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Jews (Weimar Germany #AtoZChallenge)

The Weimar Republic relation with Jews was contradictory at best. On the one hand, the republic was a first time of full citizenship for the German Jewish people, who became a driving force in the political and cultural life of Weimar. But on the other, it was during the republic’s time that Anti-Semitism rose to upsetting levels.

German Jews

It was after the Protestant Reform that Jews in the German-speaking countries started to acculturate into the respective nations, but it was only with the Enlightenment and the Napoleonic Rules that they started seeing real emancipatory progress. By mid-1800s, almost all European nations had met the demand for full Jewish emancipation. As the German Empire and a pan-German nation took form, German Jews started to identify themselves with German culture.

But in the wake of the stock market crash of 1873, the social climate changed dramatically. It was in Berlin, in the fall of 1879, that the term ‘Anti-Semitism’ emerged and the concept took up a distinct shape. It became a very recognizable and characterized social and political movement that reached out of the German Empire borders and spread all over Europe.

Bertolt Brecht

As the XX century opened, a new epochal changed occurred. Among the many dramatic changes WWI brought about, one was a new perception non-Jews had about the Jewish community.

German Jews had mostly acculturated, many had taken pride in being German. They considered their nationality and the language they spoke as part of their identity. When WWI broke out, they volunteered in the army in great numbers, happy for the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism.

But far from being an opportunity, the war became everyone’s doom. As it stretched over the months, circumstances worsened for the soldiers at the front as for the population behind ng it. In Germany, as the supply situation worsened on the homefront in 1915, Anti-Semitic agitation by right-wind extremists and völkisch organizations rose. The winter 1916-1917 (the ‘Turnip Winter’) was particularly harsh, with German people starving for food. Talk of the Jewish ‘racketeers’ and ‘war profiteers’ started and created a sense of Anti-Semitism that was never really extinguished.

The Weimar Republic was a first time of full citizenship for German Jews. It was also the time of the rise of Anti-Semitism #history #Germany Click To Tweet

Jews and the Weimar Republic

Rosa Luxemburg

The Weimar Republic was to many German Jews a promise to complete the century-long progress of emancipation. Its liberal regime allowed for the full participation of Jews in its cultural, social and political life. But it was exactly this that made the Jewish community more apparent, spurring unfounded fears of a Jews domination.

It was right before the birth of the republic that a strong community of Eastern Jews fled Russia and other Eastern European countries, arriving in Berlin, sometimes to stay, some other en-route for other destinations. This influx of scholars and intellectuals caused a revival of interest in young Jews for their roots and their Jewish identity, which they never considered to be in contradiction to their German identity.

This revival, together with strong participation of Jews to the cultural and political life of the republic (Jews normally aligned to the SPD) created the impression in the larger German population that the Jewish community was growing exceedingly and was taking hold of the German culture.
According to the 1925 census, Jews represented only 0.9% of the German population. Not a big number. But they have mostly concentrated in six big cities, and one-third of them lived in Berlin alone, which created an overrepresentation of them in the heart of the republic.

Walther Rathenau

Most Jews belonged to the middle class and were self-employed in different branches of business and the professions. As economic crises follow economic crises in the Weimar Republic, Germans started to resent Jews as economic rivals. Whether they were doctors or lawyers in the upper segment of society, or shopkeepers and merchants in the lower middle class – the two social segments more sensitive to the perils of economic fluctuation – they became the enemy.

Here’s were Anti-Semitism took hold, and the Nazi party was one that more sensitively exploited this fear. Historians have pointed out that the Nazi party wasn’t especially Anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitic language and slogans were common to all right-wing entities – and there were many in the Weimar Republic. But the Nazis were particularly effective in the message, touching on the fears raised by the political and economic insecurity and the perception that an excessive number of Jews were involved in German cultural life at large. It has been speculated that they possibly raised Anti-Semitic ideas even in those members of the lower middle class who had formerly be neutral or impervious.
In the general climate of hyper-nationalism that losing the war had created, German was willing to believe the ‘old’ assertion propaganda that solving the ‘Jewish question’ would solve all their problems.


Yadvashem – Weimar Republic (1918-1933) (pdf)
History – Oded Heilbronner, German or Nazi Antisemitism? (pdf)
1914-1918 Online – Antisemitism
Facing History and Ourselves – Antisemitism and Jewish Identity
Occidental Observer – The German-Jewish Kulturkampf in the Weimar Republic
The War Poetry Website – German Jewish War Poem

Walter Laqueur, Weimar, A Cultural History 1918-1933. Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. London, 1971
Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2007

Weimar Germany - JEWS (AtoZChallenge 2018) The Weimar Republic relation with Jews was contradictory at best. On the one hand, the republic was a first time of full citizenship for the German Jewish people, who became a driving force in the political and cultural life of Weimar. On the other, Anti-Semitism rose to preoccupying levels.


  • Kristin
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 02:55

    Reminds me of the anti-black feelings that have come to the fore after Obama was elected in the USA.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:32

      AS for me, it reminds me of the anti-immigrant feeling common in many European countries now.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 03:38

    This is a stark reminder that bigotry can arise anywhere, against even the most acculturated people. When people start to blame ‘them’ – whoever ‘them’ is – for their problems, this fans the flames.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:34

      True. And unfortunately, the more complex the situation, the easier it will be to find one kind or another of ‘them’. We’re seeing it everyday.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 06:31

    It is so sad, very sad, how persecuted the Jewish people were not just in Germany but in Russia and other Eastern block countries that drove many to Germany or abroad. It is eerie to read this knowing what happened before the 20 years was up.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:35

      True. Besides I think this is the great power of history: very often it can show us how it went down. It’s a great opportunity to work so to avoid make it happen again.

  • Debs
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 14:33

    Well done for deciding to tackle a consistently sensitive and tricky subject. A problem that seems as old as time, but is still very much here with us today. A friend of mine was recently publicly dubbed ‘the wrong sort of Jew’ – prejudice comes in so many forms.

    A-Zing this year at:
    Normally found at:

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:42

      There is a resurgnece of Anti-Semitism here in Europe (I’ve heard it’s particularly harsh in France, which blows my mind). It doesn’t make sense to me and it really shows that there will always be soneone whos want to blame someone else for whatever bad situation they find themselves in. That’s far easier than analyse the situationa nd try to find an effective solution.
      And the worst thing is that, if the bad situation goes on long enough, even people who wouldn’t blame anyone end up thinking, “Well, if I can’t have a solution, at least give me someone to blame. It’ll make me feel better to know that is not my fault and I can’t actualy do anything about it.”

  • Tasha Duncan-Drake
    Posted April 11, 2018 at 16:30

    I knew that historically Jews had been persecuted in European cultures, but I didn’t realise how long it took for emancipation to start, let alone be complete. It is a tragedy that just as it was being realised, it was struck down by such violent antisemitism.
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters

    • Post Author
      Posted April 12, 2018 at 09:51

      And apparently Anti-Semitism is never defeated for good.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 12, 2018 at 17:13

    It’s such a double-edged sword how legal and social emancipation of the Jewish community also ultimately led to a declining Jewish birthrate and unacceptably high rates of intermarriage and assimilation. I wish the former had happened without leading to the latter, since the world Jewish population is now lower than it was on the eve of WWII. However, Germany’s modern Jewish population is growing and thriving, with some people I know feeling like they’d be safer in Germany than the U.S., under current political developments.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2018 at 13:55

      Sadly, there seems to be a resurgence of Anti-Semitism here in Europe of late. I once heard a commentator say that the number of Jews who live in a country is an indication of the level of that country’s democracy.

  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted April 14, 2018 at 00:54

    It’s doubly tragic when one realises that the Jewish contribution was very rich and crucial, yet it was totally ignored – but that is how bigotry thrives. Sadly, society has always created outsiders and scapegoats.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 14, 2018 at 09:26

      Well, I wouldn’t say it was ignored. In fact, it was because people realised how important their contribution was to the German culture and politics that they became target of the nationalistic attacs.
      But yes, society will always create outsiders, especially in times of fears and insecurity.

  • Mandibelle16
    Posted April 20, 2018 at 19:55

    Very sad the German people themselves were racist and blamed the Jews, that the Nazi party exploits this. Hitler himself, seems to very much believe this vale’s himseves, otherwise, why have all those horrific concentration camps. In this at least the antisemitism of German people at this point, are as bad as parties trying to come to power in the 1930’s.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 4, 2018 at 08:44

      It’s a very complex matter I think, that finds its root centuries (if not millennia) in the past and was morphed by the situation at that time. Horrible as the concemtation camps where, there is no simple answer to the why.

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