Albert Lindemann is perhaps the only Jewish scholar who, unlike most Jewish pundits, acknowledges the reasons why they’ve been so disliked. No ellipsis added between unquoted paragraphs:
Esau’s Tears: Modern Anti-Semitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Chapter 3. The Appearance of Modern Anti-Semitism (1870-1890)
Germans and Jews
The nature of German-Jewish interplay is still bitterly debated—in particular the extent to which one can properly speak of mutual benefit and respect—but there is little doubt that nowhere else have Jacob and Esau had a more intricate, fecund, and yet finally tragic relationship. Nowhere was the rise of the Jews more notable, and nowhere was it more searchingly debated whether the nature of Jews was unchangeably foreign, undermining those among whom they resided, or adaptable and beneficial to the host people. Similarly, the possible ramifications of the notion of closeness are nowhere more clearly revealed than in the history of modern Germany, for growing numbers of Germans came to believe that they were somehow chosen by history for a special destiny.
Real issues were involved, issues that emerged from the concentration of Jews in certain occupations, from their related extraordinary economic and social success, and from a range of cultural traits that distinguished them from non-Jewish Germans.
German-speaking Jews were the largest and economically most successful population of assimilated Jews in Europe, and because of their important positions in the German economy, they were almost unavoidably identified with the Depression. Germany’s economy, or the economies of the various German states before unification, had been growing with remarkable, even breakneck speed in the 1860s, and it grew even faster in the early 1870s. Jews seemed to benefit disproportionately from that growth, and they were widely and plausibly (which is not to say justifiably) blamed for its sudden collapse.
For much of the 1880s and 1890s the first modern anti-Semitic movement found its most impressive and influential form in Germany. As noted, many Germans were inclined to see world historical significance in the establishment of the German Reich; it represented a turning point in modern history. Even more grandiosely, some German nationalists believed the new Reich was the expression of divine purpose, an affirmation of the mission of the German spirit in the modern world. How unique or “special” such beliefs were is debatable. We will see that the Jews in many countries, not only Germany, were inclined to see the rise of the Jews in modern times as expressing a divine purpose or a Jewish mission. Citizens of the United States, too, with their notions of Manifest Destiny, expressed a belief that they and the new American nation were agents of God’s will.
For such reasons, the wave of anti-Semitic indignation and rage that passed over Germany, and the efforts to give to that wave the form of a modern mass movement, caught the attention of the civilized western world.
German Liberalism and the New German State
The liberal middle years of the century had seen the final steps in granting civil emancipation to Jews in most German-speaking lands, not without mean-tempered dissent from various quarters. Being counted among the most modern, most highly civilized nations was important to Germany’s elites; discriminatory laws against the Jews characterized the backward nations, such as Russia and Romania.
By the late 1860s liberal principles were given fuller application in many arenas besides those touching the condition of the Jews. Indeed, those general principles were the primary consideration; the emancipation of the Jews was seen as a necessary of them, much as was the case in the debates of the French National Assembly from 1798 to 1791.
In 1871 a number of important liberal principles were incorporated into the constitution of the new German Empire, such as the free trade, the rule of law, representative institutions, and guarantees of free speech. Religious freedom and Jewish equality under the law were also a part of the constitution.
The Rise of the Jews in Germany
With the unification of Germany, Jewish wealth began to expand even more rapidly than before, and Jews began to move into a number of prominent positions in politics. However, until 1914 they remained almost completely excluded from the very highest and most prestigious positions of the state, as did most non-Jews without the proper pedigrees. Nonetheless, throughout the nineteenth century Jews continued to nurse hopes for an eventual change in such exclusionary practices; they persuaded themselves that much steady progress had been made and that the future was bright.
Banks, although less exclusively Jewish in Germany than elsewhere in central and eastern Europe, were still owned and operated by Jews (estimates range from forty to fifty percent, whereas Jews were one percent of the total population). The man reputed to be the richest in Germany was the Jewish banker Gerson Bleichröder.
Jews in Germany moved rapidly into the professions. Upwardly mobile Gentiles, or those who hoped for upward mobility in their children, encountered a most unwelcome competition to get into medical school or law school; Jews in those schools became overrepresented, often by ten, twenty, even thirty times their numbers on German society.
The liberal press was overwhelmingly in the hands of the Jews. It was an arena “in which Jewish intellectuals could be active in an unhampered way”.
The Mittelstand and Modernism in Germany
In literature and many other arts Jews were prominent in modernist trends, not only in Germany but in most other countries. Modernism was characterized by a contempt for traditional aesthetic norms; modern art became ever more divorced from what ordinary people could appreciate, ever more disdainful of popular tastes, ever more “difficult.”
Those arguing for an “organic” Aryan art, one that had roots in the traditional peasant communities of Germany, could see modern art as inorganic, market-driven, cosmopolitan–and Semitic.
The image of modernist Jews as “culture destroyers” reflected an undeniable reality; however much exaggerated by anti-Semites. The disproportionate numbers, visibility, and volubility of Jews in modern art roughly corresponded to the disproportionate numbers of Jews in journalism, medicine, law, banking and revolutionary politics.
The “Founding Years” and the Crash of 1873
Nouveaux riches of whatever origin have rarely been known for gracious manners. Those Jewish newly rich in Germany who had recent origins in the eastern European shtetekh, where standards of civility or public manners were markedly different from those of Germany, were widely regarded as especially offensive.
In Germany during the early seventies, the contrasts between rich and poor, successful and unsuccessful, were perhaps even more striking than in the opening stages of England’s industrialization. In the summer of 1873 the stock markets collapsed. Certain anti-Semitic themes took on particularly sharp expression by the late 1870s. Now it was declared that Jews, constituting a mere one percent of the population, were more than “too influential”; they were talking over the new German nation, its economy, its political institutions, its art and music.
The Press Campaign against the Jews
The popular (circulation ca. 350,000) and generally liberal magazine Die Gartenlaube published a series of articles in December 1874 by Otto Glagau exposing the role of various shady entrepreneurs in the stock market crash. He maintained that ninety percent of brokers and stock promoters in the capital were Jews.
A century later, when it became clear that the stock market scandals of the mid-to-late 1980s in the United States saw an overwhelming preponderance of Jews–at least ninety percent was a widely accepted figure–that clear correlation seemed to interest the broad American public scarcely at all, and overwhelmingly non-Jewish journalists and politicians skirted the issue. But in Germany in the 1870s popular interest and indignation were intense.
By no means all Germans agreed with Glagau. He responded that “No longer can we suffer to see the Jews push themselves everywhere to the front... everywhere seize leadership and dominate public opinion.”
Excerpted from a longer entry that eventually will contain most of the book’s chapters.