Cover image for The pity of it all : a history of Jews in Germany, 1743-1933
The pity of it all : a history of Jews in Germany, 1743-1933
Elon, Amos.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, [2002]

Physical Description:
446 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
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Publisher description
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DS135.G33 E57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DS135.G33 E57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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From an acclaimed historian and social critic, a passionate and poignant history of German Jews from the mid-eighteenth century to the eve of the Third Reich As it's usually told, the story of the German Jews starts at the end, with their tragic demise in Hitler's Third Reich. Now, in this important work of historical restoration, Amos Elon takes us back to the beginning, chronicling a period of achievement and integration that at its peak produced a golden age second only to the Renaissance.Writing with a novelist's eye, Elon shows how a persecuted clan of cattle dealers and wandering peddlers was transformed into a stunningly successful community of writers, philosophers, scientists, tycoons, and activists. He peoples his account with dramatic figures: Moses Mendelssohn, who entered Berlin in 1743 through the gate reserved for Jews and cattle, and went on to become "the German Socrates"; Heinrich Heine, beloved lyric poet who famously referred to baptism as the admission ticket to European culture; Hannah Arendt, whose flight from Berlin signaled the end of the German-Jewish idyll. Elon traces how this minority-never more than one percent of the population-came to be perceived as a deadly threat to national integrity, and he movingly demonstrates that this devastating outcome was uncertain almost until the end.A collective biography, full of depth and compassion, The Pity of It All summons up a splendid world and a dream of integration and tolerance that, despite all, remains the essential ennobling project of modernity.

Author Notes

Amos Elon is the author of eight widely praised books, including Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and the New York Times bestseller Israelis: Founders and Son s. A frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books , he divides his time between Jerusalem and Tuscany.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This meticulously researched history begins with the reign of Frederick II and ends with the rise of Adolf Hitler. According to the author, the German Jews--never more than 1 percent of the population--never ceased in their efforts to merge German and Jewish identity. He cites their many contributions to literature, the arts, theology, politics, industry, and the natural sciences, and chronicles the lives of such eminent German Jews as Salman Schocken (founder of Schocken Books), poet Nachman Bialik, Nobel laureate Shmuel Agnon, Franz Kafka, Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Albert Einstein, and Moses Mendelssohn. Although their history is recounted as one in which--for most of the time--they suffered indignation and humiliation, culminating in the Holocaust, Elon writes: "We must see the German Jews in the context of their time and, at the very least, appreciate their authenticity, the way they saw themselves and others, often with reason. For long periods, they had cause to believe in their ultimate integration. It was touch and go almost to the end." George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his excellent overview, veteran Israeli journalist and historian Elon (a biographer of Herzl and others) writes in a fluid and appealing style, with a talent for capturing the right anecdote or quote. He focuses on individual figures, both well-known ones such as Heine, Marx (both of whom converted to Protestantism) and Herzl, and lesser-knowns such as Ludwig Sonnemann (a newspaper editor who excoriated Bismarck's 1871 annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Kurt Eisner (head of a short-lived socialist republic in Bavaria in 1919) and Walter Rathenau (the assimilated foreign minister who was assassinated in 1922). Like other historians of German Jewry, Elon points to the leadership of Jews in bringing the Enlightenment to Germany and to their high rate of assimilation and intermarriage (by the 1920s, the intermarriage rate of German Jewry rivaled that of America today). Fortunately, Elon avoids the trap of seeing all of pre-Nazi German-Jewish history as a prelude to the Holocaust or of viewing the "Final Solution" as inevitable. At the end of the 19th century, he argues effectively, "In most other European countries, prejudice and discrimination seemed equally or more prevalent" than in Germany. Elon's book is not without its shortcomings, such as focusing too much on Berlin and neglecting Jews in other cities, as well as rural and poor Jews, eastern European immigrants and women. But given these failings, this study will prove enlightening and enjoyable to those interested in both modern Jewish and modern German history. 47 b&w illus. (Nov. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

German Jews were among the first in the modern era to attempt to be both Jewish and national simultaneously. Elon author of over half a dozen books on Jewish history argues that this fusion often caused dissonance, which manifested itself in a number of intellectual movements, from radical assimilation to Zionism. Elon re-creates the German Jewish intellectual world through collective biography, whereby individuals are chosen as archetypes to understand the challenges and accomplishments of the entire German Jewish community. Such an approach can be dangerous, relying as it does on those who have left some sort of literary or political remnant. Elon, however, usually avoids this trap by focusing on the public side of German-Jewish life. Indeed, Elon's study charts a similar intellectual pattern to Ritchie Robertson's (The Jewish Question in German Literature, 1749-1939: Emancipation and Its Discontents). Unlike Robertson, who concentrated on its literary and philosophical manifestations, Elon examines a wider spectrum, including political and economic thought. Perhaps the most interesting chapter is "War Fever," which brings into stark contrast the responses of these various intellectual movements to total war in 1914. This work provides fascinating insight into the Jewish dilemma of coping with modernity. Recommended for most libraries. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From The Pity of It All : Barely twenty-four years old, Heinrich Heine arrived in Berlin in the summer of 1821 to study law at the university and attend Hegel's seminar on aesthetics. Slight, pale, with dreamy blue eyes and long, wavy blond hair, he was an enormously gifted writer, widely known for the lyricism of his poetry and the scathing wit of his prose. No other author has ever been so German and so Jewish or so ambivalent and ironic about being both; Heine would leave an indelible mark on German culture. During these university days, he wore velvet jackets, dandyish Byronic collars, and a fashionable wide-rimmed felt hat known as a Bolivar. Older by two or three years than most of his peers, he was allergic to the alcohol, nicotine, and "patriotic" politics they indulged in so boisterously. His distaste for alcohol persisted; he is said to have claimed that the Jewish contribution to the new German patriotism was "the small glass" of beer. Excerpted from The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933 by Amos Elon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Ancient Renownp. 13
2 The Age of Mendelssohnp. 33
3 Miniature Utopiasp. 65
4 Heine and Bornep. 101
5 Spring of Nationsp. 149
6 Hopes and Anxietiesp. 185
7 Years of Progressp. 221
8 Assimilation and Its Discontentsp. 259
9 War Feverp. 297
10 The Endp. 355
Notesp. 405
Acknowledgmentsp. 431
Indexp. 433