Study­ing the Jew: Schol­ar­ly Anti­semitism in Nazi Germany

Alan E. Steinweis
  • Review
By – May 11, 2012
The movie indus­try in recent years has latched onto a win­ning for­mu­la — bring out a movie, then a sequel and then offer the third in the series — the pre­quel that will help us under­stand how every­thing we have seen came to pass. Stein­weis’ pre­cise­ly researched and pre­sent­ed vol­ume serves in effect as the pre­quel to the Holo­caust and the mur­der of six mil­lion Jews (with denial of the Holo­caust being per­haps the sad sequel in this [sic] tril­o­gy). Stein­weis, the Rosen­berg Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry & Juda­ic Stud­ies at Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Lin­coln, uses a voice that reflects a dis­pas­sion­ate, aca­d­e­m­ic tone, char­ac­ter­ized by care­ful analy­sis of both the research and moti­va­tions of an array of schol­ars who stud­ied and pub­lished on var­i­ous aspects of The Jew­ish Ques­tion from the ear­ly 1930’s through the very close of World War II. Racial the­o­ries trans­lat­ed into pre­de­ter­mined research out­comes that demon­strat­ed” every­thing from our involve­ment in com­merce as part of a desire for world­wide eco­nom­ic dom­i­na­tion to our sex­u­al promis­cu­ity and alleged dis­pro­por­tion­ate involve­ment in crim­i­nal acts. While not the purview of this book, one can­not help but think of par­al­lels with­in Amer­i­can soci­ety as researchers in the first six decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry stud­ied and report­ed on var­i­ous neg­a­tive qual­i­ties and attrib­ut­es inher­ent in African-Amer­i­cans or in women. Despite the appli­ca­tion of this research that influ­enced to vary­ing degrees a wide range of Nazi poli­cies — up to and per­haps includ­ing The Final Solu­tion — Stein­weis’ review of spe­cif­ic schol­ars and their work reflects pre­cise­ly the integri­ty lack­ing in those he writes of. With some excep­tions, the schol­ars who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Nazi Jew­ish stud­ies were not intel­lec­tu­al frauds or Nazi par­ty hacks. They were dis­hon­est schol­ars, but schol­ars nonethe­less. Their careers and their work vio­lat­ed the pre­sump­tion that the schol­ar has respon­si­bil­i­ty to use knowl­edge hon­est­ly and for pos­i­tive ends. In the final analy­sis, the great fail­ing of the Nazi anti­se­mit­ic schol­ars was more eth­i­cal than intel­lec­tu­al. The mea­sured man­ner in which he address­es this impor­tant area of Holo­caust his­to­ry, includ­ing describ­ing some of the post-World War II suc­cess­es some of these schol­ars enjoyed in their pro­fes­sion­al careers, may, for some, lack a sense of the emo­tion-laden moral out­rage we Jews so often want to see expressed. Yet, read­ing this book, I eas­i­ly found on vir­tu­al­ly each page the words of the Tacha­nun prayer [recit­ed in the tra­di­tion­al week­day morn­ing prayers] rever­ber­at­ing in my mind: Look and see — we were an object of scorn and deri­sion among the nations; we are regard­ed as sheep led to the slaugh­ter. Study­ing the Jew helps us in no small way under­stand an aspect of what can oth­er­wise be an unbear­ably painful part of our col­lec­tive Jew­ish expe­ri­ence and consciousness.
William Liss-Levin­son is vice pres­i­dent, chief strat­e­gy & oper­a­tions offi­cer of Cas­tle Con­nol­ly Med­ical Ltd., a con­sumer health research, infor­ma­tion, and pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. He holds a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion and is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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