Reviews

Why the Germans?


Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust

by Götz Aly

Metropolitan Books, 304 pp., $30

 

A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide

by Alon Confino

Yale University Press, 304 pp., $30

 

The two questions that make up the title of the German scholar Götz Aly’s latest book are the ones that many historians of the Holocaust have been attempting to answer for decades. And as the book’s subtitle suggests, the answer that Aly supplies is not radically new. The novel twist in his argument consists of the way he links envy and race hatred as causal factors: Aly argues that the German people’s “gnawing envy” of the Jews ended up combining “with a collectivist longing for a life among equals” and “paved the way for [the] racial theory” that the Nazis employed in their genocidal assault on the Jews in their own country and beyond.

What made the German Jews so enviable, Aly explains, was the way that they took advantage of the new economic opportunities that arose in the course of the 19th century, as the old feudal order gave way to the modern world. More literate and academically agile than their Christian peers, German Jews were “eight times more likely to earn a better class of secondary-school degree” and used their “educational head start” to pursue “well-paying forms of intellectual labor.” By 1914, Aly reports, they earned “five times the income of the average Christian.” As a consequence, “the Christian majority, only too conscious that they needed to move up the social ladder, became obsessed with how quickly Jews were bettering themselves.”

This economic disparity was hard enough for Germans to stomach, but it was all the more painful given their collective insecurity as the inhabitants of a historically divided polity. Thanks to the traumas of the Thirty Years’ War and the Napoleonic invasions, the German people lacked a sense of “self-confidence” and thus sought to overcompensate by embracing an exaggerated sense of national identity. Tragically, according to Aly, this identity was based upon “weakness, timidity, self-doubt, resistance to progress, pent-up aggression, and xenophobia.” The Germans’ resulting “hypersensitivity toward minorities” explains why anti-Semitic outbursts erupted in the early 1800s, not only in the writings of intellectuals, such as Ernst Moritz Arndt, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, and Jakob Friedrich Fries, but in the form of pogroms, such as the Hep Hep Riots of 1819.

This article is locked

Subscribe now for immediate and unlimited access to Web + Print + App + Archive
  • Already a subscriber? Log in to continue reading.
  • Not quite ready to subscribe? Register now for your choice of 3 FREE articles per quarter.
  • Already a registered user? Log in here.

About the Author

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld is professor of history at Fairfield University. His new book, Hi Hitler! How the Nazi Past Is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

Comments

No comments yet.


Want to post a comment? Please register or log in.

Most Read

What Jesus Wasn’t: Zealot

When Fox News' Lauren Green asked Reza. . .

Conservative Judaism: A Requiem

In 1971, 41 percent of American Jews. . .

Editors' Picks

A View from Reservoir Hill

A shul that never left the Old Jewish. . .

Poland’s Jewish Problem: Vodka?

Jewish-run taverns—rowdy, often very. . .

In The Next JRB

  • Uri Bar-Joseph on Guy Laron’s The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East
  • Jon D. Levenson’s reconsideration of Allan Bloom and the “Great Books” idea on the 30th anniversary of The Closing of the American Mind
  • Ruby Namdar on an ambitious new translation of S.Y. Agnon
  • And more...
Copyright © 2017 Jewish Review of Books. All Rights Reserved. | Site by W&B