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Jewish Social Studies 11.1 (2004) 3-15

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A Success Story and Its Limits:

European Jewish Social History in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

I met Hans Rogger in person only late in his life, but I had already come to admire him as the author of trend-setting works on the history of the Jews and antisemitism in tsarist Russia. What particularly impressed me from the start was the fact that Rogger treated Jewish history as an integral part of the history of the tsarist empire and that his main interest was the relationship between majority and minority, the questions of emancipation and antisemitism under the specific conditions of a remarkably delayed process of political and social modernization. In this respect I had the impression that there was a kind of intellectual kinship between us, since from the 1960s on my interest in Jewish history in German-speaking central Europe has focused primarily on the history of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews. Despite the different regional emphases in our fields of scholarly inquiry, there were significant points in common, and this was confirmed in the discussions we had.

I realized only very late that Rogger and I also shared an aspect of biography. He was born in 1923 in Herford, a small town in the eastern [End Page 3] part of the Prussian province of Westphalia, and went to school there until his family was expelled in 1938. I was born 11 years later, in a village only 15 kilometers away from Herford. So we came from the same region, and in different political circumstances there could have been many similarities in our childhood and youth. The fact that this did not happen, and that our destinies were extremely different, was because, of course, of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. Incidentally, my father, a journalist and graphic artist, started his first job in 1929 at a newspaper in Rogger's birthplace—but this did not last long because of the economic crisis that was rapidly sweeping through the German provinces as well as the big cities. Our family heirlooms still include some pen-and-ink drawings, lithographs, and linocuts made by my father at the time, with views of the town of Herford and portraits of some of its residents.

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In the past 15-20 years, there has been an extraordinary upsurge of interest in Jewish history in Germany. For a long time attention was focused almost entirely on questions of persecution, antisemitism, and the Holocaust; but, since the late 1980s, there has been more wide- ranging and also more intensive preoccupation with the full range of Jewish history. However, this applies only to a very limited extent to the Jewish communities in Germany, which have now grown again. At least half the present members are Russian immigrants who have arrived in the past 20 years; only a few members are still connected through their family background to German-Jewish history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The new interest in Jewish history stems largely from educated non-Jews: in Germany they are the main audience for the public events and publications on this theme, and most of the scholars, writers, journalists, and cultural managers working in this field are also recruited from this group. In Germany as well as in the United States, though on a much smaller scale, the number of professorships and institutes for Jewish history and culture has risen considerably, and students' interest in these subjects continues to grow. The workshops for doctoral candidates in German-Jewish history that I conducted on behalf of the Leo Baeck Institute from 1991 to 1999 were attended by a total of 133 students from 45 German and 12 foreign universities. These included—with neighboring disciplines taken into account—almost 110 dissertation projects in the field of modern German-Jewish history.1 This work is now being continued, just as successfully, by Michael Brenner, professor of Jewish History and Culture at Munich...


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