Between Philosemitism and Antisemitism: Defenses of Jews and Judaism in Germany 1871-1932

By Stern, Guy | Shofar, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Between Philosemitism and Antisemitism: Defenses of Jews and Judaism in Germany 1871-1932


Stern, Guy, Shofar


Between Philosemitism and Antisemitism: Defenses of Jews and Judaism in Germany 1871-1932, by Alan T. Levenson. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 194 pp. $55.00.

Virtually every aspect of the relationship between the Jews living in German-speaking countries and their non-Jewish contemporaries during the sixty-odd years prior to the Nazi accession to power has been analyzed and interpreted. Frequently and understandably a dismal, well-documented diagnosis of open or latent antisemitism emerged. Yet was there no countervailing trend in Germany and Austria, a validation of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish contributions, even as antisemitism and indifference became ever more dominant? That is precisely the question that Alan L. Levenson asked himself and, in the search for an answer, wrote the first cohesive study of philosemitism in Germany during the period of the Wilhelmine Empire and the Weimar Republic.

Arising initially during the Wilhelmine Empire, as a counterforce to a politically inspired conservative and chauvinistic crop of philosophizing antisemites, philosemitic proponents never gained the coherence of the hategroups. As a result many individual champions became ultimately ineffective while fighting a defensive battle against the antisemites. To these non-Jewish apologists for their stigmatized Jewish contemporaries Levenson affixes the useful appellation of anti-antisemites. Yet even in taking this cautious position these defenders of the Jews would repeat such old bromides as "some of their best friends were Jewish" (p. 6) and they would take the additional defensive stance of credentialing themselves as non-Jews. To do otherwise would have made their advocacy suspect.

At times the effort to shield oneself against the appearance of a pro-Jewish bias became tortuous. Members of the Abwehrverein, the Society for the Defense against antisemitism, would try to demonstrate their objectivity by simply appealing to Christian tolerance and equality under German law or even by "admitting" to certain flaws in the Jewish character as a show of objectivity.

Levenson meticulously traces the various attitudes of these defenders of German Jewry during the duration of the Empire, highlighting the pioneering writings of Count Heinrich von Coudenhove-Kalergi (father of the founder of the Pan-Europe Movement), also on the benign stance of the Empress Augusta and, in a particularly enlightening excursus, on the ambivalent writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Equally enlightening is his finding that there was a frequent concinnity between the German Peace movement and philosemitism. In fact Bertha von Suttner, the pioneer of the peace movement and the recipient of the first Nobel Peace Price, became one of the earliest advocates of Theodor Herzl's Zionism.

Levenson seeks further evidence for the existence of a philosemitic tendency by examining German-Christian literature. Unearthing examples that contrasted with the plethora of literary (and sub-literary) antisemitic texts does great credit to Levenson's research skills. …

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