File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 406

Date: Sun, 19 Oct 1997 21:54:59 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: M-I: *Nazi Germany and the Jews*

I would like to recommend to the list Saul Friedlander's new work on the
Jewish Holocaust, volume one (subtitled *The years of persecution, 1933-39*)
was just published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson in London.  The American
edition, too, is due out this fall.  In both style -- his writing recalls
that of EH Carr -- and interpretation, Friedlander's book stands in welcome
contrast to Goldhagen's *Hitler's Willing Executioners*, the review of which
nearly caused civil war on marxism-international.

Friedlander's book is at once complex and surprisingly clear, perhaps
clearer than any writer has a right to be on such an important and complex
subject.  His is a montage of shifting perspectives, disruptive
juxtapositions and layered analysis that is often evocative of the works of
Marx and Trotsky, the latter, especially, whose best and most prescient
works on the subject of National Socialism were written *before* the
wholesale persecution of the Jews.

In his complex narrative, Freidlander traces four sets of historical actors
-- German Jews, "ordinary" Germans, the German elites, and Hitler and the
staunch Nazis -- through three time periods -- pre-1933, 1933-36 and 1937-39. 

The first period, that prior to 1933, saw a paradox in Jewish-German
relations.  While Jews sought success and "assimilation" in German society,
their success in the professions, finance and culture produced a subculture
whose very distinctiveness elicited a reaction quite inhospitable to the
integration they sought.  Faced with the Nazi seizure of power, most German
Jews felt anxiety rather than panic or urgency.  Out of about 525,000 German
Jews, less than 37,000 emigrated in 1933, and only about 90,000 followed in
the next four years.  Most believed they could "weather" the crisis and
preserve a "manageable" Jewish life within a re-segregated society.  Even
the Zionists anticipated gradual emigration over twenty years or more.     

Friedlander skillfully traces the history of anti-Semitism in Europe and
Germany with consummate skill and imagination.  From the fear of German
elites that Jewishness after 1917 equalled Bolshevism (anti-Semitism was
institutionalized and ideologically elaborated to a far greater degree in
Germany than elsewhere) to the apocalyptic vision of "The Jew" envisaged by
Hitler and the Nazis, Friedlander traces the inexorable rise of official
anti-Semitism following Germany's crushing defeat in 1918.  

Yet, it is clear that the majority of "ordinary" Germans were "moderate"
rather than "rabid" anti-Semites.  They felt neither hatred nor sympathy
toward Jews; they did not demand anti-Jewish measures, which were peripheral
to their own concerns.  But as their faith in Hitler grew with Gemany's
economic recovery and foreign policy success, "widespread acceptance" of the
Nazis' anti-Jewish measures and the exclusionary implications of the
*Volksgemeinschaft* myth followed.  In the end, Freidlander concludes that
he reaction of the "ordinary" Germans was "mixed".  On the one had,
"anti-Semitism was apparently not becoming an active force within the
overall population".  On the other, "ordinary" Germans experienced the 1930s
as "good times" and were "indifferent" to the persecution, segregation and
impoverishment suffered by German Jews with whom they felt no solidarity or

The German elites, from the civil service and professions to the
universities, churches and cultural life, played a more fateful role than
the "ordinary" Germans.  They were not merely "indifferent" but in fact
active supporters of the Nazi regimes's early anti-Semitic agenda, aimed at
endign an allegedly inordinate Jewish influence over German life.  Hitler
well understood the gulf that separated his own brand of anti-Semitism from
that of the conservative elites, but the latter did not.  Their "ready
abandonment of the Jews" was an "overall moral collapse" that formed the
bridge between National Socialism and the rest of German society.

For Freidlander, as late as the *Kristallnacht* pogrom in November 1938,
there was a "clear difference" between "activists" and "onlookers" within
the German population.  Both diplomatic and Special Department reports
confirm that the pogrom was not popular among "ordinary" Germans.  There are
report after report detailing the "speaking out" by Germans -- in Hamburg,
for example -- against the Jewish pogroms, and attributing much of this to
the lack of "anti-Jewish feeling" among the general population.

Yet, the fact remains that such "ordinary" Germans, who did not share the
regime's anti-Semitic priorities and obsessions and who still shied from
open violence against their Jewish neighbors as late as November 1938, could
by 1941 become the "willing executioners" of millions of Jews.  How did the
"onlookers" of 1938 become the killers of 1941.  

Freidlander's second volume, due out in December, promises to address this
vexing question.  

Louis Godena

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