Wicked sons, German heroes : Jewish soldiers, veterans, and memories of World War I in Germany / by Gregory A. Caplan.
German Jews emerged from the First World War more aggressive in the defense of their rights than any previous generation. In part, this pugnacity was borne of necessity. In the immediate postwar years, the fight against antisemitism involved the physical defense of the community against violence on the streets. The democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic also granted German Jews the freedom to critique state practices and to demand the redress of their grievances in a more assertive manner than was possible in the German Empire. German-Jewish militarism, however, has its roots in the war experience itself. Jewish soldiers of the First World War grew up in a society that doubted the capacity of Jews to fight like men. Their bravery and endurance in the trenches earned them the status of German-Jewish heroes in a community more amenable than ever before to romantic cultural currents. Moreover, the “community of the trenches” strengthened Jewish soldiers' faith in an inclusive Volksgemeinschaft and provided them with an appealing model for postwar social harmony. Finally, the “Jew count” reinforced Jewish soldiers' sense that their presence in the trenches had a larger significance for the Jewish community as a whole. The legacy of this war experience framed the German-Jewish identity articulated by the RjF. In the mid-1920s, the RjF attempted to unify a politically divided Jewish community under the banner of militarism. Pluralism flourished within the organization throughout the 1920s, based on the principle that the unifying bond of having served the Fatherland transcended internal Jewish conflicts. In this setting, common perceptions of the desired cultural development of German Jewry emerged. The “new German Jew” championed by the RjF was disciplined, strong, respectful of authority, and willing to endure hardship for the sake of an idea. In the 1930's, however, the RjF adopted a politics of militarism that required “new German Jews” to make choices. For more than a few German Jews at the time, bourgeois liberalism had reached its twilight.
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