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The German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War in History and Memory by Tim Grady (review)
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The idea of German Jews honouring Germany and its military traditions after 1945 would strike many people today as rather odd. But this is, in fact, what occurred year in and year out in towns and cities across Germany during the first few decades following the Second World War. Former soldiers from the Imperial Army would meet to remember their service to the fatherland and their fallen comrades from the First World War. How could they do this? After all, many of these men, having survived the efforts of the Allies to kill them, then had to survive the attempts of their own government to murder them just a few decades later (and many of their comrades were indeed shot down by fellow Germans in the East). The horrors of the Holocaust have so affected our understanding of German history that such behaviour is given short shrift in the literature on German Jews. It is considered an anomaly, a curious exception.

In The German-Jewish Soldiers of the First World War in History and Memory, Tim Grady makes a convincing case that this was more than just a marginal phenomenon. He shows, in fact, that an investigation of German Jewish veterans of the First World War can tell us a great deal about the evolution of German Jewish identity in terms of their sense of both Jewishness and Germanness from the Second Empire through the 1970s. At the same time, it provides for important insights into the development of non-Jewish German identity and understandings of German history itself. We see this, at least in part, through the changing levels of interaction between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, or, as Till van Rahden has described them, “Jews and other Germans.” The debt to van Rahden and his work on Breslau is clear as Grady describes a pre-war world in which Jews moved between Jewish and German environments as members of various organizations and associations, some specifically Jewish, others not. Here is van Rahden’s idea of “situational ethnicity” in action, and it would play an important role in the evolution of German First World War memory culture.

The earliest memorial activity occurred during and immediately after the war through small groups that Grady calls “communities of mourning,” which were based on those pre-war organizations and associations. Since Jews had been members of such groups, they were included in these initial efforts at memorialization. An example of this ability of Jews to move between worlds and their acceptance in both would be the case of Max Bing. His name appeared not only on the memorial at the Jewish military cemetery at Ohlsdorf in Hamburg but also on the memorial of the Realgymnasium, where he had been a student. Such “overlapping remembrance” indicates “that where reasonable relations between Jews and non-Jews existed before the war, they continued to some extent even after the turmoil of defeat and revolution” (Grady 76). This represents one of Grady’s key contributions.

The ability to participate in both Jewish and non-Jewish mourning activities would begin to decline as a new wave of memorialization began in the mid- to late 1920s. According to Grady, the failure of the Weimar government to successfully appropriate war memory for its own legitimization left the field open to other claimants – in particular, right-wing veterans’ groups like the Stahlhelm. An organization with no ties to pre-war German community, the Stahlhelm could more easily exclude Jews from its own developing memory culture. The trend would only continue with the establishment of the Third Reich. Now the Nazi war memory – based not on what Grady describes as a “conservative” ideal of heroic sacrifice but instead on race – would increasingly come to dominate First World War memorialization. Also continuing was the gradual closing off of Jewish war memory from that of the wider national community, resulting in an increasing focus of Jewish veterans on a Jewish-only audience. A collection of soldiers’ letters produced by the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten in 1935, for example, was marketed only to other Jews. Certainly the Nazis helped this process along. In October 1935 Hitler forbade new war memorials from including the names...

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