Journal Article

The Emancipation ‘Pantheon of Heroes’ in the German-Jewish Public Memory in the 1930s

Guy Miron

in German History

Published on behalf of German History Society

Volume 21, issue 4, pages 476-504
Published in print October 2003 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online October 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
The Emancipation ‘Pantheon of Heroes’ in the German-Jewish Public Memory in the 1930s

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The decline of the emancipation of the German Jews in the early 1930s and its ending under the Nazi regime motivated their various spokesmen to reevaluate their past, by discussing the heritage of the major emancipation heroes. Based mostly on the Jewish press, which was quite free to handle an internal Jewish dialogue until 1938, the article examines the representations of Moses Mendelssohn, David Friedländer, Rahel Varnhagen, Heinrich Heine and Gabriel Riesser in the Jewish public of this time. It demonstrates how spokesmen of the major German-Jewish political camps—the liberals, the Zionists and the Orthodox—referred to these figures in different ways in their effort to create a useful past for their readers. Thus, whereas radical Zionist and Orthodox Jews presented Mendelssohn's legacy as the beginning of the process of assimilation which was doomed to fail, others, who were mostly but not only liberals, portrayed a much more positive Mendelssohn. For them, Mendelssohn did not demonstrate the roots of the 1930s German-Jewish decline, but rather the sources of its potential recovery. Friedländer, Varnhagen and Heine were frequently mentioned as betrayers of Jewish honour, but certain spokesmen referred to them differently. Riesser, whose nineteenth-century heroic struggle for emancipation seemed in the 1930s to be a total failure, was still embraced by certain Jewish liberals as a hero who did the best for his time. The article also shows how the escalation of the late 1930s moderated internal Jewish historical polemics, almost creating a Jewish consensus about the past.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: European History

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