and anti-Semitism. In October 1879 the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, the leading Jewish family magazine, noted that the hostility seemed to have “passed its zenith and was on the decline.” That same month Prussia’s leading historian, Heinrich von Treitschke, published a “Jews are our misfortune” essay in the Preussische Jahrbucher, describing the “dominance” of Jews in German life, in fact accusing them of corrupting Germanic and Christian ideals. His angry tone is tinged with his fear of Jewish success:  
“Year after year, the inexhaustible Polish cradle spawns hordes of ambitious young men who come pushing across our border to peddle their trousers and whose children and grandchildren are supposed to one day dominate the German stock market and German newspapers.. ..In thousands of German villages there is a Jew practicing usury and driving his neighbors to ruin and buying them up... .But the most dangerous of all is the unfair dominance that the Jews exert in the daily press.”  
Jews responded to this prominent intellectual’s attack by converting over the next 12 months at a rate that was double the average during the preceding 5 years. Yet von Treitschke’s anxious tone reflects the degree of Jewish integration into German society.  
Bourgeois Security  
Yet Elon describes the years from 1888 until the beginning of World War I in 1914 as characterized by a growing sense of bourgeois security, noting that, “What discrimination remained was deemed marginal and, in any case, unconstitutional — hence, a curable disease, bound to be short-lived.” Intermarriage became common, increasing from 8.4% in 1901 to 29.86% in 1915.  
Transformation also occurred within Judaism. The emphasis on Bildung, i.e., Goethe’s idea of self improvement and refinement through literature, philosophy, and the arts, helped lay the groundwork for Reform Judaism. During the 19th century, Jews began to abandon Orthodox Judaism, and by 1870 Reform Judaism had become dominant in most urban centers. The differences between Jewish and Christian ritual decreased, including celebrating the Jewish Sabbath on Sunday.  
Elon cites memoirs in which Jews describe shifts from ritual and custom not as rejections of Judaism but rather as attempts to retain Jewish faith. “Far from proving, as some claimed, that reform Jews were indifferent to their faith, this shift demonstrated a continuing effort to retain it even as they amalgamated with the majority by sharing its day of rest.”  
Jewish Self-Hatred  
German Jews aspired to a dual identity. Yet the sense of being a so-called “Christmas Jew,” a Jew who celebrates both Jewish and Christian holidays and refuses to convert, caused enormous stress in many Jews, as exemplified in Ludwig Jacobowski’s novel, Wenher the Jew, about a man who dies of unrequited love for Germany.  
An example of an assimilated Jew beset by clashing emotions was Walther Rathenau, who played an active role in politics, serving as foreign minister in the Weimar Republic until he was assassinated in 1924 by right wing fanatics. Uneasy about his own identity, he was embarrassed by the tens of thousands of Russian, Romanian, and Galician Jews who poured into Germany over several decades to escape the Russian pogroms of 1881. “The repulsion felt by native-born Jews at the sight of the easterners — the Ostjuden — reflected a lingering fear of being identified with them,” Elon explains. Rathenau urged quick assimilation, intermarriage, and the imitation of Prussian manners, as a means of survival. While this was considered practical advice, his article, “Hear, O Israel,” which appeared in Die Zukunfi, a Berlin political magazine, seems tinged with self-hatred:  
“There in the midst of Germanic life is an isolated race of men. Loud and self- conscious in their dress, hot-blooded and restless in their manner.. .an Asiatic horde on the sandy plains of Prussia.. .not a living limb of the people but an alien organism in its body.”  
Politics — A Means for Integration  
Yet even this “Asiatic horde” of eastern Jews integrated into the larger society, often with encouragement and financial help from native-born Jews. Gradually Jews began to fight for their civil rights instead of relying on Gentiles to represent their interests. By 1890 more than 60% of Jews had chosen the Social Democratic Party, abandoning the National Liberal Party as too conservative and chauvinist.  
In March 1893 the founding of the Central Union of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith, the Centralverein, confirmed this new political activism. Yet because a combination of the monarch, the army, and the bureaucracy ruled in place of the Reichstag the Verein could exert minimal influence. It urged Jews to consider themselves a religious, not an ethnic minority, not German Jews but German citizens of the Jewish faith, and decried baptism as a dishonorable act that did not contribute to patriotism.  
Success Story or Tragedy?  
Often Jewish historians describe the relationship between Jews and Germans as one inexorably leading to the horror of the Holocaust. Yet given the pattern of Jewish integration, the drastic outcome was by no means predictable, as evidenced by the large numbers of Jews who did not flee the Third Reich because they thought anti-Semitism would blow over as it had in the past.  
“With all its shortcomings, Germany stood out as a country where acculturation, social integration, and day-to-day tolerance seemed to have as good a chance as anywhere else in Western Europe,” Elon states, pointing to strict limitations placed on Jewish immigration in England in 1900. And in Italy Jews were so few as to be nearly invisible.  
By 1900, of the 200 wealthiest Prussian families, 40 were Jewish. Although they comprised only 5% of the population of Berlin, Jews paid 30% of the taxes. While the richest man in Berlin was still the Kaiser, the second richest man was Fritz von Friedlander-Fuld, the converted son of a Silesian family of coal magnates. Grandiose synagogues, modeled on the mosques of 13th century Moslem southern Spain, symbolized Jewish success.  
Humanist Ideal  
Elon muses that these synagogues were “far too large for the needs of their increasingly secular middle- and upper-middle class congregations, whose true house of worship was the opera house or the concert hall.” The German humanist ideal of Bildung was the only religion for many Jews, he suggests, one that “continued to evoke a promise that kept their love affair with Germany alive.”  
That love affair appeared destined to flourish. Germany offered an expanding economy and an excellent education system where scientific research was conducted on a far higher level than in other countries. Germans, like Jews, were readers. By 1913, more books were published in Germany annually — 31,051 new titles — than in any other country in the world.  
As writers, artists, musicians, publishers, Jews engaged in every aspect of Germany’s vibrant culture. A young Jewish journalist, Moritz Goldstein, observed in an article in the conservative magazine, Der Kunstwart, that Jews now largely controlled German culture. Despite the unfortunate wording, Goldstein’s comment implies Jewish success. Nevertheless, German voters in the early 20th century rejected racist parties. The 1912 general elections brought defeat to the anti-Semitic splinter parties and a doubling of the strength of the Social Democratic parties to 35%, making it the largest single party in the Reichstag. The number of Jewish deputies rose from 8 to 19.  
Striking evidence that German Jews felt at home in Germany was their rejection of Zionism, a rejection that exceeded that expressed in other European countries. The Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums criticized Theodor Herzl’s plan for a Jewish state in the Middle East and for assuming that the Arabs of Palestine would welcome an influx of Jews. Walther Rathenau rejected Zionism as “atavistic,” explaining that Jews were no longer a nation but a German tribe like the Saxonians and Bavarians.  
World War I and Its Enduring Influence  
World War I began with what Elon calls a “patriotic hysteria” and a “contagious psychosis.” But it temporarily united the country. When a Bosnian gunman shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne during the archduke’s visit in Sarajevo in 1912, the Austrians viewed it as a call to war. Unfortunately the German Kaiser encouraged the Austrians. Thomas Mann’s protagonist in Dr. Faustus embodied war fever: “We marched off enthusiastically — filled with the certainty that the hour of Germany’s era had come, that history was holding its hand over us, that after Spain, France, and England it was now our turn to put our stamp upon the world and lead it.”  
Jews lost their cosmopolitanism overnight. They saw the war as a means for expressing their full integration into German society. Leo Baeck, leading German Reform rabbi, said the war “allows us to sense how the life of the fatherland is ours and how its conscience resonates in our own.” Jews followed the Centralverein’s counsel to “serve the fatherland beyond the call of duty.”  
But an example illuminates how the two world wars were connected and how that connection was profoundly lethal for Jews. A young Jewish volunteer, Julius Holz, wrote in a letter Dec. 7, 1914, on his 20th birthday, to his father, vowing to “fight like a man, as a good German of true Jewish faith and for the greater honor of my family.” But Julius fell in battle in 1918. And 24 years later, his 81 year old mother, on the eve of her deportation under the Nazis, asked to be spared in view of her son’s death in action. “Your application to be released from ‘labor service’ is refused,” was the reply.  
Jewish Representation High  
Jewish representation among the intellectual war zealots was disproportionately high. “Jewish intellectuals, for once, were as conformist as others. It was perhaps their worst hour since the unification of Germany in 1870,” Elon writes. They abandoned their humanist predilections, he felt, “in the hope, no doubt, of finally completing integration with the majority.”  
Martin Buber, prophet of the Jewish cultural renaissance, suddenly celebrated the concept of Volk and the war-inspired feeling “of solemn exaltation.” He welcomed a war that would unite Germans and Jews in a joint “world historical mission” to civilize the Near East. One of the few Jews to reject the pro-war jingoism was Albert Einstein. Another was the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus who attributed the war to a disastrous “failure of the imagination” and cited a refusal to envisage the inevitable consequences of words and acts.  
Indeed by 1916, after half a million German casualties at the battle of the Somme, disillusion set in. As the war turned into a quagmire, officials targeted the standard scapegoat — the Jewish population — thus exploiting the downside of unhealthy patriotism, xenophobia. Twelve thousand Jews gave their lives for the fatherland in World War I, far out of proportion to their numbers in the population. Yet Jews were accused of sitting on the sidelines. In October 1916 when three thousand Jews had already died, War Minister Wild von Hohenborn ordered a “Jew census” to determine the actual number of Jews on the front lines. The census revealed that 80% of Jews who served were on the front line, thus refuting the rumor of non-participation. Jewish soldiers suffered a moral crisis when the government withheld the results of the census.  
Criticism of Jews  
“The war was said to drag on only because Jews like Rathenau and Ballin [Albert Ballin, as head of the Hamburg-America line a leading entrepreneur] had not yet amassed enough money. The War Ministry was flooded with complaints about Jewish draft dodgers,” Elon writes. Thus the blame for defeat was shifted from General Erich Ludendorff’s shoulders to the backs of the Jews. The myth of”the stab in the back,” perpetrated by Jews, was created, a myth that helped lay the groundwork for World War II.  
Scapegoating continued after the war as a tool of the Weimar Republic when the hyperinflation of 1922 wiped out savings and when the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929 bringing economic disaster once again. Ironically, the Jewish position in Germany continued to advance during the years between World War I and World War II, the Weimar Republic years. German universities finally opened all faculties to Jews. The arts and the world of journalism and publishing were enriched by Jewish participation. And Jews played an increasingly active role in the Social Democratic party.  
Berlin as a Cultural Center  
During these years Berlin competed with Paris as a cultural center. “In a fit of bad conscience,” Elon notes, “perhaps over their jingoism during the first months of the Great War, Jewish intellectuals worked overtime for the causes of cosmopolitanism, republicanism, democracy, peace, and the multicultural society. They were patriots in the best sense of the word; love of country never blinded them to its failings.”  
Before Adolf Hitler became German chancellor in 1933, the Weimar Republic had been labeled by anti-Semites as a Judenrepublik. While the term bore negative connotations for anti-Semites, the term also symbolized the level of Jewish integration into the Weimar Republic.  
As the purposes of the Third Reich became horrifyingly evident, Jews emigrated. Yet those who didn’t told themselves the Third Reich was just one more progrom. The Jews who survived in exile not only saved their lives, but they carried with them a yearning for a culture that they not only admired but had helped create. It was perhaps the ultimate irony that Heinrich Heine’ s poetry of homesickness reinforced that yearning, a yearning similar to the one that had inspired Heine to write the poetry when in exile.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.