To the Editor:
How assimilated were the German Jews? Opinions on the subject have varied widely, both among Jews and Gentiles, creating a strange set of alliances in their respective interpretations. Zionists and German nationalists alike believe—albeit for very different reasons—that the Jews had not become fully assimilated, or were indeed incapable of full integration. The parties of the Left and the liberals (ranging all the way from the German Communist party to the German Democratic party) took a more or less assimilationist position, though again from strikingly different perspectives. Jacob Katz, in his scholarly article, “German Culture and the Jews” [February], sides with those who believe that the Jews were not fully integrated into German society, but existed “as a separate subgroup, which happened to conform to the German middle class in certain of its characteristics.” His thesis derives support from a vast body of scholarly literature that stresses the peculiar features of Jewish life and thought in Germany, and also from the knowledge of hindsight, the knowledge of German Jewry’s grim fate after Hitler’s seizure of power.
Generalizations of course are difficult to make. German society was always sharply divided. Class divisions were immense, and so were regional divisions. A great Mecklenburg landowner had nothing in common with his laborers. The daughter of a Lübeck merchant married to a Bavarian Catholic found herself in an almost alien society (as humorously recorded in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks). The Jews were equally divided. An Orthodox cattle trader from Upper Hesse stood worlds apart from an industrial magnate like Walter Rathenau. A Jewish cabinet maker, say, from a working-class district of Berlin, a loyal Social Democrat, shared nothing with a man like Walter von Mossner, a Jewish-descended cavalry general and, at one time, governor of Strassburg.
The fashion and chronology of Jewish acculturation differed widely. Historians have paid much attention to its intellectual aspects. But there were others. Rolf Vogel in Ein Stück von Uns: deutsche Juden in den deutschen Heeren, 1813-1976 (“A Part of Us: German Jews in the German Army, 1813-1976”) tells a fascinating story of the Jewish wife of a Jewish sergeant-major in the Prussian army during the Napoleonic wars. Her husband joined the colors; she also enlisted, served with distinction in combat, and rose to the rank of sergeant-major. She had clearly become integrated into her particular society.
There were equally striking differences in local attitudes. Rhenish cities such as Mainz had a longstanding tradition of relative tolerance (as borne out, say, by the reminiscences of Ludwig Bamberger concerning his childhood in the 19th century). He would probably have experienced more hostility had he been brought up in a little town in Franconia. But overall, the Jews were far more effectively integrated than Mr. Katz assumes. The great bulk of non-Jewish Germans may or may not have liked their Jewish compatriots. But German opinion as a whole did not simply regard the Jews as members of a foreign ethnic community, on a par with Danes in Schleswig, Poles in Upper Silesia, or (in the pre-World War I period) French-speakers in Alsace-Lorraine. Even a Nazi apologist like Heinrich Schnee, a former German colonial governor, argued—to the Jews’ disadvantage—before the League of Nations that the League had no right to meddle with the Jewish question in Upper Silesia on the grounds that the Jews did not form a separate national group.
In a sense, Schnee was right. The Jews, for instance, frequently intermarried. (According to the standard Philo-Lexikon [1937 edition], the total number of mixed marriages in the 19th and 20th centuries was estimated at 720,000; of these, 653,000 were contracted between 1895 and 1932.) By 1933, something like one-third of the total of Jewish marriages were mixed. Some of these unions provided a means of raising the Jewish partner in the social sphere (for example, when a banker’s daughter provided a financial dowry to better the financial fortunes of an impoverished Pomeranian nobleman). But the great majority of such marriages took place among people of similar educational and occupational background. In the 19th century already a Jewish court musician in the Grand Duchy of Hesse might marry, say, the daughter of a Christian music publisher; the daughter of a Lutheran pastor would wed a Jewish newspaper editor like Fried-rich Dernburg, father of Bernhard Dernburg, a reformist colonial secretary in the Wilhelmian era. Lower on the social ladder, a Jewish Social Democratic cabinet maker might welcome as a son-in-law a fellow Social Democrat of Lutheran provenance, on the grounds that the suitor was a good party comrade who would not get drunk, chase women of ill repute, or beat his wife.
The conventional image of the German Jew has been distorted in two separate ways: by excessive emphasis on “alienation,” now a literary cult word, and by excessive stress on the work of a small number of Jewish psychiatrists, sociologists, and men of letters who were quite unrepresentative of the bulk of German Jews. The radical intellectuals of the Weimar period felt themselves alienated from their own society. They also saw themselves as an enlightened vanguard chosen by destiny to guide the backward masses, if not in a political, then at least in a cultural, sense. Alienated leftist intellectuals share both these characteristics today. Weimar culture provides them in part with an ascribed historical lineage, and helps to explain contemporary interest in the leftist traditions of Weimar and the Kaiserreich. This has led to the neglect of what might be called “muscular Judaism” in Germany. Hence the work of a Jewish colonial administrator in East Africa before World War I, or the exploits of a World War I Jewish air ace like Wilhelm Frankl, go unmentioned in most contemporary literature. (The former was honored, oddly enough, in a postage stamp issued by the Nazis, and only withdrawn when they caught on to his Jewish origin.) . . .
The great majority of German Jews of course had no knowledge of those alienated Jewish intellectuals who have since become widely accepted as representative of German Jewry. The average Jewish businessman or lawyer was not concerned with Freud or Adler. He had never heard of those Jewish scholars prominent, say, in the Frankfurt school of sociology, whose writings have now attained such prominence. In 1933, no more than 12.5 percent of German Jews made their living in the public services or the professions—most of them in a quite modest capacity, as provincial lawyers, general medical practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, and the like. Nearly one-quarter (23.1 percent) were artisans or industrial workers. Many (61.3 percent) were employed in commerce—a large percentage of them as owners of small stores or as commercial travelers, accountants, bookkeepers; industrial magnates and bankers formed but a small percentage.
Overall, these Jewish businessmen—small or large—had a bad press, not merely from anti-Semites, but also from Jewish publicists. Zionists deplored the Jews’ preoccupation with commerce, and called for a “healthier” form of occupational stratification. Radicals, from Karl Marx to Kurt Tucholsky, jeered at the merchants as Philistines and humbugs, or caricatured them. . . .
Yet this Jewish bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie deserved a better hearing than they usually got. . . . Whereas Tucholsky and his friends uncomprehendingly labored to undermine the Weimar republic, the merchants had a better understanding of Germany’s real needs in supporting Weimar. The majority of German Jews mostly voted for moderate bourgeois parties (especially the German Democratic party). Progressive folklore concerning the merchants’ alleged philistinism notwithstanding, they supported the arts, including modern art. . . . They filled their library shelves with the German classics. . . . They continued to maintain the values of the German Enlightenment, a perfectly legitimate German tradition.
How far were they integrated as individuals into their respective local communities through associations such as the Liedertafel (glee club), the Turnverein (athletic association), the veterans’ league, or the conventional Stammtisch in the local pub? Clearly, conditions differed widely. Anti-Semitism was certainly a social force. But I suspect that there was less alienation among the rank and file of German Jews than among those intellectuals who have since shaped the image of the German Jews.
What of the ultimate objection—that the terrors of Nazism disprove the reality of cultural assimilation? Was not the destruction of German Jewry preordained by history itself? I do not think so. It is far from certain that all the roads of German history inevitably led to the Third Reich. It is at least conceivable that, given slightly different circumstances, the Republic might have survived in some shape or other. Anti-Semitism, the point bears repeating, was certainly a powerful force. But it did not spring so much from hatred against the real and known Jews in the same village or in the same town. Anti-Semitism, as elaborated by the Nazis, derived from an ideological construct that underpinned the Nazis’ Manichean world view, providing a legitimation for bureaucratic terror and its salaried proponents and beneficiaries. The German Jewish victims of the Nazi terror were Jews certainly; but they were also Germans. Their disaster was both a Jewish and a German tragedy.
To the Editor:
For a long time now I have been puzzled by the paradox of seeing so many distinguished Jewish writers resurrecting and endorsing one of Hitler’s monstrous delusions—namely, that German Jews were not German. Jacob Katz’s article, “German Culture and the Jews,” is but the latest exhibit of what has become a stereotype compulsion.
Mr. Katz’s method of attempting to prove his thesis that German Jews were not really “assimilated” is one that can be used to prove that the moon is made of green cheese. He begins by reaffirming his assertion of “almost half a century ago” that Jews had not assimilated into “the German people,” but only into a certain layer of it, the newly emerged middle class. It boggles my mind to imagine how people who were engaged in trade, music, scholarship, cattle raising, and similar middle-class occupations could have become “assimilated” into any class other than the middle class. Why should this inevitable development have made Jews any less “assimilated” into “the German people,” apparently viewed by Mr. Katz, as it was by the Nazis, as some mythical monolithic entity, than if they had contributed their quota to ditch diggers and pickpockets?
Mr. Katz’s second proposition for proving his case is that German Jews “were more intensely involved in the cultivation of their Bildung [education] than were their Gentile counterparts. They were more avid readers of literature, they frequented theaters and concert halls in numbers far disproportionate to their presence in the population.” Quite apart from Mr. Katz’s having switched his statistical universe from the middle class to the “population,” this statistical contention, for which, we are told, “there are no statistical data,” would be irrelevant to his thesis, even if proved. The Swabian bourgeoisie, particularly the Protestant parsons’ families which formed part of it, contributed to German literature in numbers far disproportionate to their presence in the population. These parsons and their families read more books, went to more concerts, painted more pictures, filled more chairs at the universities, and showed more unusual responsiveness to Goethe and Schiller than their compatriots among Austrian customs officials in Linz or bricklayers in Mönchen-Gladbach. Yet I doubt that Mr. Katz would contend that these worthy divines were not assimilated into the German people.
In short, this line of argument is preposterous. But worse is to come. After having served us pop sociology and specious statistical reasoning, Mr. Katz bolsters his case with expert witnesses, who turn out to be two of the most psychopathic geniuses in the history of Western civilization: Richard Wagner and Karl Marx. Somehow or other—I must admit the logic of the argument escapes me—Wagner’s anti-Semitic pamphlet, Das Judentum in der Musik, and Karl Marx’s anti-Semitic writings are supposed to show that German culture rejected the stellar contributions of Jewish Germans. But all that Wagner’s and Marx’s lunatic effusions prove to ordinary people of common sense is that then, as now, anti-Semites plied their trade, including, like Karl Marx, Jewish anti-Semites. Then, as now, there were similar ravings against Roman Catholics; indeed, virulent anti-Catholicism (and anti-Freemasonism) was usually as much a stock-in-trade of “völkische” nuts, like General Ludendorff, as was anti-Semitism. Did that make Roman Catholic Germans less German or “unassimilated”?
An equally specious line of argument in Mr. Katz’s article is predicated on the erroneous assertion that German Jewish authors did not write about Jewish themes and characters. Having casually dismissed the counter-evidence of Heine’s Rabbi of Bacharach (“[a] potentiality not realized, or realized only in the most rudimentary form”), Mr. Katz rests that part of his case on a popular Jewish writer, Berthold Auerbach, who, we are told, transposed a story about the religious crisis of a Jewish theological student into one about a Catholic seminarian. “A forthright yeshiva setting . . . would have alienated the reading public.” How does Mr. Katz know? It is much more likely that Auerbach, whose first books were about Jewish characters, switched because those books were, to quote Hugo Bieber, “mediocre biographical romances, showing all the weaknesses and none of the virtues of this genre.” On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that Jewish themes did not alienate the German public. For instance, Salomon Hermann Mosenthal’s tragedy Deborah, about a Jewish girl growing up in a Catholic village, opened in Berlin in 1850 and was popular for more than a decade.
Mosenthal’s play also shows that it is simply not true that German Jewish writers did not write about Jewish life and Jewish characters. A prime counter-exhibit is Georg Hermann (1871-1943; he was murdered in Auschwitz), as good a popular novelist as Auerbach, whose delightful novels, Jettchen Gebert (1906) and Henriette Jacoby (1908), describe the life of the Jewish bourgeoisie in Biedermeier Berlin. There were countless others: Rahel Varnhagen’s brother Ludwig Robert (1780-1832), Fanny Lewald (1811-89), Leopold Kompert (1822-86), Edward Kulke (1831-97), and Karl Emil Franzos (1848-1904), who wrote tales about the ghetto; and later in the 19th and then in the 20th century, Arthur Schnitzler, Jakob Wasserman, Lion Feuchtwanger, Stefan Zweig, Arnold Zweig, Max Brod, and Richard Beer-Hofmann. . . . In reality most German Jewish writers at the outset and after emancipation neither “entirely avoided” Jewish themes nor limited themselves to them.
The final, and most astounding, of Mr. Katz’s assertions, for which he relies again on Richard Wagner as a star witness, is his endorsement of another Nazi delusion, namely, that Jews could not speak proper German, but spoke it with special Jewish accents and intonations. “Exaggerated though this assertion was,” Mr. Katz maintains, “it had some basis in reality” (emphasis added). A pity he did not know my grandmothers. Perhaps that acquaintance would have spared us this article.
Franz M. Oppenheimer
To the Editor:
Jacob Katz’s treatment of the interactions between Jews and German culture since the late 18th century is a refreshing change from some recent discussions of this subject. It steers clear of the pitfall of blind idolatry of German Jewish culture on the one hand, and, on the other, it avoids sneering at the pathetic self-delusions which characterized this once glorious and now defunct branch of Jewish culture.
A minor flaw in the article is the etymology of the German word, mauscheln, a verb which to Germans and to German Jews alike meant anything from speaking Yiddish to speaking German with a Jewish pronunciation or with a Jewish rhythm. Mr. Katz attributes the origin of this word to the Jewish name Moshe—to speak like Moshe. This is a plausible origin, which is cited in several German dictionaries. However, another etymology is possible. The related German noun, Mauschel, a derisive term for a Jew, is translated in older German-English dictionaries by the 18th-century English term smouch, meaning a Jew, a usurer. This in turn is derived from the Yiddish shmooz, talk, which derives from the Hebrew shemua, news, tidings. Thus this derogatory term for a Jew means nothing more than one who shmoozes, talks like a Jew, or, in German, mauschels.
It is ironic that in failing to recognize in this German word what may well be a literal borrowing from the Hebrew, Mr. Katz exemplifies one of the sad flaws of most German Jews, namely, their belief that the interactions between the two cultures were purely a one-way flow. Actually, German, like other European languages, has many adoptions from the Hebrew. Our enemies saw the matter more clearly. The Wagner circle, as Mr. Katz points out, as well as its more thorough followers in the 1930′s, never failed to complain about the evil of Jewish contamination of the purity of the German language and culture.
Brooklyn, New York
Jacob Katz writes:
L.H. Gann begins by asking “How assimilated were the German Jews”? The rest of his letter, if I understand him correctly, is an attempt to disprove my assertion that “the entry of Jewry as a collective into the body of German society . . . did not mean real integration.” Yet in my opinion nothing that he adduces contradicts my thesis; in fact, some of his observations even seem to support it.
That individual Jews succeeded in being not only culturally assimilated but accepted and absorbed into German society—and that their number even achieved statistical significance—does not alter the fact that those who remained within the fold, tied to their “clan” and community, stood out as a special subgroup. A subgroup does not signify a “foreign ethnic community” claiming minority status; the lack of a different national language would invalidate such a claim on the part of Jews. Yet other, perhaps less conspicuous but still visible peculiarities remained.
The one-sided occupational stratification of Jews is a case in point. Mr. Gann is mistaken when he says that it was the Zionists and possibly the radical socialists who “deplored the Jews’ preoccupation with commerce.” The weaning of Jewish youth from the traditional occupations of their parents was a constant theme of Jewish as well as Gentile promoters of emancipation. They wanted to see Jews spread out over the entire range of occupations, thus removing one of the most disturbing features of Jewish “anomalousness.” Economic and sociological factors of course militated against such a trend, and the endeavor ended in what I called (in the title of a chapter in my book, Out of the Ghetto) “The Futile Flight from Jewish Professions.”
Jewish peculiarities came to the fore in the very process of acculturation, and the main thrust of my article was to point out the overemphasis the Jews placed on cultural participation; paradoxically, this is what singled them out as a special subgroup. But there are other, even more subtle, phenomena of this kind, and Mr. Gann himself inadvertently provides a good example when he says that Jews “continued to maintain the values of the German Enlightenment, a perfectly legitimate German tradition.” It has often been observed that German Jews, for reasons of their own, continued to follow the ideas of the Enlightenment long after German society at large had already abandoned them—another indication of the incongruent development of the two groups.
Having no data, Mr. Gann speculates that “there was less alienation among the rank and file of German Jews than among those intellectuals who have since shaped the image of the German Jews,” and in this connection he brings up the issue of the integration of individuals into their “respective local communities through associations such as the Liedertafel (glee club)” and the like. Yet we do possess exact knowledge of what happened with one associational group, the Freemasons. In the 19th century many middle-class Germans belonged to local chapters of the Freemasons, and acculturated Jews naturally aspired to join as well. In my book Freemasons and Jews I was able to present a clear picture of how the Jews fared in their attempts to become Freemasons. In the first decades of the century, they were universally rejected; about mid-century, with the advancement of liberalism, they made steady headway; then, with the outbreak of anti-Semitism in the 1870′s, the tide was reversed, and most of the lodges once again became judenrein.
As to Mr. Gann’s last and most pertinent question, I am in full agreement that the Nazi terror does not disprove the reality of cultural assimilation. The German-Jewish catastrophe was not the preordained result of preceding events, but neither was it simply the handiwork of the Nazis alone. There must have been historical preconditions which, though not making the catastrophe inevitable, still permitted it to happen.
The work of a whole generation of scholars has by now gone into the effort to trace the antecedents of Nazism in the anti-Semitic period of the Second Reich. I myself side with those who predate the seeds of the catastrophe, tracing them to the deceptive auspices under which Jews entered German society at the time of the emancipation—a thesis to which I alluded in my article and which I have tried to substantiate in my book on the history of modern anti-Semitism, From Prejudice to Destruction.
As for the objections raised by Franz M. Oppenheimer, I respond to them only with great reluctance. Someone whose thinking does not go beyond the crude alternatives that either Hitler was right or one must declare German Jews to have been full-fledged Germans should not be party to complex historical discussions. Indeed, Mr. Oppenheimer is not even capable of reproducing correctly what he has read in my article, the logical faults of which he thinks he has detected. I started my essay by declaring that I had turned away from an earlier conclusion of mine, yet Mr. Oppenheimer says I begin by “reaffirming” it. I wrote that the practice of choosing Jewish themes for literary creation was avoided by writers of “the first generation of integration”; Mr. Oppenheimer comes up with a list of authors, all of whom belong to a later time. My statement about the residual Yiddish in Jewish speech again referred explicitly to the early generations, but Mr. Oppenheimer thinks I was talking about his grandmothers.
When it comes to his own view, Mr. Oppenheimer has a simple method—he declares the opponents of the Jews to have been lunatics and consoles himself that others besides Jews, including Catholics and Freemasons, were also victims of “völkische nuts.” Such arguments used to be the self-deceiving weapons of the extreme assimilationists in pre-Hitler Germany. That they should be resurrected in Washington, D.C. in our own day is indeed amazing.
I am glad to have an appreciative reader in Paul Haberfield, and hope that he represents the majority. I followed the standard dictionaries on the origin of the word “mauschel,” but being no linguist, I cannot say if Mr. Haberfield’s theory is valid. I fail to see, however, what difference it makes from the standpoint of cultural interaction, since the root is in any case a Hebrew word.