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Rusty, I don’t think it is quite accurate to explain German anti-Semitism as a localist reaction to Jewish assimilation. You commented yesterday that Germans didn’t think assimilation “was possible, not because they denied that a stranger’s children and grand-children could take on local identity, but because they suspected Jews of maintaining a deeper, more profound, and more permanent identity—even against their conscious intentions.” In fact, Jews manufactured a great deal of “local” German culture as their means of assimilating. In the land of music and poetry during the 1830s, the leading musician (Felix Mendelssohn) and the leading poet (Heinrich Heine) were both Jewish, albeit converts. Heine is the most interesting case: as he says in his memoirs, his was “the last free forest-song of German Romanticism.” His Buch der Lieder was for a generation the bestselling book of poetry in Germany; Friedrich Wilhelm IV wept over it even while signing an arrest order for Heine, then living in French exile. Heine’s Religion and Philosophy in Germany and  Elementargeister still are among the best guides to German paganism. Richard Wagner stole the entire plot for “Flying Dutchman” from a sketch in Heine’s novella The Memoirs of Schnabelowopski and then wrote D as Judentum in der Musik to demonstrate that Jews couldn’t be creative. In some respects, 19th century German culture—the core of it, not the avante-garde—had as much Jewish influence as did American culture in the golden era of Hollywood. Jewish assimilation was brilliantly successful. The Nazis had to label any number of songs and poems “author unknown” because every German knew them, and they couldn’t admit to Heine’s authorship.

Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy, a German-Jewish convert to Protestantanism, had an interestingtake (in Out of Revolution ):

The anti-Semitic hatred of the Jew, in all its simplicity and straightforwardness, has always and necessarily been the hatred of the Beginning of things for the End. The outlook from the beginning is impossible once you have looked at the same thing from the end: yet that was the permanent conflict or tension forced upon paganism by the existence of the Hebrews . . . God’s Alpha was lived by the Gentiles, and God’s Omega is embodied in the Jews. This antithesis brought Pagans and Jews into a conflict of principle. The Jewish community, as a community was created by God to be his witness against the blindnesses of the Alpha-nations . . .  

Whenever an old form is reluctant to go to its doom, like the church in the fifteenth century, or like Czarism before 1914, it defends its own obsolete and dying institutions by persecuting the Jew, the eternal symbol of a life beyond any existing form of government. Whenever a young generation tries to relive the first day of creation, it attacks the Jew because he smiles at this passionate belief in fugitive forms. In Germany during the orgies of Hitlerism a certain Jewish journalist was asked to correct the book of a Nazi authoress; and in return for the favor she agreed to take him to see Goebbels and Goering. After tea with them he came back as though enlightened and told his friends: “They cannot help persecuting us; they are playing Red Indians, and they know that we cannot take their game seriously”. 

Rosenstock-Huessy has a point. Despite their success at assimilating and often re-inventing what later passes for local cultures, the Jews never quite take them seriously. Why should we? We have seen so many of them come and go over the past four thousand years. 

I never tire of quoting Rosenzweig’s uncanny dictum: 

Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customers have lost their living power.

That is true even in places like Germany, where Jews played a key role in the creation of the “local culture.” That is the origin of the Viennese wisecrack quoted by Paul Johnson in his History of the Jews : “Anti-Semitism wasn’t getting anywhere until the Jews got behind it.”

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