GHDI logo

Walther Rathenau, "Hear, O Israel!" (1897)

page 3 of 4    print version    return to list previous document      next document

This I know, however: there are some among you who feel pain and disgrace at being aliens and half-citizens in the country, and who long to leave the sweltering ghetto for the air of German forests and mountains. I am speaking to them alone. Let the others, however few or many may hear me, remember their thousand-year right to persecute and mock those who wish to help them. But you, the few of you, have the difficult task of reconciling the rejection of your fellow Jews [Landesgenossen], you who are, after all – forgive me for saying this! – so little suited to making friends. And yet you will succeed; and the grandchildren of the indifferent of today will follow you.

You ask whether I intend to convert you to Christianity?

Certainly not.

"To the preacher in the desert,
As we read in the Gospels,
Soldiers, too, came running,
Repented and let themselves be baptized."

When I recently laid hands on a register of the members of the Jewish community in Berlin, it gave me pleasure to leaf through the well-known names. Yes, the friends were still alive; the very orthodox zoology, mineralogy, and botany are all present. But I did not find any acquaintance of the younger generation. They were all baptized, not as soldiers but earlier, and all of them may now well be government officials [Regierungsbeamte] and lieutenants.

And why not? There is no difference between the Deism of a liberal, Protestant clergyman and that of an enlightened rabbi. Christian ethics are so self-evident to educated Jews today that they convince themselves that they can be derived from the Old Testament. In most cases, conversion is therefore no longer a matter of religion or conscience. Among some of the oldest and richest families of Jewish descent, it already happened decades ago. Often the only reminder of the faith of the fathers is a certain ironic atavism of external appearance; Abraham’s spitefulness?

But baptism is not the end of the Jewish question. Even if the individual can create better conditions of existence by breaking away: the totality cannot. For if half of all of Israel converted, it would create nothing other than a passionate "anti-Semitism against the baptized," whose effect would be more unhealthy and immoral than the movement today by virtue of prying and suspicions on the one side, and hatred for the renegades and mendacity on the other. The remaining half, however, deprived of its leaders, would shrivel to an uneducable mass. During this kind of selection, a lot of good metal, perhaps the best, would end up in the slag, for those of the most refined sentiments have the hardest time deciding to take an ideal step, as long as a material advantage is often inseparably linked to it.

first page < previous   |   next > last page