As Germans and as Jews
in Imperial Germany
The unification of Germany in 1871 granted legal equality to Germany's Jews.1 They could live, marry, and worship as full citizens and take advantage of unparalleled opportunities in business and the professions. Jews had been in public life for about two decades before legal emancipation and had already begun to enter the middle classes. In Imperial Germany, they solidified their middle-class status, growing wealthier, giving their children advanced educations in numbers far beyond their proportion of the overall population, moving to the cities, enjoying bourgeois culture, and integrating with other Jews and Germans in lively and burgeoning associations.
As Jews became more acculturated, their religious attitudes increasingly diversified, stretching from Orthodox to secular. Some even converted and intermarried. Still, very few left the Jewish community, and many felt satisfied with a Judaism that encompassed family, bourgeois culture, and community.
Antisemitism limited Jewish attainments, intensifying and later subsiding in Imperial Germany only to rise up again during World War I. Some of the most important institutions of the German Empire—the army, the universities, the civil service, and the Imperial Court—shunned Jews, as did high society. And even when the antisemitic political parties faced resounding parliamentary defeat in prewar Germany, antisemitism infiltrated many political and semipolitical organizations as well as society more generally.2 Antisemitism thus restricted Jewish success but also created the boundaries against which Jews relentlessly pushed, often successfully.