Friday, January 28, 2011

Esau’s Tears: Excerpts of chapter 4

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 4. Anti-Semitic Ideology and Movement in Germany
(1879 to the 1890s)

Wilhelm Marr

Wilhelm Marr has been given credit for coining the term “anti-Semitism.” His pamphlet The Victory of Jewry over the Germans has been described as the first anti-Semitic bestseller. He was married four times, the first three to Jewish women. He had intimate Jewish friends and was attacked for his supposed philo-Semitism.

Wagner, too, lamented as early as 1850 that Jews were taking over Germany. Both Wagner and Marr emphasized inherent and tenacious Jewish racial traits, ones that were destructive to Germans.

Marr [said that] wherever they go, Jews try to dominate and jewify the surrounding society. To do so is in their racial nature. It was a matter of victory or defeat—Jacob and Esau must fight to the finish, not work out ways in which they could live together. He noted that other peoples had indeed blended, had become German: the French Huguenots, the Wends, various Slavic peoples. But not the Jews. Marr concluded that the Jews are “stronger and tougher” than non-Jews.

His biographer believes that his pessimism was genuine, that it reflected his belief that the Germany he loved was doomed. Without weapons, he noted, Jews had become the masters of Germany.

Heinrich von Treitschke

The complains and laments of Glagau and Marr did not immediately alarm most Jewish observers, since the two could be easily dismissed as lowbrow, demagogic, and lacking respectability. Many influential Jewish observers considered Marr and his following not only beneath contempt but laughable. However, late in the same year and early in the next (1879-1880), Heinrich von Treitschke, the celebrated historian of Germany and popular university professor, published a series of articles critical of the role of Jews in Germany.

Treitschke expressed dismay over the persecution of Jews in history. He wrote that “the is no German commercial city that does not count many honorable and respectable Jewish firms.” Treitschke was a political liberal. How then, Treitschke earned such an evil reputation in many influential accounts of the origins of Nazism? Treitschke’s case, like so much else in nineteenth-century Germany, has been refracted through the distorting mirror of the Nazi years.

That the presence of newly-emancipated Jews in Germany could present a genuine problem, not a fantasy, was freely recognized by a number of thoughtful Jewish observers at this time, as in years past; Jews did indeed have significantly different cultural traditions from the rest of the population.

[Franz] Mehring complained that Jewish opponents of Treitschke engaged in “intellectual terrorism,” attempting as they did to smear as anti-Semitic anyone who expressed whatever critical reservations about the actions of the Jews. Treitschke’s consternation about Jewish influence also reflected his rising distaste for modern mass culture. He, like most educated Germans, felt an abhorrence for what he perceived as the Mishckultur (mongrel-culture) that was coming to characterize the United States in these years. They did not believe that the German spirit, in its barely achieved unity, could survive cultural pluralism—a chaotic and debilitating mongrelization in their eyes—that seemed to be growing up in the New World.

Treitschke remarked: “Ours is a young country. Our country still lacks national style.” But the young German nation, divided and still unsure of itself, was being flooded “from the inexhaustible cradle of Poland.” Treitschke argued further that the materialism of the early 1870s, so threatening again to the moral tone of the young German nation, was significantly reinforced by Jews.

Treitschke complained that Jewish journalists had introduced an element of petty quarrelsomeness and intolerance, of a wholly one-sided sort: “About the shortcomings of the Germans or French, everybody could freely say the worst things, but if somebody dared to speak in just and moderate terms about some undeniable weakness of the Jewish character, he was immediately branded as a barbarian and religious persecutor by nearly all of the newspapers.”

Mehring also recognized a new temper, “a gifted, shrewd, tough-fibred race,” “intoxicated” with its new freedoms. Jews in Berlin had developed into “an expansive and explosive force which is hard to imagine for anyone who has not seen it with his own eyes.” On this point, Mehring found much agreement from German Jews themselves.

Treitschke and Graetz

Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891).
His History of the Jews is still lauded by twentieth-century Jewish historians as one of the great nineteenth-century histories of the Jews.

Graetz harbored a deep contempt for the ancient Greeks and considered contemporary European civilization to be “morally and physically sick.” There was some substance in Treitschke’s charges: Graetz had written that Boerne and Heine had “renounced Judaism, but only like combatants who, putting on the uniform of the enemy, can all the more strike and annihilate him.”

In private correspondence, Graetz expressed his destructive contempt for German values and Christianity even more forthrightly. Treitschke was not far off base when he angrily noted that “the man shakes with glee every time he can say something downright nasty against the Germans.”

Anti-Semitic Movement and Countermovement

Agitators circulated the Anti-Semites’ Petition, which by October 1880 had gathered some 265,000 signatures. It charged than an “alien tribe” in Germany had gained domination over the “Aryan race.” In order to combat the incursions of that tribe a number of measures were needed: (1) the limitation of Jewish immigration into Germany, (2) the exclusion of Jews from positions of high governmental authority, (3) a special census to keep track of Jews, and (4) the prohibition of Jews as teachers in elementary schools. This minimal program was moderate in that it looked to orderly action through the Reichstag, not to popular violence, not to chasing Jews out of Germany. Right-wing revolutionaries comparable to the Nazis were not common at this time and found only sporadic support among the masses.

In the elections of 1881, the left-liberals in Berlin, led to an important degree by Jews, totally overwhelmed Stoecker’s party. The Progressive Party gained thirty-three new seats. Bismarck evidently concluded that not much political mileage was to be had from even covert identification with the anti-Semites, and he let it be known that “I most decidedly disapprove of this fight against the Jews.” At the height of its popularity in the 1880s political anti-Semitism in Germany won scarcely five percent of the popular vote.

None of the various bills proposed by the anti-Semites came anywhere near passage in the Reichstag, Jewish rights were in no tangible way limited by political measures in these years, and anti-Semites seeking to foment violence were arrested and thrown into jail. The various economic boycotts proposed by German anti-Semites had little or no effect; Jews continued to prosper and were increasingly among the very richest of Germany’s citizens.

The Peasants and Otto Böckel

Anti-Semitism mitigated by traditional constraints existed among the peasantry, a large class that cannot be ignored, since it was among elements of peasantry that the most dramatically successful anti-Semitic movement in late nineteenth-century Germany developed. And among the peasants one of the more colorful and charismatic anti-Semitic leaders appeared: Otto Böckel.

As he recorded in his pamphlet The Jews, Kings of our Time, “the image of the peasant robbed by the Jews drives me onward.” The pamphlet went through a hundred editions by the end of the century.

Böckel used pomp and fanfare, mass meetings, torchlight rallies, songfests, and sloganeering with great creativity. He established a newspaper that reached thousand of peasants who had never before read newspapers, and advertised “Jew-free” markets. Some called him a “second Luther.”

The situation, while in some ways unique, was also familiar: Jews under progressive rule prospered, while non-Jews believed themselves threatened with ruin, especially during an economic downturn. Böckel offered the same warnings, that a “stubborn, old, and thoroughly alien race” was taking over; that modern capitalism was weakening the very backbone of Germany.

Böckel avoided using such terms as “Aryan” and “Semite”. Nevertheless, his movement finally disintegrated. He simply did not have a long-range or realistic program; his was a movement of slogans and pyrotechnics, emotional catharsis for his followers, not long-range political realism.


Excerpted from a longer entry that eventually will contain most of the book’s chapters.

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