The main idea of this book is that Holocaust was not just WWII event, but rather logical conclusion of German cultural development of XIX and early XX century. It was caused by a few main sources:
- German attitude to Jews as “others” who do not belong to German people despite living in Germany for centuries. This attitude created environment of at least indifference and at worst active hate towards Jews from vast majority of German population.
- Jewish emancipation that opened way to direct competition for cognitively more effective Jews who disproportionally obtained wealth and prosperity on the relatively free market, even if they still remained barred from governmental jobs, military leaderships, and other preferable positions in society.
- Political advantages provided by anti-Semitic positions. This came from the growing envy and resentment of left-behind part of German population. These people were not able to adjust to the world that was rapidly changing from medieval agriculture to industrial production so they blamed Jews who were disproportionally successful due to this change.
- Opportunity of ruling classes to shift blame for whatever calamities befall Germany due to their mismanagement such as loss in WWI, to the Jews by creating such ridiculous legends as “stab in the back”.
Introduction: The Question of Questions
Here author describes his interest in the question of Holocaust. Why Germans, the most technologically advanced and seemingly civilized people killed millions of Jews? One of the reasons for looking at it that author provides, is his German heritage. In introduction, in addition to key points, author describes methods of information collection for this book: published artifacts of ongoing cultural live of XIX and XX century and multiple family archives, including author’s family that demonstrated development of German attitudes towards Jews, which eventually culminated in Holocaust.
- Jewish Emancipation
This is the story of Jewish emancipation in Germany, which started under French influence during Napoleonic wars, but achieved relatively equal legal status for Jews only in the second half of XIX century. The first step for many Jews was to obtain self-emancipation was via education. It was greatly supported by Jewish tradition of learning and discussion that put Jew into advantageous position comparatively to general population. As usual, author refers to statistics of educational achievement, but also stresses cultural specifics of Jews that were instrumental in producing this achievement. Author also points out an interesting phenomenon when advance of democracy was actually detrimental to Jewish emancipation due to widely accepted antisemitism of the population. It was clearly demonstrated during revolution of 1848.
- The Anxiety of German Nationalism
This chapter provides kind of counterpart to Jewish advancement in education and business in typical German attitude of inferiority produced by long history of military defeats, indignities experienced during multiple religious wars, and later during wars of earlier XIX century when French occupied many German territories. Overall author believes that it had created a culture of low self-esteem and powerlessness. Moreover, division of Germany into multitude of states created confusion of who is or is not German. Eventually it led to movement to unite Germany into one powerful state driven by very strong nationalist ideology. Since this nationalism had mainly ethnic characteristics, the Jews being “others” had hard time to be accepted as equal members of German nation.
- Anti-semitism as a Political Force
Here author looks at political development in Germany caused by dramatic changes in economy and culture and finds that traditional antisemitism of masses found huge support in upper layers of society, which considered Jews competitors and attempted to slow down or even stop their progress. In addition to reference to historical events and literature author provides a very interesting story of his own family and the role antisemitism played in their worldview and behavior.
- The Mainstream’s Dangerous Indifference
This chapter starts with review of social-democratic movement and active Jewish participation in it. One thing here author stresses, is quite strong push against Zionism from many well settled assimilated Jews who strived to be part of German collective and hated any hint on existence of separate Jewish collective. At the same time this and other collectivistic, anticapitalistic movements possessed strong anti-Semitic current typically associating Jews and their culture with capitalism, especially financial side of it. It was demonstrated in many forms including Marx’s “On Jewish Question”. The logical outcome of it was development of national-socialist ideas first introduced by Frank Naumann. While it had strong ethnic character, its antisemitism was kind of moderate, trying to restrict Jews via economic rules setup by government, while leaving open door for them to join Germans if they accept “German way of thinking”. Eventually this movement seamlessly merged with Nazis.
- The War, Defeat, and Jew Hatred
This starts with 1916 Jewish census that used statistical data to demonstrate that Jews are not patriotic enough and participate less than others in war efforts. It was achieved by somewhat manipulating data and discarding Jewish specific statistical variation such as generally older Jewish population producing fewer conscripts that was presented as avoidance of service. Author also looks at details of “stab in the back” believes and how it was linked to Jews with no foundation for this whatsoever.
- Weak Masses, Strong Race
This is about intellectual superiority of Jews and the fact that it would not disappear when they converted to Christianity, causing antisemitism to move from religious foundation to ethnic that was growing especially strong in educated circles when Jewish competition was more and more visible. Author describes this reaction that practically led to multiple attempts to limit access of Jews to education and promotion since they were disproportionally good in various intellectual fields. Author also reviews in this chapter a number of literary work of early XX century that represented utopias / dystopias about “Cities without Jews”, totalitarian collectivism, and various ways to rid society of Jews that where pretty close to the future reality of Holocaust. At the end of chapter author reviews history of his own family demonstrating how antisemitism played out in their striving to move ahead in live.
- The National Socialist People’s Party
This is about culmination of German antisemitism that was NDASP and Holocaust. It reviews multiple variations of Germans attitudes to Nazis and stresses that generally it was massive support of their program, even if aggressive antisemitism was considered as somewhat not nice, but not really that relevant. However, the material benefits obtained from looting and killing Jews clearly added to Nazi support by population, especially when killing happened out of sight while benefits were quite real. Author’s review of his strong Nazi relative’s letters shows just two anti-Semitic remarks out of 500 pages demonstrating that it was not significant for him, however maintaining purity of the race and such was really important. The review of literature and attitudes shows that Holocaust was just acceptable way to take out Jewish wealth and cleanse race from intruders and as such had support of majority of Germans who, nevertheless, did not really wanted to go into details of the process of its implementation.
Epilogue: A Story with No End
Here author reviews his points: German antisemitism came from feeling of inferiority and losing competition to Jews in rapidly changing environment. The cultural envy of Germans in process of formation of their nation to Jews who possessed outsized cultural influence on practically all world of Christianity. Probably one of the most important part of this process was moving away from individualistic values of enlightenment to collectivistic values of early XX century that defined Nazi society development practically until its end. Author also points out irony of history when Germans moved to mass murder driven by envy and hate even if by this time their achievement in education and advance in profession catches up with Jewish achievement. He ends this book with reference to Bible and its story of Cain who killed his brother because of envy and need to feel equal and states that these feeling will never go away and things like Holocaust could happen again and again.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a pretty good history of German antisemitism, but I do not think that the main explanation of it by using envy is sufficient. I think it is deeper than that. The hate of Jews was around for such a long time and became internalized so deeply that it became unalienable, albeit somewhat hidden, part of many cultures of the world. Actually, the role of envy is somewhat overstated because Jews are hated even if they deprived of opportunities and stay permanently poor as it was in Russia or Middle East for centuries. I would look at another reason for hate: Jews are permanent troublemakers. Whether it is new religion based on monotheism, or new theory of relativity in physics, or new secular religion of communism and socialism, or rejection of this religion in the name of economic and political liberalism, or whatever, Jews always prominent in creating and promoting the new ideological and cultural staff, which in turn always has negative impact on whatever part of society, quite often majority, benefits from status quo. Consequently, it is typical that Jews are hated even in places where there are no Jews for centuries or at least for decades as in Europe after Holocaust. One needs only look at attitude of United Nations to Israel to see a multitude of charming examples. Probably the only culture in the world that naturally embraces Jews with all their troublemaking is America, which is itself is mainly nation with culture of troublemaking: always changing, always inventing new and discarding old, always moving somewhere, typically without really knowing where, but confident that it will be a better place than here and now. I guess, as long as America maintains this culture Jews will be fine.