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Jonathan Morse <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 31 Oct 1999 18:20:07 -1000
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The discussion of the Talmud in the following review may interest members
of this list, given Pound's slightly later obsessions with both the Talmud
and _The Protocols of the Elders of Zion_.
Jonathan Morse
Published by [log in to unmask]   (October, 1999)
Dirk Walter.  _Antisemitische Kriminalitaet und Gewalt.  Judenfeindschaft in
der Weimarer Republik_. Bonn:  Verlag J. H. W. Dietz Nachfolger, 1999.
Pp. 349.  Cloth DM 48.00 Euro 24.54.  Illustrations, notes, bibliography,
and index.  ISBN 3-8012-5026-1
Reviewed for H-Antisemitism by Richard Bodek
<[log in to unmask]>, College of Charleston
In this well-researched and well-written study, Dirk Walter
provides us with the first focused analysis of antisemitic criminality in
the Weimar Republic.  Walter's narrative traces illegal action over the
course of the Republic's history, dividing it into three relatively
coherent periods: 1918-23, 1923-28, and 1928-32.  Violence marked the
initial - or pogrom - phase.  Although, as Walter shows, even then debates
about proper tactics punctuated the flurry of street attacks and
hostage-taking.  The second phase saw a shift from real to symbolic
violence,  when desecrations of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries -- there
were 200 such attacks between 1923 - 1932 -- largely replaced physical
violence against Jews.  The offenders' youth defined this era.  It was in
this period, according to Walter, that anti-antisemites came to view
anti-Jewish activity as being also intrinsically antidemocratic.  The third
and final phase was marked by a return to violence against Jewish bodies.
This violence was much more organized than that of the first phase, being
largely under the direction of the SA of the NSDAP.  Also of note in this
period was an upsurge of interest in Jewish texts, both real and spurious,
among antisemites. For example, a belief in the authenticity of the
_Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ was conjoined with a renewed interest in
the Talmud as an allegedly anti-Gentile work of lore and law.
Within this chronological framework, Walter's gaze shifts among
multiple perspectives.  His readers learn about the debates within and
among antisemitic organizations and their foes, as well as discussions by
legislators and in the press. He also chronicles several violent incidents
in frighteningly graphic detail.  Here especially his eye for a story well
presumably still useful in his current career as a Munich newspaper editor,
stands him in good stead.  Among the work's other strengths are his
discussion of the generational shift among antisemitic perpetrators
(street thugs in the revolutionary period tended to be older than synagogue
and cemetery desecrators of the Golden Twenties) and his exposition and
discussion of tactical debates among antisemites.  This serves to remind
us that right-wing, proto-fascist, and fascist antisemites were not all cut
from the same mold, but rather had multiple and often conflicting positions
on tactics, strategy, and even goals.
Although Walter narrates the story in brisk fashion, there are a
number of issues that could have been dealt with in more depth.  For
example, he claims a very different atmosphere for Weimar than that which
existed during the Kaiserreich, yet some of his evidence (he states that
there were no antisemitic newspapers before World War One) is suspect.  A
broader comparison of the two eras would have been most interesting.  On a
more interpretive note, he studies antisemitic criminality, yet never fully
explains why this would provide a coherent focus.  One is left wondering if
there might be other, more interpretive, foci which might have proved more
appropriate to the subject.
Finally, there are a number of loose threads which would make for
interesting studies in themselves.  Walter tells of the antisemitic
campaign of Talmud denigration.  One is led to wonder why there was a
resurgence of interest in Jewish writing, especially in classical texts.
Could the antisemites have been reading, or misreading, the works of
scholarship and translation of the Weimar Jewish Renaissance?
Walter also tells us that in the mid 1920s, democrats came to see
antisemitism as being intrinsically antidemocratic.  Did the
antisemites also see it this way?  What are the implications of
either a yes or no answer?  Walter describes and discusses
synagogue and cemetery desecration, in harrowing detail.  The
discussion raises the question of what this defilement meant to
the perpetrators.  In other words, why this kind of action?  To
invoke the language of cultural studies, what did the perpetrators
mean in the creation of this text?  Finally, did these youthful
perpetrators mature into the SA thugs of late Weimar, or never again
engage in physical violence during the Republic?
It is important to recognize that probably none of these questions
would have been asked without Dirk Walter's fine study, which
forces his readers to reconceptualize antisemitic action in the
Weimar Republic.
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