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Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Prominent Jews helped the Nazis counter foreign press reports of oppression"

PAW- September 11, 1996

"German Jews have not fared well in historical accounts of Nazi anti-Semitism. From a distance of half a century, there is reproach, disbelief, even scorn: How could they have been so blind? The decision to remain behind, even when the Nazis made life miserable for Jews soon after the 1933 rise to power, is usually explained by the German Jews’ simple, soothing mantra, "It cannot happen here,” or by the words of Nobel Prize-winning chemist Richard Willstätter: One does not leave ones mother, even when she behaves badly.”

But Dippel shows there were more complex motivations. For decades, centuries even, German Jews had sought to prove their loyalty, to show they were more German than the Germans. And indeed, they had picked up some stereotypically German qualities—quoting Dippel “rootedness, complacency, incredulity, smugness, naiveté, wishful thinking, even opportunism.” German Jews largely abandoned their own religion and traditions, seeking to blend into the larger society. Despite the fact that many Jewish families had been in Germany for centuries-the financier Max Warburg, one of Dippel's subjects, traced his German roots to the 1200s-it was only in the 20 years before the Nazis took over that Jews had finally felt accepted, serving with honor in the Kaiser's army.

So when the Nazis began trumpeting their anti-Semitism, many Jews refused to listen. The law would protect them, they thought. Average Germans would refuse to go along with Hitler's hate, they were certain. Jews who saw the Nazi demonization for what it was were dismissed as alarmists. Only one in 10 German Jews left the country in the first year of Nazi rule; the rest accepted the main Jewish organization's slogan, "Wait and See." Some nationalist and Zionist Jewish groups even praised the Nazis, if only for helping Jews return to their own traditions and identity when Nazi policies drew distinctions between them and Aryans. Prominent Jews helped the Nazis counter foreign press reports of oppression. Warburg's bank and other Jewish institutions helped Hitler by lending huge sums to the new government. "Wear the Yellow Badge with Pride!" a Jewish newspaper in Berlin told its readers.

The Nazis were eager for Jews to emigrate in those first years, but even dismissal from jobs and a gradual banishment from every aspect of public life could not break the Jews' bonds to German temperament, history, language, and culture. Rabbi Leo Baeck, the foremost religious leader of the community, vowed to be the last Jew in Germany, standing like the captain of a sinking ship, Dippel writes, "deaf to the nearing waves."

Years before the Nazis came to power, the German Jewish writer Jakob Wassermann wrote of his gentile countrymen, "It is futile to show them loyalty....It is futile to live for them and to die for them. They say: He is a Jew." But even after the attacks became physical, even after 319 new laws were passed against them in 1934, German Jewish leaders were preaching quiet faith and inner resolve. Three-fourths of the Jews who had lived in Germany at the dawn of the Nazi era in 1933 were still there at the end of 1937. Incredibly, in January 1938, Jews in Hamburg celebrated the opening of a new community center, complete with theater, restaurant, and lecture hall...

To the very end, however, they worried about fitting in [overseas[: Warburg, even in 1938, argued against a mass exodus from Germany, fretting that a large-scale movement of Jews, some of whom might not behave with the "uprightness" that Warburg valued, would stoke anti-Semitism worldwide. "He came across a little like a hotel manager insisting that his guests take off their pajamas and put on coats and ties before exiting a fire-engulfed lobby," Dippel writes."

--- Why didn't they go? Book review of "Bound upon a wheel of fire: why so many German Jews made the tragic decision to remain in Nazi Germany" in Princeton Alumni Weekly, Volume 97
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