Social history of the “modern German-Jewish epoch” in Berlin, viewed through the trajectory of one middle-class family before their dispersion by the Nazis.
The stories of wealthy German-Jewish families have been presented in numerous collective biographies—e.g., of the families Cassirer, Mosse, Warburg, and Wertheim. In this academic work, Geller (History, Judaic Studies/Case Western Reserve Univ.; Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany, 1945-1953, 2004, etc.) focuses on one bourgeois clan of printers in Berlin. Originally from Glogau in Lower Silesia, the Scholem family experienced a typical immigration pattern as the strictures on Jewish migration were relaxed by an edict in 1812 that granted “rights to ordinary Jews” and permitted “their eventual integration into German society.” Berlin was essentially a city of immigrants, “a magnet for those seeking their fortunes." The first generation of Scholems in Berlin owned a restaurant, and the second took up lithography, a timely trade since Germany was experiencing “a massive increase in the number of newspapers, pamphlets, and posters.” Arthur Scholem, born in 1863, was part of the generation that would “complete the process of modernization” begun by his father; Arthur became an important leader in standardization. With the arrival of World War I, the Scholems “held fast to their vision of an inclusive German nation.” Geller successfully excavates the family history to show how Arthur’s four sons would delineate the fate of the Scholems: Werner became a passionate communist and was imprisoned by the Nazis and eventually killed in a concentration camp; Reinhold and Erich took over the family print business but were forced by the Nazis to sell it in 1934 and then moved to Australia; Gershom became a devout Zionist and notable scholar of Judaism who moved to Palestine before the crisis in Germany. He chronicled his youthful migration in the celebrated memoir From Berlin to Jerusalem.
Geller sets out a compelling tale of a diverse group of German Jews in the early 20th century who were broadly representative of the culture and class of a long-lost era.