This Too Shall Pass

I was just writing a paper about a riot that took place in a highly populated Jewish area of Berlin on November 5, 1923 by Germans. The reasoning for the riot was due to the high inflation in Germany post WWI, but the reasoning as to why the Jews were targeted, well I think we know a thing or two about that reason for too well.

However, what I found most interesting about the source I was reading (“Out With the Ostjuden”- David Clay Large) was when he quoted the German- Jewish response to the pillage. Being that the riot occurred in Scheunenviertel, an area in Berlin which was coined “the ghetto of Berlin” due to the large influx of Ostjuden at the time (Jews from Poland and Russia) to the area, the response from the assimilated and affluent Jewish community in Germany to their poor brethren who was a personification of the Wandering Jew was vastly different.

As David Clay Large, the author of the article wrote: “Depending on which ideological camp they adhered to- say, Zionist or liberal assimilationists Jews could blame all Germans for antisemitism and find it fundamental to the national psyche, or they could consider it an aberration propagated by a misguided minority.”

The discussions in the German- Jewish press in regards to the riot and the increasing hostilities against them ranged from being more German to being more Jewish, to blaming the Ostjuden and ignoring the inherent anti-semitic undertone, to this being an attack on Germany as a whole as sentiments of the country being a progressive and modern beacon were being erased.

(And this was years before the threat of Hitler was acknowledged or even known. At this point, especially in Berlin, he was barely recognized. In fact, it was 3 days before Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich resulting in his imprisonment. So no, these attacks were not coming from Nazis, but “regular” people who just hated.)

I re-read this part of the article several times as I could not help but notice the relevance it holds to today.

Fact: If you replace “Germans” with “Americans” or “pick thy nationality” in the quote mentioned above, it could have been written on May 30, 2019. I think that is why I was so mesmerized by it.

Fact: Anti-semitism is increasing today. Well, I actually don’t think it is increasing, but rather more overt. People are less ashamed of their intolerance. Including Jews. And it is not going to disappear.

Fact: The number of times the question of “well how didn’t they realize” or “why didn’t they do anything” in regards to German Jews under the Nazi regime is constant.

So, I asked myself what is the difference between us and German- Jews in 1923?

I wanted to answer the question I proposed to myself, but quite frankly I could not think of an appropriate answer.

Of course, Israel and Tzahal now exist, but you are naive to think that anti-semitism does not exist in Israel, that Israel is not one of the most devise issues among Jews today, that Israel is a total safe-haven, and that all Jews will move here.

So as much as that is a modern factor and is my personal solution to how to be a proud Jew 101, I don’t think it is THE solution.

Nor do I think there is a concrete one.

However, I think we, as Jews, need to stop being so harsh on the Jews that came before us.

Why didn’t they do anything?

Well let’s rephrase that question and place the pressure on ourselves. Because in 100 years from now people will be asking.

I don’t agree that we are living through 1933 Germany, because beginning in 1933 there was an organized boycott by the Nazi government against the Jews and Jews in the civil service were expelled from their positions. So it is ignorant and an injustice to history to make that comparison.

But I do believe we are living through what happened in 1923 in Berlin, for example. An isolated, non-organized event committed by “regular” citizens which used the economic crisis as an excuse to assault Jews, especially those who represented the infamous characterial image of the Wandering Jew- the Ostjuden. This was an event in which the German press largely and carefully blamed the Ostjuden although tactfully wording their opinions and the Jewish press had conflicting responses which by and large resulted to nothing.

In recent months/ years we have seen similar situations played out numbers of times.
The same way Jews, in this case, Germany, were being targeted and singled out, so are we.

However, the Jews in Germany did not know what was to come and frankly, neither do we.

So instead of judging and asking, “why didn’t they do anything”, ask “why aren’t I doing anything”?

They didn’t leave the same way most of us aren’t leaving.
They didn’t protest the same way most of us aren’t protesting.
They didn’t speak about tolerance and the idea of the “other” the same way we often times neglect this topic.

I don’t believe there is a solution to anti-semitism and I do think it will always exist. However, I do think we live in an age in which our opinions can not be stifled and our words have a greater reach.

About the Author
Lottie Kestenbaum was born to British parents and grew up in New Jersey. To add to the identity crisis, Lottie made aliyah in August 2012. Hello tri-citizenship! She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Holocaust Studies at Haifa University and living in Jerusalem. Yes, it is a shlep. No need to mention it :-)
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