THE INVISIBLE WALL by W. Michael Blumenthal

THE INVISIBLE WALL

Germans and Jews, a Personal Exploration
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An utterly absorbing account of German Jewry from the early 18th century to the Holocaust as reflected in six individuals (five men and one woman) who were ancestors of the author’s. Blumenthal, himself a German-Jewish refugee to the US via Shanghai, former CEO of the Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys) and a former secretary of the treasury, focuses almost exclusively on Prussia and in particular on Berlin and its suburb of Oranienberg. He shows how precarious the position of Prussia’s small Jewish community was until the second half of the 19th century. Yet once Prussia’s Jews were “emancipated” (granted basic civic and political rights) in 1867, an already existing assimilationist drive among them intensified; Louis Blumenthal, an Oranienberg town councillor and banker, posited that —emancipation and assimilation go hand in hand.” During the golden age of German liberalism (roughly 1848—1914) a confluence also existed between the values of successful German Jews and their gentile counterparts; both were committed to Bildung und Besitz (education and property). And while earlier generations of German Jews, such as Rachel Varnhagen, hostess to a widely attended early 19th century intellectual salon, and composer Giacomo Meyerbeer were scarred by anti-Semitism, later 19th century German-Jewish intellectuals often tried to be oblivious to it. During the Weimar Republic (1919—33), when German society was thrown into upheaval by the legacy of defeat in WW I, a new, often chaotic experiment in democracy, hyperinflation, and depression, the Jewish romance with things German would of course have fatal consequences for those who chose to remain. Blumenthal beautifully weaves together individual stories, the history of the Jewish community, and developments in the larger German society. While those who desire an in-depth scholarly history of German Jewry might wish to turn elsewhere (though, as his extensive bibliography reveals, Blumenthal has more than done his homework), this is the book for those desiring a crisply written, personal, anecdotally rich history of a glorious and ultimately tragic community.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1998
ISBN: 1-887178-73-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998




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