Till van Rahden. Jews and Other Germans: Civil Society, Religious Diversity, and Urban Politics in Breslau, 1860-1925. Translated by Marcus Brainard. George L. Mosse Series. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Tables. 486 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-299-22690-9; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-299-22694-7.
Reviewed by Ulf Zimmermann (Kennesaw State University)
Published on H-German (March, 2010)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
Inclusion without Integration: Jews and Germans in a Prussian City
This work is a much-needed translation of Till van Rahden's pathbreaking 2000 Juden und andere Breslauer, a model of corrective historical lenses and of local history within a macro-historical perspective. Rahden's analysis cannot be recommended highly enough to anyone remotely concerned with any of the elements of its title: Jews were both Germans and Jews and, until that society collapsed with the First World War and its aftermath, they had participated both in civil society and urban politics while maintaining their religious and ethnic differences. Rahden describes this successful participation; with equal skill he persuasively explains its ultimate demise in this transdisciplinary masterpiece. We must all be grateful to Marcus Brainard for making it available in English to the much wider readership it deserves.
During the period covered in his study, Rahden contends that Jews went from being increasingly integrated to actually achieving a genuine degree of mutual acceptance. To arrive at this lapidary contention and answer the question "about the extent and limits of Jewish integration in modern German society" (p. 3), Rahden has conducted a truly in-depth cliometric study of Breslau. There are several reasons for choosing the Silesian capital for this project. Concentrating on a single place allowed Rahden to dig into the microhistory of the multilayered and contradictory mechanism of German-Jewish interaction. In the nineteenth century, Breslau was the second-largest city in Prussia and, since cities were often in conflict with the state, it produced and implemented its own distinctly local policies and practices regarding the place of Jews in the city. The Jewish community in Breslau counted among the three largest in Germany, although that amounted only to 4-8 percent over the period of study. Approximately 60 percent of the population was Protestant, the rest Catholic. As Rahden shows, Breslau offers a historical example of addressing the challenges posed by multicultural societies. Not a multicultural relativist, but a liberal who believes not merely in the right to be equal but also in the right to be different, Rahden contends "that ethnic and religious differences cannot be overcome and that cultural plurality is not only unavoidable but also desirable" (p. 4).
Relying on Max Weber and Niklas Luhmann to define Jewish integration, Rahden writes: "[I]ntegration designates the result of a multitude of processes of inclusion in the central functional spheres of modern society (economy, politics, science, education, and law), as well as in everyday life" (p. 7). He dismisses a "generic" definition of integration that presupposes equality in favor of the concept of inclusion. Rahden argues compellingly that groups might be included in some areas of society, but excluded from others. Thus, Rahden usefully nuances the concept of integration by suggesting the term "inclusion" instead, which allows for a mixture across social and political structures of, in this case, Jews and Christian Germans to cooperate easily in some spheres, while being at odds in others. To explain the coexistence of closedness and openness in the formation of modern German-Jewish groups and identities, he uses the concept of "situational ethnicity" (p. 8). Thus, membership in an ethnic group does not preclude loyalty to other groups. In some contexts, like family, it can be significant; in others, such as politics, ethnic loyalty can play a less important role.
Rahden covers four areas: "social structure, public and private sociability, the school system, and city politics" (p. 18). He finds, in short, proportionately more of the city's Jews were bourgeois than the rest of the population; their inclusion in associational life was high. For example, most sports, cultural, and other associations were open to them, and the quadrupling of intermarriages indicates that private contact between Jews and other Breslauers became routine. Left-wing liberals not only admitted Jews to their party but let them serve as prominent local officials. Nonetheless, revelatory as they are, these findings are worth looking at in more detail. Under social structure Rahden pursues two guiding questions: "[H]ow bourgeois were Breslau Jews, Protestants, and Catholics? And how Jewish, Protestant, or Catholic was the Breslau bourgeoisie?" (p. 21). Here one has to address the strained relationship between class and status, as per Max Weber. To wit, class refers mostly to economic factors, while status concerns honor. Since Jews enjoyed much more upward economic mobility in this modernizing age, they also began to seek honor to express what had become codified as a bourgeois status system. This tension between economic and class values stigmatized Jew as social climbers in the eyes of their fellow Breslauers.
How successful were Jews? Around 1750, three-fifths of Jews belonged to the penniless class. By 1861, although Jews while comprised only 7 percent of the population, they made up 30 percent of all first-class (that is, the richest) voters. Between 1875 and 1905 the proportion of the bourgeoisie among Jews increased by roughly 13 percent. This change in Jews' class status came about primarily because almost two-thirds of the local Jews worked in trade, as compared with only 4 percent of Christians. Likewise, judging by profession, over 40 percent of Jews belonged to the bourgeoisie in 1876 (compared to 10 percent of Protestants and 5 percent of Catholics), and by 1906 their proportion had risen to 60 percent. More than half the Jews were self-employed, permitting them to avoid the disadvantages of workplace anti-Semitism and helping them gain bourgeois status. For example, 44 percent of the city's doctors were Jewish and a similar proportion of its lawyers, which also illustrates emphatically that the people at large trusted Jews with their lives and other important affairs.
By 1906, the proportion of Jews in the first two voting classes approximated 38 percent--out of only a 4.3 percent proportion of the population. Such numbers stoked anti-Semitism as Germans began to suspect that all Jews were rich, at the expense of non-Jewish Germans. Rahden offers three reasons for this perception. First, in public venues, such as obituaries, Jews always expressed their pride in how far they had climbed as a social group. Second, Jews saw upward mobility as a right granted in their "emancipation contract" for which they had reciprocated by becoming good contributing citizens. Finally, a split amongst Jewish populations provided Protestants and Catholics with a curious partner: the Zionists condemned apparently suddenly wealthy and assimilated Jews as parvenudom, and did so loudly, thereby discrediting Jews who worked comfortably in the Breslauer social context as not actually working within German value systems.
Discussing associational life, Rahden reminds us that the nineteenth century witnessed a near-explosion of associations, which emerged as a common alternative to the hereditary estate society of old Europe. In this sense, associations became part of the post-Revolutionary/post-Enlightenment "individualization and bourgeoisification of culture" (p. 64). In 1876 the Breslau directory listed 250 clubs; by 1906, 800. Barred from the merchants' exchange, Jews established their own associations, and as those groups gained power, shortly led to Jews' admission to the merchants' exchange. They had also created other clubs of their own, while other clubs previously closed to Jews began opening their doors. The Schlesische Gesellschaft für Vaterländische Kultur served Breslau in lieu of an "academy," for example, and the Jewish botanist Julius Cohn headed its natural science division as of 1852. But anti-Semitism remained a constant element in German cultural milieux, so that, unsurprisingly, the most important social club remained closed to Jews. Meanwhile, in the most important economic club, the merchants' exchange, Jews numbered near half of their membership. Jews, as Rahden argues, thus did not represent a subculture, but rather situational ethnicity.
Intermarriage marked the final step toward integration. Jews who married Christians did not signify a rejection of Jewishness. Nor did confessional conversion or money have anything to do with such marital unions. Rahden found no case, for example, of a poor Christian aristocrat marrying a Jewish woman for money, as the stereotype so often had it. Between 1876 and 1880, Breslauer records listed only 9 intermarriages out of 100; between 1911 and 1915 this number "soared" to 35, perhaps a result of the institutionalization of civil marriage in 1874. Such mixed marriages were more common among the lower and lower-middle classes, particularly among Jewish women. Middle- and upper-class families, as Rahden notes with a reference to the nineteenth-century social critic Theodor Fontane's 1892 novel Frau Jenny Treibel, pursued more deliberate marriage strategies (p. 104). Jewish women who entered into mixed marriages did so on their own, without familial or financial pressures. They were already socially and economically independent, often working in jobs where they came into contact with a wide variety of men, such as salesgirls. The average age of these women at marriage was 29, several years older than the regional and national average.
In the section on education, Rahden observes that the extent to which minorities are integrated and afforded opportunities "was decided from the nineteenth century on chiefly in the school" (p. 121). This aspect has not been studied previously, but as of 1874 all Prussian children attended universal public schools. Jewish children had an "educational advantage"--70 percent of them went to the Gymnasium, while 85 percent of the Christians went to the Volksschule. While not many of them could afford to continue to the Abitur, those who did and left memoirs did not recollect any anti-Semitism. Indeed, Breslau Gymnasium graduates such as Norbert Elias and Ernst Cassirer noted the school's "'boundless tolerance'" (p. 154).
Rahden cites Viktor Karady's explanation of this educational advantage: first, Jews were more urban, hence more able to benefit from the education; second, more of them were from the middle class; third, attending these schools offered Jews a means to legitimate their social and professional qualifications as an antidote to anti-Semitism; and fourth, Jews benefited from a "tradition of 'religiously grounded intellectualism'" (p. 128). Rahden is skeptical of this last explanation and also suspects that Jews were not alone in their desire to use education as proof of their abilities in the service of upward mobility. The connection of educational advantage in terms of social and financial prosperity must be contextualized, since the advantage came about in part due to Jews' disproportionately better economic and social status.
In local politics, finally, Rahden observes that liberals flourished in Prussian cities in this era, a circles that included substantial numbers of Jews. Breslau Jews thus had an almost de facto right to be different because they were in city government and influenced it accordingly. They represented a core group of the local liberals and a third of the first-class voters. There was local anti-Semitism but its representatives were not able to wield any political power, owing, ironically, to the three-class voting system. City pride, moreover, surpassed party differences and local leaders liked to view city politics as "apolitical," as compared to the national ideologies, a view still sustained in local politics.
A few cities passed anti-Semitic laws (e.g., prohibiting kosher butchering). Nonetheless, as Rahden notes, "At the same time that Heinrich von Treitschke freed the anti-Semitic movement from a 'restraining sense of shame' at the national level, the Breslau liberals succeeded in making anti-Semitism taboo in the city council" (p. 192). Although Breslau was not an immigration magnet, it did have a few immigrants from its eastern neighbors during the great migrations from these as of the early 1880s. Breslau's municipal authorities supported immigration since it promoted economic development and hence recommended for naturalization applicants not likely to burden the municipal welfare system. The Prussian state denied these applications, having adopted a "'nationalistic re-formation of the Nationality Act'" motivated by a völkish anti-Semitism (p. 217).
Here, too, Rahden uses key literary examples of the period to underline his argument: Gustav Freytag, whose 1855 Soll und Haben became the most successful novel of the rest of the nineteenth century, had lived in Breslau between 1835 and 1847 (p. 66). With his caricature of a "horse-trading Polish Jew" as protagonist, Freytag saddled the city with this image. The real Breslau, though, actually made local Jews honorary citizens. Between 1870 and 1914 the city distinguished nineteen men with this honor, and these included the botanist Ferdinand Julius Cohn (1897) and Justice Wilhelm Salamon Freund (1901). If the number seems small, one must consider the case of Berlin, the most important center of Jewish life, which did not have a Jewish honorary citizen until 1914. Rahden argues, however, that municipal authorities, while honoring Jewish embourgeoisement with citizenship, reaffirmed, rather than denied, a separate Jewish identity (p. 222). This point is important, since it helps explain the decline of honorary citizenship bestowed upon Jews between 1916 and 1925. When Germany did not attain a quick victory in the First World War, political leaders demanded concrete explanations for this failure. Prussian military leaders quickly scapegoated "shirking" Jews in the military and war-profiteering Jews on the homefront, even conducting a notorious, though unpublished, "Jew count" to document these supposed disloyal Jews (p. 232). In order to lend further credibility to this interpretation, the army reassigned active Jewish front soldiers to desk jobs, insinuating that even those Jews who were part of the war effort enjoyed comfortable positions that did not put them in the line of fire.
In Breslau, anti-Semitism rose because Jews lost their political authority and, with inflation, much of their economic power. With the elimination of the three-class voting system, Jews now represented only 5 instead of 30 percent of the vote. Ironically, in the Reichstag elections of 1932, Breslau, a stronghold of left-wing liberalism during the imperial years, would be the city in which the Nazis had their greatest success, with 43 percent of the vote. Nationalists used this shift of the border to portray Breslau as "'the only and final bastion of Germandom in the East'" and made it into a base for Freikorps paramilitary organizations (p. 232). As the state promoted anti-Semitic policies, so did the new city authorities. Without a political home, and with anti-Semites conflating Jews and Bolsheviks, it was easy for Jews to be portrayed as part of a threat to every aspect of German political and social life.
Rahden's approach to this historical case study relies not only on his clear and concise narrative, but also on his innovative use of numerous sources. In addition to the numerous individual snapshots and occasional cameos of nationally and internationally known Breslauers, the book includes nearly 40 pages of tables compiled and assembled by a wealth of archival and other materials, augmented by almost 200 pages of helpful explanatory notes and bibliography. While such in-depth research requires a scholar to concentrate on a single case, Rahden's references to other contexts suggest that the changing situation of Jews in Breslau was representative of events in other German cities. Clearly, facile and teleological descriptions of the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany with the beginning of the twentieth century must be rejected in favor of a more complex model, one in which Jews and Christians did, at least occasionally, co-exist peacefully. In this sense, Rahden has not only offered a perfect template to conduct such other city studies, he has also pointed to the need for them. With his work now available in English, we can look forward to their appearance.
. Till van Rahden, Juden und andere Breslauer: Die Beziehung zwischen Juden, Protestanten und Katholiken in einer deutschen Grossstadt von 1860 bis 1925 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2000).
. For readers relying on English for their German authors, I offer my translation: Ulf Zimmermann, Jenny Treibel (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1976).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Ulf Zimmermann. Review of Rahden, Till van, Jews and Other Germans: Civil Society, Religious Diversity, and Urban Politics in Breslau, 1860-1925.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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