The Passion of Max von Oppenheim

The Passion of Max von Oppenheim: Archaeology and Intrigue in the Middle East from Wilhelm II to Hitler

Lionel Gossman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 415
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  • Book Info
    The Passion of Max von Oppenheim
    Book Description:

    Born into a prominent German Jewish banking family, Baron Max von Oppenheim (1860-1946) was a keen amateur archaeologist and ethnologist. His discovery and excavation of Tell Halaf in Syria marked an important contribution to knowledge of the ancient Middle East, while his massive study of the Bedouins is still consulted by scholars today. He was also an ardent German patriot, eager to support his country's pursuit of its "place in the sun". Excluded by his part-Jewish ancestry from the regular diplomatic service, Oppenheim earned a reputation as "the Kaiser's spy" because of his intriguing against the British in Cairo, as well as his plan, at the start of the First World War, to incite Muslims under British, French and Russian rule to a jihad against the colonial powers. After 1933, despite being half-Jewish according to the Nuremberg Laws, Oppenheim was not persecuted by the Nazis. In fact, he placed his knowledge of the Middle East and his connections with Muslim leaders at the service of the regime. Ranging widely over many fields—from war studies to archaeology and banking history—The Passion of Max von Oppenheim tells the gripping and at times unsettling story of one part-Jewish man's passion for his country in the face of persistent and, in his later years, genocidal anti-Semitism.

    eISBN: 978-1-909254-22-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Dedication
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  6. A note on translations
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  7. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    I am neither an archaeologist nor a scholar of the Middle East. I came across the figure of Baron Max von Oppenheim while preparing a new translation and edition of an autobiographical memoir by Hermynia Zur Mühlen, the daughter of an Austrian aristocrat and minor diplomat, who had accompanied her father to Cairo in 1906 and who tells of hearing much talk there of the mysterious Baron. I included him among the figures of whom I prepared thumbnail sketches for my edition of Zur Mühlen’s memoir (The End and the Beginning[Cambridge, England: Open Book Publishers, 2010] pp. 214–20)....

  8. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)

    The name of Max, Freiherr von Oppenheim (1860–1946) still rings a bell in two fields of scholarly specialization. Among archaeologists and ethnographers working on ancient Near and Middle Eastern civilizations,¹ he is well known as the discoverer of Tell Halaf, a rich treasure trove of artefacts, some dating from prehistoric times, some from around 1,000 B.C., in Northern Syria, and as an attentive and sympathetic observer and analyst of the customs and social structure of the Bedouins. In the work of historians of the First World War and of German-Turkish relations around that time, he is often evoked as...

    • 1. The Oppenheims
      (pp. 3-12)

      Max Freiherr von Oppenheim (1860–1946), was born into an extremely wealthy Jewish banking family in Cologne. The private bank known as “Sal. [i.e. Salomon] Oppenheim jr. & Cie,” founded in 1789, had a continuous, unbroken existence until 2010, when, having survived even itsArisierung(Aryanization) under the Nazis, it finally succumbed to the world financial crisis and was taken over by the Deutsche Bank. Only a few years earlier, with some 3,100 employees, it had still ranked as one of the largest private banks in Europe, if not the largest.

      The Oppenheims are first mentioned as silk merchants in...

    • 2. The Charm of the Orient
      (pp. 13-32)

      It was intended that, as the oldest of the male children of Eduard and Albert, Max (1860–1946) should enter the family firm and be trained to take it over when the time came. Max, however, was not at all interested in running the bank. He had developed a keen curiosity about the Islamic world and dreamed of devoting his life to the study of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa.

      Interest in the “Orient” was by no means uncommon at the time, as several excellent studies of Western fascination with the Middle East have...

    • 3. Attaché in Cairo: “The Kaiser’s Spy”
      (pp. 33-46)

      Oppenheim had been thinking of a career in the German diplomatic service at least since the mid-1880s. In 1887 he submitted a formal application only to have it rejected by Herbert von Bismarck, the son of the great statesman and the current State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. The reasons given to Oppenheim were suitably vague. In a private internal communication, however, von Bismarck was more forthcoming: “I am against it, in the first place because Jews, even when they are gifted, always become tactless and pushy as soon as they get into positions of privilege. Then there is the name....

    • 4. The Spectre of Pan-Islamism and Jihad. The Background of Oppenheim’s 1914 Denkschrift betreffend die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete Unserer Feinde
      (pp. 47-80)

      The contradictory views among contemporaries, German as well as British, of the significance and value of Oppenheim’s activity probably reflect not only a gap between the relatively cautious policies preferred by most of the professional diplomats at theAuswärtiges Amtand the more ambitious and adventurous aims of the Kaiser and his immediate entourage, but divergent assessments of the significance of Pan-Islamism among Western scholars, Western diplomats and politicians, and Muslims themselves. Was Pan-Islamism truly, as Oppenheim argued in his earlier reports and in the influential memorandum “betreffend die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete unserer Feinde” [“concerning the fomenting of revolutions...

    • 5. Oppenheim’s 1914 Denkschrift
      (pp. 81-106)

      The full text of Oppenheim’sDenkschrift betreffend die Revolutionierung der islamischen Gebiete unserer Feinde[Memorandum concerning the fomenting of revolutions in the Islamic territories of our enemies], carefully prepared by the Freiburg scholar Tim Epkenhans, was published and thus made generally accessible in 2001 in the academic journalArchivum Ottomanicum(vol. 19, pp. 120–63). It will be presented here, therefore, only in its broad outlines. Our attention will focus on its reception, on the means employed to execute its proposals, including thefatwaissued in the name of the Sultan-Caliph, and on its effectiveness.

      The memorandum is dated “Berlin,...

    • 6. Promoter of German Economic Expansion and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway
      (pp. 107-116)

      The fervent German nationalism sustaining Oppenheim’s activities as the “Kaiser’s spy” and adviser to theAuswärtiges Amtin Oriental matters was not confined to the sphere of politics. Even his work as explorer, archaeologist and ethnographer was aimed not only at advancing knowledge and satisfying his own genuine curiosity, but also at enhancing Germany’s standing in the world and winning for her, through extraordinary achievement in scholarship and culture, the “place in the sun” to which, like all devoted supporters of the WilhelminianKaiserreich, he believed she was entitled. Thus it was his intention that his discovery of Tell Halaf...

    • 7. Discovery and Excavation, Publications and Critical Reception
      (pp. 119-146)

      Oppenheim’s excavations at Tell Halaf and the scholarly articles and books to which they gave rise—along with the massive and influential study he initiated of the numerous Bedouin tribes, their individual histories, their laws and customs, their internal social organization, and their interconnections—while not unrelated to his demonstrated patriotism, do show him in a somewhat different light from his activity as the “Kaiser’s spy.” It is only fair, therefore, to devote a section of this study to what was, after all, a significant aspect of the persona he saw himself as and wanted others to see him as....

    • 8. Financial Difficulties. The Fate of the Tell Halaf Finds
      (pp. 147-158)

      On his return from Syria in the late fall of 1913, Oppenheim approached the Royal Museums in Berlin about donating the share of the finds at Tell Halaf that, with great difficulty, he had persuaded the Ottoman authorities to permit him to ship back to Germany—43 boxes containing the smaller orthostats and some fragments, along with plaster casts of those items that could not be removed. In return, he asked that the Royal Museums contribute 275,000 marks (around one and a half million dollars in today’s money) toward the expenses of packing, shipping, insurance, and restoration; that he have...

    • 9. Questions
      (pp. 161-162)

      By all accounts this period of Oppenheim’s life and activity is marked by unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, yet unavoidable questions. “How was Max von Oppenheim able to protect himself and his work so successfully from discrimination and persecution?” asks his biographer Dr. Gabriele Teichmann—the Director of the Oppenheim Family Archive—towards the close of her richly informed contribution to the outstanding collective volume put out by the Max-Freiherr-von-Oppenheim-Stiftung and entitledFaszination Orient: Max von Oppenheim, Forscher, Sammler, Diplomat.¹ Having considered the explanations Oppenheim himself provided in the manuscript of an unpublished autobiographical memoir on which he worked in his last...

    • 10. The Oppenheims and their Bank under National Socialism
      (pp. 163-170)

      In general, the Oppenheims, both the bank itself and the members of the family, got through a time of acute difficulty for “non-Aryan” enterprises and of extreme danger for “non-Aryans” themselves better than most. Private banks, of which there were an unusually large number in Germany—1,406, of widely varying size and importance, in 1925¹—were in fact viewed positively by some supporters of National Socialism inasmuch as it was possible to argue that they were rooted in local communities and contributed to the welfare of those communities.² This was not how they were viewed, however, if they happened to...

    • 11. Waldemar and Friedrich Carl von Oppenheim, so-called “Quarter-Jews,” during the National Socialist Regime: Work for the Abwehr (German Counter-Intelligence) and Association with the Conservative “Widerstand” (German Resistance)
      (pp. 171-204)

      The Oppenheims themselves, all of whom, like the vast majority of so-calledMischlinge[persons of mixed race], survived the Nazi regime,¹ have come under scrutiny and the well-documented studies produced under Oppenheim auspices have not held back from confronting obvious questions about their decision not to emigrate and about the character of their lives during the years of National Socialism.² For one thing, it hardly needs to be emphasized, emigration was not something undertaken lightly, especially by families who, like the Oppenheims or the Warburgs, had a massive economic, social, and psychological investment in Germany. In addition to the huge...

    • 12. Max von Oppenheim, “Half-Jew,” during the National Socialist Regime
      (pp. 205-230)

      Having outlined what is known of the relation of some younger members of the Oppenheim family to the Nazi regime in the years 1933–1945, we can now turn back to their senior, Max von Oppenheim. Politically and socially conservative, a fervent nationalist committed to achieving world power status for Germany, the “Kaiser’s spy” probably supported Hugenberg’s Harzburger Front, just as Waldemar and Friedrich von Oppenheim appear to have done, and may well have expected, as they are likely to have done, that the populist anti-Semitism of the NSDAP would moderate once the Party came to power, or at least...

    • 13. Plotting for Nazi Germany. Oppenheim’s Role in the Middle East Policy of the Third Reich
      (pp. 231-276)

      One topic of conversation between Prüfer and his old mentor at these lunches was assuredly familiar to both of them from their years together in Cairo just before World War I; for both were once again engaged in plots, this time involving Arab leaders and Nazi officials, to stir up trouble for the British in the Middle East. Prüfer, hardly back from Brazil, had just replaced anotherAuswärtiges Amtassociate of Oppenheim’s, Fritz Grobba, as the Amt ’s man in charge of German relations with the Arabs and his visits to Oppenheim were almost certainly inspired, at least in part,...

    • 14. Max von Oppenheim’s Last Years
      (pp. 277-282)

      Oppenheim’s fate until the end of the war was substantially similar to that of most Germans. He suffered material hardship, which he bore stoically, but appears not to have been in any way molested. Though he himself later attributed the relative security he enjoyed to the protection of well-placed old friends from the time of theKaiserreich, he seems not to have suffered, as many of them did, and as Waldemar and Friedrich Carl, the sons of his cousin Simon Alfred, also did, in the wake of Stauffenberg’s attempt on Hitler’s life in 1944. In the unfinished autobiographical notes he...

    • 15. Two Jewish Organizations: the Verband nationaldeutscher Juden (Association of German National Jews) and the Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten (Jewish War Veterans Association)
      (pp. 285-292)

      “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...

    • 16. Some Individuals: Schoeps, Pevsner, Kantorowicz, Landmann
      (pp. 293-324)

      Some individual cases reveal a similar pattern of acceptance, even sympathy, despite questions and misgivings. Rabbi Leo Baeck accompanied a protest against the boycott of Jewish stores with the assurance that German Jews longed to “take part in the renewal and resurgence of the German people.”¹ Probably Hans-Joachim Schoeps (1909–1980) is the best known of Jewish apologists for the new regime. The son of a patriotic Prussian Jew who had served as an army medical officer in World War I, Schoeps could claim to be descended, on his mother’s side, from a Jewish volunteer in the War of Liberation...

    • 17. By Way of Conclusion
      (pp. 325-336)

      Because of their “hyperacculturation,” in Ritchie Robertson’s phrase, their love of and faith in Germany, their identification with German culture, their desire to belong and to be seen as belongingin tototo the GermanVolk, their joy at the emergence of their country from the discord, disorder, and shame of the Versailles settlement, their eagerness to have Germany restored to national greatness and international respect, and—not least—their lack of commitment to liberal democracy, which many of them, like their Aryan compatriots, associated with their country’s enemies and held responsible both for the humiliating defeat of theKaiserreich...

  13. Appendix Originals of passages translated in the text and translations of passages given in the original.
    (pp. 337-378)
  14. Index of Proper Names
    (pp. 379-388)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 389-391)