This first monograph by Brian E. Crim examines the significance of what the author calls “situational antisemitism” for the complex interactions between völkisch, conservative, and Jewish veteran organizations within the military community as a prominent part of the interwar German political Right. As Crim proposes, “the notion that the German Right was steeped in antisemitism is a simplistic interpretation” (168). In contrast to a strict principal observation, he argues that it served as a highly malleable political instrument, the importance and application of which varied, and often followed, opportunistic principles. Antisemitism could range from obsession with racial purity to a culturally coded language directed against allegedly “Jewish” inspired social forces—such as democracy, liberalism, socialism, pacifism, materialism, or capitalism—which the German Right considered incompatible with the new postwar order. As main causes, Crim identifies the internal divisions of the Right: between traditional conservatives and the new völkisch movement, and along personal and generational lines. These tensions led to fierce competition and constant infighting so that positions on antisemitism could abruptly change, overlap, or contradict each other, or foster unlikely, temporary alliances. Crim’s core conclusion is that the concept of antisemitism was often used “situationally.”
Crim’s story begins with the Great War. Nationalistic minds anticipated a new national community in connection with the “spirit of 1914.” Jews were also hoping for greater acceptance through the war effort. Over the course of the war, what began as an average kind of antisemitism inside the imperial army was radicalized, particularly after 1917 through the association of Jews with socialism or “Judeo-Bolshevism.” After the war, the Right hoped to build a new Germany in the form of an ethnically pure and socially just people’s community, or Volksgemeinschaft, modeled after the “community of the trenches.” Conflicting opinions about achieving this goal—and whether the Jews could be part of this new community or not—were reflected in the policies of the veterans’ leagues.
The Stahlhelm, as the largest veterans’ organization, addressed the “Jewish issue” mainly because of the pressure from more radical groups and was moreover divided over it due to its dual leadership under Franz Seldte and Theodor Duesterberg. Just as both leaders reflected the tension between conservative and völkisch branches, their affiliations with the German People’s Party and German National People’s Party respectively prevented the Stahlhelm from maintaining the desired party political neutral line. The organization’s muddled stance on antisemitism consequently produced lackadaisical and incoherent declarations. Highly symptomatic was that the Stahlhelm, after turning more radical and introducing an “Aryan paragraph” in the [End Page 182] 1920s, still maintained that it had “nothing to do with any of the antisemitic groups or völkisch parties” (46).
The second largest veterans’ league, the Young German Order, enjoyed the advantage that its policies were almost exclusively formulated by its founder. Artur Mahraun sought to create a new society based on a synthesis between traditional Prussian leadership and the Youth Movement. The downside was the rather “esoteric” and vague character of its ideology and program as well as the fact that Mahraun often contradicted himself. Originally clearly a völkisch organization, the Order increasingly availed itself of a largely rhetorical antisemitism in order to appeal to the political Center. Its fusion with the German Democratic Party into the German State Party in the 1930s even led to the eviction of the Order from the völkisch movement.
Even the largest Jewish veterans’ league, the National Association of Jewish Combat Veterans, sought integration through cooperation with other leagues by aligning itself with the rightwing narrative of the war experience and maintaining wartime bonds. This organization partly even echoed the antisemitic rhetoric that identified the crisis of modernity with “Jewish spirit,” while simultaneously defending Jewry against the many military prejudices such as the accusation of shirking military service. These many vague and changing positions were finally trumped by the coherent radical stance of the National Socialists. After 1933, the Stahlhelm and Young German...