Ger­mans into Jews: Remak­ing the Jew­ish Social Body in the Weimar Republic

Sharon Giller­man
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011

Dur­ing Germany’s par­lia­men­tary (Weimar) repub­lic, 1919 – 1933, Jew­ish cit­i­zens sought to rede­fine and re-ener­gize them­selves. Dimin­ished pop­u­la­tion growth and the per­cep­tion of dimin­ished pop­u­la­tion qual­i­ty fos­tered ther­a­peu­tic the­o­ries and pro­grams. Urban­ism, mod­ernism, and indi­vid­u­al­ism threat­ened fam­i­ly iden­ti­ty and fam­i­ly val­ues, seen as the heart of Jew­ish vig­or and con­ti­nu­ity. The influx of East­ern Euro­pean Jews brought pos­i­tive mod­els with regard to hav­ing large fam­i­lies, but prob­lem­at­ic ones with regard to order­li­ness, eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and hygiene.

Such con­cerns among Germany’s Jews echoed those of the encom­pass­ing Ger­man pop­u­la­tion after its defeat in World War I and con­se­quent eco­nom­ic and moral decline, accom­pa­nied by a decline in birth rate. Pro­fes­sor Giller­man sees the Jew­ish reju­ve­na­tion effort as at once a sub­set of an emerg­ing Ger­man nation­al agen­da and as a move­ment com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing Jew­ish par­tic­u­lar­i­ty. To be a bio­log­i­cal­ly, social­ly, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly
pro­duc­tive Jew was to be a good Ger­man. How­ev­er, the Jew­ish agen­da had its own nation­al­is­tic (and Zion­ist) com­po­nent as well. A healthy, pro­lif­er­at­ing Jew­ish cit­i­zen­ry was required to insure the trans­mis­sion ofJew­ish val­ues, cul­ture, and identity.

Pro­fes­sor Giller­man strives to define a set of issues and actions intel­lec­tu­al­ly insu­lat­ed from the post-Weimar (Hitler era) sit­u­a­tion. By not suc­cumb­ing to the received wis­dom of under­stand­ing mod­ern Jew­ish-Ger­man his­to­ry as being defined exclu­sive­ly by anti-Semi­tism, Giller­man offers fresh and valu­able perspectives.

While a must for aca­d­e­m­ic libraries and spe­cial­ist schol­ars, opac­i­ties of aca­d­e­m­ic style and lack of nar­ra­tive under­pin­ning hand­i­cap the study’s inter­est and acces­si­bil­i­ty for the gen­er­al read­er. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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