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Laboratory for World Destruction

Germans and Jews in Central Europe

Robert S. Wistrich

Publication Year: 1976

Published and distributed for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
During the sixty years between the founding of Bismarck’s German Empire and Hitler’s rise to power, German-speaking Jews left a profound mark on Central Europe and on twentieth-century culture as a whole. How would the modern world look today without Einstein, Freud, or Marx? Without Mahler, Schoenberg, Wittgenstein, or Kafka? Without a whole galaxy of other outstanding Jewish scientists, poets, playwrights, composers, critics, historians, sociologists, psychoanalysts, jurists, and philosophers? How was it possible that this vibrant period in Central European cultural history collapsed into the horror and mass murder of the Nazi Holocaust? Was there some connection between the dazzling achievements of these Jews and the ferocity of the German backlash?
Robert S. Wistrich’s Laboratory for World Destruction is a bold and penetrating study of the fateful symbiosis between Germans and Jews in Central Europe, which culminated in the tragic denouement of the Holocaust. Wistrich shows that the seeds of the catastrophe were already sown in the Hapsburg Empire, which would become, in Karl Kraus’s words, “an experimental station in the destruction of the world.” Featured are incisive chapters on Freud, Herzl, Lueger, Kraus, Nordau, Nietzsche, and Hitler, along with a sweeping panorama of the golden age of Central European Jewry before the lights went out in Europe.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Introduction: Jews and Antisemitism in Central European Culture

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pp. 1-27

Albert Einstein once remarked that when the German Jews first began to flock into the universities of Central Europe at the end of the 19th century, it was as if they had spent an entire millennium preparing for the entrance...

Part I: Into the Crossfire

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1. The Ethnic Cauldron of the Habsburg Empire

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pp. 31-57

Few areas of the world during the past 150 years have been so shaped by Jewish influences as the former Habsburg lands of East Central Europe. The prominent Czech writer Milan Kundera once observed that in the pre-Hitler...

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2. Adolf Fischof and the Tragedy of Liberalism

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pp. 58-81

Austrian Jewry first began to identify with German culture after the language decrees of the 1780s compelled Jews to establish German-language schools wherever they lived in the polyglot Habsburg Empire. Henceforth, Jews were...

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3. Austro-Marxist Interpretations of the "Jewish Question"

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pp. 82-98

Austrian Social Democracy adopted a highly ambivalent attitude towards the "Jewish Question" before and after the First World War. Though much less openly antisemitic than rival mass movements such as the Christian-Social...

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4. Rosa Luxemburg, Polish Socialism, and the Bund

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pp. 99-117

Rosa Luxemburg, born in Zamosc in Russian Poland (the birthplace of the famous Yiddish poet Y. L. Peretz) in 1871, was the outstanding feminine personality and most vibrant representative of internationalism in the socialist...

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5. The Strange Odyssey of Nathan Birnbaum

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pp. 118-153

Nathan Birnbaum, the founder of Austrian Zionism was born in Vienna in 1864 to parents from a religious background with roots in Galicia and Hungary. His father, the son of Polish hasidim, had arrived in Vienna from...

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6. Max Nordau: From "Degeneration" to "Muscular Judaism"

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pp. 154-174

Max Nordau (1849-1923), physician, journalist, playwright and litterateur, was the most prominent European man of letters to join the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century.1 Born in Budapest, he was deeply...

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7. Friedrich Nietzsche, Germany, and the Jewish "Superman"

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pp. 175-201

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the great intellectual iconoclasts of the 19th century. In some respects more radical than even Marx or Freud, this descendant of generations of German Protestant pastors became perhaps the...

Part II: From Herzl to Hitler

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8. Theodor Herzl: Artist, Politician, and Social Utopian

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pp. 205-238

Following the First Zionist Congress in Basle in August 1897, its initiator, Theodor Herzl, was convinced that he had "founded the Jewish State." Herzl knew, of course, that such a claim if made public could only expose him to...

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9. In the Footsteps of "King Messiah"

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pp. 239-257

The First Zionist Congress, which opened in the Grosse Musiksaal of Basle's elegant municipal casino on 29 August 1897, was a high and solemn occasion attended by 196 delegates from sixteen countries. They had been...

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10. The Last Testament of Dr. Sigmund Freud

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pp. 258-281

On the occasion of his seventieth birthday in 1926, Sigmund Freud wrote to his friend and disciple Marie Bonaparte with a characteristic touch of irony: The Jewish societies in Vienna and the University of Jerusalem (of which I am a trustee), in short the Jews altogether, have celebrated me...

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11. Stefan Zweig and the "World of Yesterday"

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pp. 282-303

The opening chapter of Stefan Zweig's memorable autobiography The World of Yesterday conjures up the beguiling image of a world standing firmly and immovably in its appointed place.1...

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12. Karl Kraus: An Anatomy of Self-Hatred

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pp. 304-324

Karl Kraus was one of the most controversial and explosive personalities to emerge in Habsburg Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century. He was an original figure even in a period where Jewish genius flourished as never before in Viennese music, theatre, literature, the social sciences, medicine...

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13. Karl Lueger and Catholic Judeophobia in Austria

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pp. 325-351

The multi-national Habsburg Empire rather than Imperial Germany, Russia or France, was the true birthplace of antisemitism as an electorally powerful modern movement. Although the impetus came from events in Germany and...

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14. Adolf Hitler: The Making of an Antisemite

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pp. 352-381

Karl Kraus once described fin-de-siecle Austria as "an experimental station for the end of the world." This is especially true of Vienna, the capital of this multi-ethnic state and the cosmopolitan heart of the supranational dynasty...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 382-389


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pp. 390-404

E-ISBN-13: 9780803208698
E-ISBN-10: 0803208693

Publication Year: 1976

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Subject Headings

  • England -- Fiction.
  • Criminals -- Fiction.
  • Raffles (Fictitious character) -- Fiction.
  • Detective and mystery stories, English.
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