The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933

The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933

by Amos Elon

Paperback(First Edition)

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In this important work of historical restoration, Amos 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. In engaging, brilliantly etched portraits of Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, and many others, Elon traces how a small minority came to be perceived as a deadly threat to German national integrity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312422813
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 12/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 279,771
Product dimensions: 5.62(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

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 Sons. He was a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books. He passed away in 2009.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Table of Contents

1Ancient Renown13
2The Age of Mendelssohn33
3Miniature Utopias65
4Heine and Borne101
5Spring of Nations149
6Hopes and Anxieties185
7Years of Progress221
8Assimilation and Its Discontents259
9War Fever297
10The End355

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Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This excellent, moving history of German Jews from 1743-1933 is a well-researched, informative, and consistently interesting investigation into the pre-Nazi relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations in Germany. The story begins with the arrival of Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin through the Rosenthal Gate ¿ the gate reserved for Jews and cattle. It ends with the despair, exile, suicide, and/or murder of the cream of Jewish ¿ and indeed ¿ German - culture in 1933. What a tragic story of the efforts of a people to fit in who were never allowed to fit in, in spite of assimilation, in spite of conversion, in spite of a passionate patriotism rivaling that of any ¿Aryan¿ nationalist.The true religion of the Jews, Elon writes, was the ideal of ¿Bildung,¿ or high culture. Their goal was ¿to civilize German patriotism: to base citizenship not on blood but on law, to separate church and state, and to establish what would today be called an open, multicultural society.¿ Alas, as Elon observes, ¿the prominence of German Jews and the contributions they made became fully apparent only after they were gone.¿ In fact, in 1933, an organization of German Jews commissioned a compilation of all Jewish ¿achievers¿ and ¿achievements¿ in all fields, in a sad attempt to convince the nation of their value. ¿The oversized book,¿ as described by Elon, ¿ran to 1,060 pages and comprised thousands of entries and names.¿ The Gestapo ordered it to be destroyed, just as they later ordered the ¿people of the book¿ to be destroyed as well. Elon shares with us some of the stories of these remarkable humanists, scientists, philosophers, musicians, journalists, and others. He places them in the political context of their time, so that we can judge for ourselves the pressures they felt, the compromises they made or did not make, and the environment that contributed to their brilliant accomplishments. (Ironically, one factor that led to such a wealth of output among Jews was the discrimination against them: unable to get jobs in academia or law or many other fields, they had a great deal of time in which to be prolific, providing they could find sponsors.)It is interesting that long before Hitler was even a mote in his mother¿s eye, Germans were coming up with all sorts of discriminatory practices later associated with the Nazi movement. For example, in the 1700s, Jews were required by law ¿to be recognizable from a distance.¿ The mandatory yellow patch could only be avoided by a large payment to the state. The extra taxes on Jews were a long tradition also: large surcharges were imposed upon marriage, birth of children, and buying a house. In response to the conversion to Christianity of much of the social and intellectual elite, Germans in the early 19th century extended their exclusion criteria of Jews down to the third generation. Ludwig Borne, who converted to Christianity in 1813, observed to his blonde and blue-eyed friend Heinrich Heine (who had also converted) ¿Some reproach me for being as Jew; others forgive me for being one; there are even those who commend me for the same ¿ but there¿s no one able to put this fact out of his mind.¿ (Heine, who managed to hide his Judaic origins from his French Catholic wife, was not as successful with the Nazis: although they could not suppress the widely-beloved poem Die Lorelei, they did insist it be attribed to ¿Anonymous.¿) The prohibition against Jews in certain professions, especially the military, was an old practice as well. (In October 1916, after thousands of Jews had already fought in the war and more than seven thousand had received decorations, the War Minister ordered a ¿Jew census¿ to determine how many Jews actually served in the front lines. When the results yielded a figure of some 80 percent, the census had to be destroyed.) Elon postulates that hatred of Jews resulted not from ignorance but from increasing familiarity: ¿These Jews spoke and wrote the common langu
wwt1 More than 1 year ago
Wonderful, easy to read history!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the history of Jews in Germany BEFORE 1933. But the persistent question on my mind, as I read it, was: Can it explain what happened in Germany AFTER 1933? After gaining relative equality in the mid-1800s, German Jews rushed to the universities and soon rose from poverty to top positions in professions, academics, finance, publishing, business and politics. Was their amazing success and visibility resented by their 'fellow Germans'? Was it envy that fueled the hatred and indifference of the Nazi years? 'The Pity of It All' is thoroughly researched and supported by numerous references to other sources. It is never pedantic, however. It sweeps smoothly through two centuries and reads like a novel -- with an unhappy ending.