Date of Award
Jews, Germany, History, 1800-1933, Politics and government, Psychology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The regime confronting German Jewry in 1933 was of a type unprecedented in German history. Yet the German Jewish responses were, on the whole, consistent with responses to former regimes. There was little resistance, relatively little emigration until 1935 to 1938, pledges of loyalty to the new government, and virtually no organized political opposition. Some historians have posited purely material or economic motivations for these responses to the rise and triumph of National Socialism: to emigrate was to lose one's personal possessions–money, home, business (Poliakov 3, 10). By imposing taxes and fees, Nazi legislation made emigration difficult if not impossible for many Jews (Hilberg 55-60).
Economic explanations do not provide reasons for the alleged lack of German Jewish resistance to National Socialism. German Jewish opposition to National Socialism had been substantial before 1933. It stopped after Hitler’s seizure of power. Fear, suppression and despair reduced and stopped opposition after 1933. But to a significant degree, explanations founded on physical suppression rationalize early Jewish reactions to the Nazi seizure of power by projecting the conditions of 1935-1938 back to the first two years of the new regime. In 1933 and 1934 the racial atrocities and attempted genocide that followed were still inconceivable (Hilberg 43).
Until 1935-1936 many Jews felt that Hitler was only a temporary burden, a necessary evil to bring Germany out of depression, but an evil that would disappear as soon as he fulfilled his purpose. Many more Jews believed that Hitler's anti-Semitism was largely campaign rhetoric. Adolf Eichmann used the proverb that many Jews used: “Nothing’s as hot when you eat it as when it's being cooked” (Arendt 39).
Such answers to questions about German Jewish reactions to Nazism explain only in part why German Jews did not emigrate en masse or oppose the Nazis in an organized fashion after Hitler's ascension to power. The disposition of most German Jews toward the Nazis may more easily be understood if the Jews are studied not as Jews but as Germans. If the reactions of German Jews to Nazism were not as exceptional as one would have expected, perhaps it was because German Jews would not accept or believe that they were outsiders who were shunned by Germans–even National Socialist Germans.
In an interview lasting two hours, a once-prominent German Jewish émigré, former president of the Dresden Bank in Berlin, repeated the phrase “sehr guter Deutscher” some ten times in responding to questions about the depth of assimilation and the nature of the German Jewish population before (and after) 1933. The essence of German Jews, he said, was Deutschtum, Germanness. Deutschtum as he knew it had died between 1933 and 1945–inexplicably. He did not recognize any sense of the "otherness” of Jews in Germany that German anti-Semites had postulated. He in no way envisioned Jews as strangers, foreigners, or outsiders in Germany. He believed that until 1933 or 1935 German Jews and German non-Jews had been alike–all "sehr guter Deutscher."
The man was living testimony to Karl Jaspers' statement that from 1933 to 1945 the Jews in Germany were robbed of “their home, origin, their fatherland, and their real and recognized unity with the German spirit" (118). The issue raised here is the nature and degree of German Jewish assimilation with German culture and society. Philosophers like Jaspers, historians and sociologists like Golo Mann and Leon Poliakov and Franz Oppenheimer have argued that assimilation in Germany was more complete, that contributions to German life and history were greater, that adherence to German interests was more complete than anywhere else.
Bolkosky, Sidney M., "The distorted image: German Jewish perceptions of Germans and Germany, 1918-1935" (1973). Graduate Dissertations and Theses. 187.