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A Broad Sweep With Many Faces
on 17 December 2004
Taking beginning of modern German-Jewish history with Moses Mendelssohn, this treatment of the Jewish frustration with German history is a concise and informative view of the difficult, arms- length relationship between Germany and her citizens of the Jewish faith. Having made clear to them that Jews were not regarded as Germans, the story is thus one of those "outside" trying their best to gain addmission. German society was in response, resistant and then a certain governmnet undertook a plan to expell them for good. Poignantly, the book ends with the escape from Berlin of Hannah Arendt, taking exactly the same route that Mendelsohn took all those years before.
Strong on individual details, Mr Elon shows his weaknesses within his strengths; what we are given is little more than a string of (very good) biographies played out against the backcloth of German histroy, but sadly, he makes little attempt to interweave the two. Thus we rattle from Heinrich Heine and 1848 through to Walther Rathenau and modernity, without appreaciating how exactly Germany changed within theis period, and how anti-semitism altered from a social prejudice to a would-be scientific race theory. Although we are treated to a brief summary of the change from Treitschke to count Gobineau, without a real consideration of the quauzi- darwinian notion of race theory, the mid-twentieth century attempt to exclude Jews from the German cultural sphere can not be understood fully. Jews were tolerated earlier, because even out of the ghetto, they could be ostracised. After Gobineau, it was seen that the "Jewish race" (Judaism was seen no longer as a religion) would, unless removed, somehow "undermine" "ayrian Germany." Thus expulsion, culminating in murder, was for the racialists, a necessity.
In the light of this, the collection of biogrpahies, whilst informative, and often enlightening, does not really explain a great deal.