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  • Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History eds. by Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup
  • Jay Geller
Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History. Edited by Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup. New York: Berghahn, 2017. Pp. xi + 327. Cloth $120.00. ISBN 978-1785335532.

Leading German historians Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup collect seventeen contributions that demonstrate how attention to multiple spatial perspectives ("epistemological category … analytical approach … subject of historical analysis") on [End Page 654] historical processes and interactions among individuals and institutions can generate new insights into the history of a minority, specifically of Jews in German lands, and their interactions with the majority population (1). The editors organize the contributions under three rubrics to highlight different possibilities for thinking how spaces and boundaries condition the ways historical actors and institutions engage one another: imaginations (focusing on memory and representation), transformations (emergences, shifts, and dissolutions), and "practices of spacing or doing space" (contesting, appropriating, and negotiating) (1). More generally, the chapters explore "the dual nature of space" (2)—as a fixed form that shapes identities and experience and as open, fluid, contingent, performative—that is often indexed by the distinction between place and space. Often mediating this distinction is the notion of "boundary"; rather than emphasizing its function as a separation determining inside from outside, the chapters attend to boundaries as sites of contact—e.g., as thresholds (Joachim Schlör)—of contestation, negotiation, and interchange. They also attend to the temporal dimension of space, e.g., how the day of the week (Saturday vs. Sunday) changes the Jewish/non-Jewish identification of a space (Alexandra Binnenkade). One risk, however, of expanding the understanding of space beyond the constraints of topography or fantasies of territory is the use of "space" as an empty trope for trope's sake (Anthony D. Kauders, Ofer Ashkenazi).

Though claims that a people has an essential tie to a specific territory are a hallmark of all modern European nationalisms, their consequences have perhaps been most profound in the case of German nationalism, especially in relation to Jewish lives in German lands: from Jewish emancipation caught between the territorial-bounded notion of Volk and a nonlocative notion of citizen (Lässig and Rürup) to "resettlement to the East." Perceptions of Jews have also been prominently marked in spatial terms by both non-Jewish and Jewish Germans. On the one hand, Jews were identified as foreigners, not native to German Raum. This alienation from the land had a material aspect well into the nineteenth century, with ubiquitous rules restricting Jewish land ownership and regulating Jewish residency; hence, non-Jews determined whether and how the synagogue, a generally recognized Jewish space, could be constituted. On the other hand, the Jews had a collective spatial identity tied to diaspora and/or exile, as well as marked by expulsion and emigration. In the aftermath of World War II, Jewish extraterritorial identification became institutionalized with the designation of DP, displaced person (Anna Holian).

Another factor that makes a new spatial focus on German Jewish history pertinent is how the normative spatial representation of German Christian and Jewish lives since premodern times—communities living apart, except when the former violently intruded upon the latter—has lately undergone extensive revision. A number of essays depict the far greater interaction and mutual influence that took place across overlapping spaces. Further, the recognition of the meaning of a space depends [End Page 655] on who is speaking—what a Jewish space is for Jews (and even heterogeneous views within Jewish populations: orthodox vs. reform, assimilationist vs. Zionist) as opposed to non-Jews. The motives for identifying spaces as "Jewish" are varied: commercial exploitation, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, nostalgia, mourning, recompense, revisionist, mediating rupture and continuity (Nils Roemer). Another aspect of the recent historiography of space, the determination of "sites of memory" (lieux de mémoire), has a special valence given the contemporary emergence of such sites where Jewish populations are all but nonexistent as a consequence of German history (perhaps why this collection ends with a chapter on virtual Jewish spaces in Poland by Ruth Ellen Gruber).

Several contributions focus on the contested identifications of seemingly...


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