< Back

Book Notes: Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, Monica Richarz

John Klier

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, Monica Richarz. Translated by Stella P. Rosenfeld and Sidney Rosenfeld (Indiana University Press; Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1991) 484pp. ?20.60. This volume is a condensation of a three-volume German version published over ten years ago, itself based on manuscript holdings at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, London and Jerusalem. It contains extracts from fifty-one manuscript autobiographies, with a lengthy introduction by Monica Richarz which puts them into context. The work is divided into three sections, dealing with the 'Age of Emancipation' (1780-1871), 'Imperial Germany' (1871-1918), and 'the Weimar Republic and National Socialism' (1918-45). The memoirs which form the core of the book were never meant for publica? tion, and few can claim great literary merit. For the most part they are family chronicles, designed to preserve details of lineage and to record the exceptional events through which family members lived. In some respects they are dispropor? tionately weighted toward the educated middle class, but other segments of the Jewish community, such as women and the poor, do occasionally appear. The book represents an exceptional attempt to present history at the grass roots, and it brilliandy succeeds. The authors write with a disarming guilelessness of the great events of the day juxtaposed and interspersed with births, deaths and marria? ges. In the very first memoir, that of Itzig Behrend, the traumas caused by the 380</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes invasion of the armies of Napoleon are noted alongside the increase in the cost of grain. The memoirs present not only the day-to-day workings of Jewish life, but also the changes in thought and oudook that accompanied Jewish efforts to adapt to a changing national environment, as Germany evolved from small, Christian, feudal states into an economically and culturally powerful nation state. For the most part this involved trying to 'become German', while at the same time preserving some form of Jewishness. The memoirs demonstrate the difficulties attendant on this process, complicated all the more by the growth and persistence of external anti Semitism. At the same time, the memoirs record the changing economic and social life of German Jewry, as it increasingly moved into the ranks of the middle class. Everything about this work - selection, editing, translation - recommends it to the reader who seeks a better understanding of the internal and external history of modern German Jewry. John Klier</page></plain_text>