German-Jewish History in Modern Times. Volume 3: Integration in Dispute. 1871-1918.
German-Jewish History in Modern Times. Volume 4: Renewal and Destruction. 1918-1945. By Avraham Barkai and Paul Mendes-Flohr. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Pp. xii + 479. [pound]40.00.
These volumes bring a major work of scholarship to a triumphant conclusion. Volume 3 maps out the development of the German-Jewish communities in the first decades after full legal emancipation in 1869 in the North German Confederation (and subsequently the Kaiserreich) and in 1867 in Austria-Hungary In demographic and social terms the great transformation which started in the first half of the century had reached its conclusion. As Monica Richarz shows, the Jews lost their marginal status and became predominantly middle class; their birth rate and family size declined, and only greater life expectancy and immigration from the East prevented a decline in overall numbers. At the same time the religious life of the Jewish communities, analysed by Steven Lowenstein, began to stabilize once more as the fierce controversies between modernizers and traditionalists subsided. The overwhelming majority was on the side of the modernizers; and only a small minority of Orthodox (especially in Austria) refused to compromi se on liturgical and constitutional matters.
On the other hand, the stabilization of Jewish community life was overshadowed both by continuing discrimination in social and public life and, above all, by the emergence of a new ideological anti-Semitism from the late 1870s. This made the prospect of full assimilation seem more remote than it had been in the Liberal imagination in the middle decades of the century. It also prompted a resurgence of Jewish communal and intellectual life. Organizations such as the Centralverein deutscher Staatsburger judischen Glaubens emerged to defend civil rights. In intellectual terms, the last decades of the nineteenth century were a golden age which saw Jews making major contributions to science and the arts, contributions to German culture. At the same time the emergence of Zionism and a revived spiritual Judaism formed a response to the continuing hostility to the Jews of Christian German society. The chapters on these developments (by Peter Pulzer, Steven Lowenstein and Paul Mendes-Flohr) make fascinating reading an d illustrate in exemplary fashion the complexity of the situation in which the Jewish communities found themselves during the First World War. Initially, most were caught up in the general patriotic mood, yet the Jews soon became victims again of vicious anti-Semitic propaganda as the economic strains of war began to tell and then as the war effort itself began to fail. As a result, the debate about Jewish identity and the nature and potential of Jewish engagement in German culture and society received a new impetus.
Despite the appearance of gathering clouds in the pre-1918 decades, the following period did not see an inexorable progression towards the holocaust. In Volume 4 Paul Mendes-Flohr and Avraham Barkai place great emphasis on the flowering of Jewish life, both communally and intellectually, during the Weimar years. While anti-Semitism became increasingly intense, many Jews enthusiastically embraced the Weimar Republic because it seemed to promise a greater degree of political, economic and cultural equality than ever before. Jewish organizations and community structures were further elaborated and strengthened. At the same time the religious revival that had been evident before the war continued, and it now culminated in renewed efforts by figures such as Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig to redefine the essential relationship between Judentum and Deutschtum as 'autonomous yet mutually enriching spiritual realities' (p. 2). Hopes for a new age of Jewish emancipation proved illusory. Yet the Weimar years, both i n terms of organizational development and in terms of self-definition, explain a great deal about the response of the Jewish communities to National Socialist harassment after 1933 and the, almost suicidal, fortitude and stoicism with which the German Jews faced their treatment before the holocaust. Even in the new ghetto created by government persecution, both the spiritual life of the Jewish communities and, more remarkably, their commitment to German culture remained undiminished. This continuity in adversity gives Avraham Barkai's brief and restrained account of the holocaust in 'The Final Chapter' a deeply moving quality. Barkai's account underlines the profound tragedy and irony of the destruction of the German Jews by the society whose cultural values they had embraced more wholeheartedly than Jews in any other country.
The four volumes of this German-Jewish History will rapidly establish themselves as an indispensable work for both scholars and students in departments of German literature and theology as well as of history. There is of course already a profusion of books devoted to anti-Semitism and the holocaust. This work will, however, stand out as an account of the German-Jewish communities from the point of view of those communities themselves rather than from the more usual point of view, that of German society.
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|Title Annotation:||Review; vol. 4 also reviewed|
|Publication:||Journal of European Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2000|
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