When, with disdain, the English and French talk of German prejudice against Jews, we must answer: You don't know us. You live in fortunate circumstances that make the emergence of such “prejudices” impossible. The number of Jews in western Europe is so small that it cannot exert a palpable influence upon your national mores. However, year after year, out of the inexhaustible Polish cradle there streams over our eastern border a host of hustling, pants-peddling youths, whose children and children's children will someday command Germany's stock exchanges and newspapers.* The immigration grows visibly, and the question becomes more and more grave: how can we amalgamate this alien people? The Israelites of the west and south belong mostly to the Spanish branch of Jewry, which looks back on a comparatively proud history and has always adapted rather easily to Western ways. In fact, they have become for the most part good Frenchmen, Englishmen, and Italians. This is true to the extent that we can appropriately expect from a people of such pure blood and such pronounced peculiarity. But we Germans have to deal with that Polish branch of Jewry, which has been deeply scarred by centuries of Christian tyranny. As a result of this experience, it is incomparably more alien to the European and, especially, the German essence.
What we have to demand of our Israelite fellow citizens is simple: they should become Germans. They should feel themselves, modestly and properly, Germans – and this without prejudicing their faith and their ancient, holy memories, which we all hold in reverence. For we do not want to see millennia of Germanic morality followed by an era of German-Jewish hybrid culture. It would be sinful to forget that a great many Jews, baptized and unbaptized, were German men in the best sense. Felix Mendelssohn, Veit, Riesser,** etc. – to say nothing of the living – were men in whom we honor the noble and good traits of the German spirit. But it is equally undeniable that numerous and mighty circles among our Jews simply lack the goodwill to become thoroughly German. It is painful to speak of these things. Even conciliatory words will be easily misunderstood. Nevertheless, I believe that many of my Jewish friends will concede, though with deep regret, that I am right when I assert that in recent times a dangerous spirit of arrogance has arisen in Jewish circles. The influence of Jewry on our national life, which created much good in earlier times, nowadays shows itself in many ways harmful. Just read the History of the Jews by Graetz.*** What fanatical rage against the “arch-enemy,” Christianity. What lethal hatred against the purest and mightiest representatives of the Germanic essence from Luther right up to Goethe and Fichte! And what empty, insulting self-glorification! [In Graetz] it is demonstrated in constant, spiteful tirades that the nation of Kant was educated to humanity only through the Jews, that the language of Lessing and Goethe has become receptive to beauty, intelligence, and wit through Heine and Börne. What English Jew would dare defame the land that shielded and protected him in such a way? And this benighted contempt against the German goyim is in no way merely the attitude of an isolated fanatic.
* Of the 561,612 Jews living in Germany in 1880, 2.7 percent, or 15,000, of them were foreign born. In 1910 the numbers were 615,021, 12.8 percent, and 78,746. A great many eastern-European Jews made their way across Germany on the way to North and South America, but only a tiny fraction were permitted to settle permanently on German soil. Although statistically groundless, the phantom of a Germany swamped by Ostjuden haunted many Germans continuously from the mid-nineteenth century through all the years of the Weimar Republic. [Note from Levy, p. 70.]
** The composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-47), grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, was baptized as a child. For some antisemites he was “the exceptional Jew” because of his wholehearted identification with German music; for many more, however, he was the proverbial exception who proved the rule that such assimilation was impossible for Jews and not actually sought after by them; for yet others, like Richard Wagner, his musical talent was typically Jewish—that is shallow, unconnected to the soul of the Volk, and aimed at easy popularity. For practicing Jews in the imperial era, Mendelssohn represented the ambivalence of assimilation. They took pride in his musical achievement but fretted over the detachment from Judaism by the grandson of the man who had led the way out of the ghetto and into German life. Was this the price of full participation?
Philipp Veit (1793-1877), a painter of religious subjects, was also an early convert to Christianity.
Gabriel Riesser (1806-91) had been the outstanding advocate of Jewish equality in Germany since the 1830s. A lawyer denied the right to practice in his native Hamburg, he refused the path of conversion which would have made this possible. During the Revolution of 1848, he served as a vice-president of the Frankfurt national Assembly. A moderate liberal, he was active in Hamburg politics and became the first practicing Jew appointed to the German judiciary. [Note from Levy, pp. 70-71.]
*** Heinrich Graetz (1817–91) wrote the first general history of the Jews in eleven volumes, the last of which appeared in 1875. Graetz vigorously defended the idea that Judaism was more than a set of enlightened and abstract theological beliefs. It was no mere religious denomination but the organic product of a people with a long history and a politics of its own. Graetz's sometimes feisty pride in the Jewish past, including the recent past in Germany, annoyed Treitschke and many others, who condemned it as arrogance and evidence that Jews were reneging on their end of the emancipation contract – the extinguishing of all peculiar national traits. [Note from Levy, pp. 71-72.]