Opinion in the Wake of Defeat | Coups and the Erzberger Assassination | The Rathenau Assassination | Hitler, His Youth and Political Party | German Worker's Party becomes the "Nazi" Party | Horrific Inflation | Hitler Maneuvers | Chancellor Gustav Stresemann | The Hitler-Ludendorff Putsch| Recovery and European Reconciliation | Hitler and Mein Kampf, 1924-27 | Prosperity and Prospect for Peace
After World War I, Germans from Marxist to ultra-conservative were united in looking forward to their nation's regeneration, but they differed as to how regeneration was to be accomplished and where to cast blame for their nation's troubles. Public opinion in Germany was like public opinion elsewhere: it contained portions of half-truths, untruths and myth. Many Germans blamed their nation's troubles on the old regime of Wilhelm II for losing the war and for having turned power over to the socialists. Some blamed their nation's defeat on those who had signed the armistice, seeing these men as traitors and pacifistic cowards. They believed that the German army had marched home in tact after having been stabbed in the back.
Prominent among those believed to be traitors were Jews – among them the murdered Communist leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, and Kurt Eisner, who had led the Communist takeover in Bavaria. The leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution were thought to be predominately Jewish – as was Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev and Karl Radek. Béla Kun, who led the Soviet regime in Hungary, was also Jewish – as was Karl Marx. Many Germans who opposed Communism saw Jews as inclined to be internationalist rather than loving the German fatherland, because, they believed, the Jews had a heritage of wandering and rootlessness.
Many Germans saw little difference between the Communists and the Social Democrats who had taken power in Germany just before the Armistice. The Social Democrats were traditionally a Marxist party. They still had a red flag, although they had long given up on Marx's idea of revolution. And viewing Social Democrats as Marxists and Jews as internationalists helped some Germans label the Social Democrats as Jewish and of foreign origin.
Germans tended to look upon themselves as a superior people – as did most tribes and nationalities through history. It was a view that had been reinforced by Germany's accomplishments in science and industry. From reading the ancient Roman historian, Tacitus, some Germans believed that Germans had an inborn special character. Tacitus had described Germans as a people who did not mix with other tribes. And believing themselves superior, most Germans saw this as having benefited their nation, and they disapproved of Germans interbreeding with lesser breeds -- including Jews.
Anti-Semitism in Germany dated back to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism. Luther had wanted Germany to deprive its Jews of all their cash, jewels, silver and gold. He had wanted their synagogues set afire, their homes destroyed and Jews driven out of the country. In the late nineteenth century, when people were superimposing Darwin's theory of evolution onto social development, anti-Semitism in Germany – as well as elsewhere – received a boost with enhanced concern about bloodlines and race. And Germany's anti-Semitism had some of its roots in its peasantry's opposition to the big cities. Jews had been heavily represented in money lending in Europe, and nineteenth century German novels written for country folk depicted money lending Jews entering rural areas from the cities and depriving peasants of their wealth and land. One such book that sold in the millions was Der Büttnerbauer (The Peasant from Büttner). Adolf Hitler, an avid and eclectic reader, was to claim that this book was among the many books that had influenced him. In Der Büttnerbauer, a German peasant becomes indebted to a Jewish moneylender. The peasant's land is foreclosed. And, losing the soil that had nourished his life, he hangs himself – end of story.
Perhaps anti-Semitism was greater in Germany than in Italy or France because Germany had more Jews per capita. Nevertheless, the Jews in Germany were but a small percentage of the population: 0.9 percent, compared to 0.5 percent in France, and 0.13 percent in Italy. In absolute numbers, about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany, as opposed to about 100,000 in France and 45,000 in Italy.
The rise in number of Jews in Germany was a recent development, coming soon after 1880 with a migration from Eastern Europe into Central and Western Europe and the United States. These migrants went mainly to big cities, and in Germany's big cities they became highly visible, some of them rising in trade and commerce, in the professions, including journalism, and in cultural pursuits.
Acceptance of Jews in Germany's cities was widespread, and there was a high degree of assimilation, with some intermarriage, some prominent gentile men having taken wives from Jewish families. But in the cities some Jews continued to wear orthodox clothing and to maintain their orthodox appearance. They had accents, and many chauvinistic Germans were suspicious of people with foreign accents. And some Jews responded to gentile hostility with an unpleasant, defensive manner rather than the traditional courtesy to which German gentiles were accustomed. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, anti-Semitism in Germany poisoned the personalities of some Jews.
Anti-Semitism had been strong among German students in the late nineteenth century, a product of the students of those years being elitist and favoring a strong and spiritual Germany, a Germany opposed to the liberalism, materialism and immorality that they associated with the Jews. Continuing into the 20th century, in 1901 the faculty of the University of Heidelberg opposed the existence of a Jewish fraternity on campus on the grounds that it endangered peace among the students. This anti-Semitism at universities extended into postwar Germany, many students believing that national revitalization would be helped by ridding Germany of Jewish influences. These students tended to be from Germany's more wealthy and refined families, but they had allies among Germany's coarse and less pampered gentiles.
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