- Pogroms and Riots: German Press Responses to Anti-Jewish Violence in Germany and Russia (1881-1882)
When modern antisemitism emerged in Germany during the late 1870s, its proponents were eager to distance the new movement from traditional Judeophobia. Coined by the journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879, the neologism "antisemitism" signalled a new, supposedly objective and scientific approach to the "Jewish question" that apparently had nothing in common with the religious anti-Judaism and the irrational, emotional, and violent Jew-hatred of pre-modern times. To be sure, this form of self presentation served first and foremost as a rhetorical strategy to legitimize the renewed exclusion of Jews in a society that was influenced by modern ideas of civic equality, national homogeneity and public order and that looked upon religious strife and sectarian violence as unwelcome remnants of an uncivilized [End Page 179] past. In actual fact, the formation of modern antisemitism in Germany was accompanied by new eruptions of violence against Jews: in the summer of 1881, anti-Jewish riots broke out in many towns and villages of Pomerania and West-Prussia; and following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881, a wave of pogroms swept through southwestern Imperial Russia. How were these outbreaks of violent Jew-hatred viewed in the contemporary German press? Did the press condemn or endorse the anti-Jewish violence in Germany and Russia, and was there a difference in the treatment of the German as against the Russian cases of violence? These are the main questions in Sonja Weinberg's book, which is based on her dissertation at University College London, supervised by the late Professor John D. Klier. In her analysis, Weinberg focuses on four German newspapers: three conservative (the protestant-conservative Kreuzzeitung, the semi-official Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, and the Catholic Germania) as well as the liberal German-Jewish paper, the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums (AZJ). This is a somewhat peculiar combination of sources. With its close relationship to the topic, the Jewish AZJ does not really fit in, while other political voices (liberal, socialist, or antisemitic) that were crucial to the Conservatives in defining their position are not represented at all. It is a selective and rather limited picture of German press responses that Weinberg presents.
Still, her focus on the Conservatives is fruitful. Feeling somewhat marginalized in the first years of the new Empire, which they felt were unduly dominated by economic, political and cultural Liberalism, many Conservatives welcomed Bismarck's turning away from the Liberals in 1878 and sympathized with the antiliberal thrust of the emerging antisemitic movement. In the conservative world-view of both Protestants and Catholics, emancipated Jewry epitomized the essence and ills of modern society. Antisemitism was therefore a major ideological component in the conservative attempt to roll back liberal ideas in the early 1880s. So when the antisemitic agitation turned violent in 1881 and public order had to be restored by the police or even the military, the Conservative papers faced a major challenge: How could they reconcile their support of antisemitism with basic Christian and Conservative values? Weinberg's study shows that the three conservative papers used various methods of what might be termed calculated ambivalence, that is, condemning antisemitic violence and justifying it at the same time. One way of sending such a dual message can be seen in the Norddeutsche, which was closely associated with Bismarck and therefore had to exercise diplomatic restraint. The paper kept a "conspicuously [End Page 180] low profile" in covering the anti-Jewish riots in Germany, but presented the Russian pogroms in a way that held the Jews responsible for the hatred against them and showed empathy for the Russian peasants. The other two papers also pursued a "double-bind strategy" in their coverage of the antisemitic events. They distanced themselves from the violence "whilst indirectly endorsing it as the understandable response of a people mistreated by the Jews" (114).
These findings are important and well documented. They confirm what previous studies have shown...