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German Jewry in the Weimar Republic (1918 - 1933 )

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Jews of the Weimar Replublic (1918 - 1933). A new era in the history of German Jewry began when Imperial Germany collapsed and was replaced by the democratic regime of the Weimar Republic. The outstanding feature of this period was the polarization between the unprecedented integration of the Jews in every sphere of life, and the growth of political anti-Semitism among various organizations and political parties.

Important achievements by Jews were recorded in the theater (Max Reinhardt), in music (Arnold Schönberg), in the visual arts (Max Liebermann), in philosophy (Herman Cohen) and in science (Albert Einstein). Among the Nobel prize winners in Germany up to 1938, 24 percent were Jews (nine Jews out of a total of thirty eight).

It was in political and public life, however, that the Jewish role was most prominent. Jews played an important role in the first cabinet formed after the 1918 revolution (Hugo Hasse and Otto Landesberg), the Weimar Constitution was drafted by a Jew (Hugo Pruess), and Jews were conspicuously present in the abortive attempts to create radical revolutionary regimes, especially in Bavaria.

The revolutionary government in Munich was headed by a Jewish intellectual, Kurt Eisner, and after his assassination, two other Jewish leaders, Gustav Landauer and Eugen Levine, assumed positions of major influence in the “Raterepublik” (“Soviet” Republic”). Rosa Luxemburg, who was also assassinated, was a leader of the revolutionary Spartakus- bund, which was one of the predecessors of the German Communist party.

In the following years as well, Jews held major political posts, primarily in the leadership of the democratic and socialist parties. The most prominent Jewish Political figure was Walther Rathenau, who served first as minister for economic affairs and then as foreign minister. Source

Jews constituted less than one percent of the population of Germany during the Weimar Republic, the period from the end of World War I to the rise of National Socialism. By 1900 the majority -- though by no means all -- of German Jews lived in big cities. Attempts to promote a sense of Jewish identity in Germany differed in important respects from Jewish associational life in eastern Europe. German Jews developed no trade unions and very few professional associations. Although many individual Jews enjoyed acclaim in the arts, cultural activities such as music and theater were only rarely organized under Jewish auspices.

The career profile of German Jews differed markedly from the general population. Historically prohibited from many professional endeavors, Jews were disproportionately represented in some areas of the economy, such as journalism, law, medicine, and retailing. Concentrated in a small number of professions (more often than not in urban areas), Jews were especially visible to the Weimar Republic’s often violent critics. Source

Weimar Culture

Weimar culture was a flourishing of the arts and sciences that happened during the Weimar Republic (between Germany's defeat at the end of World War I in 1918, and Hitler's rise to power in 1933).

This period is frequently cited as one of those with the highest level of intellectual production in human history; Germany was the country with the most advanced science, technology, literature, philosophy and art. 1920s Berlin was at the hectic center of the Weimar culture.

Although not part of the Weimar Republic, some authors also include the German-speaking Austria, and particularly Vienna, as part of Weimar culture.

A significant new development in Germany's intellectual environment happened in 1918, when the faculties of German universities became fully opened to prominent Jewish scholars for the first time. Leading Jewish intellectuals on university faculties included physicist Albert Einstein; sociologists Karl Mannheim, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse; philosophers Ernst Cassirer and Edmund Husserl; political theorists Arthur Rosenberg and Gustav Meyer; and many others. Nine German citizens were awarded Nobel prizes during the Weimar Republic, five of whom were Jewish scientists, including two in medicine. Jewish intellectuals and creative professionals were among the leading figures in many areas of Weimar culture.

With the rise of Nazism and the ascent to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933, many German intellectuals and cultural figures, both Jewish and non-Jewish, fled Germany for the United States, the United Kingdom, and other parts of the world. Those who remained behind were often arrested, or detained in concentration camps. Source

Weimar, Thuringia Germany

Weimar is a city in the federal state of Thuringia, Germany. It is located between Erfurt in the west and Jena in the east, (50 miles) southwest of Leipzig, (106 miles) north of Nuremberg and (106 miles) west of Dresden. Together with the neighbour-cities Erfurt and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia.

Weimar is well known because of its large cultural heritage and its importance in German history. The city was a focal point of the German Enlightenment and home of the leading characters of the literary genre of Weimar Classicism,

Weimar was the place where Germany's first democratic constitution was signed after the First World War, giving its name to the Weimar Republic period in German politics (1918–1933), as well as one of the cities that got mystified by the National Socialist propaganda. Next to the city was one of the largest Nazi concentration camps in Germany: Buchenwald.

German Jews & Weimar Culture

The ‘contributions’ of German Jews to Weimar culture have been the topic of numerous studies. During the era of the Weimar Republic, Germany became a center of intellectual thought at its universities. The fourteen years of the Weimar era were also marked by explosive intellectual productivity. German artists made significant cultural contributions in the fields of literature, art, architecture, music, dance, drama, and the new medium of the motion picture.

The nineteenth-century definition of Judaism as a religious denomination no longer reflected the way many Jews of Weimar Germany came to define their Jewishness. While many German Jews were eager to rediscover their lost Jewish heritage, very few were ready to retreat from German or European culture. The result was the invention of a new tradition of German Jewish culture, in the realms of Jewish scholarship, education, literature, music, and fine art.

A novel by Lion Feuchtwanger or Joseph Roth, a short story by Kafka, and a play by Arnold Zweig could well have contained a specific message to its Jewish audience, an expression here or there that was not comprehensible to a reader unfamiliar with Jewish traditions. But any German could read those works of literature, and in fact all of those authors were widely read by a non-Jewish audience.

The process of acculturation had begun in Germany much earlier. What we witness in the Weimar period was a return of those fallen Jews, who came from rather assimilated houses, where the removal from Jewish traditions had started three or four generations earlier.

Their fathers and grandfathers had already integrated – or acculturated – as individuals, as adherents of the German Social Democratic Party or as Liberals, as part of the urban middle class, as members of sports and cultural associations. Their children and grandchildren now founded specific Jewish sports and literary associations and a Jewish youth movement. In other words, the Jewish culture of Weimar Germany was to a large degree a culture of ‘post-assimilated’ Jews, those Jews whose families had undergone a process of assimilation and whose descendants felt now the need of a reversal of this process.

For example with the exclamation of Rosalie Perles, the widow of the rabbi in then German Koenigsberg and one of the most active women in German Jewish culture on the eve of WWI. While rabbis and Jewish community officials had complained for decades about the decline of Jewish knowledge and culture, Ms. Perles expressed the new tone that was discernible in public statements of German Jewish representatives during the first third of the twentieth century:

Let us imagine that our grandfathers – especially those who had . . . feared a gradual assimilation into the non-Jewish surroundings – would return to life and step in front of us. How amazed they would be by the thorough changes that their descendants underwent! How astonished they would be that the assimilation, which they had feared so much, did not occur, that instead exactly the opposite happened! . . . What would our grandfathers see today? The [Jews of] today proudly display their Judaism, no matter to which class or occupation they belong. . . . Our grandfathers would not have had to worry so much, had they seen this future while they were still alive.

As Michael Meyer has pointed out recently, the first Havurah was actually born in a small Berlin synagogue in the late 1920s. Many of the forms of Havurah life – its small size and intimacy, the active role of all its members in the service, and even the stronger participation of women – can be found in the Liberale Synagoge Norden, founded in 1923 in Berlin’ s Schönhauser Allee.

Weimar Germany witnessed a revival of Jewish school education, the beginnings of systematic Jewish adult education programmes, and a modest first step in terms of Jewish Studies courses at German universities.

In Weimar Germany, Franz Rosenzweig was in a way successful when he spoke, half jokingly, half seriously, of ‘smuggling’ Judaism into the general education so dear to the Jew. While this did not imply that the younger generation of Jews in Weimar Germany had more than a superficial knowledge of Jewish texts and the Hebrew language, it meant that they, in contrast to their parents and grandparents who were often ashamed of their remnants of traditional Judaism, now felt rather ashamed of knowing so little. There were, of course, more pessimistic voices in pre-Nazi Germany, predicting the demise of German Jewry. Source

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