THE JEWS OF GERMANY: A Historical Portrait by Ruth Gay

THE JEWS OF GERMANY: A Historical Portrait

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The history of Jews in Germany begins with the third century A.D., when a settlement at Cologne was paying taxes to the Emperor Constantine. It ends in 1943, the year Hitler declared the country ""Judenrein""--free of Jews. By then, 170,000--out of a community of half a million--had perished in the camps. The rest had emigrated. This fascinating account by Gay (Jews in America, 1965) covers not only the tragedies leading up to the ultimate one, but the triumphs of nearly two millennia. Above all, Gay describes the strategies of day-to-day survival for rich and for poor, Prussians and Alsatians, city and country folk, men and women--making dozens of useful distinctions overlooked in our standard simple notion of what it meant to be a German Jew. Yes, the Lateran Council in 1215 required that Jews wear distinctive headgear. But at the same time, the legends of King Arthur were circulating in rhymed Yiddish couplets. Yes, a few Jews were financial advisers to dukes and princes and, later, stunningly successful capitalists. But most lived in rural poverty as late as the 19th century, when 120,000 emigrated to the US. Gay's text is easy to follow, and the copious illustrations (277 b&w; ten color) include woodcuts, engravings, photographs of forgotten ancestors, and facsimile pages of historic documents. Almost every page offers some intriguing tidbit. A Jewish envoy of Charlemagne brought a white elephant back to Aachen from the Baghdad court of Caliph Haroun el Rashid. Twelve thousand Jewish soldiers fought and died for the Kaiser during WW I. A perfect bar mitzvah gift--and, one hopes, of interest to non-Jews too--Gay's book rescues a long and variegated history from the dark shadow of recent events.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1992
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press