Jews


Jews
   Without the benefit of clairvoyance, one might have argued in the 1920s that the situation of Germany's Jews was that of complete and final arrival. Emancipated by Bismarck in the 1860s and 1870s, the Jews had weathered a bitter but contained period of racial anti-Semitism* in the 1880s and 1890s and had now inherited a liberal republic promising to embrace the German concept of Bildung (an Enlightenment notion uniting "education" and ethical cultiva-tion) and the inclusive values of the 1848 revolution. But appearances proved superficial. Several factors, not least the impact of the war, heightened German tendencies toward the irrational and served to undermine the newfound status of the Jews while simultaneously eroding the position of the Republic.
   Studies demonstrate that the contribution of German Jews to their country during 1918-1933 was vastly disproportionate to their numbers. The roughly 600,000 German Jews who identified themselves as adherents of Judaism com-prised no more than 0.9 percent of the total population. (Since anti-Semites identified Jews on the basis of ancestry, not religious faith, it must be noted that Jews professing Christianity were not listed as Jews in Germany's census re-ports.) Yet Jews held more than 3.5 percent of all positions in banking, com-merce, and the professions (largely excluded from the judiciary and the civil service,* they comprised 11 percent of doctors, 16 percent of lawyers and no-taries, and 13 percent of patent attorneys). They owned 40 percent of Germany's textile firms and almost 60 percent of the wholesale and retail clothing busi-nesses, and their establishments transacted 79 percent of the country's depart-ment-store business. About 50 percent of Germany's private banks were owned by Jews, with such names as Bleichroder, Bonn,* Mendelssohn, and Warburg* being notable. Jews held key positions in science and industry—IG Farben* employed several Jewish scientists and included a Jew on its board of direc-tors—and, through the Mosse* and Ullstein* concerns, controlled Germany's two largest publishing houses. Highly visible in journalism, music,* art, and literature, they were central to the Republic's intellectual life. The bulk of Ger-many's progressive activists were also Jewish. Generally derived from the urban middle class (the largest concentration was in Berlin,* with Frankfurt a distant second), Jews were on average better educated than Gentiles. Working as artists, freelance writers, journalists, and social and political reformers, the activists tended to be outside the eminent intellectual community centered on the uni-versities.
   Within the Jewish community a struggle had unfolded since the 1890s be-tween liberal Jews (most of the community), who espoused varied degrees of secularism and assimilation, and a growing minority of Zionists, who promoted resettlement to Palestine. A third group, rejecting assimilation, harbored its own fear of Zionism's obsession with territory and state making—ideas damaging to Jewish religiosity. The liberals, seeing themselves as Germans—if not necessarily urging religious conversion—exhorted Jews to eradicate "Asiatic" cus-toms and habits. The Zionists, who sometimes embraced an anti-Semitic posture by identifying Jews as a separate race, were prone to see the Ostjuden*—ref-ugees from Eastern Europe, the Ostjuden comprised almost a fifth of Germany's Jewish community—as embodying unique Jewish qualities. Both groups expe-rienced crisis during World War I. In its early stages many erstwhile Zionists forgot Palestine and rushed to join Germany's colors. Such resurgent patriotism (not unique to Germany) almost destroyed Zionism. "The vast majority of German Jews," Walther Rathenau* wrote in November 1918, "among whom there are many whose ancestors have lived in Germany for countless centuries, have only one national feeling, and that is German. We want to live and die in Germany and for Germany as our fathers did before us. Let others found a state in Palestine: nothing attracts us to Asia" (Joll). This statement, aimed at Jews who preached Zionism, was also directed at Gentiles who questioned Jewish patriotism in the wake of a lost war. By 1918 the war had destroyed the sense of supranational community that had evolved in Europe during the prior century. It had also ruined the prosperous and complacent Kaiserreich, leaving hunger, inflation,* and the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty* in its place. Many blamed these and subsequent problems on the Jews. Since liberal Jews were outspoken in their support for liberalism, democracy, and socialism, some on the Right were quick to label such ideas "foreign" imports.
   Despite the growth of anti-Semitism in the Republic's final years, the average Jew rejected Zionism while retaining enormous faith in emancipation and assim-ilation. Motivated by reason, Jews did not see disaster on the horizon. In 1932, when affluent Jews were canvased by the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith*) for funds to combat Nazism, Prinz Hubertus zu Lowenstein was told, "First of all you are too pessimistic, secondly—well, and what if Hitler* did come to power?"
   REFERENCES:Hans Bach, German Jew; Ruth Gay, Jews of Germany; Joll, Three Intel-lectuals in Politics; George Mosse, German Jews beyond Judaism; Niewyk, Jews in Weimar Germany; Wurgaft, Activists.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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