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Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust

Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust [Kindle Edition]

Götz Aly

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Product Description

Product Description

A provocative and insightful analysis that sheds new light on one of the most puzzling and historically unsettling conundrums

Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Countless historians have grappled with these questions, but few have come up with answers as original and insightful as those of maverick German historian Götz Aly. Tracing the prehistory of the Holocaust from the 1800s to the Nazis’ assumption of power in 1933, Aly shows that German anti-Semitism was—to a previously overlooked extent—driven in large part by material concerns, not racist ideology or religious animosity. As Germany made its way through the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, the difficulties of the lethargic, economically backward German majority stood in marked contrast to the social and economic success of the agile Jewish minority. This success aroused envy and fear among the Gentile population, creating fertile ground for murderous Nazi politics.

Surprisingly, and controversially, Aly shows that the roots of the Holocaust are deeply intertwined with German efforts to create greater social equality. Redistributing wealth from the well-off to the less fortunate was in many respects a laudable goal, particularly at a time when many lived in poverty. But as the notion of material equality took over the public imagination, the skilled, well-educated Jewish population came to be seen as having more than its fair share. Aly’s account of this fatal social dynamic opens up a new vantage point on the greatest crime in history and is sure to prompt heated debate for years to come.

About the Author

Gotz Aly is the author of "Hitler's Beneficiaries" and" Into the Tunnel," among other books. One of the most respected historians of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, he has received the National Jewish Book Award, Germany's prestigious Heinrich Mann Prize, and numerous other honors. He is currently the Sir Peter Ustinov guest professor at the University of Vienna.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 759 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books (15 April 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #575,963 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial view of human tragedy 3 July 2014
By Jane Morris - Published on
Trying to answer questions surrounding one of the greatest tragedies of all time, the Holocaust, is not an easy task. Historian Gotz Aly, in his book "Why the Germans? Why the Jews?", attempts to explain the potentially unexplainable. He aims to answer how this could have happened and why Jews were the targets.

Aly uses a variety of sources (memoirs, journal articles, etc.) from the period leading up to the Holocaust to support his arguments because, as he explains, he feels that they have not been tainted by hindsight. The people who authored these articles, etc. didn't know the Holocaust was going to happen, so they have a unique, unbiased viewpoint to be studied.

So why does Aly think the Holocaust happened? In his opinion is was a matter of jealousy and envy. He says that German Anti-Semitism was not a matter of racist ideology or religious animosity, but was instead driven by the fact that Jews were more successful at navigating the shift toward industrialization and the Germans were having an identity crisis, were afraid of freedom, and wanted someone to blame for not being better off.

"Why the Germans? Why the Jews?" is, if nothing else, a debate sparker. The style is not particularly engaging, but if you are willing to stick it out, you will end up gaining an interesting perspective. You may, however, still have questions when you're finished reading that will require further investigation.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why anti-semitism among the Germans? 16 May 2014
By N. Ravitch - Published on
Professor Aly has specialized in the material reasons for anti-Jewish feeling in Germany before World War II. Ordinary Germans of all social classes and persuasions felt that the Jews had it too good economically and socially. Without any real commitment to elaborate racial theories or conspiratorial views about Jews the Germans easily could see how the removal of Jews from their positions and even from Germany itself could benefit them. And it did benefit them. They were able to increase their social mobility by taking the jobs, apartments, and properties of the targeted enemies of Germany. National Socialism offered a great deal to most Germans: a solution to their very weak sense of Germanness; a bulwark against the threats of modernization and change among a very traditionally minded population; and a pride in Germany after its recent defeats and troubles. Antisemitism was but one kind of appeal but it had very real benefits and rewards.

However, with his selective citation of anti-Jewish opinion, agitation, and feeling from the early 19th Century until 1933 or 1939 Aly pursues his thesis of the rise of extremism from the bottom up. However, the Holocaust itself was not the work of the German masses but the program of the German elites. Aly pushes his thesis far to far and risks explaining too much with too little.

His book becomes, therefore, a very selective slice of German-Jewish suspicion and strife, something found already in many studies, both monographic and general. The specific emphasis on the socially radical aims of the Nazis in "democratizing" German society is important. The Nazis were not traditionalists and they did change Germany in a modern, more fluid direction. But this cannot explain everything.

In the last analysis one must also specify why the Jews were such good targets. The answer is really very simple -- and not only for Germany but for almost all European states seeking ethnic identity. The Jews were alien. They were not native to Europe, had a religion from the near East, and most importantly did not share with Christians and ex-Christians the spiritual basis of community which was participation in the sacraments of the Church, particularly Holy Communion which created a Christian people. Only the Zionists perhaps understood this and therefore they were neither surprised by Nazi anti-semitism nor especially troubled by it. They hoped to persuade the Jews to leave for Palestine, but the German Jews were the least inclined to do so of any Jewish group in Europe.

Aly deserves a great deal of credit for his efforts but I cannot believe many will really be satisfied with his theories. They are too rational, too economic. During the Nazi rise to power Peter Drucker wrote about THE END OF ECONOMIC MAN, by which he wanted to indicate that those supporting the Nazis did not think rationally but mythically. Aly grants too much to the rationality of mankind and of the Germans. He lacks a sense of sin in human kind.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impeccable Scholarship 21 Jun 2014
By Elizabeth Dudley - Published on
This is probably one of the MOST IMPORTANT books to be written on the REAL reasons that propelled Germany
to murder its own citizens. In all of the historical accounts and scholarship that I have studied, no other author
has dared to call the psychological impetus for murder and complicity to murder for what it was: JEALOUSY,
jealousy of fruits of labor and intelligence and hard work, beginning with a pronounced emphasis on education
in Jewish culture and the absence thereof in German culture. With the shift from agrarian, monarchist society to modern capitalism, the Germans simply could not compete at the university or in the marketplace with their savvier and more energetic compatriots, the Jews.

I am not Jewish and I am not German. I was an American scholarship student at the University of Freiburg in the
Black Forest for one year. My German is impeccable. I was of course well received due to my near-native fluency and my inquiring mind and my status as an American abroad. I have searched and pondered and discussed the reasons why the cold blooded killings could take place without a peep from the population, with some exceptions like Sophie Scholl and her brothers, young and crazy enough and some others like Bonhoeffer who was a true Christian. Until picking this book up at the Harvard Coop earlier this week where I found it sitting next to the latest publication of my old professor in Freiburg Juergen Osterhammel, I have never read a more convincing account as this one of the concrete, real-world sensibilities, thoughts and mentalities of the Germans for the several hundred years prior to the mass murder, exposing for all to see the ugly and long-growing roots of the eventual explosion of rage. The Aryan ideology was really a cover for an inferiority complex, as a belated nation-state and as a people without much experience with culture, knowledge and scholarship. Obviously, there are many exceptions and Germany history is replete with master composers and literary artists. This book takes us into the mind of the average person and it is the average person's sensibilities which drove the higher ups into action, since they shared those sensibilities, being one generation and one degree from the social status of the mass horde of uncouth and uneducated minds that prevailed. It was not only the elites who were responsible, that is factually incorrect. Hitler was not elite and many of his cohorts were not either. The Germans were of one mind for the most part about the Jews and a class distinction about who was responsible between them does not carry. The masses provided ripe raw material that the elites shaped and organized to achieve their unGodly aims. The Germans always need a leader. They long ago rejected the individualist, self referencing internal guide (liberalism) and preferred an external authority to guide their thoughts and behavior (collectivism).

In my mind, the anti-Americanism that I found in Germany last summer is really just another substitute for Jew-hatred.

And to underscore how true it is that it was lack of self esteem, a sense of inferiority and their own shortcomings that permitted the atrocities to happen, to this day, the Jews or half-Jews that did survive will NOT own up to their ethnic heritage publicly, but only in private among their closest friends, and that is because they are afraid of the hostility, the fear and the ostracism that would ensue. I went back to Germany last year, 20 years after my original year as a young girl of 21 years old, and I saw and perceived as an American attuned to ethnicities, that my best friend's father is Jewish, my old friend Ute is probably 100%Jewish and my old housemate Michael is half Jewish or more and they will own up to that fact to me when I let them know the unmistakable nature of my perception, but they will NOT disclose it to their neighbors and friends to this day.

And that is because to this day, the German have never held an internal accounting for their actions, they are still seeking an outside target for their own shame and sense of inferiority. To my mind, this is evidenced by the grotesque distortions regarding the US that I encountered (18 year old Charlotte and her highly educated parents said they "understood New York and Boston were growing into each other") including an unhealthy emphasis on capital punishment in America for certified criminals as a focus away from their own murder of MILLIONS of INNOCENTS. They are teaching young Germans every detail of American capital punishment and how wrong it is WITHOUT EVER introducing a discussion of their OWN recent past. The projection is unmistakable and it is very unhealthy. There are more examples which are alarming for the evidence they indicate of another round of blame, responsibility, shame and inferiority being projected onto another people, the Americans now, instead of the Jews of the past.

In fact, it is amazing how many people one will encounter in Germany with very strong opinions of America, her cities, her culture and her people without EVER having stepped a foot in the country!!!

Finally, this book is the BEST, the most HONEST and the most COMPELLING account of the REAL reasons for the inexplicable acts of a civilized people. Germans, with all of their talents and promise, would do well to heed the causes that this author exposes to the healthy light of the 21st century with the hope that the tendency to blame others, to calcify opinions without any experience will dissolve slowly over time in the minds of a habit forming people. If it does not, and Germany does not do that painful internal accounting that is long overdue, it is inevitable that they will cause trouble again in the world, and right now, I would say America is the enemy in their mind, America makes them feel inferior again, America was the victor, America is watching with its spies, America has all the inventions, America is dominant. They take no greater glee than putting America down and that is a result of their own internal unease, their own jealousy, hidden as it is under cover of (different) political opinions.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book - logical arguments 2 Jun 2014
By L. White - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Going back to 1800, this case lays out the basis for the hatred of Jews in Germany that led to the Holocaust. The premise is that the Jewish people were much more flexible than the Germans in taking advantage of opportunities and shows how the Germans twisted this Jewish passion for hard work as taking a "shortcut" as opposed to the "honest work" done by the Germans.

Professor Aly also shows the Weimar Republic in a much more favorable light than I have seen before, arguing that in fact it would have been successful but for some mistakes made -- that it was not in fact fundamentally flawed.

The book is very readable even though it is a translation -- a very good translation; I found only two minor disagreements with the translations made.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Envy devours its bearer 1 Oct 2014
By Alter Wiener - Published on
Gȍtz Aly, the author of WHY THE GERMANS? WHY THE JEWS? attributes the scourge of German anti-Semitism to envy and race hatred. Hitler professed a grudging admiration for Jewish clannishness, which he believed had given Jews superior intelligence. He was envious of the Jewish intellectual and cultural success. The economic rise of Jews propelled hatred for the Jews by many Germans. Hitler resented the fact that so many nations collapsed and disappeared from the world scene, but the Jews who had no state (prior to 1948) of their own, survived. He fraudulently portrayed the Jew as an enemy of the German culture. Richard Wagner, in 1850 published his polemic "Judaism in Music" he called for campaigns of liberation against the `Jewification' of German music as a way of getting rid of competition.

Pastor Adolf Stoecker (1835 - 1909) wrote `even poor Jews sacrifice everything they possess to give their children a good education.' Jews as a minority tried to excel to be accepted by the majority. Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816 - 1882) a French aristocrat, novelist and man of letters wrote, in his "Essay on the inequality of Human Races" the Jews is a people that had succeeded in everything it undertaken; it had given many learned men to the world. The same people were thrown into darkness by the Nazis. Hitler portrayed the Jews in negative light, according to his own vision, and he would not budge from that image he had created. In the Diaspora, the dispersion of Jews constituted a tiny minority everywhere. When Hitler came to power in 1933, there were only 500,000 Jews living in Germany within a population of sixty-five million; less than 1 percent of the population. The percentage of Jewish professors who enjoyed great prestige in arts and science was about 20 percent. In World War I, 92,000 Jews had served in the German army of whom 35,000 were decorated for heroism and 12,000 had been killed in action. All these contributions to Germany's prominence didn't matter in Hitler's eyes of hatred and fascism. He initiated the abuse of the Jewish German citizens as soon as he reached power and later on he pursued racial exclusion and eventually mass murder during the Holocaust. Jews were also a biological challenge to blood purity of the German race, polluting its biological heritage. Sweeping guilt by association is essentially abhorrent. Were these logical reasons for hatred and eventual genocide of European Jewry? Was there any basis for the characterization of the Jews as the "cosmopolitan enemy who would stab Germany in the back?"

Anti-Semitism is also implicit racism as manifested by Hitler in the 1936 Olympic Games. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals, Hitler said to Babldur von Schirach, the Nazi Youth Leader, "The Americans should be ashamed of themselves to have Negroes win their medals for them. I won't shake hands with this Negro."Jealousy expel a man from the world, envy is its own torment; envy devours its bearer" (Aboth 4, 21)

For the last 13 years I have been sharing my experience during the Holocaust with over 900 life audiences. One of the most frequent questions I have been presented with is: "Why were the Jews so hated and persecuted by Hitler and by so many of his supporters throughout all strata of the German society? How could a civilized people like the German people murder six million men, women, and children who were guilty of nothing other than being Jews? My answer is: From all my readings and personal experience, Jews were hated because they were considered capitalist but also because they were communists; because they were too religious but also because they were too secular. Jews refused to assimilate, but also Jews were too eager to assimilate. Jews were stingy but they were also ostentatious spenders, and so on. A German guard hit me once. I asked him `warum' (why) his response was: `hier ist kein warum' (there is no why here). In Nazi Germany youngsters have been inculcated with a lust for hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism (a term coined in Germany in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr.) has always been a mental disease sprouting in moral decay. It became contagious and endemic at certain times in history. For two thousand years, Jews were blamed for the killing of Jesus. The 1965 Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, rejected collective Jewish responsibility for Jesus' death. So should all the above unreasonable accusations be renounced! If we all take upon ourselves to sublime work of the love of others, we will find solutions to all the world's problems, including the eradication of anti-Semitism
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