Reconsidering Walther Rathenau: Acculturation, Assimilation and Zionism in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Germany
Stern, Daniel J.
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The nineteenth- and twentieth-century saw unprecedented changes in both European and German Jewry. In addition to an influx of Eastern European Jewish communities into Germany, new, never before experienced privileges were being given to those Jews who were already living there. The revolutions of 1848 brought new emancipation for German Jews and, if not in practice, then at least in name, the German Jew claimed greater civil rights. The age-old concept of the poor Jewish beggar, as well as other anti-Semitic stereotypes, was abolished by the new opportunities for Jews to achieve success. In many ways these promises held true, but also in many ways, the optimistic goals that they sought to achieve were never realized. As we will see, Jewish emancipation was both partial and conditional. Nonetheless, never before in history was a Jewish population so overwhelmingly successful than during the approximately eighty years that the Jews coexisted with the larger German population, before the rise of the Nazi Party. German Jews became accomplished businessmen, ascended to positions of high social status, and became great purveyors as well as consumers of high German culture. In later generations Jewish students performed disproportionately well at the German university as compared to their gentile counterparts. In one sense, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany was an ideal situation for those European Jews who had escaped the hardship and abuse of the Eastern European countries.