- Juden, Bürger, Deutsche: Zur Geschichte von Vielfalt und Differenz, 1800–1933
This volume brings together a remarkable collection of essays on the German Jewish middle classes written by a younger generation of German scholars. Many of those essays grew out of the annual meetings of doctoral students on German-Jewish history organized by the study association of the Leo Baeck Institute in Germany. It is only appropriate that the volume is dedicated to the mentor of those seminars, Reinhard Rürup. Meanwhile, those dissertations are mostly published and present a new direction within German-Jewish historiography, a direction still largely unnoticed outside Germany. The scholars assembled here combine the approach of modern German “Bürgertumsforschung” with the new findings in Jewish history over the last decade. The result is a broad spectrum of essays in social history. [End Page 164]
In his systematic introductory essay, Till van Rahden discusses both the role Jews played in German middle class society and the historiography of urban German-Jewish life. His essay, rich in bibliographical references and theoretical observations, serves as an excellent starting point into the subject. Referring to Reinhard Rürup he summarizes 19th-century German history as a history of success, emphasizing, however, the fragile nature of this success and its many internal contradictions. One is tempted to quote Fritz Stern’s observation of “the burden of success.” There is just one minor shortcoming in van Rahden’s most valuable analysis: I would be careful of taking the case of Breslau, as he does, as an example for the development in the German Reich as a whole. The many peculiarities of Breslau as a relatively large and eastern community should be emphasized to the same extent as its commonalities with other communities.
The other fifteen contributions cover a broad range of topics, reaching from Olaf Blaschke’s contextualization of bourgeois German-Jewish society within debates of general religious trends and Ulrich Sieg’s study on Jewish professors in the humanities to Erik Lindner’s analysis of Jews celebrating Schiller and Fichte, Simone Lässig’s essay on Jewish school projects during the late period of Emancipation, Rainer Liedtke’s view on Jewish welfare systems in Hamburg, and Andreas Reinke’s research on the history of the German B’nai Brith lodge.
A fascinating and little-known aspect of German-Jewish life is presented by Marline Otte in her contribution on the Yiddish Herrnfeld theater of Berlin. She makes a point in showing that this Jewish theater was also attended by non-Jews and was an integral part of Berlin’s popular culture before the First World War. At the same time she demonstrates the changing atmosphere during the Weimar years, when the theater closed down—in her words a sign for the growing “dissimilation” among German Jews. It may be added that by then new theaters from eastern Europe, such as the Hebrew Habimah or the Yiddish Moscow State Theater or Vilna Troup toured Germany with enormous success.
In his analysis of nation and religion as categories in German-Jewish self-definition during the nineteenth century, Andreas Gotzmann emphasizes the religious transformation in the period of Emancipation. The changes in German Jewry should, in his view, be understood first and foremost as a religious metamorphosis. Orthodox, no less than Liberals, participated in this process of adapting Judaism as a “Konfession” within an increasingly pluralistic society.
That this pluralism remained, at best, at the surface of German society becomes clear when reading the contributions that deal with the last decades of German-Jewish existence in 20th-century Germany. Martin Liepach analyzes the consciousness of crisis among German Jews in the Weimar Republic. By proving that violent antisemitic acts increased during the “quiet” years of 1927 and 1928, he also rejects Donald Niewyk’s argument that antisemitism was about to decline in this period. Jews in Weimar Germany felt this increasing pressure during the middle years of the republic, as Liepach [End Page 165] documents with...