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

Walter Rathenau (1867-1922), the son of the founder of the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft [General Electric Company (AEG)], was one of the most important German Jews of his generation. With this article, published in 1897 in the journal Die Zukunft [The Future], Rathenau sought to encourage Jews to assimilate more actively into German society. Reacting to a new wave of anti-Semitism that arose during the economic hard times of the 1890s, Rathenau focused on the failure of Jews to integrate – despite what he perceived as the many similarities between enlightened Judaism and German Protestantism. An important official during World War I and a prominent cabinet member in the Weimar Republic, he was assassinated by two radical nationalists in 1922.

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I want to profess straight off that I am a Jew. Does it require justification if I write in a spirit other than that of defending the Jews? Many of my fellow tribesmen know themselves only as Germans, not as Jews. Some, especially those who, prompted by their profession or inclination, have less to do with their own kind than with ethnic Germans [Stammesdeutsche], from whom they may not differ much in outward appearance any more, are honest enough not to follow the banners of the philosemitic protectors any longer. I join them.

The philosemites are in the habit of proclaiming: "There is no Jewish question. If the Jews harm their country, that is done by the improper actions of individuals. You create laws against this or tighten the existing ones." They are not wrong. Responding to the economic question is a matter for legislation. But I do not wish to speak of the economic question.

A more ominous question that arises is the social, the cultural one. Whoever wants to hear its language should walk through the Tiergartenstraße at noon on a Sunday in Berlin, or look into the foyer of a theater in the evening. Strange sight! In the midst of German life [there is] an isolated, strange human tribe [Menschenstamm], resplendently and conspicuously adorned, hot-blooded and animated in its behavior. An Asian horde on the soil of the March [of Brandenburg]. The forced cheerfulness of these people does not betray how much old, unquenched hatred rests on their shoulders. Little do they know that only an age that keeps all natural forces in check is able to protect them from what their fathers would have suffered. In close association with each other, strictly closed off from the outside – thus they live in a semi-voluntary, invisible ghetto, not a living member of the people [Volk], but a foreign organism in its body.

There is no use in investigating how this happened and which side is at fault for this. Life asks about what is; and history declares that the vanquished were in the wrong.

It is an incontestable truth that the best Germans nurse a deep antipathy toward Jewish nature and activities – and most of all those who don't say much about it and who admit numerous exceptions as strange phenomena of nature, so to speak. And though the Jews try to deceive themselves about the breadth and depth of this current, they cannot shake the feeling of being hemmed in and abandoned. The old idea of glory is spent, and with more longing than they care to admit they are on the lookout for reconciliation. Yet the sea of separation will not part before any magic incantation.

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