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The Passion of Max von Oppenheim

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Lionel Gossman

IV. Oppenheim’s Relation to the National Socialist Regime in Context

15. Jewish Organizations

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1″Kaiser′s Spy,″ urbane man of the world, self-satisfied member of the German upper class, dedicated archaeologist and scholar of the ancient Middle East, sympathetic student of Muslim peoples and cultures, and in all situations and at all times undeviating German patriot, Max von Oppenheim resists easy characterization. It might be tempting to interpret his disregard of the Jewish element in his family background—to the point of actively collaborating with the National Socialist regime—in terms of the popular concept of ″Jewish self-hatred,″ but that would only be to give a familiar and in itself quite problematical name to a phenomenon that does not lend itself to easy explanation.

  • 1 See Ritchie Robertson, The ′Jewish Question′ in German Literature 1749-1939 (Oxford: Oxford Univer (...)

2Toward the end of her biographical sketch of Oppenheim in Faszination Orient, Gabriele Teichmann suggests that ″politically and in spirit, he felt at home only in the Wilhelminian era.″ His social and political conservatism combined with grandiose schemes and openness to new techniques and media—as manifested, for instance, in his promotion of modern methods of propaganda—were typically Wilhelminian, in Teichmann′s view. Certainly, there is very little to distinguish him, in outlook, from the many old nationalists from the upper classes of Imperial Germany whom he considered his friends and colleagues. His world, like that of those he associated with both as an archaeologist and as a would-be diplomat, was essentially the world of the Second German Empire. Baptised as a Catholic, with a Christian mother and a Christian convert father, it is quite likely that he did not think of himself as having any significant connection at all with Jews or Judaism and very likely indeed that—like many people of part-Jewish or even full-Jewish background in the Germany of the Second Empire—he did not want to have any.1 With the Oppenheim bank, yes; whence his regret that it had to be removed from family control. But the bank was a German institution in his eyes, the very manifestation of his family′s devotion to Germany and of its participation in the expansion of German economic and political power in the world. He did not think of it, as he apparently did not think of himself, as Jewish.

3Bryan Rigg′s two books, Hitler′s Jewish Soldiers (University of Kansas Press, 2002) and Lives of Hitler′s Jewish Soldiers (University of Kansas Press, 2009), are among the few readily accessible historical studies that address the question of Mischlinge (″half-″and ″quarter-″ Jews, according to the Nuremberg Laws): who they thought they were, how they felt about their more or less remote Jewish ancestry (if they were even aware of it before Hitler forced the awareness on them), how they felt about National Socialism. Most of them served in the German armed forces during World War II with courage and many were decorated for exceptional bravery. Very often, even when they had misgivings about Hitler, they remained dedicated to Germany, to the project of Germany′s renewal, and to achieving German predominance in Europe, if not the world—just as Canaris, Goerdeler and so many other German patriots did. Some occupied important positions and contributed mightily—like Field-Marshal Erhard Milch and Admiral Bernhard Rogge—to the success of German arms. For this, in a few cases, they were rewarded by Hitler with a Certificate of Deutschblutigkeit, by which the stain of the Jewish strain in their racial make-up was erased.

  • 2 The portrait that the (now French) novelist, critic, and translator Georges-Arthur [originally Jur (...)
  • 3 ″We should not ignore or underestimate the fact that this elemental uprising of the Volk has beate (...)

4It is worth noting that, besides Mischlinge, many ″hyperacculturated″ persons of Jewish ancestry on the national-conservative right of the political spectrum2—including even those who, formally at least, remained identifiable as Jews—were susceptible to the appeal of certain aspects of National Socialist ideology. The line between national conservative parties that looked back to the old Kaiserreich and the National Socialists who claimed to look forward to a new Germany was sufficiently porous to allow, as we have seen, for various temporary collaborations and alliances, such as the Harzburger Front. Like many of their compatriots, conservative assimilated Jews or people of part-Jewish background were quite likely to see in the National Socialist movement a powerful engine of national regeneration through which the perceived injustices of the Versailles treaty could be corrected and the Weimar republic, widely resented as an alien, un-German product of defeat and subversion or treason, replaced by a strong, close-knit, unified community. Instead of the warring classes and autonomous individual citizens of liberal society (Gesellschaft), Germany would rest on a foundation of co-operating orders, individuals who felt themselves parts of an organic whole (Gemeinschaft), and strong leadership. In addition, conservatives—Aryan and non-Aryan alike—were often predisposed by their deep fear of Bolshevism to take an indulgent view of National Socialism.3

5In the hope of coming to a somewhat better understanding of Oppenheim′s position, as a ″half-Jew,″ with respect to National Socialism, I propose in the following pages to consider a number of German Jewish organizations and individuals who were in one way or another sympathetic to the movement, at least in the early years of its exercise of power in their homeland. If full Jews, individuals who were willing still to identify as Jewish, could find something positive, even perhaps attractive, in National Socialism, the fact that a ″half-Jew″ appeared to welcome the new regime and actively collaborated with it, at least until 1942, might be less perplexing. I have very much in mind here a remark by the young author of The Lives of Hitler′s Jewish Soldiers: ″In the end the Third Reich cannot be limited to extremes. Not every soldier was an archetypal Nazi, nor was every soldier a pure Aryan. History does not fit into simple black and white categories. We must struggle to understand the grey middle where real life happens″ (p. 277).

***

6With barely 4,000 members, the extreme rightwing and nationalist Verband nationaldeutscher Juden (League of National German Jews), founded in 1921 by Max Naumann, a Berlin lawyer and decorated World War I officer) could not and cannot be considered representative of mainstream German Jews. It was in fact often in opposition to the Centraiverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith, founded in 1893 with the aim of combating anti-Semitism in Germany), which in the mid-1920s had a membership of between 60,000 and 70,000. Nevertheless, its influence may well have been considerably broader than its membership. The Verband saw its role as one less of recruiting members than of winning support among German Jews for nationalist programs and movements and encouraging full assimilation to the German people and culture. Its statutes stipulated that

  • 4 Quoted in Klaus J. Herrmann, Das Dritte Reich und die deutsch-jüdischen Organisationen 1933-1934 ( (...)

The aim of the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden is to bring together all those Germans of Jewish descent who, while openly acknowledging their descent, feel that they are so integrally bound up with German being and German culture that they cannot feel or think except as Germans. The Verband combats every expression and activity, whether by Jews or by non-Jews, that springs from an un-German spirit and obstructs the resurgence of the vitality of the German Volk, of Germany′s honour, and of Germany′s self-respect, and thereby stands in the way of Germany′s regaining its high-standing position in the world.4

  • 5 The reference was to Karl-Emil Franzos′s Aus Halb-Asien: Culturbilder aus Galizien, der Bukowina, (...)
  • 6 Naumann′s position recalls that of Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who had been a Nazi sympathizer in th (...)
  • 7 News of Naumann′s position reached the U.S. in an article entitled ″Jewish Body Backs Reich: Leade (...)
  • 8 Cit. Carl J. Rheins, ″The Verband nationaldeutscher Juden,″ Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 25 (1980 (...)
  • 9 Bayerische Israelitische Gemeindezeitung, 1933, no. 17, p. 257, cit. Herrmann, Das Dritte Reich un (...)

7The Verband repeatedly denounced ″Ostjuden″ [″Eastern Jews,″ i.e. recent Jewish immigrants from Poland and Eastern Europe] as alien and uncultured—an old story among established German Jews going back at least to Walther Rathenau′s notorious article ″Shema Israel″ of 6 March 1897, in Maximilian Harden′s weekly Die Zukunft, and even further to the denunciation of the Eastern European influence on Judaism by some nineteenth-century Jewish scholars of Islam. Some local sections of the Verband even supported those who advocated deportation of the ″Ostjuden.″ German Jews, or rather Jewish Germans, Naumann insisted, should on no account be associated with those foreigners from ″Halb-Asien,″ as their eastern homelands were often described.5 Zionism was rejected on similar grounds as un-German. Naumann proposed that those German Jews who embraced it should be treated not as German citizens but as foreigners on German soil, with no more rights than any other foreigners.6 In general, loyalty was professed to the new National Socialist regime, with criticism directed only at its policy of racially-based anti-Semitism, its failure to distinguish between deeply loyal, thoroughly assimilated German Jews and Eastern Jews.7 In August 1932, several months before Hitler came to power, Naumann was urging the liberal Jewish community in Germany to overlook the ″regrettable side-effects″ of Nazi anti-Semitism and to join the National Socialists ″even if they behave as if they are our enemies.″8 One is astonished to discover that some religious Jews embraced this position. Thus an orthodox rabbi from Ansbach in Bavaria could declare: ″From a Jewish point of view I reject the doctrines of Marxism and openly announce my allegiance to National Socialism, with the exception, naturally, of its anti-Semitic component. Absent this anti-Semitic component, National Socialism would find in observant and faithful Jews its most loyal supporters.″9

  • 10 Dr. Leo Loewenstein, ″Die Linie des Reichsbundes jüdischer Frontsoldaten,″ in Wille und Weg des de (...)
  • 11 Cit. Ulrich Dunker, Der Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten 1918-1938, p. 116.

8The Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten, the strongly nationalist Jewish veterans′ association, with a far larger membership than the Verband (30,000, according to one of its leaders10), while fully engaged in combating anti-Semitism, also expressed strong sympathy with many of the aspirations of the National Socialists. Certain of the association′s leaders tried to persuade the NSDAP to drop its anti-Semitic ideology and give up violence against Jews in recognition of the association′s commitment to the NSDAP′s goals of overturning the provisions of the Versailles treaty, rejuvenating Germany, imposing order on the ″chaos″ of Weimar, and restoring Germany to a position of power and respect in Europe and the world. On 29 March 1933 a first petition was addressed to the new Reichskanzler, Adolf Hitler, expressing dismay at the call for a boycott of Jewish stores and, at the same time, commitment to the essential aims of the Nazi Party: ″Wir widerholen in dieser Stunde das Bekenntnis unserer Zugehörigkeit zum deutschen Volke, an dessen Erneuerung und Aufstieg mitzuarbeiten unsere heilige Pflicht, unser Recht und unser sehnlichster Wunsch ist.″11 [″We reiterate in this hour the affirmation of our complete belonging to the German Volk. It is our sacred duty, our right, and our innermost desire to collaborate in its rejuvenation and advancement.″] This position was confirmed in a lead article at the end of April in the association′s magazine by its executive director Ludwig Freund:

  • 12 Ibid., pp. 146-7.

We have already stated on several occasions that the fundamentals of the National Socialist worldview would have attracted many Jews, just as Fascism did in Italy, had the movement not, in contrast in this respect to its Italian brother, made fighting the Jews in its own land part of its program. Today we ask how long leading and clear-thinking National Socialist men in the present government plan to stick to this part of the programme.12

  • 13 Carl J. Rheins, ″Deutscher Vortrupp, Gefolgschaft deutscher Juden, 1933-1935,″ Leo Baeck Institute (...)

9The question raised by Freund concealed a hope nourished by at least some assimilated and conservative German Jews and part-Jews (including Oppenheim in the letter to his cousin′s son Waldemar, cited above), as well as by a fair number of conservative right-wing non-Jews who had lent their support to National Socialism, namely that as the regime became established, the violence and rowdiness accompanying its beginnings would subside and its rabble-rousing anti-Semitism sink back into a ″normal″ and entirely acceptable hostility to ″Ostjuden″ and, at worst, traditional covert anti-Semitism. The sharpest blow to the Jewish Veterans′ Association was delivered in the form of the Defence Law of 21 May 1935, by which Jews were excluded from service in the Wehrmacht. The Veterans protested that as loyal Germans they had been struck where they were most German, in their ″honour″ as soldiers of the Reich. For many, the failure of repeated efforts to have the law rescinded was the point at which they finally gave up on National Socialism.13

Notes

1 See Ritchie Robertson, The ′Jewish Question′ in German Literature 1749-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) for many penetrating analyses of individual cases.

2 The portrait that the (now French) novelist, critic, and translator Georges-Arthur [originally Jurgen-Athur] Goldschmidt draws of his father, a successful German lawyer and judge, in his La traversée des fleuves—autobiographie (Paris: Seuil, 1999, pp. 32-14) is exceptionally revealing and persuasive. 2 I have borrowed the term ″hyperacculturated″ from Ritchie Robertson′s The ′Jewish Question′ in German Literature 1749-1939, p. 345 et seq.

3 ″We should not ignore or underestimate the fact that this elemental uprising of the Volk has beaten down and overthrown Bolshevism in Germany, perhaps for ever—something no other power could have achieved,″ Hans-Joachim Schoeps, the fully Jewish founder in 1933 of Der deutsche Vortrupp, Gefolgschaft deutscher Juden, wrote at the end of March 1933; and again, in October of the same year: ″The epoch-making contribution of National Socialism has been to have overcome Bolshevism in Germany and rendered it incapable of action for as far ahead as one can see″ (Hans-Joachim Schoeps, ″Bereit für Deutschland!″ Der Patriotismus deutscher Juden und der Nationalsozialismus. Frühe Schriften 1930 bis 1939 [Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1970], pp. 93, 105).

4 Quoted in Klaus J. Herrmann, Das Dritte Reich und die deutsch-jüdischen Organisationen 1933-1934 (Cologne, Berlin, Bonn and Munich: Carl Heymann, 1969), p. 74, document E611967. Neumann′s position was an extreme expression, in post-WWI conditions, of a position that had been shared by ″most of the liberal, assimilating German Jewish community″ in the period preceding the War. ″For most members of the C.V. [Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens] it was always clear, at least during the period before 1914, that their primary loyalty was to Deutschtum, to German Gesinnung″ (Jehuda Reinharz, Fatherland or Promised Land: The Dilemma of the German Jew, 1893-1914 [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975], p. 227). Even after 1918 the Centralverein remained true to this position, albeit somewhat modified in response to a revived anti-Semitism (Steven E. Aschheim, Brothers and Strangers: The East German Jew in German and German Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982], pp. 216-25).

5 The reference was to Karl-Emil Franzos′s Aus Halb-Asien: Culturbilder aus Galizien, der Bukowina, Südrussland und Rumänien (1876). See also Ron Chernow′s observation that Rudolf and Lola Warburg decided to stay in Germany in part because ″they suffered from the upper-class Jewish mythology that they were somehow immune to the abuse being meted out to poorer Jews″ (The Warburgs, p. 465). The distinction between Ostjuden and German Jews was still a feature, in 1976, of a former Stefan George fan′s justification of his political ″ambivalence″ in the 1930s; see Klaus Kyriander, Von Vater zu Sohn: Eine mehr oder weniger sokratische Apologie (Ettenheim: F.X. Stückle, n.d. [1976]), pp. 17-18. In contrast, and in reaction to the apparent failure of the project of assimilation, a few German Jews (e.g. Arnold Zweig) came to see their ″Oriental″ brothers, the Ostjuden, as having preserved an authenticity that modern, westernized, assimilated Jews had lost (Noah Isenberg: ″To Pray like a Dervish,″ in Ivan Davidson Kalmar and Derek J. Pensar, Orientalism and the Jews [Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 2005], pp. 94-108).

6 Naumann′s position recalls that of Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who had been a Nazi sympathizer in the early 1930′s but later became one of the heroes of the conservative ″Widerstand″ or Resistance. In a document of December 1941 Goerdeler supported the establishment of a Jewish state. (He suggested Canada or South America as suitable sites.) Only those Jews who were war veterans, or whose families had been citizens since before 1871 or who were citizens by 1914 and had converted to Christianity or who were the children of mixed marriages concluded before February 1933 would qualify as German citizens. All others would be treated as ″foreigners″ on German soil, citizens of the new Jewish state, with only the same rights as other foreign residents (Peter Hoffmann, Carl Goerdeler and the Jewish Question 1933-1942 [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011], pp. 115-16).

7 News of Naumann′s position reached the U.S. in an article entitled ″Jewish Body Backs Reich: Leader Urges Nationalist German Group to Have Faith″ in the New York Times for 23 June 1933. To the NSDAP, however, the members of VndJ, as ″Assimilanten,″ stood in the way of making Germany ″Judenrein″ (Jew-free) and the VdnJ was one of the first Jewish associations to be banned, in 1936 (Ulrich Dunker, Der Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten 1918-1938 [Düsseldorf: Droste, 1977], p. 116).

8 Cit. Carl J. Rheins, ″The Verband nationaldeutscher Juden,″ Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 25 (1980): 243-68 (p. 266).

9 Bayerische Israelitische Gemeindezeitung, 1933, no. 17, p. 257, cit. Herrmann, Das Dritte Reich und die deutsch-jüdischen Organisationen 1933-1934, Introduction, p. 3. As Herrmann notes, such statements were doubtless issued in the hope that they would result in a toning down of the anti-Semitic program of the NSDAP.

10 Dr. Leo Loewenstein, ″Die Linie des Reichsbundes jüdischer Frontsoldaten,″ in Wille und Weg des deutschen Judentums (Berlin: Vortrupp Verlag, 1935), p. 7. To this figure he added 14,000 young people in the ″uns angegliederten Sportbund″ [Sports Association affiliated with us] (ibid., p. 10). According to Paul Yogi Mayer, the founder of the youth group ″Schwarzes Fähnlein″ (1933), the Sportbund had 216 affliated clubs and a membership of ″over 20,000″ (Paul Yogi Mayer, ″Jews and Sport in Germany,″ Leo Baeck Institution Yearbook, 25 [1980]: 221-41 [p. 230]).

11 Cit. Ulrich Dunker, Der Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten 1918-1938, p. 116.

12 Ibid., pp. 146-7.

13 Carl J. Rheins, ″Deutscher Vortrupp, Gefolgschaft deutscher Juden, 1933-1935,″ Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook, 26 (1981): 207-29 (p. 223).

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