Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

Synopsis

From the seventeenth century until the Holocaust, Germany's Jews lurched between progress and setback, between fortune and terrible misfortune. German society shunned Jews in the eighteenth century and opened unevenly to them in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, only to turnmurderous in the Nazi era. By examining the everyday lives of ordinary Jews, this book portrays the drama of German-Jewish history -- the gradual ascent of Jews from impoverished outcasts to comfortable bourgeois citizens and then their dramatic descent into genocidal torment during the Nazi years. Building on social, economic, religious, and political history, it focuses on the qualitative aspects of ordinary life -- emotions, subjective impressions, and quotidian perceptions. How did ordinary Jews and their families make sense of their world? How did they construe changes brought about byindustrialization? How did they make decisions to enter new professions or stick with the old, juggle traditional mores with contemporary ways? The Jewish adoption of secular, modern European culture and the struggle for legal equality exacted profound costs, both material and psychological. Evenin the heady years of progress, a basic insecurity informed German-Jewish life. Jewish successes existed alongside an antisemitism that persisted as a frightful leitmotif throughout German-Jewish history. And yet the history that emerges from these pages belies simplistic interpretations that Germanantisemitism followed a straight path from Luther to Hitler. Neither Germans nor Jews can be typecast in their roles vis a vis one another. Non-Jews were not uniformly antisemitic but exhibited a wide range of attitudes towards Jews. Jewish daily life thus provides another vantage point fromwhich to study the social life of Germany. Focusing on both internal Jewish life -- family, religion, culture and Jewish community -- and the external world of German culture and society provides a uniquely well-rounded portrait of a world defined by the shifting sands of inclusion andexclusion.

Excerpt

The history of German Jewry is a drama depicting the gradual ascent of Jews from impoverished outcasts to comfortable bourgeois citizens and then their striking descent during the Nazi years. This history has been analyzed from the "outside," by looking at the histories of antisemitism, state discrimination, or political emancipation (the almost century-long process of granting equality to the Jews). It has been studied from the "inside" by scrutinizing religious, social and cultural changes, and the politics of Jews toward their state or national governments or toward each other. More recently, historians have looked at local and regional histories, family histories, and women's histories.

German-Jewish historiography has benefited enormously from social history, its studies of demography, socioeconomic structure, social mobility, occupational patterns, and organizations. But "social history has preferred the impersonal to the intimate" and often misses individual variations by leaving out important issues, such as gender, milieu, mentalities, and identities. Our approach grew out of a desire to examine the everyday lives of ordinary Jews in Germany. Building on social, economic, and political history, it focuses more closely on how changing structures and cultural shifts affect subjective experiences and on how individuals carved out a place for themselves in society. We have attempted to reveal the qualitative aspects of ordinary life—people's emotions, perceptions, and mentalities. We wondered how ordinary Jews made sense of their world: How did they construe changes brought about by industrialization? How did they make decisions to enter new professions or remain with the old? How did they interpret the newly flourishing organizational life that grew in the context of late nineteenth-century antisemitism? Did they join non-Jewish associations or not? We attempted to explore the . . .

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