Redemptive Anti-Semitism


On the afternoon of November 9, 1918, Albert Ballin, the Jewish founder and chairman of the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line, took his life. Germany had lost the war, and the Kaiser, who had befriended him and valued his advice, had been compelled to abdicate and flee to Holland, while in Berlin a republic was proclaimed. On the thirteenth, two days after the Armistice, Ballin was buried at Ohlsdorf, a suburb of Hamburg. “In the midst of revolution,” writes Ballin’s biographer, “the city paused to pay tribute to its most distinguished citizen, and from Amerongen the ex-Kaiser telegraphed his condolences to Frau Ballin.”1

Ballin’s life and death were but one last illustration of the paradoxical existence of the Jews of Germany during the Second Reich. Some had achieved remarkable success but were held at arm’s length; many felt “at home in Germany” but were perceived as strangers; almost all were loyal citizens but engendered suspicion. Thus, two years before the collapse, on October 11, 1916, by which time the military situation had reached a complete stalemate, the Prussian war minister signed a decree ordering a census of all Jews in the armed forces “to determine…how many Jews subject to military duty were serving in every unit of the German armies.”2 The War Ministry explained that it was “continually receiving complaints from the population that large numbers of men of the Israelite faith who are fit for military service are either exempt from military duties or are evading their obligation to serve under every conceivable pretext.”3 The census was held on November 1, 1916.

From the beginning of the war, the Jews of Germany had, like all other Germans, joined the army; very soon a number of them became officers. For the castelike Prussian officer corps in particular, this was a bitter pill to swallow, and officer organizations turned to anti-Semitic groups to find ways of putting an end to these promotions.4 A wave of rumors, originating both within and outside the army, described Jewish soldiers as lacking in ability and courage, and accused Jews in great numbers of shirking frontline duty, settling into rear-echelon office jobs or flocking into the “war economy corporations” established for the acquisition of raw materials and food supplies.5

The industrialist Walther Rathenau, who was Jewish, had in fact become the head of the new War Resources Department in the War Ministry, and on the initiative of Ballin, the bankers Max Warburg and Carl Melchior (also Jewish), the Central Purchasing Company was established for acquiring foreign food products through a network of war corporations. According to extreme nationalist Germans, these corporations were becoming instruments of Jewish speculation and exploitation of the nation in its time of peril: “The war profiteers were first of all essentially Jews,” wrote Gen. Erich Ludendorff in his memoirs. “They acquired a dominant influence in the ‘war corporations’…which gave them the occasion to enrich themselves at the expense of the German people and to take possession of the German economy, in order to achieve one of the power goals of the Jewish people.”6 Hitler, in Mein Kampf, wrapped it all up in his own typical style: “The general mood [in the army] was miserable…. The offices were filled with Jews. Nearly every clerk was a Jew and nearly every Jew was a clerk…. As regards economic life, things were even worse. Here the Jewish people had become really ‘indispensable.’ The spider was slowly beginning to suck the blood out of the people’s pores. Through the war corporations, they had found an instrument with which, little by little, to finish off the nation’s free economy.”7

Due to the professional structure of the Jewish population, approximately 10 percent of the directors of the war corporations were Jews.8 Continuous anti-Jewish attacks induced a Catholic Center deputy, Matthias Erzberger, to demand a Reichstag inquiry.9 He was supported by a coalition of liberals and conservatives. Even some Social Democrats joined in.10 It was in this atmosphere that the Prussian War Ministry announced its decision to conduct its census of Jews (Judenzählung).

The Jews reacted, but only meekly. Warburg, then already one of the most influential Jews in imperial Germany, met with War Minister Stein in March 1917 to ask for the release of a statement that Jews were fighting as bravely as other Germans. Stein refused, and in order to underline the Jewish traits he most disliked, lectured Warburg about Heinrich Heine.11

The results of the census were not published during the war, ostensibly out of consideration for the Jews, as they were termed “devastating” by officials of the War Ministry.12 Immediately after the Armistice, pseudo results were leaked to the radical anti-Semitic Völkischer Schutz- und Trutz-bund by the Jew-hating General Wrisberg and used as anti-Jewish propaganda on a massive scale.13 Only at the beginning of the 1920s did a systematic study of the material show it to be “the greatest statistical monstrosity of which an administration had ever been responsible.”14Detailed analysis indicated that Jewish participation in frontline service was equivalent to that of the general population, with a minimal deviation due to age and occupational structure. The damage had nonetheless been done.

Ernst Simon, who had volunteered for the army to find a sense of community with the German nation, perceived that the Judenzählung was more than the initiative of some malevolent officials. It was the “real expression of a real mood: that we were strangers, that we did not belong, that we had to be specially tagged, counted, registered and dealt with.”15 Walther Rathenau wrote to a friend in the summer of 1916: “The more Jews are killed [in action] in this war, the more obstinately their enemies will prove that they all sat behind the front in order to deal in war speculation. The hatred will grow twice and threefold.”16

After almost two decades of relative latency, the Jewish issue had resurfaced in full force in German political life during the 1912 Reichstag elections, which were soon dubbed the “Jewish elections” (Judenwahlen).17 The real political issue was the growth of the Left. However, as the Jews—opposed to (and by) the Conservatives and disappointed by the stand taken toward them by the National Liberals—turned to the Progressives and, in particular, to the Social Democrats, they became identified with the left-wing peril.18

The elections marked the disappearance of the anti-Semitic splinter parties and represented a significant setback for the Conservative right. The Social Democrats emerged as the strongest single party on the German scene, more than doubling their number of seats in the Reichstag from 53 to 110. Of the 300 candidates favored by organizations in which Jews were prominent, 88 were elected.19 These results proved that the majority of the voters did not manifestly harbor intense anti-Jewish feelings, but the reaction of the Right was different and immediate. It had become obvious to the right-wing press that Jewish money and the Jewish spirit were in control of the “gold” and the “red” internationals, those two most dangerous enemies of the German nation. Even for a publication as close to the Lutheran Church as the Christlichsoziale Reichsbote, the workers who voted for the Social Democrats were “driven by the Jewish whip” held by “the manipulators of international Jewish capitalism.”20

Frantic activity now spread throughout the extreme right, with approximately twenty new ultra-nationalist and racist organizations springing up on the political scene. Some of them, such as the Reichshammerbund and the Germanenorden, were coalitions of previously existing groups.21Among larger groups, the evolution of the Pan-German League is particularly telling. In his previously mentioned 1912 pamphlet, If I Were the Kaiser, league president Heinrich Class fully spelled out a program for the complete expulsion of the Jews from German public life—that is, from public office, from the liberal professions, and from banks and newspapers. Jews would lose the right to own land. Jewish immigration would be banned, and all Jewish noncitizens deported. Those who were citizens would be subject to “alien Status” (Fremdenrecht). A Jew would be defined as a person belonging to the Jewish religious community on January 18, 1871, the day the German Empire was proclaimed, as would all the descendants of such persons, even if only one grandparent was Jewish.22

A few months later a memorandum was submitted to the crown prince, Wilhelm II’s eldest son, by another member of the league, Konstantin von Gebsattel; it proposed the same measures against the Jews as well as a “coup d’état” to put an end to parliamentarianism in Germany. The crown prince—who later would become a member of the SS—was “captivated” by Gebsattel’s memorandum and transmitted it to his father and to Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg. Himself a strange mix of traditional conservatism and radical right-wing opinions,23 the Kaiser was dismissive. He considered Gebsattel an “oddball,” the Pan-Germans who supported such plans “dangerous people,” and the idea of excluding the Jews from public life “downright childish”; Germany would be cutting itself off from civilized nations. The chancellor was more deferential to the crown prince, but no less negative.24

The Association Against Jewish Arrogance (Verband gegen die Überhebung des Judentums) was established on February 11, 1912, by the remnants of the old anti-Semitic parties and various other anti-Semitic organizations. Its aim was the creation, under nationalist auspices, of a mass movement to achieve political change. “One of their top priorities was to exclude the Jewish ‘race’ from the nation’s public life. The founding of the association, clearly linked to the 1912 elections, was but one more manifestation of the new right’s determined ‘defense’ against Juda.”25


Jews never represented more than approximately 1 percent of Germany’s overall population in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Between the beginning of the century and 1933, that percentage slightly declined. The Jewish community, however, gained in visibility by gradually concentrating in the large cities, keeping to certain professions, and absorbing an increasing number of easily identifiable East European Jews.26

The general visibility of the Jews in Germany was enhanced by their relative importance in the “sensitive” areas of business and finance, journalism and cultural activities, medicine and the law, and, finally, by their involvement in liberal and left-wing politics. The social discrimination to which the Jews were subjected, and their own striving for advancement and acceptance, easily explain their patterns of activity. Interpreted as Jewish subversion and domination, these patterns in turn led, at least in parts of German society, to further hostility and rejection.

Of the fifty-two private banks in Berlin at the beginning of the nineteenth century, thirty were Jewish-owned. Later on Bismarck asked the Rothschilds to recommend a private banker (it was to be Gerson Bleichröder), and Kaiser Wilhelm I chose for himself the banker Moritz Cohn. When, at the turn of the century, many private banks became shareholding companies, Jews frequently held a controlling percentage of the shares or served as directors of the new enterprises. Add the banking aristocracy of the Warburgs, the Arnholds, the Friedländer-Fulds, the Simons, the Weinbergs, and so on, to such financial potentates as chain-store owners Abraham Wertheim and Leonhard and Oskar Tietz, founding electrical industrialist Emil Rathenau, publisher Rudolf Mosse, and shipping magnate Albert Ballin, and it becomes obvious that Jews held an eminent and visible place in the financial world of imperial Germany.27

The Jewish economic elite’s particular function during the nineteenth century had been its decisive role in capital mobilization and concentration through development of the Berlin stock market,28 and linkage of the still relatively parochial German economy with world markets.29 The centrality of “Jewish” banking during the Weimar period did not decrease,30 contrary to what has sometimes been argued. But there was no correlation between Jewish economic activity and any kind of lasting political influence in German society.

Culture was possibly the most sensitive domain. In March 1912 a telling exchange was triggered by an article written by a young Jewish intellectual, Moritz Goldstein, and published in the arts journal Kunstwart under the title “Deutsch-jüdischer Parnass” (German-Jewish Parnassus). As Goldstein put it, “We Jews administer the spiritual possessions of a people that denies us the right and the capability of doing so.”31 After admitting to Jewish influence on the press and in the literary world, Goldstein reemphasized the insuperable rift between the Jewish “administrators” of German culture, who believed they were speaking for and to the Germans, and the Germans themselves, who considered such presumption insufferable. What, then, was the way out? Zionism, Goldstein thought, was no option for people of his background and generation. In an emotional and most emphatic fashion, he called instead for an act of courage on the part of the Jews of Germany: that, in spite of their deep feelings for Germany and all things German, in spite of their centuries-long presence in the land, they must turn their backs on the host society and stop vowing ever-renewed and ever-unrequited love.32 On the cultural level Jews should now turn to Jewish issues, not only for their own sake but to create “a new type of Jew, new not in life but in literature.”33 Goldstein’s closing was on an emotional par with the rest: “We demand recognition of a tragedy that, with a heavy heart, we have exposed to all.”34

Goldstein’s sharp diagnosis/tearful lament induced the editor of Kunstwart, Ferdinand Avenarius, to produce in the August issue a long comment entitled “Aussprachen mit Juden” (Debates with Jews). “We are not anti-Semites,” he wrote. “We know that there are domains in which the Jews are more able than we are, and that we have greater ability in others; we hope that with good will on both sides, peaceful co-operation will be possible, but we are convinced that relations cannot continue much longer in their present form.” Avenarius called for some sort of “negotiation” between “leaders” of “both sides in order to avoid bitter cultural battles [Kulturkämpfe]…. Given the growing excitement [Avenarius did not specify whose],” he did not believe that success could easily be achieved.35 The argument was clear, the “we” and “they” even clearer. But as to the basic facts (though obviously not their interpretation), both Goldstein and (implicitly) Avenarius were not entirely wrong.

As for the press—excluding the great number of conservative and specifically Christian newspapers and periodicals, as well as most of the regional papers—there was, on the national level, a strong Jewish presence in ownership, editorial responsibility, and major cultural or political commentary. Rudolf Mosse’s publishing empire included the Berliner Tageblatt, the Morgenzeitung, the Volkszeitung, and the Börsenblatt. The Ullstein family owned the Neues Berliner Tageblatt, the Abendpost, the Illustrierte Zeitung, and B.Z. am Mittag, “the first German paper based completely on street sales.”36 The paper with the largest circulation, the Morgenpost, also belonged to Ullstein, as eventually did the Vossische Zeitung, “Berlin’s oldest newspaper.”37 Among the three most prominent publishers who took the largest share of the pre-1914 daily press—Mosse, Ullstein, and Scherl—the first two were Jews.38 The relative importance of these three publishers would be altered somewhat in the twenties by the acquisition of Scherl by the ultra-right-wing Alfred Hugenberg and by the consequent rapid expansion of his press holdings.

The editors in chief and main editorial writers of many of the most influential newspapers (such as Theodor Wolff, editor of the Berliner Tageblatt, Georg Bernhard, editor of the Vossische Zeitung; and Bernhard Guttmann, the influential Berlin correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung), were Jews, as were dozens of other political commentators, cultural critics, and satirists in a wide array of dailies and periodicals.39

In book publishing Mosse and Ullstein were major figures, as was Samuel Fischer, who founded his publishing house in Berlin in 1886. Fischer, as important in the history of modern German literature as, for example, Random House or Scribner’s in the United States, published Thomas Mann, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Hermann Hesse, among others.40

Along with Jewish publishers and editors in chief, there was a solid group of Jewish readers and theater- and concertgoers. A striving for Bildung (culture/education) had turned the Jewish bourgeoisie into the self-appointed (and ecstatic) carrier of German culture. Writing in December 1896 about the first performance of Gerhart Hauptmann’s play Die versunkene Glocke (The Sunken Bell), Baroness Hildegard von Spitzemberg noted in her diary: “The house was packed with Jews and Jew-companions and with the representatives of press and literature: Maximilian Harden, Hermann Sudermann, Erich Schmidt, Theodor Fontane, Ludwig Pietsch, the last [two] of whom, however, shook their heads disapprovingly and did not join in the frenetic applause of the poet’s [playwright’s] supporters.”41 Fontane and Pietsch were non-Jews.

The situation was possibly even more extreme in Austria-Hungary. At the end of the nineteenth century, Jews owned more than 50 percent of the major banks in the Austrian part of the empire, and occupied nearly 80 percent of the key positions in the banking world.42 In the Hungarian part, the Jewish economic presence, which benefited from the full support of the Hungarian aristocracy, was even more widespread. “Above all, Jews were prominent among the great press tycoons. They owned, edited, and very extensively contributed to most of the leading newspapers of Vienna. Though his words were somewhat exaggerated, it was nonetheless telling that Harry Wickham Steed, the London Times correspondent in the Austrian capital, could write that ‘economically, politically and in point of general influence they [the Jews] are…the most significant element in the Monarchy.’”43

During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the harmonious assimilation of the Jews into German society, as in other countries of Western and Central Europe—later made formally possible by the full emancipation of 1869 and 1871—could appear to many as a reasonable prospect.44More than anything else, the Jews themselves wanted to join the ranks of the German bourgeoisie; this collective “project” was undoubtedly their overriding goal.45 Lay leaders and enlightened rabbis never tired of stressing the importance of Bildung and Sittlichkeit (manners and morals).46Although the great majority of Jews did not abandon Judaism entirely, the collective effort of adaptation led to deep reshapings of Jewish identity in the religious domain as well as in a variety of secular pursuits and attitudes.47 The modern German Jew, however, did create—consciously or not—a specific subculture that, although aiming at integration, resulted in a new form of separation.48 Religious-cultural distinctiveness was reinforced by the increasingly negative reactions of society in general to the very rapidity of the Jews’ social and economic ascent. Economic success and growing visibility without political power produced, in part at least, their own nemesis. In his biography of Bismarck’s banker, Gerson Bleichröder, Fritz Stern alluded to the shift in attitudes from the 1870s on: “[Bleichröder’s] middle years described the moment of the least troubled amalgamation of German and Jewish society; his declining years [he died in 1893] marked the first organized repudiation of that amalgamation, and his very success was taken as a warrant for repudiation.”49

One may readily agree with German historian Thomas Nipperdey that in comparison to that of France, Austria, or Russia, German anti-Semitism on the eve of World War I was certainly not the most extreme. One may also agree with his statement that pre-1914 anti-Semitism should be evaluated both within its own historical context and from the perspective of later events (“under the sign of Auschwitz”).50 However, his related statement that the Jews of Germany themselves considered the anti-Semitism of those years a marginal issue, a remnant of prior discrimination that would disappear in due time is less convincing.51 Any perusal of contemporary testimonies indicates that Jews held diverse views regarding the attitudes of society in general toward them. It needs only Moritz Goldstein’s lament to show that some German Jews were quite aware of the fact that the chasm between them and the surrounding society was growing.

This was true not only in Germany. Two equally remarkable literary representations of Austria before the Great War, Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday and Arthur Schnitzler’s The Road into the Open, provide contrary assessments of how the Jews perceived their own situation. For Zweig anti-Semitism was practically nonexistent; for Schnitzler it was at the center of his characters’ consciousness and existence. In any event, whatever the relative strength of prewar anti-Semitism may have been, its presence was a necessary condition for the massive anti-Jewish hostility that spread throughout Germany during the war years and increasingly after the defeat of 1918. Moreover, the prewar scene also provided some of the ideological tenets, political demands, and institutional frameworks that endowed postwar anti-Semitism with its early structures and immediate goals.

When one considers the wider European scene, the achievements, political attitudes, and cultural options of Jews at the end of the nineteenth century appear as those of members of an identifiable minority, stemming in part from the peculiar historical development of this minority. But these achievements and options were first and foremost those of individuals whose goal was the kind of success that led to integration into society in general. For the anti-Semite, however, the situation looked entirely different: Jewish striving and Jewish success, real or imaginary, were perceived as the behavior of a foreign and hostile minority group acting collectively to exploit and dominate the majority.

As long as merely a few Jews, under the patronage of kings and princes, managed to climb the social ladder, their limited number, the function they fulfilled, and the protection they were granted checked the spread of hostility. When, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in somewhat different terms,52 emancipation allowed for the social advancement of a large number of Jews within a context in which their social function was losing its specificity and in which political power no longer backed them, they increasingly became the targets of various forms of social resentment. Modern anti-Semitism was fueled by this conjunction of increasing visibility and increasing weakness.

A common trigger of various forms of nonracial anti-Jewish resentment was undoubtedly the very existence of a Jewish difference. Liberals demanded that, in the name of universalist ideals, the Jews should accept the complete disappearance of their particular group identity; nationalists, on the other hand, demanded such disappearance for the sake of a higher particularist identity, that of the modern nation-state. Although the majority of Jews were more than eager to travel a long way down the road to cultural and social assimilation, most of them rejected total collective disappearance. Thus, as moderate as Jewish particularism may have been, it antagonized its liberal supporters and incensed its nationalist opponents. Jewish visibility in highly sensitive domains exacerbated the irritant inherent in difference.

Racial anti-Semites also claimed that their anti-Semitic campaign was based on the Jews’ difference. However, whereas for the nonracial anti-Semite such difference could and should have been totally effaced by the complete assimilation and disappearance of the Jews as such, the racial anti-Semite argued that the difference was indelible, that it was inscribed in the blood. For the nonracial anti-Semite, a solution to the “Jewish question” was possible within society in general; for the racial anti-Semite, because of the dangerous racial impact of Jewish presence and equality, the only solution was exclusion (legal and possibly physical) from society in general. This well-known basic picture should be completed by two aspects of the modern anti-Jewish scene that are either barely mentioned by many historians or considered all-encompassing by others: the survival of traditional religious anti-Semitism and the related proliferation of conspiracy theories in which the Jews always played a central role.

Whether or not Christian hostility toward the Jews was intermittent, whether or not the Jews themselves contributed to the exacerbation of this hostility,53 does not alter the fact that, in dogma, ritual, and practice, Christianity branded the Jews with what appeared to be an indelible stigma. That stigma had been effaced neither by time nor by events, and throughout the nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth centuries, Christian religious anti-Semitism remained of central importance in Europe and in the Western world in general.

In Germany, apart from the general motives of Christian anti-Semitism, Christian anti-Jewish attitudes also stemmed from the particular situation of the churches throughout the imperial era. German Catholics were antagonized by Jewish support for the National Liberals, who were Bismarck’s allies during his anti-Catholic campaign of the 1870s, the Kulturkampf;54 conservative Protestants were firmly committed to the Christian nature of the Second Reich, and even liberal Protestants, in their attempt to rationalize Christianity, entered into confrontations with liberal Jews keen on demonstrating the pagan core of the Christian religion.55 Finally, in Germany, France, and Austria, political use of Christian anti-Jewish themes proved successful, at least for a time, in appealing to lower-middle-class voters.

For some historians the rootedness and the very permanence of Christian anti-Judaism has been the only basis of all forms of modern anti-Semitism. Jacob Katz, for example, sees modern anti-Semitism as but “a continuation of the premodern rejection of Judaism by Christianity, even when it [modern anti-Semitism] renounced any claim to be legitimized by it or even professed to be antagonistic to Christianity.” In Katz’s view any claims for an anti-Semitism that would be beyond “the Jewish Christian division” were but “a mere declaration of intent. No anti-Semite, even if he himself was anti-Christian, ever forwent the use of those anti-Jewish arguments rooted in the denigration of Jews and Judaism in earlier Christian times.”56 This interpretation is excessive, but the impact of religious anti-Judaism on other modern forms of anti-Semitism is apparent in several ways. First, a vast reservoir of almost automatic anti-Jewish reactions continued to accumulate as a result of early exposure to Christian religious education and liturgy, and to everyday expressions drawn from the pervasive and ongoing presence of the various denominations of the Christian creed. Second, the very notion of “outsider” applied by modern anti-Semitism to the Jew owed its tenacity not only to Jewish difference as such but also to the depth of its religious roots. Whatever else could be said about the Jew, he was first and foremost the “other,” who had rejected Christ and revelation. Finally, perhaps the most powerful effect of religious anti-Judaism was the dual structure of the anti-Jewish image inherited from Christianity. On the one hand, the Jew was a pariah, the despised witness of the triumphal onward march of the true faith; on the other, from the Late Middle Ages onward, an opposite image appeared in popular Christianity and in millennarian movements, that of the demonic Jew, the perpetrator of ritual murder, the plotter against Christianity, the herald of the Antichrist, the potent and occult emissary of the forces of evil. It is this dual image that reappears in some major aspects of modern anti-Semitism. And, its threatening and occult dimension became the recurrent theme of the main conspiracy theories of the Western world.

The Christian phantasm of a Jewish plot against the Christian community may itself have been a revival of the pagan notion that the Jews were enemies of humanity acting in secret against the rest of the world. According to a popular medieval Christian legend, “a secret rabbinical synod convened periodically from all over Europe to determine which community was in turn to commit ritual murder.”57 From the eighteenth century on, new conspiracy theories also pointed to threats from a number of non-Jewish occult groups: Freemasons, Illuminati, Jesuits. In the landscape of modernity, paranoid political thought was acquiring a permanence of sorts. “What is the distinguishing thing about the paranoid style,” wrote Richard Hofstadter, “is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regard a ‘vast’ or ‘gigantic’ conspiracy as the motive force in historical events. History is a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power, and what is felt to be needed to defeat it is not the usual methods of political give-and-take, but an all-out crusade.”58

Within this array of occult forces, the Jews were the plotters par excellence, the manipulators hidden behind all other secret groups that were merely their instruments. In the notorious two-pronged secret threat of “Jews and Freemasons,” the latter were perceived as instruments of the former.59 Jewish conspiracies, in other words, were at the very top of the conspiratorial hierarchy, and their aim was nothing less than total domination of the world. The centrality of the Jews in this phantasmic universe can be explained only by its roots in the Christian tradition.

Like any other national anti-Semitism at the end of the nineteenth century and during the years preceding World War I, anti-Semitism in imperial Germany was determined, as I have already indicated, both by dominant Christian and modern European trends and by the impact of specific historical circumstances, among which several further aspects should be stressed:

In general terms a structural dimension needs to be emphasized in distinguishing, for example, between French and German modes of national integration, with the relevance of such a distinction in terms of anti-Jewish attitudes becoming clearly apparent. Since the French Revolution, the French model of national integration had been that of a process fostered and implemented by the state on the basis of universal principles, those of the Enlightenment and the Revolution. Since the romantic revolution, the German model of national integration had been derived from and predicated upon the idea of the nation as a closed ethnocultural community independent of and sometimes opposed to the state. Whereas the French model implied the construction of national identity by way of a centralized educational system and all other means of socialization at the disposal of the state, the German model often posited the existence of inherited characteristics belonging to a preexisting organic community.60

By way of state-directed socialization and in the name of the secular republic’s universal values, a Jew could become French, and not merely on a purely formal level. (This despite intensely hostile reactions from that substantial part of French society that rejected the Revolution, the republican state, and thus the Jews, identified as foreigners allied with the state and as carriers of the secular, subversive values of social upheaval and modernity.) Regardless of formal emancipation and equality of civic rights, the Jew was often kept at a distance by a German national community fundamentally closed to a group whose recognizable difference seemed to society in general to be rooted in alien ethnocultural—and, increasingly, racial—soil. A somewhat different (but not incompatible) interpretation has pointed to the fact that in France legal emancipation carried a prime expectation of gradual Jewish assimilation (also by way of the French educational system and its universalist values), whereas in Germany a widely shared position was that the process of assimilation should be imposed and monitored by bureacratic means, and that full emancipation should be granted only at the end of the process. As time went by, in Germany the success of Jewish assimilation was increasingly questioned. Therefore, even after the Jews of Germany were granted full emancipation, anti-Semites of all hues—and even liberals—could argue that total assimilation had not really been achieved and that the results of emancipation were problematic.61

The situation in Germany was further exacerbated by developments specific to the second half of the nineteenth century, mainly the various aspects of an extremely rapid process of modernization. By entirely transforming the country’s social structures and by threatening its existing hierarchies, the onrush of German modernization seemed to endanger hallowed cultural values and the organic links of the community;62 at the same time it seemed to allow the otherwise incomprehensible social ascent of the Jews, who were thus perceived as the promoters, carriers, and exploiters of that modernization. The Jewish threat now appeared to be both penetration by a foreign element into the innermost texture of the national community and furthering, by way of that penetration, not of modernity as such (enthusiastically embraced by the majority of German society) but of the evils of modernity.

It is within this context that other developments peculiar to Germany acquire their full significance. First, after the rise and fall of the German anti-Semitic parties between the mid-1870s and the late 1890s, anti-Jewish hostility continued to spread in German society at large through a variety of other channels—economic and professional associations, nationalistic political organizations, widely influential cultural groups. The rapid increase of such institutionalized infusions of anti-Jewish attitudes into the very heart of society did not take place—or at least not on such a scale—in other major Western or Central European countries. Second, in Germany a full-blown anti-Semitic ideology was systematically elaborated; it allowed more or less diffuse anti-Jewish resentment to adopt ready-made intellectual frameworks and formulas that in turn were to foster more extreme ideological constructs during the coming years of crisis. Such specific ideologization of German anti-Semitism was particularly visible, in two different ways, with regard to racial anti-Semitism. In its mainly biological form, racial anti-Semitism used eugenics and racial anthropology to launch a “scientific” inquiry into the racial characteristics of the Jew. The other strand of racial anti-Semitism, in its particularly German, mystical form, emphasized the mythic dimensions of the race and the sacredness of Aryan blood. This second strand fused with a decidedly religious vision, that of a German (or Aryan) Christianity, and led to what can be called “redemptive anti-Semitism.”


Whereas ordinary racial anti-Semitism is one element within a wider racist worldview, in redemptive anti-Semitism the struggle against the Jews is the dominant aspect of a worldview in which other racist themes are but secondary appendages.

Redemptive anti-Semitism was born from the fear of racial degeneration and the religious belief in redemption. The main cause of degeneration was the penetration of the Jews into the German body politic, into German society, and into the German bloodstream. Germanhood and the Aryan world were on the path to perdition if the struggle against the Jews was not joined; this was to be a struggle to the death. Redemption would come as liberation from the Jews—as their expulsion, possibly their annihilation.

This new anti-Semitism has been depicted as part and parcel of the revolutionary fervor of the early nineteenth century, particularly of the revolutionary spirit of 1848. But it should be pointed out that the main bearers of the new anti-Jewish mystique had all turned against their revolutionary pasts; when Judaism was mentioned in their revolutionary writings, it was in a purely metaphorical sense (mainly as representing Mammon or “the Law”), and whatever revolutionary terminology remained in their new anti-Semitism was meant as “radical change,” as “redemption” in a strongly religious sense, or, more precisely, in a racial-religious sense.63

Various themes of redemptive anti-Semitism can be found in völkisch ideology in general, but the run-of-the-mill völkisch obsessions were usually too down-to-earth in their goals to belong to the redemptive sphere. Among the völkisch ideologues, only the philosopher Eugen Dühring and the biblical scholar Paul de Lagarde came close to this sort of anti-Semitic eschatological worldview. The source of the new trend has to be sought elsewhere, in that meeting point of German Christianity, neoromanticism, the mystical cult of sacred Aryan blood, and ultraconservative nationalism: the Bayreuth circle.

I intentionally single out the Bayreuth circle rather than Richard Wagner himself. Although redemptive anti-Semitism derived its impact from the spirit of Bayreuth, and the spirit of Bayreuth would have been nonexistent without Richard Wagner, the depth of his personal commitment to this brand of apocalyptic anti-Semitism remains somewhat contradictory. That Wagner’s anti-Semitism was a constant and growing obsession after the 1851 publication of his Das Judentum in der Musik (Judaism in Music) is unquestionable. That the maestro saw Jewish machinations hidden in every nook and cranny of the new German Reich is notorious. That the redemption theme became the leitmotiv of Wagner’s ideology and work during the last years of his life is no less generally accepted. Finally, that the disappearance of the Jews was one of the central elements of his vision of redemption seems also well established. But what, in Wagner’s message, was the concrete meaning of such a disappearance? Did it mean the abolition of the Jewish spirit, the vanishing of the Jews as a separate and identifiable cultural and ethnic group, or did redemption imply the actual physical elimination of the Jews? This last interpretation has been argued by, among others, historians such as Robert W. Gutman, Hartmut Zelinsky, and Paul Lawrence Rose.64 The last in particular identifies Wagner’s “revolutionary anti-Semitism” and its supposedly exterminatory streak with the composer’s revolutionary ardor of 1848.

In Judaism in Music, the annihilation of the Jew (and the pamphlet’s notorious final words: “the redemption of Ahasuerus—going under!”) most probably means the annihilation of the Jewish spirit. In this finale the maestro heaps dithyrambic praise upon the political writer Ludwig Börne, a Jew who in his eyes exemplified the redemption from Jewishness into “genuine manhood” by “ceasing to be a Jew.”65 Börne’s example is manifestly the path to be collectively followed. But Wagner’s writings of the late 1870s and the 1880s and the redemptive symbolism of the Ring and especially of Parsifal, are indeed extraordinarily ambiguous whenever the Jewish theme directly or indirectly appears. Whether redemption from erotic lust, from worldly cravings, from the struggles for power is achieved, as in the Ring, by way of self-annihilation or, as in Parsifal, by mystical purification and the rebirth of a sanctified Germanic Christendom, the Jew remains the symbol of the worldly lures that keep humanity in shackles. Thus the redemptive struggle had to be a total struggle, and the Jew, like the evil and unredeemable Klingsor in Parsifal, had to disappear. In Siegfried the allusion is even more direct: The Germanic hero Siegfried kills the repulsive Nibelung dwarf Mime, whom Wagner himself identifies, according to Cosima Wagner’s diaries, as a “Jüdling.”66 All in all the relation between Siegfried and Mime, overloaded with the most telling symbolism, was probably meant as a fierce anti-Semitic allegory of the relation between German and Jew—and of the ultimate fate of the Jew.67Even the Master’s jokes, like his “wish” that all Jews be burned at a performance of Lessing’s Nathan the Wise,68 expressed the underlying intensity of his exterminatory fantasies. And yet, Wagner’s ideas about the Jews remained inconsistent, and the number of Jews in his entourage, from the pianists Carl Tausig and Josef Rubinstein to the conductor Hermann Levi and the impresario Angelo Neumann, is well known. Indeed, Wagner’s behavior toward Levi was often overtly sadistic, and Rubinstein was a notoriously self-hating Jew. Yet these Jews belonged to the maestro’s close entourage, and, more significant, Wagner gave Neumann considerable leeway regarding the handling of contracts and performances of his works: No consistently fanatical anti-Semite would have allowed such a massive compromise.

Although Wagner himself embraced the theoretical racism of the French essayist Arthur de Gobineau, the intellectual foundations of redemptive anti-Semitism were mainly fostered and elaborated by the other Bayreuthians, especially after the composer’s death, during the reign of his widow, Cosima: Hans von Wolzogen, Ludwig Scheemann, and, first and foremost, the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain. In a classic study of the Bayreuth Circle, Winfried Schüler defined Bayreuth’s special significance within the anti-Semitic movement and Chamberlain’s own decisive contribution: “It is in the nature of anti-Semitic ideologies to use a more or less prominent friend-foe model. What nonetheless gives Bayreuth’s anti-Semitism an unmistakably particular aspect is the resoluteness with which the opposition between Germandom and Jewry is raised to the position of the central theme of world history. In Chamberlain’s Foundations [his 1899 magnum opus, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century] this dualistic image of history finds its tersest formulation.”69

In line with Bayreuth’s oft-repeated leitmotiv, Chamberlain called for the birth of a German-Christian religion, a Christianity cleansed of its Jewish spirit, as the sole basis for regeneration. In other words, the redemption of Aryan Christianity would be achieved only through the elimination of the Jew. But even here it is not entirely clear whether or not the redemptive struggle against the Jews was to be waged against the Jewish spirit only. In the closing lines of volume 1, after stating that in the nineteenth century, amid a chaos of mixed breeds, the two “pure” races that stood facing each other were the Jews and the Germans, Chamberlain writes: “No arguing about ‘humanity’ can alter the fact that this means a struggle. Where the struggle is not waged with cannon-balls, it goes on silently in the heart of society…. But this struggle, silent though it be, is above all others a struggle for life and death.”70 Chamberlain probably did not know himself what he meant by this in terms of concrete action, but he undoubtedly offered the most systematic formulation of what he considered the fundamental struggle shaping the course of world history.

Three years after the publication of Chamberlain’s Foundations, the Frankfurter Zeitung had to admit that it “has caused more of a ferment than any other appearance on the book market in recent years.”71 By 1915 the book had sold more than one hundred thousand copies and was being widely referred to. As the years went by, Chamberlain, who in 1908 had married Richard and Cosima Wagner’s daughter, Eva, became ever more obsessed with the “Jewish question.” In nightmares, he reported, he saw himself kidnapped by Jews and sentenced to death.72 “My lawyer friend in Munich,” he informed an old acquaintance, “tells me that there is no living being whom the Jews hate more than me.”73 The war, and even more so the early years of the Weimar Republic, drove his obsession to its utmost limits. Hitler visited him in Bayreuth in 1923: The by now paralyzed prophet of redemptive anti-Semitism was granted the supreme happiness of meeting—and recognizing as such—Germany’s savior from the Jews.74


The impact of the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution on the European imagination was stronger than that of any other event since the French Revolution. Mass death, shattering political upheavals, and visions of catastrophes to come fueled the pervasive apocalyptic mood that settled over Europe.75 Beyond nationalist exacerbation in several countries, the hopes, fears, and hatreds of millions crystallized along the main political divide that would run through the history of the following decades: fear of revolution on one side, demand for it on the other. Those who feared the revolution frequently identified its leaders with the Jews. Now the proof for the Jewish world conspiracy was incontrovertible: Jewry was about to destroy all established order, annihilate Christianity, and impose its dominion. In her 1921 book, World Revolution, the English historian Nesta Webster asked, “who are…the authors of the Plot?…. What is their ultimate object in wishing to destroy civilization? What do they hope to gain by it? It is this apparent absence of motive, this seemingly aimless campaign of destruction carried on by the Bolsheviks of Russia, that has led many people to believe in the theory of a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity.”76 Webster was among these believers, and so, in his own way, at the time, was Thomas Mann. “We also spoke of the type of Russian Jew, the leader of the world revolutionary movement,” Mann wrote in his diary on May 2, 1918, recording a conversation with Ernst Bertram, “that explosive mixture of Jewish intellectual radicalism and Slavic Christian enthusiasm.” He added: “A world that still retains an instinct of self-preservation must act against such people with all the energy that can be mobilized and with the swiftness of martial law.”77

The most explosive ideological mixture present in postwar Germany was a fusion of constant fear of the Red menace with nationalist resentment born of defeat. The two elements seemed to be related, and the chaotic occurrences that marked the early months of the postimperial regime seemed to confirm the worst suspicions and fuel the fires of hatred.

Two months after Germany’s defeat, the extreme left-wing revolutionary Spartacists attempted to seize power in Berlin. The uprising failed, and on the evening of January 15, 1919, its main leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, probably having been betrayed, were arrested at their hiding place in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.78 They were brought to the Eden Hotel, the headquarters of the Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division, where they were interrogated by a Captain Pabst. Liebknecht was led out first, taken by car to the Tiergarten, and “shot while trying to escape.” Luxemburg, already brutally beaten at the Eden, was dragged out half dead, moved from one car to another, and then shot. Her body was thrown into the Landwehrkanal, where it remained until March. A military tribunal acquitted most of the officers directly involved in the murders (sentencing only two of them to minimal imprisonment), and Defense Minister Gustav Noske, a Social Democrat, duly signed these unlikely verdicts. Rosa Luxemburg and her closest companions among the Berlin Spartacists, Leo Jogiches and Paul Levi, were Jews.

The prominence of Jews among the leaders of the revolution in Bavaria added fuel to the already passionate anti-Semitic hatred of the Right as did their role among the Berlin Spartacists. It was Kurt Eisner, the Jewish leader of the Independent Socialist Party (USPD) in Bavaria, who toppled the Wittelsbach dynasty, which for centuries had given Bavaria its kings. During his short term as prime minister, Eisner added enemies by publishing incriminating archives regarding Germany’s responsibility for the outbreak of the war and appealing to the German people to help in rebuilding devastated areas of enemy territory, which was simply interpreted as a call for the enslavement of Germans “from children to old people, [who would] be obliged to carry stones for the war-torn areas.”79

On February 21, 1919, Eisner was assassinated by Count Anton Arco-Valley, a right-wing law student. After a brief interim government of majority Socialists, the first of two Republics of the Councils was established. In fact only a minority among the leaders of the Bavarian republics were of Jewish origin, but some of their most visible personalities could be identified as such.80

Exacerbated right-wing opinion accused these Jewish leaders of being responsible for the main atrocity committed by the Reds: the shooting of hostages in the cellar of the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. To this day the exact sequence of events is unclear. Apparently, on April 26, 1919, seven activists of the radical anti-Semitic Thule Society, among them its secretary, Countess Heila von Westarp, were detained at the organization’s office. Two officers of the Bavarian Army and a Jewish artist named Ernst Berger were added to the seven Thule members. On April 30, after news reached Munich, that the counterrevolutionary volunteer units, the Free Corps of Franz Freiherr Ritter von Epp, had killed Red prisoners in the town of Starnberg, the commander of the Red forces, a former navy man named Rudolf Egelhofer, ordered the shooting of the hostages. These executions, an isolated atrocity, became the quintessential illustration of Jewish Bolshevik terror in Germany; in the words of British historian Reginald Phelps, this “murder of hostages goes far to explain…the passionate wave of anti-Semitism that spread because the deed was alleged to represent the vengeance of ‘Jewish Soviet leaders’…on anti-Semitic foes.” Needless to say, the fact that Egelhofer and “all those directly connected with the shooting” were not Jews, and that one of the victims was Jewish, did not change these perceptions in the least.81

The impact of the situation in Berlin and Bavaria was amplified by revolutionary agitation in other parts of Germany. According to the pro-Nazi French historian Jacques Benoist-Méchin, revolutionaries of Jewish background were no less active in various other regional upheavals: “In Magdeburg, it is Brandes; in Dresden, Lipinsky, Geyer, and Fleissner; in the Ruhr, Markus and Levinsohn; in Bremerhaven and Kiel, Grünewald and Kohn; in the Palatinate, Lilienthal and Heine.”82 What is important here is not the accuracy of every detail but the widespread attitude it expressed.

These events in Germany were perceived in relation to simultaneous upheavals in Hungary: the establishment of Béla Kun’s Soviet Republic and the fact that the “Jewish” presence was even more massive there than in Berlin and Munich. The British historian of Central Europe R. W. Seton-Watson noted in May 1919: “Anti-Semitic feeling is growing steadily in Budapest (which is not surprising, considering that not only the whole Government, save 2, and 28 out of the 36 ministerial commissioners are Jews, but also a large proportion of the Red officers).”83 Some of these revolutionaries, such as the notorious Tibor Szamuely, were indeed downright sinister figures.84 Finally, the massive disproportion of leaders of Jewish origin among the Bolsheviks themselves seemed to give cogency to what had become a pervasive myth that spread and resonated throughout the Western world.85

There was no mystery in the fact that Jews joined the revolutionary left in large numbers. These men and women belonged to the generation of newly emancipated Jews who had abandoned the framework of religious tradition for the ideas and ideals of rationalism and, more often than not, for socialism (or Zionism). Their political choices derived both from the discrimination to which they had been subjected, mainly in Russia but also in Central Europe, and from the appeal of the socialist message of equality. In the new socialist world, all of suffering humanity would be redeemed, and with that, the Jewish stigma would disappear: It was, for at least some of these “non-Jewish Jews,”86 a vision of a secularized messianism, which may have sounded like a distant echo of the message of the Prophets they no longer recognized. In fact, almost all of them were actually hostile, in the name of revolutionary universalism, to anything Jewish. In no way did they represent the political tendencies of the great majority of the Central and Western European Jewish populations, which were politically liberal or close to the Social Democrats; only a fraction was decidedly conservative. For example, the German Democratic Party, favored by most German Jews, was the very epitome of the liberal center of the political scene.87 Much of this was ignored by the non-Jewish public. Particularly in Germany the nationalist camp’s accumulated hatred needed a pretext and a target for its outpourings. And so it pounced on the revolutionary Jews.

Rosa Luxemburg and the Jewish leaders in Bavaria represented the threat of Jewish revolution. For the nationalists the appointment of a number of Jewish cabinet ministers and other high officials proved that the hated republic was indeed in Jewish hands; the Right could point to Hugo Haase, Otto Landsberg, Hugo Preuss, Eugen Schiffer, Emanuel Wurm, Oskar Cohn, and to the most visible Jewish minister of all, Walther Rathenau.88 Rosa Luxemburg had been murdered on January 15, 1919; Walther Rathenau, appointed foreign minister barely six months before, was assassinated on June 25, 1922.

Rathenau’s murderers—Erwin Kern (aged twenty-four) and Hermann Fischer (twenty-six), both members of a Free Corps unit called Naval Brigade Ehrhardt, and their accomplices Ernst Werner Techow (twenty-one), his brother Gerd (sixteen), and Ernst von Salomon, also a former Free Corps member—were, in Salomon’s words, “young men from good families.”89 At their trial Techow declared that Rathenau was one of the Elders of Zion.90

The canonical text of the Jewish-conspiracy theorists, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was secretly fabricated in the mid-1890s by order of Piotr Rachkovsky, chief of the Paris office of the Okhrana, the czarist secret police.91 The Protocols comprised elements of two works from the 1860s, a French anti-Napoleon III pamphlet and a German anti-Semitic novel, Biarritz, by one Hermann Gödsche.92 The entire concoction was meant to fight the spread of liberalism inside the Russian Empire. Rachkovsky was merely following the rich tradition of attributing worldwide conspiracies to Jews.

The Protocols remained obscure until the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. But the crumbling of the czarist regime and the disappearance of the Romanovs and then of the Hohenzollern and Habsburg dynasties suddenly endowed this mysterious text, which was carried westward by fleeing White Russians, with an entirely new significance. In Germany, where the Protocols was excerpted in 1919 in the völkisch publication Auf Vörposten, it came to be considered concrete proof of the existence of dark forces responsible for the nation’s defeat in the war and for its postwar revolutionary chaos, humiliation, and bondage at the hands of the victors. Thirty-three German editions appeared in the years before Hitler’s accession to power, and countless others after 1933.93

The various versions of the Protocols published over the decades in a variety of languages share a basically identical core consisting of purported discussions held among the “Elders of Zion” at twenty-four secret meetings. In the immediate future the elders are not to shy away from any violent means to achieve control of the world. Oddly enough total power is not intended to lead to some harsh despotism aimed only at benefiting the Jews. The ultimate goal is described as the establishment of a just and socially oriented global regime. The people would rejoice at such beneficent government, and their satisfaction would ensure the survival of the Kingdom of Zion for centuries and centuries.

The last part of the Protocols reads like a prescription for some totalitarian utopia, precisely what many people longed for in that period of economic uncertainty and political crisis. Why, then, did this booklet inspire such fear and loathing? The hate effect of the Protocols was due simply to the very idea of Jewish domination over the Christian world. The elders were plotting the disintegration of Christendom. In the same vein the destruction of traditional elites and the very idea of revolution were terrifying to the upper- and middle-class majority of the Protocols’ readers. A 1920 American edition, for instance, clearly linked the machinations of the Elders of Zion to the Bolshevik peril.94

In an article headlined “The Jewish Peril, a Disturbing Pamphlet: Call for Inquiry,” the London Times of May 8, 1920, asked, “What are these ‘Protocols’? Are they authentic? If so, what malevolent assembly concocted these plans and gloated over their exposition? Are they forgery? If so, whence comes the uncanny note of prophecy, prophecy in part fulfilled, in part far gone in the way of fulfillment?”95 A year later the Times reversed itself, declaring that the Protocols was indeed a forgery. Nonetheless the May 1920 article had pointed to a fear buried deep in many minds: of falling victim to secret forces lurking in the dark. The Protocols thus exacerbated to the most extreme degree the paranoia prevalent in those years of crisis and disaster. If the Jewish threat was supranational, the struggle against it had to become global too, and without compromise. Thus, in an atmosphere suffused with concrete threats and imaginary forebodings, redemptive anti-Semitism seemed, more than ever before, to offer answers to the riddles of the time. And for the anti-Jewish true believers, the ultimate struggle for salvation demanded the unconditional fanaticism of one who could show the way and lead them into action.


“Middle-class anti-Semites and young students came…. Adolf Hitler spoke.” The Münchner Post was describing a meeting, in the spring of 1920, of the former DAP (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or German Workers’ Party), newly renamed NSDAP. “He behaved like a comedian. After every third sentence of lecture, as in a music-hall song, came the ‘refrain’: the Hebrews are guilty…. One thing must be recognized: Herr Hitler himself admitted that his speech was dictated by racial hatred. When the speaker brought up the question of how one should defend oneself against the Jews, calls from the assembly gave the answer: ‘Hang them! Kill them!’”96

Although Hitler, in the letter (quoted earlier) to Adolf Gemlich, denounced emotional anti-Semitism and insisted on a rational, systematic course in order to achieve total elimination of the Jews, his own style during the first years of his anti-Jewish agitation was very close to the rabble-rousing techniques of other völkisch orators, and his arguments did not reach far beyond the usual völkisch interpretations of history.97 “What happened to the city of the easy-going Viennese?” he asked on April 27, in a speech entitled “Politics and Jewry,” and in answer exclaimed, “For shame! It’s a second Jerusalem!” The police report at this point mentions “stormy applause.”98 None of that, however, amounted to a detailed presentation of Hitler’s anti-Jewish credo. A major attempt at this was made for the first time on August 13, 1920, in a three-hour speech in the Hofbräuhaus, a Munich beer hall. The announced title was “Why Are We Anti-Semites?”99

At the very outset Hitler reminded his listeners that his party was spearheading a fight against the Jews that was of direct relevance to the workers and their basic problems. There followed a long disquisition on the essence of creative work. In a convoluted way, Hitler argued that work, considered not as imposed necessity but as creative activity, had become the very symbol and essence of the Nordic race, its ultimate form being the construction of the state. This led him back to “the Jew.”

Taking the Bible, “which no one can say was written by an anti-Semite,” as the basis for his argument, Hitler affirmed that for the Jew work was punishment: The Jew was unable to work creatively and thus unable to build a state. Work for him was but the exploitation of the achievements of others. Starting from this postulate, Hitler then stated the parasitic nature of Jewish existence in history: Throughout millennia, the Jew’s subsistence and his racial striving to control the other people of the earth meant the parasitic undermining of the very subsistence of the host peoples, the exploitation of the work of others for the Jew’s own racial interests. The absolute character of the racial imperative was unquestionable, and Hitler stated it in absolute terms: “With all that, we must recognize that there is no good or bad Jew; everyone here works according to the imperatives of the race, because the race—or do we prefer to say, the nation?—and all that is linked to it, character and so on, lies, as the Jew himself explains, in the blood, and this blood compels every single individual to act according to these principles…. He is a Jew: he is driven only by one single thought: how do I raise my nation to become the dominating nation?”100

The National Socialist Party had entered the arena at this crucial moment of the struggle. A new hope had arisen that “finally the day will come when our words will fall silent and action will begin.”101

As German historian Eberhard Jäckel has emphasized, the broad scope of Hitler’s anti-Semitism appeared only in Mein Kampf,102 in which the full force of the apocalyptic dimension of the anti-Jewish struggle found its expression. That may have been an outcome of Hitler’s independent evolution; it was probably the result of the ideological input of a man whom Hitler met either in late 1919 or early 1920: the writer, newspaper editor, pamphleteer, drug addict, and alcoholic Dietrich Eckart.

Eckart’s ideological influence on Hitler and the practical help he extended to him on several decisive occasions between 1920 and 1923 have often been mentioned. Hitler himself never denied Eckart’s impact: “He shone in our eyes like a polar star,” he said of him, and added: “At the time, I was intellectually a child at the bottle.”103Mein Kampf was dedicated to Hitler’s comrades killed during the 1923 putsch and to Dietrich Eckart (who had died near Berchtesgaden on Christmas Eve 1923).

The notorious “dialogue” between Eckart and Hitler, Der Bolschewismus von Moses bis Lenin: Zwiegespräch zwischen Adolf Hitler und Mir (Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: A Dialogue Between Adolf Hitler and Myself), published some months after Eckart’s death, was written by Dietrich Eckart alone, probably even without Hitler’s knowledge.104 For some historians the Dialogue is the expression of Hitler’s basic ideological stance with regard to the Jewish issue;105 for others the text belongs much more to Eckart’s rather than to Hitler’s way of thinking.106 Whoever the author of the pamphlet may have been: “Everything we know about Eckart and Hitler lends credence to the document as a representation of the relationship and the ideas they shared.”107

The themes of the Dialogue clearly appear in Mein Kampf, wherever Hitler’s rhetoric surges to the metahistorical level. What is immediately striking in the Dialogue, even in its very title, is that Bolshevism is not identified with the ideology and the political force that came to power in Russia in 1917; Bolshevism is instead the destructive action of the Jew throughout the ages. Indeed, during the early years of Hitler’s career as an agitator—and this includes the writing of the text of Mein Kampf—political Bolshevism, although always recognized as one of the instruments used by the Jews to achieve world domination, is not one of Hitler’s central obsessions: It is a major theme only insofar as the Jews from whom it derives are the major theme. In other words, the revolutionary period of 1919 is not at center stage in Hitler’s propaganda. Thus, to consider Nazism primarily a panic reaction to the threat of Bolshevism, as has been argued by German historian Ernst Nolte, for example, does not correspond to what we know about Hitler’s early career.

The Dialogue is dominated by the apocalyptic dimension attributed to the Jewish threat. Eckart’s pamphlet is certainly one of the most extreme presentations of the Jew as the force of evil in history. At the very end of the text, “he” (that is, Hitler) sums up the ultimate aim of the Jew: “‘It is certainly so’ he said, ‘as you [Eckart] once wrote: “One can understand the Jew only when one knows toward what he aims for in the end. Beyond the domination of the world, toward the destruction of the world.”’”108 This vision of the world ending as a result of the Jew’s action reappears almost word for word in Mein Kampf: “If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world,” Hitler wrote, “his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through [the] ether devoid of human beings.”109

At the end of the second chapter of Mein Kampf comes the notorious statement of faith: “Today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”110 In Eckart, and in Hitler as he came to state his creed from 1924 on, redemptive anti-Semitism found its ultimate expression.

Some historians have turned Hitler’s ideological expostulations into a tight and highly coherent system, a cogent worldview (in its own terms); others have entirely dismissed the significance of the ideological utterances as either a system or as policy guidelines.111 Here it is argued that Hitler’s worldview indicated the goals of his actions, albeit in very general terms, and offered guidelines of sorts for concrete short-term political initiatives. Its anti-Jewish themes, presented in clusters of obsessive ideas and images, had the internal coherence of obsessions, particularly of the paranoid kind. By definition there are no loopholes in such systems. Moreover, although Hitler’s worldview was entirely geared toward political propaganda and political action, it was no less the expression of a fanatical belief. The combination of total belief and a craving for mass mobilization and radical action led naturally to the presentation of the worldview in simple and constantly repeated propositions, whose proof was offered not by means of intellectual constructs but by those of additional apodictic declarations reinforced by a constant stream of violent images and emotionally loaded metaphors. Whether these anti-Jewish statements were original or merely the rehashing of earlier and current anti-Semitic themes (which indeed they were) is basically irrelevant, as their impact stemmed from Hitler’s personal tone and from his own individual style of presenting his metapolitical and political beliefs.

Does this mean that Hitler’s anti-Jewish obsessions ought to be analyzed in terms of individual pathology? It is a lead that has often been followed;112 it will not be taken up here. Suffice it to say that any such interpretation usually appears to be highly speculative and often reductive. Moreover, similar anti-Jewish images, similar threats, a similar readiness for violence were shared from the outset by hundreds of thousands of Germans belonging to the extreme right and later to the radical wing of the Nazi Party. If “pathology” there was, it was shared. Rather than an individual structure, we must face the social pathology of sects. It is unusual, however, for a sect to become a modern political party, and it is even more unusual for its leader and his followers to keep to their original fanaticism once they have acceded to power. This, nonetheless, was the unlikely course of things. And this road, which was to lead to domains of unfathomable human behavior, has a well-documented starting point lying in the full light of history: the ranks of a small extremist party in postwar Bavaria, which, after the failure of its 1923 putsch attempt, seemed doomed to oblivion in the German Republic’s new atmosphere of increased political stability.

Hitler relentlessly repeated a story of perdition caused by the Jew, and of redemption by a total victory over the Jew. For the future Führer, the Jew’s ominous endeavors were an all-encompassing conspiratorial activity extending throughout the span of Western history. The structure of Hitler’s tale was not only inherent in its explicit content; it was also the essence of the implicit message the story conveyed. Despite the pretense of a historical analysis, the Jew, in Hitler’s description, was dehistoricized and transformed into an abstract principle of evil that confronted a no less metahistorical counterpart just as immutable in its nature and role throughout time—the Aryan race. Whereas Marxism stressed the conflict of changing historical forces, Nazism and particularly Hitler’s worldview, considered history as the confrontation of an immutable good and an immutable evil. The outcome could only be envisioned in religious terms: perdition or redemption.

There was another level to Hitler’s vision of the Jewish enemy: The Jew was both a superhuman force driving the peoples of the world to perdition and a subhuman cause of infection, disintegration, and death. The first image, that of the superhuman force, raises a question left unanswered both in Mein Kampf and in Hitler’s speeches: Why did the people of the world offer no resistance, why for centuries had they been driven to ruin by the machinations of the Jew without offering any effective resistance? This question will arise strongly many years later, in connection with Hitler’s Reichstag speech of January 30, 1939, when he “prophesied” the extermination of the Jews if they were again to drive the European peoples into a war. How was it that the nations of the world were unable to withstand these machinations?

Implicit in this vision is a stupefied, hypnotized mass of peoples completely at the mercy of the Jewish conspiracy. They are the hapless cattle killed by sneering Jewish ritual slaughterers in the final scenes of The Eternal Jew, the film whose production was initiated and overseen by Goebbels in 1939–40. But, as Hitler profusely showed in Mein Kampf, the image of superhuman control typically gives way to the second one, subhuman threats of contamination, microbial infection, spreading pestilence. These are the swarms of germ-carrying rats that will later appear in one of the most repellent scenes of The Eternal Jew. Images of superhuman power and subhuman pestilence are contrary representations, but Hitler attributed both to one and the same being, as if an endlessly changing and endlessly mimetic force had launched a constantly shifting offensive against humanity.

Many of the images, not only in Hitler’s vision of the Jew but also in Nazi anti-Semitism generally, seem to converge in such constant transformations. These images are the undistorted echo of past representations of the Jew as endlessly changing and endlessly the same, a living dead, either a ghostly wanderer or a ghostly ghetto inhabitant. Thus the all-pervasive Jewish threat becomes in fact formless and unrepresentable; as such it leads to the most frightening phantasm of all: a threat that looms everywhere, that, although it penetrates everything, is an invisible carrier of death, like poison gas spreading over the battlefields of the Great War.

The last major written expression of Hitler’s anti-Jewish obsession was the second volume of Mein Kampf, published in 1927. Another book by Hitler, completed in 1928, remained in manuscript form:113 It was politically safer not to disclose the violence of the Führer’s views, mainly on international affairs, as he was now donning the garb of a statesman. In his speeches, however, Hitler was less restrained.

In an article of November 5, 1925, headlined HITLER IN BRAUNSCHWEIG, the Braunschweigische Landeszeitung reported a speech delivered by the Nazi leader at a party meeting in the city’s concert hall. After mentioning some of the themes of the speech, the story noted that “Hitler dealt with the Jews in well-known form and the usual fashion. One knows what the National Socialists have to say against these citizens, and therefore we may spare ourselves reporting how Hitler held forth on this theme.”114

The writer of the article could not have put it more concisely or more truthfully. A similar remark appeared in the Mecklenburger Nachrichten’s account, on May 5, 1926, of a Hitler speech in Schwerin two days earlier.115 The hail of insults and threats against the Jews was, if at all, even more massive than in the past. At this time hardly any of Hitler’s speeches lacks the kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric established in the early speeches and in Mein Kampf. It is as if the failure of the 1923 putsch, as if imprisonment and the temporary disbandment of the Nazi Party, had led to a heightened fury, or as if the needs of political agitation demanded the most aggressive and repetitive slogans that could possibly be mustered. The stock-market Jews and Jewish international capital were brandished side by side with bloodthirsty Jewish revolutionaries; the themes of Jewish race defilement and a Jewish conspiracy to control the world were fed to the delirious party faithful with the same instantaneous effect. In order to hammer home his attacks, Hitler used every rhetorical device, even the rather unusual method of telling well-known Jewish jokes in order to illustrate the perversity of the Jewish soul.116

Yet, even in the aftermath of his imprisonment in Landsberg, whenever political expedience dictated caution in the use of gross anti-Jewish outbursts, Hitler knew how to avoid the topic. When, on February 28, 1926, he spoke to the Hamburg National Club of 1919, a conservativenationalist association whose generally upper-class membership included a number of former high-ranking officers, the Nazi leader simply avoided reference to the Jews.117 One is reminded of the “detachment” of his later speech to the Association of German Industrialists in Düsseldorf. But what drove Hitler was his anti-Jewish hatred, and it was the calculated restraint that demanded effort. For Hitler the struggle against the Jews was the immutable basis and obsessional core of his understanding of history, politics, and political action.

Sometimes the anti-Jewish stance was rephrased in unexpected terms. Thus, according to a police report, Hitler declared in a speech in Munich on December 18, 1926, that “Christmas was significant precisely for National-Socialists, as Christ had been the greatest precursor in the struggle against the Jewish world enemy. Christ had not been the apostle of peace that the Church had afterward made of him, but rather was the greatest fighting personality that had ever lived. For millennia the teaching of Christ had been fundamental in the fight against the Jew as the enemy of humanity. The task that Christ had started, he [Hitler] would fulfill. National Socialism was nothing but a practical fulfillment of the teachings of Christ.”118

Hitler’s speeches during the decisive year 1932 have not yet been published as this book goes to press, but most of the diatribes of the years 1927–31 are now available:119 In them anti-Semitic hatred remained prominent. Sometimes, as in Hitler’s ferocious polemic against the Bavarian People’s Party (Bayerische Volkspartei, or BVP) in the Munich speech of February 29, 1928, not very long before the May national elections, the agitator’s venom of the early twenties was back in full force, with the Jews as the central issue because the BVP had rejected anti-Semitism. The themes were the same; the rhetorical devices were the same; the delirious reactions of the crowd were the same: Speaker and audience were thirsting for violence—against the same people, the Jews.120

In the 1928 Reichstag elections, the Nazis received only 2.6 percent of the vote (6.1 percent in Bavaria, 10.7 percent in Munich): The break-through was yet to come. Anti-Jewish agitation continued. “We see,” Hitler exclaimed in his speech of August 31, 1928, “that in Germany, Judaization progresses in literature, the theater, music, and film; that our medical world is Judaized, and the world of our lawyers too; that in our universities ever more Jews come to the fore. I am not astonished when a proletarian says: ‘What do I care?’ But it is astonishing that in the national bourgeois camp there are people who say: ‘This is of no interest to us, we don’t understand this anti-Semitism.’ They will understand it when their children toil under the whip of Jewish overseers.[italics in the original]”121

After the stunning success of the NSDAP in the September 1930 elections, and during the almost two and a half years that followed until Hitler acceded to the chancellorship, the Jewish theme indeed became less frequent in his rhetoric, but it did not disappear. And when Hitler did refer to the Jews, as, for example, in a speech on June 25, 1931, the reference carried all the dire predictions of former years. In the first part of that speech, Hitler described how the Jews had destroyed the Germanic leadership in Russia and taken control of the country. In other nations the same process was developing under the cover of democracy. But the finale was more direct and more threatening: “The parties of the middle say: everything is collapsing; we declare: what you see as collapse is the beginning of a new era. There is but one question about this new era: will it come from the German people…or will this era sink toward another people? Will the Jew really become master of the world, will he organize its life, will he in the future dominate the nations? This is the great question that will be decided, one way or the other.”122

For external consumption Hitler sounded far less apocalyptic, far more moderate. In an interview given to the London Times in mid-October 1930, he assured the correspondent that he was not to be linked to any pogroms. He merely wanted “Germany for the Germans”; his party did not object to “decent Jews,” but if the Jews identified with Bolshevism—and many unfortunately were inclined to do so—he would consider them enemies.123 Incidentally, in articles published at the same time, Hitler expressed his conviction that recurring reports about the growth of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and interpretations of the conflict between Stalin and Trotsky as a struggle between an anti-Semite and a Jew were unfounded and farcical: “Stalin does not have to be circumcised, but ninetenths of his associates are authentic Hebrews. His actions only continue the complete uprooting of the Russian people with the aim of its total subjugation to the Jewish dictatorship.”124

Whatever Hitler may have been writing about the Jewish dictatorship in the Soviet Union, in Germany some people were taken in by the apparent ideological change expressed in the Times interview. On October 18, 1930, Arthur Mahraun, himself no philo-Semite and the leader of the conservative Jungdeutscher Order, the youth movement of the newly formed Deutsche Staatspartei (German State Party), wrote in his organization’s periodical: “Adolf Hitler has abandoned anti-Semitism; this much one can now say with certainty. But officially [he has done so] for the moment only vis-à-vis foreign representatives and above all for the consumption of the jobbers in the City and Wall Street. At home, however, National Socialist supporters continue to be taken for a ride with anti-Semitic slogans.”125 Was Mahraun really fooled by Hitler’s tactical pronouncements?

Hitler’s partial restraint at this time was more than made up for by his subordinates.126 The prime example was the new Berlin Gauleiter, Joseph Goebbels, and his weekly (later daily), Der Angriff (The attack), a paper certainly worthy of its name: it was ruthless and relentless against its main target, the Jews. As the symbol of the Jews’ evil machinations and misuse of power, Goebbels chose Dr. Bernhard Weiss, vice president of the Berlin police, whom the Gauleiter dubbed “Isidor.” Dozens of anti-Isidor articles appeared from May 1927 (when the police temporarily banned the Nazi Party in Berlin) to the eve of the seizure of power; the articles were given extra punch by Hans Schweitzer’s (pen name: “Mjölnir”) cartoons. A book of the earliest of these articles by Goebbels, along with the cartoons, was published in 1928 as Das Buch Isidor (The Isidor book).127

On April 15, 1929, Der Angriff turned its attention to a young boy’s unexplained death in the vicinity of Bamberg. Goebbels’s paper stated that a conclusion could be reached if “one were to ask which existing ‘religious community in Germany has already been under suspicion for hundreds of years for containing fanatics who use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes.”128 A Berlin court dismissed the slander charge that was brought against Der Angriff by arguing that Goebbels’s paper had not stated that the Jewish community as such encouraged murder and that putting quotation marks around “religious community” meant merely that the author of the article was not certain that the Jews were a religious community.129 Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda continued without respite throughout the decisive months preceding Hitler’s accession to power.130


On November 19, 1930, the Hebrew-language theater Habimah presented S. Anski’s The Dybbuk in the Würzburg municipal theater. A group of Nazis in the crowd tried, without success, to stop the performance. As it was leaving the theater, the predominantly Jewish audience was attacked by the Nazis and several Jews were seriously wounded. When the assailants were taken to court, the judge dismissed the charges, arguing that “the demonstrators did not act from base motives.”131 The Würzburg mayor explained that the police had not intervened because they were certain that the demonstration had “merely” aimed at preventing a show.132 Although physical assaults of this kind were infrequent during the Weimar years, a pogrom-like anti-Jewish rampage that started in Berlin’s Scheunenviertel district on November 5, 1923, went on for several days.133

Although there is no straight line between these developments and the events that followed 1933, the trends described here are part of a historically relevant background. Nonetheless, this focus on anti-Semitism should not lead to a skewed perception of the German scene—and particularly of the situation of the Jews in Germany—before 1933. The Jewish influence perceived by the anti-Semites was mythical, but for the great majority of Jews in Germany the Weimar Republic opened the way to social advancement and, indeed, to a greater role in German life. The growth of anti-Semitism was real, but so—for a time at least—was a powerful renaissance of Jewish culture in Germany134 and, until the onset of the crisis in 1929–30, a wide acceptance of Jews among the liberal and left-wing sectors of German society. On the right, however, anti-Semitism spread unabated, and during the final phase of the republic, it caught on beyond the reaches of the radical, and even the traditional, Right.

No political group shared the rabid anti-Jewish positions of the Nazis, but even during the years of stabilization, between 1924 and 1929, extreme anti-Semitic themes were not uncommon in the political propaganda of the nationalist camp, particularly in that of the German National People’s Party (DNVP), whose völkisch wing was particularly vehement. At the end of 1922, the most extreme of the anti-Semitic DNVP Reichstag members, Wilhelm Henning, Reinhold Wulle, and Albrecht von Gräfe, left the party to establish their own political organization. But during the debates surrounding this secession, Oskar Hergt, one of the leaders of the DNVP and the former finance minister of Prussia, nonetheless reaffirmed that anti-Semitism remained a fundamental political commitment of the party.135 For the French journalist Henri Béraud, who himself was to become an extreme anti-Semite in the 1930s, the German right’s Jew-hatred seemed completely out of control. “We have no idea in France,” Béraud wrote in a report from Berlin in 1926, “of what the anti-Semitism of German reactionaries can be. It is neither an opinion nor a feeling, nor even a physical reaction. It is a passion, a real obsession of addicts which can go as far as crime.”136

In 1924, the bankruptcy of the brothers Heinrich and Julius Barmat, two Polish Jews who had settled in Germany in 1918, led to a full-scale right-wing anti-Semitic and anti-Republic onslaught. The Barmat brothers were accused of having received loans from the state-sponsored postal savings bank in return for various financial favors to Social Democratic politicians. Given the political ramifications of the affair, the right-wing parties succeeded in setting up an investigation committee that led to the resignation and indictment of several ministers and Reichstag members. But the main target of the right-wing campaign was President Friedrich Ebert, who was accused of having helped the Barmats to obtain a permanent residence permit and even of having dabbled in their food import transactions during the immediate postwar years.137 There was a similar situation, on a smaller scale, in 1929, with the bankruptcy of the Sklarek brothers.138 The main casualty this time was the mayor of Berlin, and the political consequence a contribution to the Nazi Party’s strong showing in that year’s local election.139

Political parties soon limited the number of their Jewish Reichstag members—with the exception of the Social Democrats, who retained approximately 10 percent Jewish membership on their Reichstag list to the very end. A telling illustration of the change of mood is to be found in the German Communist Party: In 1924 there were still six Jews among the party’s sixty-four Reichstag members; in 1932 not a single one remained.140 The Communists did not hesitate to use anti-Semitic slogans when such slogans were deemed effective among potential voters.141

The most significant political expression of the general climate of opinion was the transformation of the German Democratic Party (DDP), which had often been dubbed the “Jewish Party” because of the prominence of Jews among its founders, the large number of Jews among its voters, and, for a while at least, its espousal of themes identified with the positions of the “Jewish press.”142 In the January 1919 elections, the DDP obtained 18.5 percent of the vote, which made it the most successful of the middle-class liberal parties.143 That success did not last. Gustav Stresemann’s DVP kept attacking the competing DDP as “Jewish,” and, as a result, the DDP steadily declined. Within the party itself, personalities associated with the “liberal” right were openly critical of the party’s identification with Jewish voters and influence.144 In 1930 the DDP as such disappeared, to be replaced by the Deutsche Staatspartei (German State Party). This group’s leadership became mostly Protestant and some of its components, such as the youth movement Jungdeutscher Orden, did not admit Jews. The DDP’s voters had been the pro-Weimar liberal middle classes; the change in party name and policy reflect what were perceived, within these middle-class liberal circles, as electorally useful attitudes regarding the “Jewish problem.”

However, neither the “de-Judaization” represented by the Staatspartei nor the hostility of the DVP was of any avail to these parties. Whereas in the elections of 1928 the DDP obtained twenty-five seats and the DVP forty-five, and in those of 1930 the DDP still gained twenty seats and the DVP thirty, in the elections of July 1932, the DDP was reduced to four seats and the DVP to seven.145 The decline of the liberal parties during the Weimar Republic has been thoroughly analyzed, and the social transformation that underlay it starkly defined.146 In terms of the changing situation of the Jews of Germany, it meant that their main political basis (apart from the Social Democrats) had simply disappeared.

The “pernicious” influence of Jews on German culture was the most common theme of Weimar anti-Semitism. On this terrain, the conservative German bourgeoisie, the traditional academic world, the majority of opinion in the provinces—in short, all those who “felt German”—came together with the more radical anti-Semites.

The role of Jews in Weimar culture—in modern German culture in general—has been most extensively discussed, and, as we have seen, this theme was not only on the minds of anti-Semites, but often a source of preoccupation for Jews themselves, at least for some of them. In his first book on the subject, the historian Peter Gay showed what role the former “outsider” (mainly the Jew) played in the German culture of the 1920s;147 later he reversed his position, arguing that, objectively, there was nothing to distinguish Jewish from non-Jewish contributions to German culture and that, as far as cultural modernism in particular is concerned, the Jews were neither more nor less “modern” than their German environment.148

Such downplaying of the Jewish dimension may well miss part of the context that provided the anti-Semitic ranters of the twenties with their ammunition.149 The situation described, for example, in Istvan Deak’s study of “Weimar’s left-wing intellectuals” seems closer both to reality and to what the general perception was. After surveying the dominant influence of Jews in the press, book publishing, theater, and film, Deak turns to art and literature: “Many of Germany’s best composers, musicians, artists, sculptors and architects were Jews. Their participation in literary criticism and in literature was enormous: practically all the great critics and many novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists of Weimar Germany were Jews. A recent American study has shown that thirty-one of the sixty-five leading German ‘expressionists’ and ‘neo-objectivists’ were Jews.”150Deak’s presentation in turn demands some nuancing, as, after all, the cultural scene in the twenties was dominated by such figures as Thomas Mann, Gerhart Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Strauss, Walter Gropius; but undoubtedly, in the minds of the middle-class public, be it of the extreme or the moderate right, anything “daring,” “modern,” or “shocking” was identified with the Jews. Thus, when shortly after (the entirely non-Jewish) Frank Wedekind’s death, his “sexually explicit” Schloss Wetterstein was staged in Munich (December 1919), the political right did not hesitate to call it Jewish garbage. The police warned that performance of the play would lead to a pogrom,151 and, sure enough, during the last performance Jews and people who “looked Jewish” in the audience were beaten up.152 As a police report put it: “One can easily understand that a German who still feels German to some degree and who is not morally and ethically perverted looks with greatest disgust upon the public enjoyment of Wedekind plays.”153 Jewish writers and artists may not have been any more extreme modernists than their non-Jewish colleagues, but modernism as such flourished in a culture in which the Jews played a central role. For those who considered modernism the rejection of all hallowed values and norms, the Jews were the carriers of a massive threat.

More ominous, however, than cultural modernity was left-wing culture in all its aspects. Within months of the end of the war, Jewish revolutionaries were easy targets of the counterrevolution. After Rathenau’s murder no Jew (with the exception of the Socialist finance minister Rudolf Hilferding) played any significant role in Weimar politics. On the other hand, left-wing political, social, and cultural criticism and innovation were often “Jewish.” “If cultural contributions by Jews were far out of proportion to their numerical strength,” Deak writes, “their participation in left-wing intellectual activities was even more disproportionate. Apart from orthodox Communist literature where there were a majority of non-Jews, Jews were responsible for a great part of the leftist literature in Germany. [The periodical] Die Weltbühne was in this respect not unique; Jews published, edited, and to a great part wrote the other left-wing intellectual magazines. Jews played a decisive role in the pacifist and feminist movements, and in the campaigns for sexual enlightenment.”154

Polemics regarding the role of Jews on the cultural scene raged and became more virulent as the Nazi movement grew in strength and as the republic approached its end. One of the most extreme forums of the Right was the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg’s Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (Fighting League for German Culture), established in 1928; it achieved wide influence by opening its ranks to a variety of antirepublic, anti-Left, anti-Jewish elements—from members of the Bayreuth Circle to conservative Catholics like Othmar Spann, from fanatic anti-Semitic literary specialists like Adolf Bartels to Alfred Heuss, publisher of the Zeitschrift für Musik. But sometimes the debates took place in more neutral contexts or were even initiated by Jewish organizations. Thus, in 1930, Max Naumann’s Association of National German Jews invited the right-wing literary critic Paul Fechter to lecture on “The Art Scene and the Jewish Question.” Fechter did not mince words. He warned his listeners that the “anti-Germanism” of left-wing Jewish intellectuals was a major source of rising anti-Semitism and that the Germans would not tolerate for long the continuation of this state of things. National Jews and national Germans, Fechter suggested, should act in common to oppose such anti-national Jewish intellectual attacks. In a more roundabout way, he hinted at the excessive presence of Jews in German art, literature, and theater. This, too, although unsaid, could be understood as a source of growing anti-Jewish feelings: “I feel obliged to express,” declared Fechter, “that a great number of German authors, painters, playwrights go around today with the feeling that it is much more difficult to find a place in German theaters, on the German book market, in the German art business, for things German than for others.”155

Fechter’s lecture was published in the January 1931 issue of Rudolf Pechel’s Deutsche Rundschau, with the following editorial comment: “We reproduce [the lecture] as it indicates one of the sources of the dangerous growth of anti-Semitism clearly confirmed during the second half of 1930 and as it indicates some ways that still may allow us to counter this danger.”156 A bitter debate followed. It is in this context that the novelist Jakob Wassermann, whose autobiographical essay, “My Way as German and Jew,” was possibly the strongest expression of the anguish German Jews felt in the face of the growing tide of anti-Semitism, addressed his question to Rudolf Pechel: “Do the rules of good behavior help against ‘Perish, Jew!’?”157

One of the more remarkable Jewish contributions to the debate was that of Arthur Prinz, published in the periodical’s April 1931 issue under the title “Toward Eliminating the Poison from the Jewish Question.” After asking why radical Jewish journalists and literati could provoke such furious anti-Semitic rage in Germany, Prinz ventured an answer that probed deeply into the relations between Germans and Jews: “That sort of journalism and literature would be impossible without that deep and old insufficiency of a healthy state and national feeling in Germany, which threatens to become fatal since the sad outcome of the war and can certainly not be ‘compensated for’ by the excessive nationalism of the extreme right. The agitation of rootless Jews is poison in a body particularly receptive to it, and precisely this is the main reason for boundless anti-Jewish hatred.”158

When one turns to the wider reaches of German society as it approached the political turning point of 1933, there is no way of assessing clearly the strength of its anti-Jewish attitudes. For example, the League of Jewish Women (Jüdischer Frauenbund) found its allies in the much larger Federation of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, or BDF) in their common struggles on feminist issues, but any indication of Jewish identity was not more acceptable to the German women’s organization than it was to the surrounding society. In the words of a historian of the league, the attiudes in the BDF “ranged from liberal impatience with Jewish distinctiveness to covert or overt anti-Semitism.”159 As for the nature of this anti-Semitism, one of its most nuanced evaluations remains the most plausible: “More common and widespread than outright hatred or sympathy for the Jews was…moderate anti-Semitism, that vague sense of unease about Jews that stopped far short of wanting to harm them but that may have helped to neutralize whatever aversion Germans might otherwise have felt for the Nazis.”160

In early August 1932 Hitler was negotiating with the consummate schemer and not yet the short-lived last chancellor of the Weimar Republic (November 1932-January 30, 1933) Gen. Kurt von Schleicher, at the time still a close confidant of President Hindenburg, the conditions for his being named to the chancellorship. On the tenth of that month, five SA men forced their way into the home of Konrad Pieczuch, a pro-Communist worker in the small town of Potempa in Upper Silesia, and trampled him to death. “Such brutality once again put a serious obstacle on the path of the Nazi march to power.”161 Hitler had apparently believed that the top position would now be offered to him; what Hindenburg proposed when they finally met was a mere vice-chancellorship. The meeting had been cool, and the official communiqué dismissive of the Nazi leader. Hitler was utterly humiliated and furious. It was exactly then, on August 22, that the court in Beuthen sentenced the five SA men to death. The announcement of the verdict led to tumultuous scenes in the courtroom; outside, Jewish and “socialist” shops were attacked. Hitler reacted with an outburst of rage. He wired the convicted murderers: “My comrades! In view of this incredible criminal verdict I feel myself tied to you in unlimited fidelity. From this moment on, your freedom is our honor, the fight against a government under which such a thing was possible, our duty.”162

THE JEWS ARE GUILTY! Goebbels thundered in Der Angriff: “The Jews are guilty, the punishment is coming…. The hour will strike when the state prosecutor will have other tasks to fulfill than to protect the traitors to the people from the anger of the people. Forget it never, comrades! Tell it to yourself a hundred times a day, so that it may follow you in your deepest dreams: the Jews are guilty! And they will not escape the punishment they deserve.”163

In a moment of sheer frustration, Hitler had abandoned his carefully constructed facade of respectability and given vent to relentless and murderous rage. Nonetheless, during those same weeks of the summer and fall of 1932, Hitler continued to oppose the use of force for toppling the regime and went on negotiating and maneuvering in order to reach his goal.164 What emerges here with uncanny clarity is a personality in which cold calculation and blind fury coexisted and could find almost simultaneous expression. If a third ingredient—Hitler’s ideological fanaticism—is added, an insight into the psychological makeup that led to the Nazi leader’s most crucial decisions may be possible, also with regard to the Jews.

Ideological fanaticism and pragmatic calculation constantly interacted in Hitler’s decisions. The ideological obsession was unwavering, but tactical considerations were no less compelling. Sometimes, however, the third element, uncontrolled fury, would burst into the open—triggered by some obstacle, some threat, some defeat—sweeping away all practical considerations. Then, fed by the torrent of ideological fanaticism, the murderous fury would explode in an unlimited urge for destruction and death.

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