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I PROLOGUE.......................................................1
II ORIGINS.........................................................25
III ANCESTORS: Jost.........................................53
IV PIONEERS: Rahel..........................................96
V ACHIEVERS: Giacomo.................................162
VI PATRIOTS: Louis.........................................200
VII DREAMERS: Arthur...................................236
VIII SURVIVORS: Ewald..................................286
IX DESCENDANTS: Michael............................339
X EPILOGUE......................................................375
Selected Bibliography.........................................409
Illustrations appear between pages 210 and 211.

The Invisible Wall
Germans and Jews: A Personal Exploration

By W. Michael Blumenthal


(C) 1998 W. Michael Blumenthal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-887178-73-2

Read BW's Review of This Book



If someone had asked my parents where their families came from, the reply would have been Brandenburg or perhaps, reaching further back, East Prussia. My mother, a touch self-conscious, might have mentioned the province of Posen (now the Polish Poznan), making sure to add that her family had moved to Berlin long ago, when Posen was still a part of Prussia--and that Posen was not like Galicia. In the circle of my parents, the distinction between longtime residents and recent arrivals--the largely Galician Ostjuden--was important to the former for their sense of status and identity.

    More distant roots? That question would have been met with blank stares. When I was young, many assimilated German Jews had grown quite hazy about their remote origins. The history they remembered was their history in Germany, beginning about where this book begins--the last part of the seventeenth century or the early part of the eighteenth.

    But that, of course, is not the whole story. The distant past of Germany's Jews--indeed, of all Ashkenazim--can be traced back much further, all the way to classical times. There are some historians, in fact, who believe that the key to understanding Germany's Jews--their special character, who they were, and what they thought and did--lies precisely in that faraway past. That, however, although it provides intriguing Insights, is a subject for a book in itself and too far removed from the scope of this one. For our purposes, a few significant highlights and events suffice to put what came later into appropriate perspective.

    In the beginning there were no Ashkenazim or Sephardim, only a Semitic people who came to be called Jews, named after the tribe of Judah, the Hebrew Yahudi. There is much that is unique about the Jews, above all, perhaps, that they have survived at all. They are, after all, the only biblical people to have endured intact to the present day. Given their fateful, often bloody history and their unending trials and troubles, that in itself is little short of a miracle. What is equally remarkable is that over much of their recorded history, they survived as a largely dispersed people. Ever since their Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E., more Jews have lived outside their homeland than in it.

    Most of the early details are uncertain and shrouded in the mists of the past. But we do know that well before the time of Christ there were large, flourishing Jewish communities throughout the Middle East and in the major Mediterranean cities. There were Jews in Babylon, Mesopotamia, and Phoenicia, in the Persian Empire, in Egypt, along the coast of North Africa, and later on in Greece. After the rise of the Roman Empire, large numbers of Jews lived in Rome and throughout much of the rest of Italy.

    From the beginning, a great many were outside the homeland by force of circumstance rather than choice. A large part of the Jewish population had been exiled to Babylon six centuries before Christ. Later, when Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E. and again, in the aftermath of the Bar-Kochba revolt sixty years later, as many as a half million Jews or more are said to have been carried off to Rome as slaves.

    Yet not all who left their homeland did so involuntarily. Jews, along with Syrians and Greeks, were among the old world's most adventurous and enterprising travelers and traders. Some reached India and even China, where there is evidence that the so-called Kaifeng Jews may have first settled there not many centuries after the birth of Christ.

    The succession of Roman procurators sent to govern Palestine imposed ruinous tax burdens on the people and drove many Jews off the land. As a result, substantial numbers left for essentially economic reasons in a steady flow of emigrants to Rome and other parts of the Empire. There is no precise Information about total numbers, but we do know that it involved many--probably in the millions, more, indeed, than the number of Jews who remained behind, causing a contemporary of Caesar to observe that "it is hard to find a spot in the inhabited world where this race does not dwell or traffic."

    As to their arrival in Germany, no one knows for certain when a Jew first set foot on German soil, though there are stories claiming a presence well before the birth of Christ. Some historians cite reports of a Jewish presence in Roman towns and settlements near the Rhine and Danube rivers as early as 300 B.C.E. There are tales about Jews in the ancient city of Worms petitioning Herod to spare Jesus from crucifixion, and of beautiful Jewish maidens among Roman legionnaires encamped along the banks of the Rhine.

    Although these are merely legends, the hypothesis of a very early presence in Germany is not unreasonable. The Romans were the first people from an advanced civilization to arrive there, years before Christ, at a time when the indigenous tribes were still dressed in little more than pelts. They came, originally invited by the Gauls, to help repel the invasion of "barbarians" pressing in from the East. Crossing the Alps or traveling north from the Mediterranean through France, up the riverbeds of the Rhone, the Loire, and the Seine, they established their towns and encampments along the great rivers--the Rhine, Main, Mosel, and Danube. And in the wake of the Roman legionnaires came all the others: settlers and camp followers, wives, prostitutes, beggars, and gypsies, and of course the merchants and the traders. Given a substantial Jewish presence in Rome and the prevalence of Jewish traders throughout the classical world, the supposition that Jews were among the earliest arrivals is certainly plausible.

    The first concrete evidence of a Jewish presence in Germany--locally made terra-cotta bottle stoppers and a menorah excavated from Roman ruins near Trier--dates back to the third century C.E. The elaborately carved stoppers depict manikins with clearly Semitic features and seem to make fun of such Jewish customs as circumcision, exclusiveness, and endogamy. They also give an idea of the occupations of these early Jewish settlers, to wit, wine-growing and the trading of slaves. But the first really hard evidence attesting to the presence of Jews is generally thought to be two decrees by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 324 and 331 C.E. The first of these stipulates that the Jews of Cologne are eligible to be called to the Curia, or city administration--thereby bestowing on some of them the dubious honor of making them liable for Roman taxes. The later decree exempts the Chief Rabbi from this obligation.

    In the pre-Christian era, leaving aside that a good many of their ancestors had been brought there against their will, the Jews in Rome and throughout the Empire seem to have led tolerable and normal lives. They were Roman citizens and enjoyed the same legal rights as all others, with no particular restrictions placed on their freedom of movement, their occupation, or the practice of their religion. They were merchants, shopkeepers and traders, artisans, farmers, and vintners, and they had their scholars and rabbis who even then occupied a place of honor and respect among them.

    Two exceptions, however, already distinguished them from others--and both would have fateful consequences when resurrected in a later day. For one thing, the Jews alone were liable for a special poll tax, the Fiscus Judaicus, justified as a substitute for the ancient tax once imposed for the support of the Temple in Jerusalem, and they were also--on religious grounds--exempt from military service.

    Already the Jews seem to have voluntarily set themselves apart, focusing more on each other than on the outside world. Their pride in their faith and their sense of chosen mission made them seem somewhat haughty to others. They alone were the monotheists, passionately committed to what they believed was the only true faith, tenaciously determined to maintain the covenant with their God, and unalterably convinced that steadfast adherence to their laws and prescriptions would lead, in time, to the kingdom of God on earth.

    This too would have lasting and bitter historical repercussions and would contribute to their reputation as stiff-necked resisters, to their "otherness" as a people with an alien culture and a sense of superiority toward those around them.


What role does chance play in the history of mankind?

    What if a short Jewish tentmaker from Tarsus, a man named Saul, with crooked legs and bright blue eyes under heavy brows, had not had a vision telling him to go out and preach to pagans and Jews that the only way to salvation was to accept the crucified Jesus as the son of God? If this man, the true founder of Christianity, who is today called St. Paul, had not had his dream, would today's world be fundamentally different?

    What if Mohammed, left as an orphan in the desert, had not been taken in by his uncle but had perished in the sandy wilderness of Arabia at an early age? What if George Washington had been captured in the battle of Trenton, or if the young Napoleon had died in the siege of Toulon? Indeed, what if a young girl named Klara Plozl had never come to be a maid in Alois Schicklgruber's household, eventually married him and borne him a son whom all the world knows as Adolf Hitler?

    Are there fundamental forces that shape the fate of humanity regardless of personalities and individuals? Or is it that particular persons and events, by virtue of fortuitous circumstance, have a determining impact on the course of human history and experience, which in their absence might have taken a totally different turn?

    These questions arise in any study of Jewish history, where the chance appearance of key figures and seemingly random milestone events have again and again played a fateful role in shaping the vicissitudes of Jewish existence.

    The spread of Christianity is clearly one such example, perhaps the most dramatic one. But it is only the first in a long series of others.

    When Constantius Chlorus, known as "The Pale," who was about to become Caesar of the Western Roman Empire, met and took as his concubina, or morganatic mate, a certain tavern maid named Helena, it became for the Jews another watershed. For out of their union emerged around 275 C.E. a son named Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, later called Constantine the Great, who would make a momentous decision affecting not only the course of Western culture but also the long-term fate of the Jews.

    For Constantine (as for St. Paul), it began with a dream and a vision. When Constantine succeeded his father as Caesar of the West in Gaul and Britain, there were other Caesars who were his rivals. As he set out to do battle with one of his competitors, a certain Maxentius who held sway over Rome and Africa, it appears that somewhere near Colmar, before crossing the Alps, he and his soldiers reported seeing a shining cross. It was, he said, in a dream that night that he received the command of Jesus to take the cross as his standard. Thus Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of Rome, and when he died he was buried in the white robes of a Christian neophyte and not, as had been customary, in the purple of a Caesar.

    Constantine's conversion marks the beginning of the Christianization of the Roman Empire with lasting--mostly baleful--consequences for the Jews. Broad religious tolerance had prevailed under the pagan Emperors. Now, as the pagans yielded to the new faith, it was the Jew who stood apart. He stubbornly resisted conversion, becoming a permanent thorn in the side of the state, a member of a sect that the Emperor at various times called shameful, contemptible, beastly, and perverse.

    Discriminatory decrees soon followed. In 319 C.E. it was ordered that Jews be burned for stoning a convert. Later there were other edicts forbidding their ownership of Christian slaves or their circumcision, the conversion of any slave to Judaism, and on pain of death, Jewish-gentile intermarriage and the teaching of the Torah to gentiles. Henceforth, the Jews in Rome and Italy were singled out as a nettlesome people and progressively deprived of their equal rights.

    There were repercussions in Germany also, but for the next several centuries at least, the position of Jews remained less unfavorable there. It was a time when the Roman Empire of the West was in decline and the petty kingdoms of the Franks and other tribes ruled in Gaul and on the German side of the Rhine. These were rude, crude, and uncouth people, but since religion--a single true faith--was less of a factor for them than in Christianized Rome, the lot of the Jew was at first less onerous as well. Roman law, which had bestowed citizenship on him, still pertained, and as far as is known, the Jews of Germany seem to have lived under these tribes in relative peace and burdened with few discriminatory restrictions. But these are the Dark Ages, and detailed knowledge about conditions and events is scarce. However, over the next four hundred years two separate developments with future significance are noteworthy.

    On the one hand, these are centuries when a flourishing commerce developed among the "barbarian" West, Christianized Byzantium, and the rising Muslim East. The nobility in Gaul and Germany greatly valued the East's jewels and ivory and their tapestry, silk, and spices. Exotic essences and perfumes were particularly welcome in an age not known for its cleanliness. Noble ladies and their men liked the "Jew smell"--the perfumes Jewish traders brought from the East, where there was strong demand for furs and for weapons and slaves. It is the Jews who, together with Greeks and Syrians, became the principal traders in this commerce. Jewish ships sailed the seas between East and West, and Jewish entrepreneurship and initiative benefited from these conditions in a world that was difficult and lawless but also full of opportunity and reward. The role of these Jewish seafarers and caravaneers was greatly valued, and it has been said that to an extent the tradition of an international Jewish network of traders and financiers, which endured to modern times, has its earliest origins in this period.

    The second development of the period had equally far-reaching consequences, although its impact on Jewish life in Germany would prove less favorable. In the feudal order prevailing under the Franks and the other tribes--Burgundians, Frisians, and Swabians--land ownership passed to the warriors and vassals of the ruling elite. Allegiance to these princes, dukes, and lords--and their protection--was derived from status achieved in battle. Jews had neither military ties nor rural roots, leaving them in a kind of no-man's land, unprotected and with uncertain status. By the ninth century, therefore, when the Franks had gradually converted to Christianity and come under the influence of the Church, the Jews--without land or protection--found themselves isolated and vulnerable, easy targets for discrimination and abuse.

    Yet for the next several centuries, the position of the Jews actually took a turn for the better. A new, more favorable ruler appeared on the scene: Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, as history remembers him. Crowned King of the Franks and Emperor of the West in 768 C.E., he established a new dynasty and led a renaissance in his Carolingian realm, the beginning of what in time became the Holy Roman Empire.

    Charlemagne was strong-willed, intelligent, and pragmatic. He greatly expanded his kingdom, conquered the Saxons, fought and defeated the Lombards, and led expeditions against the Arabs in northeastern Spain. He vigorously promoted commerce, and for this he valued the enterprise and skill of the Jews, and so he protected them and gladly availed himself of their talents.

    Charlemagne was the founder of German nationhood. As the Saxons and the Wends came under his sway, he continued to push outward toward the east. Along the Elbe, Saale, and Oder rivers his dynasty established scores of new cities at Magdeburg, Halle, Merseburg, ranging as far away as Prague, Bohemia, and Poland. Wherever he and the Carolingians went, traders followed, and it is along these flourishing routes of commerce that the Jews spread out and settled across Germany at key points and river crossings that later grew into towns.

    Jewish life under Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors has some interesting parallels to the Jewish experience in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both were eras when critical turning points with lasting consequences took place. In the later period, the Jews emerged from the ghetto into modernity. Under the Carolingians they first became true Europeans, the culmination of an evolutionary process away from their oriental origins begun when their ancestors had left the homeland many centuries earlier. Henceforth, it would be the numerically superior Ashkenazim who would play the dominant role in world Jewry, distinct from those in and around the homeland, and the main carriers of a unique kind of Jewish-European culture developed in the diaspora.

    On the one hand, the enmity of the Church toward Jews--"those who had murdered the Lord"--was already well established and reflected in a steady stream of Church edicts aimed at containing their presence among Christians. The conversion from paganism was recent and shallow, and many edicts were designed to isolate Jews from Christians lest the flock be contaminated by Jewish heresy. But there was also much jealousy of Jewish wealth and resentment of the lost tithes from Jewish nonbelievers. Though the discriminatory and often punitive decrees had an ostensible theological basis, many were at least as importantly the result of economic and financial motives.

    On the other hand, the basic antagonism of the Church toward the Jews notwithstanding, much of what was decreed was kept more in the breach than in the observance. Charlemagne and his temporal successors largely ignored the edicts, treated the Jews as equals in most economic and political spheres, and allowed them to practice their religion without any significant restraints.

    In a pattern that would be repeated many times in a later day, the Jews, though standing apart, had an important role to play in the system: they were needed, so they were tolerated and protected, sharing in the Carolingian renaissance and prospering under it. In addition to their roles as traders, merchants, and artisans, they were valued as physicians, scholars, and advisers. One of them, Isaac, is known to have been dispatched as Charlemagne's emissary to the distant court of the great Harun al-Rashid, returning four years later with the Caliph of Baghdad's splendid and astonishing gift of a live elephant, which Isaac had successfully transported in an arduous journey from the Middle East to Charlemagne's court at Aixla-Chapelle.

    Prosperity and royal protection led to a flowering of Jewish culture, and great academies of Jewish learning flourished in many of the larger German towns. But though life was good for them, the seeds of trouble were already germinating beneath the surface. Here lies the second parallel to modern German-Jewish history.

    Gentile society was organized within a rigid class structure--nobles at the top, and clerics, soldiers, craftsmen, and serfs below them. Jews stood outside this structure and were relatively more prosperous and educated, but as a group, they were without secure social standing and recognized prestige. In contrast to the prevailing squalor of the towns--general filth, stinking streets, and poor houses--they lived among their own under conditions that were a good deal better. Within the voluntary separation of the Judengasse, the Jew street, they kept slaves, their houses were made of brick, their women rarely worked, and their dress was better, even splendiferous on holidays and special occasions. They had developed a language of their own, read books and were more literate, and walked with pride. Under the rabbis who were the scholars, arbiters, and judges regulating Jewish affairs, their life was more prosperous and more ordered.

    These were the ingredients for future trouble. Jews were not only different, they were proud of it and made little secret of their disdain for many of the prevailing temporal rules and of their refusal to recognize any true king other than their Lord, or that the supreme law binding on them was the Jewish law and no other.

    During the era of Carolingian rule up to the eleventh century, the Jews of Germany grew in numbers and spread out across the land. They prospered in relative security and their culture deepened. But their separate ways, partly forced on them and partly voluntary; their greater wealth; and their position outside the established social structure proved a precarious and dangerous mix in the face of the animosity of the Church and the ignorance and jealousies of the population around them. The time came when it would lead to tragedy and disaster.


Clermont-Ferrand, in the Auvergne, is today a modern city of 150,000, the Industrial and tourist crossroads of the massif central in south-central France.

    Clermont is an ancient Roman town, founded in the third or fourth century C.E., long before it was joined with its twin city Montferrand. The name means Hill of Light, but in the Jewish literature of the Middle Ages it was often called Har Ophel, or Hill of Darkness. For it is here that an important visitor came at the end of the eleventh century C.E. to make a speech that would have a lasting impact on history. For the Jews, the speech was--like the Babylonian exile or the Christianization of the Romans--a major turning point ending their better days under the Carolingians and ushering in events that decimated their communities and forever worsened the Jewish position in the gentile world and the attitudes of Jews and gentiles toward each other.

    Pope Urban II, a Frenchman of noble birth, who had been Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, came to Clermont in 1095, seven years after his elevation to the papal throne. Erudite, eloquent, and handsome, Urban was an important ecclesiastical reformer who held office during a period of severe crisis and change in Christian affairs. His energies were focused on strengthening the position of the Church and establishing clearer rules and laws defining its position vis-a-vis Christian society and its temporal rulers. His aim was to expand ecclesiastical influence and supremacy in the affairs of the Christian world, and that was the purpose of his trip. It was with this in mind that he arrived to speak at Clermont on November 27, 1095.

    The Pope wanted to stir the enthusiasm and religious fervor of the believers and rally them closer to the bosom of the Church. To do so, like any astute politician, he chose a cause and a rallying cry that he knew would be well received among the faithful--nothing less than a call for a great crusade and holy war to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims and free Jerusalem from the grip of the Infidel, in the name of Christ.

    The Christians of the East had for some time been asking for help against the encroachment of the Muslims, who had extended their sway throughout the Mediterranean and across North Africa as far west as Spain. More recently, Christian pilgrims to the Holy Places had reported intolerable indignities at the hands of the infidels. But gradually the Muslims had been losing ground, so the moment seemed opportune to call for the great Crusade and to urge the knights to strike a decisive blow in the long-standing Christian-Muslim struggle.

    The battle cry was deus volt--God wills it. A Pope calling for war might seem strange to us today. But in Urban's day it was not. In a time of spiritual awakening, Popes did not disfavor war as a means of promoting their cause, blessing the battle flags of the knights and promising them spiritual rewards in this life and in the next.

    It is unlikely that the Pope anticipated the enormous power of the forces he set in motion. For the Church and the rulers, the Crusade was a convenient diversion from many internal problems. For the impoverished knights, taking the vows of the Crusader meant adventure and the chance to escape their debts. And for the others--the unofficial bands of common people and rabble that followed them, there was the opportunity for food, loot, and excitement in an otherwise drab and dismal life.

    A council of bishops began the planning on the very next day, and the Pope and others continued to carry the message throughout France and beyond. Within months, the first Crusaders, led by Peter the Hermit of Amiens, set out toward Constantinople and the Holy Land, arriving in Cologne in April, on what became a major route for the Crusaders--up the Rhine and down the Danube to Hungary and on to the East. But what was intended as an orderly movement of armed crusading knights soon turned into an undisciplined horde, as assorted bullies, adventurers, and local riffraff joined the throng, intent more on loot and pillage than on religious salvation. Two groups in the population became their particular targets: women and Jews.

    In an age when women were relatively defenseless, the rabble that followed the knights had little compunction about their abuse and rape along the way--and certainly not as regards the female Muslim prisoners taken later on. Nor did their enemies hesitate to respond in kind, as described somewhat salaciously by a Saracen writer of the period: "How many well-guarded women were profaned ... and pretty things put to the test, and virgins deflowered and proud women dishonored and lovely women's red lips kissed."

    But if women were a frequent target, the Jews became one even more so, for they were not only equally defenseless but also a rich mark for loot. Though some Crusaders like Peter had taken vows not to kill and could be bribed to pass by the Jewish areas in peace, others were considerably less squeamish and restrained.

    Two factors, with their roots in the earlier past, contributed to the doom of the Jews. For centuries the Church had agitated against them and accused them of every imaginable sacrilege, including the murder of the son of God. Why, the people now asked, do battle with the infidel in the faraway East, without first avenging the death of Jesus on his murderers closer to home? As the Abbot of Cluny put it: "What is the good of going to the end of the world ... when we permit among us other infidels who are a thousand times more guilty toward Christ ... ?" Thus the seeds sown by centuries of animosity and inflammatory rhetoric now became the religious justification for Jew killing.

    The second factor making the Jews a ready target, however, lay outside religious prejudice and the greed of the masses. The often self-imposed Jewish isolation now contributed greatly to their downfall. Living among their own in the separate, more prosperous Jewish quarters, well before the time when the authorities enforced their segregation, coupled with their ill-concealed distaste of the habits and ways of the gentiles, made them stand out as a readily identifiable and conveniently positioned minority ready for slaughter.

    The First Crusade began in 1095, and before the movement had run its course over the next two centuries there were a total of seven others. Again and again, as the waves rolled over Jewish communities by the Rhine and Danube rivers, there was mayhem and murder, though the first three Crusades were by far the worst. It was as if the first killing had set a precedent and permanently opened the floodgates of anti-Jewish excesses among the people. From then on, for hundreds of years to come, the pogroms, the expulsions followed by recalls and renewed exiling, and the general degradation of the Jews never ceased for long.

    It is during the two first centuries of disaster and decimation following 1096 that the attitudes of gentiles and Jews toward each other would be most deeply and permanently influenced and shaped. The life of the Jew among the Christians would never again be the same. His designation as an outcast has its origins in this period, affecting his character and his position as a hated alien, and marking him for centuries as the scapegoat for every calamity and disaster in the world around him.


The orgy of killing of the First Crusade set these calamitous events in motion. A holocaust, as this surely was, is rarely predicted in advance, and the victims are usually the last ones to see it coming. Perhaps that is because, by its very nature, a disaster of such epic proportions defies the imagination and lies beyond human grasp before the event.

    In our own time, many German Jews did not see the signs of their impending doom; until virtually the last moment they simply could not envisage what was in store for them. As the Crusaders advanced on them nine centuries earlier, Germany's Jews faced a similar disaster of impending wholesale decimation and they were equally unable to recognize the storm signals ahead, though later Jewish chronicles have preserved a full account of the events.

    Early warnings from their French cousins that the roving bands of Christian Soldiers of the Cross and their followers meant serious trouble were disregarded. What had happened in France didn't seem relevant to their own situation. They had lived relatively unharmed among the Christians for a long time. As would happen in the twentieth century, they trusted their neighbors and their government. Germany was different, they thought.

    They were soon disabused of this idea. It was during Passover, on May 3, 1096, when the first horde of Crusaders under Emicho, Count of Leiningen, descended on the Jewish quarter of Speyer, looting and forcibly baptizing some, while murdering eleven others. At Worms and Mainz, over the next two weeks, It was Infinitely worse, and before the rampage ended there, eight hundred Jews had died. "God wills it," the Crusaders cried, and the stunned Jews almost seemed to accept the battle cry as their own. Some sought refuge with the bishop, others tried to buy off their attackers, but rarely did they defend themselves, and when the mob approached, rather than risk forcible baptism, they preferred to die by their own hand, an act they called Kidush ha Shem, blessing the Name:

They let themselves be killed and blessed the Name of the Lord; they offered their necks so that their head be cut off in the name of their Creator; some also laid hand on themselves. Thus they fulfilled the word of the prophet--"The mother is on her children and the father has fallen on his sons." Thus the one butchered his brother, the other his kin, his wife and his children; also the bridegroom his bride, gentlewomen their darling children. All accepted wholeheartedly the heavenly judgment, offering their souls to their Creator, crying "Hear, O Israel..." The enemy stripped them, and dragged them about and none was left except a few who were baptized by force.

    The atrocities at Worms lasted two weeks, but when Emicho and his mob moved on to Mainz at the end of May, the bloodletting was even worse, and before it was finished well over a thousand Jews had died there, many by their own hand. Virtually the entire community was wiped out in an orgy of killing and mass suicide over the next several days:

The first to be encountered by the enemy ... were the most devout, among them Reb Izchak ben R. Moshe, a great leader. They had refused to flee into (the bishop's) inner chambers merely to buy themselves another hour of life. Rather, they sat there, lovingly accepting the judgment of heaven, wrapped in their prayer garments and prepared to fulfill the will of their Creator. The enemy smothered them with stones and arrows and cut them down with their swords. And when those in the inner chambers saw how the enemy had overwhelmed them, they called out "... it is best to sacrifice our lives...." And the women butchered their sons and daughters, and then themselves. And many men took heart and likewise slaughtered their wives, children and servants."

    Those prepared to submit to baptism might sometimes be spared, but only a few were willing to save themselves in this way. Incredibly, even those who had been forcibly baptized were so devastated that they preferred death, thus to expiate the dishonor of having to live among the uncircumcised Christians. In one such dramatic instance, described in the later chronicles of Jewish survivors, Mar Izchak and Mar Uri, two rabbis, set fire to the synagogue and chose self-immolation for themselves and their families rather than to bear the disgrace. First they killed their kin, and then: "He went to the House of Prayer ... lit fires at every corner and door, and prayed amidst the fire to the Lord in a strong and beseeching voice."

    In town after town, and in every village where Jews lived, the mobs looted and killed. In Cologne, many Jews chose death by throwing themselves into the Rhine. Whole communities were wiped out in the surrounding villages at Xanten, Mors, Altenahr, and Kerpen. Farther south, at Regensburg, the Crusaders drove the entire Jewish community into the Danube and forcibly baptized them. Before it was over and the Crusaders had moved on, more than 12,000 German Jews had met their death. For the survivors, the only consolation was the news that Emicho and his cohorts had themselves been killed by the Hungarians, who apparently took a dim view of their marauding ways.

    The First Crusade's period of slaughter finally ended in 1103 when Henry IV allowed the forcibly baptized Jews to return to their faith, decreeing his Landfriede, a peace bestowing immunity on "clerics, women, nuns, peasants, merchants, travelers, fishermen, hunters and Jews."

    Slowly, the survivors crept back to rebuild their homes, and for a generation the peace held. But the bloodletting was not over; this was merely the beginning of a long period of suffering and death. In the twelfth century, the Second and Third Crusades began with similar massacres of Jews. Even though the king and occasionally clerics like Bernard of Clairvaux inveighed against the Jew killing, they were rarely successful, and the murder continued with never-ending outbursts of violence against Jewish communities at Boppard, Speyer, Halle, Erfurt, Frankfurt, and elsewhere throughout Germany.

For the Jews, the lasting significance of the Crusades lay not only in the terrible toll exacted on them. The disaster also left deep and permanent scars on both sides. Jews everywhere now were outcasts and fair game, subjects of denigration and derision forever exposed to official and popular discrimination and mistreatment. In the Jewish mind there remained etched deeply into the collective psyche a sense of helplessness, full of agony and self-blame. In time this resigned fatalism would serve as the basis for making a virtue out of their pariah status and enforced isolation.

    Early in the thirteenth century, the Emperor proclaimed the Jews as his servi camarae, his personal property, protected by him but exploitable as an asset of the Crown and subject to his whim. The Church, though officially opposing outright slaughter, continued to add to the Jewish troubles. The Third Lateran Council in 1179 had inveighed against Christian money-lending, leaving the Jews, who had been excluded from most other occupations, as the principal source of credit--hated usurers in a dishonored profession, with negative implications for many years to come.

    But it was at the Fourth Council, called by Pope Innocent III in 1215, that the greatest number of discriminatory rules and restrictions against the Jews were added in what has been called the high-water mark of medieval anti-Jewish legislation. Innocent was an unyielding enemy of the Jews; he called them "Sons of the Crucifiers" and wrote that they were condemned to be the living witnesses to their sins: "It is pleasing to God that they should be suppressed by the servitude they earned when they raised sacrilegious hands against Him."

    Henceforth Jews were to be officially separated from Christians--thus foreshadowing the fateful practice of segregating them in ghettos. They could no longer hold public office, have sexual intercourse with Christians, or employ Christian servants. Living apart, they were ordered to wear the distinctive Jew badge, dress with a peaked hat, and pay heavy taxes on their property. Once converted, they were strictly forbidden to return to their faith. Moreover, the Council's propagation of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation--the Host as the living body of Christ--added Host desecration as yet another pretext for Jewish persecution to all the other false accusations of Jewish thirst for Christian blood, ritual murder, and child killing at Passover.

    Bloody outrages against Jews continued throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with rarely a time when somewhere in Germany Jews were not being set upon, massacred, or expelled. In 1243, the first recorded charge of Host desecration led to the devastation of many Jewish communities. A worse slaughter, with the same justification, occurred in Frankfurt a few years later. In 1286, many Jews died in Munich after being accused of drinking the blood of Christian children during their Passover rites, and in 1298 a poor knight with the curious name of Rindfleisch (beef meat), alleging a ritual murder in the town of Rottingen, instigated the massacre of thousands of Jews throughout Germany. During the Armleder riots, which continued for two years beginning in 1336, bands of roving rabble armed with pitchforks who called themselves Jew batterers (Judenschlager), roamed through Franconia, Swabia, and Alsace, wreaking havoc on dozens of Jewish communities including that of Mulhouse, which was almost totally wiped out.

    The height of Jewish suffering, however, was reached during the terrible years of the Black Death from 1347 to 1352, when all of Europe was in the grip of fear and anguish over the ravages of a dread disease that killed as many as twenty-five million, a quarter to a third of the entire population.

    It was an event that one historian has described as "the most terrible physical calamity in historic times." The medieval world was no stranger to the scourge of diseases like leprosy, scurvy, and influenza, for which no one knew a cure. But this pestilence that descended on Europe was different. It killed vast numbers indiscriminately and rapidly--usually in three or four days. No one was safe--neither rich nor poor, soldier nor servant, priest nor layman, peasant nor city dweller. Places where crowding and the concentration of people were greatest, such as monasteries, were particularly hard hit. Before it was over, of 375 bishops alive in 1348, 207 had died, also 25 of 64 archbishops and 9 of 28 cardinals.

    We now know that the cause was Pasteurella pestis, bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic bacilli probably imported by oriental rats on ships docking at Marseilles and other Mediterranean ports. From there the disease spread through France, England, and Germany and across the rest of Europe, reaching Russia in 1351. No one understood what was happening or knew what to do, and the resulting helplessness and mass hysteria in the face of imminent death for all is hard to describe.

    The rich blamed the poor, and the poor the rich. Soothsayers, quacks, and charlatans had a field day. Astrologers looked to the stars and concluded that it was all because of an unhappy conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. The Church explained it as divine punishment for a sinful world. Yet all this was to no avail, and none of the traditional cures--purging, bloodletting, potions, or vinegar treatments--was effective. New remedies such as fasting, dieting, purifying the air by fire, and fumigation with incense worked no better, nor did more outlandish ideas, such as those of the Medical Faculty of Paris, which opined that baths and sexual intercourse were particularly dangerous and likely to have fatal results.

    It was in this climate of fear and terror that the people were gripped by a form of mass neurosis and madness that led to wild excesses in behavior. Some turned to mindless superstitious religiosity. Throngs of half-naked flagellants wandered through the streets beating themselves in the hope of divine forgiveness. Others resorted to orgies and licentiousness, and the breakdown in normal restraints led to a pervasive lawlessness exceeding all previous bounds. And so it was not long, amid the turmoil and the derangement, before the masses turned on society's outcasts--first the lepers and then, with a bloody vengeance, on the Jews.

    The retribution wreaked on Germany's Jews was terrible. It began when the rumor gained currency that the deaths were not divine retribution at all but a pestis manufacta, a pestilence deliberately caused by the Jews to punish Christians for their past outrages against them. Put to the torture, some Jews had been made to say that they indeed had been at fault: "because you Christians have destroyed so many Jews," a tortured victim had shouted at Breisgau; and at the castle of Chillon, near Lake Geneva, a similar confession had been extracted.

    Soon the news spread of elaborate Jewish plots to poison wells with internal potions, and magic brews. Even though the king and the Church tried to protect them, and the Pope himself issued a bull absolving Jews of responsibility and blaming the devil, nothing could stop the crazed rabble. Throughout Germany, sixty large and 150 smaller communities were wiped out. Six thousand Jews are believed to have died in Mainz alone. At Strassburg, on St. Bartholomew's Night, August 23-24, the entire community was burned at the stake, and the same occurred at Frankfurt and Cologne, where more than 2,000 died in the flames of a mass pyre."' At Nordhausen, the Jews asked for time to prepare themselves, and died by their own hand in mass self-immolation.

    The plague killed Jews and Christians alike, but for the former it became the occasion for yet another in the seemingly endless series of massacres and disasters that had stretched over more than two centuries. Of the many thriving communities that had existed in Germany prior to the Crusades, not many were left when the fourteenth century drew to a close.


As the next century dawned, much had changed for the Jews of Germany, and none of it was for the better. The Age of Death had lasted for several hundred years. Tens of thousands had perished; others had escaped eastward through Bohemia and Moravia to Poland and the Slavic areas. For the rest, life had become difficult and precarious and these remnants of what had once been flourishing communities now lived scattered across the land, subject to severe restrictions.

    Throughout Germany, as elsewhere, the rules of the compulsory ghetto, first promulgated during the Third Lateran Council, were coming into force with increasing severity. In Frankfurt, as of 1462, 110 Jewish survivors lived segregated in the Judengasse, behind portals guarded by a Christian gatekeeper and tightly shut at ten o'clock each night. Punitive taxes were the order of the day, the threat of pogroms was ever present and expulsions were frequent--at Cologne in 1424, Speyer in 1435, Augsburg in 1439, and later in Mainz and Ulm as well. One place would banish them, while another would decide it needed them and readmit them, usually at a high price. Sometimes, after a few years, the very town that had expelled its Jews "for eternity" would again call them back to fill the void in money lending and trading.

    In Swabia all Jews were imprisoned, their property confiscated, to be released only upon the cancellation of all debts owed to them. In Brandenburg the back and forth of bloody punishment, expulsion, and return was particularly frequent. No sooner had some Jews been allowed back, when a short generation later yet another disaster descended on them. In 1510, for example, a potter named Paul Fromm was apprehended in the theft of a gilded Host from a village church, which he had allegedly sold to the Jews for their sacrilegious purposes.

    What followed is typical of the day. Thirty-five Jews were arrested and tortured repeatedly until they finally "confessed" their guilt. On the day of their punishment, a great spectacle was organized for the amusement of the masses. On Friday, a feast day, the town nobles, wise men, scholars, and theologians gathered in the market place, seated high up on a three-tiered wooden stage. Below them sat judges, scribes, and other officials, all avidly watched by the spectators.

    Slowly and solemnly, the condemned were led to the market square, Fromm at the head of the procession, followed by the Jews in their long caftans and white peaked hats. Fromm was tied to a rack, an iron chain around his neck, and exhibited to the people. Finally, he was singed ten times with hot irons and eventually burned to death. The Jews, three at a time, were similarly killed, but not until a rabbi had said a prayer while the condemned sang praise to their creator. two Jews who had converted to Christianity were favored with the privilege of a mere beheading, rather than the more painful death on the pyre.

    Yet even during this somber period Germany was never totally without Jews, although the numbers now were small--no more than a few thousand at most. If not for the great trek eastward of those escaping the reign of terror, perhaps the Jews of Ashkenaz might not have survived at all.

    A few Jews had gone to the eastern areas in earlier times, but now it was Poland and Lithuania to which they flocked in large numbers. Poland lay in ruins from the devastation of Tartar invaders and a series of friendly rulers was eager to have the immigrants' help in the rebuilding. In 1264, Boleslav the Pious was the first to issue a Charter of Protection for them. In the next century, Casimir the Great was particularly hospitable, encouraged, it is said, by his beautiful Jewish mistress.

    Under their liberal policies Jews were granted broad rights, allowed to live where they wanted and to travel freely. They settled widely in towns and villages throughout Poland, became an important force in revitalizing trade and commerce, and worked as artisans and financial agents, estate managers, and "tax farmers," interposed between the people and the nobility. Allowed a large measure of self-government and autonomy, they developed a rich communal life, religion and scholarship flourished, and their numbers increased greatly. At the beginning of the fourteenth century only a few thousand Jews lived in Poland. By 1500, their number had risen to 50,000, increasing again tenfold to half a million within another century and a half. The birth rate was exceptionally high, so that in time--even when conditions had become much less favorable for them--Poland and Lithuania were home to well over a million Jews.

    This eastward migration and the extraordinarily rapid growth of a large Jewish population in Poland, Lithuania, and parts of western Russia, is of great importance. It is in large part due to this that Western Jews survived, and it is this pool of people that became a major source for the rebirth of German Jewry through a re-emigration westward after the seventeenth century.

    From the early days of their arrival, Polish Jews had tended to cluster in their own areas and to reconstitute their inward-looking religious and cultural life. Their language remained the Yiddish mixture of middle high German with Hebrew and Latin words. Enforced ghetto segregation or widespread restrictions on where they could live were not a significant issue, except later in Krakow and in a few larger cities. Real ghetto culture, therefore, has its true origins not here but in the West, Germany included. Its impact on Jewish traditions and habits, and on Jewish psychology, is critical for understanding future developments and deserves brief mention.

    Strictly enforced segregation of Jews behind ghetto walls was first implemented in Spain and Portugal, and in Venice after 1516--hence the Italian name geto, or iron foundry, its site in that city. In time, the practice, with some local variation, spread elsewhere, and nowhere was it accompanied by harsher and more comprehensive rules than in Germany.

    Typically, the ghetto or Judenstadt was confined to one or more narrow streets, twelve feet wide, in the worst part of town. With no chance of enlargement as populations grew, houses tended to be high, often meeting at the roofs, since only vertical expansion was possible. Overcrowding, squalor, and unsanitary conditions were endemic and sunlight was sparse. Moreover, since the Jews could not own real estate, they were perennially exposed to the gouging of Christian landlords. Access was through a single gate, locked inside and out. No Christian was allowed in at night or on major holidays like Easter, when the inhabitants were strictly forbidden outside the ghetto walls.

    The rules regulating what the Jews could and could not do were endless. The tax burden was oppressive. They could not ride in a carriage or employ Christians. Distinctive dress, with the Jew badge, was required at all times. Shops outside the ghetto were forbidden. Jews were barred from handicrafts and the liberal professions. In some instances, to control their numbers, only the firstborn was allowed to marry, and occasionally all inhabitants had to submit to forced Church services--and to strict controls meant to prevent them from blocking their ears.

    What remained for the Jews was trading in secondhand goods, primarily old clothes. Without shops, they became peddlers, and their traditional role as money lenders triggered pawnbroking and dealing in gold, jewelry, and precious stones. Overall, life was degrading, stultifying, and unhealthy and led to a general impoverishment of the population.

    And yet, paradoxically, it was these very restrictions and the Jews' isolation that also created a varied, often rich social life and became the key to future Jewish culture. To survive within the ghetto walls, the Jews established their own microcosm of the outside world and their own rules of behavior, social morality, and traditions, some of which would prevail into modernity.

    The Chief Rabbi and his council administered temporal as well as religious affairs. Adversity and closeness spawned self-help organizations for charity and hospitality to travelers, for learning, and for education. Jews developed their own mail system and rules to discourage outbidding on the rents paid to Christian landlords. Community organization was tight, with a common bake house, dance hall, and public bath--and the synagogue at the center. Jews were thrown on themselves; their tradition of domesticity and the importance of Jewish family life have roots in ghetto culture.

    To be sure, life was harsh, and in time no less than one in ten Jews was reduced to beggary. But even under the limiting conditions of the ghetto, the Jews created an environment of relative peace, serenity, and even of some joy, retaining their pride and making a virtue of their isolation.


It was fundamental changes in the world around them which first gave rise to changed circumstances and new opportunities for those Jews who had survived in Germany.

    Until the sixteenth century, the feudal state was under the sway of one ruler and a single Church. Government and business were based on moral concepts that required submission to Church teachings, and these rigidly excluded the Jews. But now a new order of individual states evolved, each pursuing its quest of political and economic advantage through mercantilist concepts of self-sufficiency in manufacture and trade. In this type of early capitalism, making money became a prime goal, and poverty was no longer regarded as a virtue. In this era of court absolutism, the local prince, duke, or petty ruler replaced the Church as the all-powerful arbiter of human affairs. The primary purpose of the state was to serve his needs and political ambitions--and that required an expanding economy and the financial resources to sustain it. For this, more population was needed, capital had to be marshalled, industries organized, and new patterns of trade and commerce developed.

    In this context the Jewish problem took on a different and more secular dimension. Religious strictures were now less important. Jews became useful for what they could contribute to the goals of the state. As it happened, their particular talents and historical experience proved highly relevant to what was required.

    The recent schism in the Church also had a considerable and, on balance, positive impact on the position of the Jews. Not that the Protestant religion was any more favorably disposed toward them than Catholics, or that Protestant leaders like Calvin or Luther were any friendlier than the Popes of Rome. True, Martin Luther had at first come to their defense, partly because it was politically expedient in his fight with Rome, and partly in the hope of converting them through kindness. But as political circumstances changed, and attracting Jews to Christianity proved no easier for him than for Catholics, he turned violently against them. In time his hatred for Jews and the harshness of his prescriptions for dealing with them if anything exceeded that of the Church in Rome. In fact, eventually his shrill and intemperate anti-Jewish rhetoric became so violent that it served, some four hundred years later, as a favorite source for quotation by the Nazis in justifying their anti-Semitic measures.

    What mattered is that in the fight between Protestants and Catholics, the Jew was essentially a bystander and the Jewish problem a decidedly secondary issue. In Germany, moreover, there was yet another factor with far-reaching consequences for the Jewish minority. The Thirty Years' War, pitting Catholic areas against Protestant areas, raged across its territory, devastating and depopulating the land and leading eventually to the creation of well over two hundred de facto separate political entities, territories and city states tied together only in theory but in fact independent to make their own treaties and to pursue their separate political goals.

    Jews had stood apart from the war's controversies. Expelled from the major urban centers, except for the few city ghettos, and scattered across the countryside under the protection of local nobles, they had eked out a meager living as money lenders, pawnbrokers, and peddlers. They had suffered along with the rest of the population, paid the heavy taxes, and endured the hardships. But in the ghettos and behind the shield of their local masters, they had nevertheless been somewhat more secure than others. In fact, the conflict had created opportunities for them to supply the protagonists while the war raged--and to serve the rulers when it finally came to an end.

    One important development of the period, which profoundly shaped the evolution of modern Jewish life in Germany, is that the war and its aftermath gave rise to a new institution and a new occupation for a selected few--that of the Court Jew.

    As banker, financial agent, mint master, and purveyor of war supplies and luxuries for the local ruler, the Court Jew became as much a fixture at court as the Court Physician or Court Jester. Emulating the splendor of the palace of Louis XIV at Versailles, each prince and ruler wanted to rebuild his territories, but each had at the same time an insatiable need for the luxuries that added luster to the pomp and grandeur of his court. It was the Court Jew's job to serve these purposes. In the process, he often rose high in his master's service and achieved influence not infrequently extending beyond the economic into matters of politics and diplomacy. Freed from the restrictions that encumbered Jews elsewhere, he could travel and live as he wished. Personal wealth and influence were among his rewards, and all Court Jews took full advantage of this, although not always with sufficient prudence and restraint. It was, therefore, also a dangerous profession, subject to court jealousies and intrigues, exposed to the envy of others and always at risk as a lightning rod for popular resentment against the ruler.

    Court Jews are important in the history of Germany's Jews. Though they adopted many of the styles and habits of the world of the court and became considerably more worldly and emancipated than their isolated brethren, they nevertheless retained their attachment to their people and used their position of influence to benefit them. They were the first German-Jewish aristocrats, the first emancipated Jews to move into the gentile world, and in some cases, the ancestors of the top levels of German Jewry in later generations. Many became patrons of Jewish culture and learning and were appointed leaders and spokesmen for the community.

    Unfortunately, there was a less positive side to this coin. The Court Jew could be helpful in good times, but when he fell from grace--an ever-present risk--the impact on all Jews could be severe. That, precisely, was the fateful case of one famous, early Court Jew--a certain Lippold, who in 1556 had succeeded another, "the faithful Michel," as Court Purveyor to Joachim II, Elector of Brandenburg. From all accounts Lippold was clever and indefatigable, but also greedy and unscrupulous, and when he fell, all of Brandenburg's Jews were made to suffer.

    Lippold ingratiated himself with the Elector by catering tirelessly to his taste for wine, women, and song. He quickly grasped his master's weakness for trinkets and jewels for his mistresses, cloth and favors for his courtiers, and luxuries for himself. When a favorite, the young Magdalena, had a wish, Lippold was ready to meet it--at a price, of course: A little box for her dolls, a golden necklace, a bit of sugar candy for eight taler, a tumbler for nine and a half, velvet for a dress, and much more. Lippold's books are full of these entries recording his business with the Elector.

    In gratitude, the Elector appointed him Chief of all of Brandenburg's Jews, collector for Jewish and other taxes, Master of the Mint, and administrator of the coin of the realm. Lippold became indispensable to the ruler; he grew extraordinarily wealthy, partly by running all manner of entrepreneurial activities on the side, money lending and pawnbroking included.

    Tax collectors and pawnbrokers are never popular, particularly if they are unscrupulous corner cutters, and Lippold was no exception. When the Elector died, retribution came swiftly. His successor had Lippold arrested the next day, and the anger of the people against the debauchery of the old Elector and his mint master preordained his doom; two years later Lippold was put to death, drawn and quartered on the rack. But "a Jew is a Jew," and so the entire community had to bear the brunt of his downfall. In 1573, all Jews were driven from Brandenburg, not to return until Frederick William, the Great Elector, called them back a hundred years later.

    Not all Court Jews were as rapacious as Lippold, nor as unfortunate. There were dozens who served at the courts of Germany's rulers and many served faithfully and well. Most became wealthy founders of dynasties of Jewish bankers and merchants, the early leaders of the broader emancipation of Germany's Jews. We shall frequently encounter their descendants over succeeding generations.


Will Durant has called the ability of the Jews to recover from misfortune "one of the impressive wonders of history, part of that heroic resilience which man in general has shown after the catastrophes of life." His observation is meant to apply to all of the Jewish people. But nowhere is it more to the point than in the case of Ashkenazi Jews--and in particular to the survival and eventual renaissance of Germany's Jews.

    At the end of the Thirty Years' War, Jews had lived somewhere on German soil for at least a millennium and a half, and probably longer. They had come as free citizens with equal rights--vintners, merchants, traders, and colonizers among the indigenous tribes. Some had occupied respected positions as scholars, physicians, and advisors. At first they had lived in relative peace and prosperity and then, for many centuries, they had endured unimaginable hardship and suffered through unending cycles of disaster and death.

    They had come to Germany with a deep attachment to their ancient religion and never surrendered it though it became the principal source of their distress. Abandoning their faith as the world around them was Christianized would have saved them untold suffering. Yet they stubbornly clung to their religion even when they had to die for it or were made pariahs without honor or rights.

    Few people in history have faced so many indignities, and so much misfortune for so long a time. Survival and regeneration under these circumstances is little short of a miracle.

    One thousand five hundred years of separation from their Oriental origins had transformed the Ashkenazim into Europeans, albeit a special and unique minority. Their isolation had reinforced ancient tendencies to look inward and to focus on themselves. Looked down on and tormented by others, they had, as if in self-defense, begun to look down in turn on their tormentors. Having been made outcasts, they learned to glory in their fate and to make it a badge of virtue.

    Long periods of persecution and suffering taught them stoicism, acceptance of adversity, and above all the techniques of survival. The frequent expulsions, flights, and forced dispersions through many lands far beyond Germany's borders cemented their sense of a common destiny. Their fraternal ties with Jews everywhere created bonds and networks that became the foundation for commercial and financial advantage at a later stage. Stereotyped as fit only for a few occupations, they learned to excel in them and to live by their wits.

    Finally, in the isolation of their faith, without a homeland and with only their religion to sustain them, they made it the focus of their spiritual and intellectual lives, and this in turn led to a love of learning, of literacy, of abstract thinking, and of intellectual pursuits in general. Their separation from the surrounding civilization brought about the development of their own language, literature, and culture. And as outsiders, cut off from society's institutions, mutual need led to the growth of their own communal structures and their own folkways, rules, and social traditions. All of these factors not only explain their survival but also are at the root of their traditions and their character.

    Their story is one of miraculous survival, but it is also a history full of paradox: Isolation over centuries was painful, but it was also the key to their survival as a people. Segregation was a bitter pill, but it also ensured their preservation. Stubborn resistance to conversion caused untold suffering, but it was also the foundation for a rich culture and their love of learning. The death of many and the flight east of most others was a disaster, but it was also the source of regeneration--the basis for the subsequent expansion of Jewish communities in Germany. Exclusion and grinding poverty were a curse, but they also taught the Jews how to recognize and seize opportunity, to adapt rapidly to changes in economic conditions and to turn them to their advantage. Discrimination and restrictions led to deep frustration, but in time they also became the wellspring of their pent-up energies, their restlessness, and their drive for acceptance and personal success.

    When, late in the seventeenth century, the Jews gradually reentered Germany's Christian world, it was very much as products of these special factors, which had produced unique skills, qualities, and character traits. Of course, like people everywhere, Jews were a diverse group, with the same weaknesses and human foibles as others. Their stultifying ghetto isolation, while extreme, did reflect the outside world: the negative alongside the positive, areas of ignorance and superstition alongside wisdom, and narrow-mindedness mixed with instances of spiritual grandeur. Seventeenth-century Jews, no less than Christians, had their fools as well as their sages, thieves as well as scholars, rogues as well as the righteous, bigots as well as liberals.

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