A Dead­ly Lega­cy: Ger­man Jews and the Great War

Tim Grady
  • Review
By – November 27, 2017

A Dead­ly Lega­cy: Ger­man Jews and the Great War by Tim Grady | Jew­ish Book Coun­cil

Although the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion of all of Ger­many has nev­er been as large as that of present-day Los Ange­les, the Jew­ish Ques­tion” has been at the fore­front of Ger­man his­to­ry for near­ly three hun­dred years. In this grip­ping and metic­u­lous­ly researched book, Tim Grady focus­es on the place of Ger­man Jews in the years lead­ing up to and through­out World War I, and explains how this even­tu­al­ly led to the vir­u­lent anti­semitism of the Nazi regime.

In con­trast to the tens of thou­sands of Jews who emi­grat­ed to Ger­many after the pogroms in Rus­sia, Ger­man Jews not only spoke Ger­man, but had ful­ly adopt­ed Ger­man cul­ture and val­ues. They were staunch­ly patri­ot­ic and loved their Kaiser, and yet were dis­crim­i­nat­ed against in uni­ver­si­ties, the mil­i­tary, and the upper ech­e­lons of soci­ety. With the out­break of World War I, the Kaiser called for a uni­fied Ger­many with no dis­tinc­tions between Jews and gen­tiles. The Jews of Ger­many enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced this Spir­it of 1914” by vol­un­teer­ing for mil­i­tary ser­vice and per­form­ing count­less patri­ot­ic activ­i­ties. They final­ly felt them­selves ful­ly equal. They rev­eled in Germany’s ear­ly vic­to­ries and many took on lead­er­ship roles in indus­try, gov­ern­ment, and even the army.

As the war raged on in 1916, the Ger­man peo­ple could not accept that their army had suf­fered defeats on the bat­tle­field, and that their eco­nom­ic resources were becom­ing deplet­ed. Casu­al­ties became unac­cept­ably high, and food short­ages led to hunger through­out the land. Some­one had to be at fault.

To inves­ti­gate the caus­es of these set­backs, the gov­ern­ment devised a cen­sus with a clear anti-Semit­ic bias to inves­ti­gate whether the Jews in the army were cow­ards or shirk­ers. With­out evi­dence, Jews became con­ve­nient tar­gets of a smear cam­paign, and vir­u­lent anti­semitism once more returned to Ger­many. This affect­ed not only the mil­i­tary but also Jew­ish civil­ian lead­ers, who were accused of incom­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion, and busi­ness own­ers, who were said to ben­e­fit from war prof­i­teer­ing. After all, so their think­ing went, Germany’s defeat could not have been the fault of the Ger­man army, but had to be based on a stab in the back.”

Using bio­graph­i­cal notes to human­ize the men and women in the book, Grady metic­u­lous­ly assem­bles facts as a basis for his argument:that World War I was the foun­da­tion on which Hitler built what even­tu­al­ly became the Holo­caust. A Dead­ly Lega­cy is at once a high­ly read­able and fright­en­ing book.

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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