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Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft and the Dynamics of Racial Exclusion: Violence against Jews in Provincial Germany, 1919-1939.

Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft and the Dynamics of Racial Exclusion: Violence against Jews in Provincial Germany, 1919-1939. By Michael Wildt. (New York, NY: Berghahn, 2014. Pp. x, 311. $95.00.)

As Holocaust literature continues to grow, the author of this study deals with the persecution of German Jews in the provinces, from the early Weimar Republic to 1939. He aims to define Hitler's Volksgemeinschaft in exclusionist terms by its relationship to violence against Jews. Hence for 1923, he documents excesses in Berlin against eastern European Jews, and he mentions Nazis hunting down Jewish businessmen in Nuremberg. For the period after Hitler's appointment as chancellor in January 1933, an almost systematic progression of persecution is recorded. One of the first regime measures was a boycott of Jewish businesses in April, and Michael Wildt convincingly details this for Bottrop, Essen, and Miihlheim, in the Ruhr. Further suppressive action occurred around the time of the Nuremberg race laws of September 1935; there are full descriptions. Oppression was stepped up, climaxing with the November 1938 pogroms, marking a point after which few German Jews could emigrate.

Some aspects of this prolonged persecution this reviewer found particularly significant. Although it was difficult to prosecute Jews as legally defined criminals--the violence against them was initiated extralegally--early quasilegal definitions of Jews caused them to be hauled before the courts as race defilers, usually men, after sexual relations with "Aryan" women. This was accelerated after the Nazi laws of September 1935. Whereas Wildt accuses mostly Nazi Party thugs, he does mention influential individuals with anti-Semitic invective. In Berlin, Protestant Bishop Otto Dibelius, who after the war presented a somber memoir that includes his own persecution, at Easter 1933 proclaimed that he fully supported the forces behind the volkisch movement. And he added: "I have always considered myself an anti-Semite" (84). However, Wildt also demonstrates the existence of lower-placed civil servants such as gendarmes, who tried to attenuate anti-Semitic excesses.

The author's interpretation of those excesses may be questioned on several grounds. There is no explanation why an examination of anti-Semitic actions in the provinces is worthy of especial attention, hence why cities were not included. One important reason would be that Jews in the countryside and small towns were more conspicuous and hence more easily susceptible to abuse. In the cities, they were so anonymous as to evade immediate notice, and for a time in the early Third Reich, their relatively large numbers offered a degree of protection. But principally, was not the persecution of German Jews, say by December 1938, of the same quality whether they lived in Berlin, Trier, or the Franconian village of Altdorf? If provincial locales held particular significance for Wildt, why has he not justified this?

Wildt's definition of Volksgemeinschaft also raises questions. His criterion of it is exclusionary, in that it included no Jews, which of course was the Nazis' view of it. But whom did it include, and how did one profit from membership? Wildt states that Volksgemeinschaft had been the model of Max Weber and Friedrich Ebert. But even if they had used the term, they are today remembered as chief proponents not of Gemeinschaft, in the sense of Ferdinand Tonnies, but of Gesellschaft, a rationally ordered aggregation of people, as Weber himself had explicated. The racially tinged Gemeinschaft of the volkisch ilk Wildt describes for the early 1920s was uniquely proclaimed by Hitler, but as a construct it had nineteenth-century champions whom the author never mentions: Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, and Adolf Bartels. Neither does he mention historians who have explained those forerunners, such as Fritz Stern or George L. Mosse. Wildt's overly broad definition of Volksgemeinschaft confuses readers when he speaks of old-time anti-Semites favoring assimilation. It is impossible to detect in Adolf Bartels, an old-time anti-Semite of the late nineteenth century, a tolerance for assimilation; by the same token, Theodor Mommsen, whom Wildt correctly characterizes as a man wishing Jews to assimilate, never was what the author would define as an anti-Semite of the old type.

Moreover, there are infelicities of a lesser kind. Wildt judges that as early as the Kapp Putsch of 1922 (recte: 1920) the government could no longer depend on the military, which maintained "benevolent neutrality" against the putsch (67). However, Berlin General Walther von Luttwitz was fully behind it and with him much of the Reichswehr. Wildt writes that fundamental notions of Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism were racially infused by "Alfred" (recte: Arthur) Dinter's 1917 novel, The Sin against the Blood. Although this early antiSemitic screed reached thousands of readers at the cusp of the new republic, the author fails to mention books by three other racist authors, with an immeasurably greater impact on the German public in the second half of the 1920s, when the Nazis were gathering strength: Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Richard Walther Darre, and, of signal importance, Hans F. K. Gunther. All told then, Wildt's concept of "the Volksgemeinschaft through violence, especially through the anti-Semitic and everyday violence against Jews," begs many questions, not only because he has not revealed whom that Volksgemeinschaft included, and for what benefit, but also because he cannot differentiate it against the background of Daniel Goldhagen's "eliminationist anti-Semitism" and Saul Friedlander's "redemptive anti-Semitism" (5).

Michael H. Kater

York University
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Author:Kater, Michael H.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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