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A World Without Jews

A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A World Without Jews
    Book Description:

    Why exactly did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible everywhere in Germany on November 9, 1938? The perplexing event has not been adequately accounted for by historians in their large-scale assessments of how and why the Holocaust occurred. In this gripping new analysis, Alon Confino draws on an array of archives across three continents to propose a penetrating new assessment of one of the central moral problems of the twentieth century. To a surprising extent, Confino demonstrates, the mass murder of Jews during the war years was powerfully anticipated in the culture of the prewar years.The author shifts his focus away from the debates over what the Germans did or did not know about the Holocaust and explores instead how Germans came to conceive of the idea of a Germany without Jews. He traces the stories the Nazis told themselves-where they came from and where they were heading-and how those stories led to the conclusion that Jews must be eradicated in order for the new Nazi civilization to arise. The creation of this new empire required that Jews and Judaism be erased from Christian history, and this was the inspiration-and justification-for Kristallnacht. As Germans imagined a future world without Jews, persecution and extermination became imaginable, and even justifiable.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19046-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction: A Nazi Tale of Germans, Jews, and Time
    (pp. 1-24)

    Scenes of biblical fury combining audacity and transgression took place all across Germany.

    The small town of Fürth could be a tourist destination. Located just a few miles from Nuremberg, in northern Bavaria, it’s a scenic medieval settlement of tall, spiky houses and red tiled roofs, with a town hall modeled on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. In the old town, around the Church of Saint Michael, stand buildings with adorned facades dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The historic center nestles between the rivers Rednitz and Pegnitz; to the west of town, on the far side of the...

  6. Part I 1933–1938:: The Jew as the Origins of Modernity

    • ONE A New Beginning by Burning Books
      (pp. 27-55)

      Now do you understand why I’ve been getting migraines?” wrote Betty Scholem from Berlin on April 18, 1933, to her son Gershom, the renowned kabbalah scholar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “A small event: the Zernsdorf bus normally stops on our streetbeforethe bus stop, so we don’t have to walk so far. This time, someone called out to the driver as he lowered the steps for us: ‘So, for this pack of Jews you’re making an extra stop!!’ ”¹

      When Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, Betty Scholem knew immediately that things...

    • TWO Origins, Eternal and Local
      (pp. 56-87)

      The flames of the burning books ultimately died down, but the real terror against the Jews had only begun. Even if the burning of the books was linked to the specific political and ideological foundation of the Third Reich, from the beginning Germans imagined the Jews in terms that cannot be reduced to politics, ideology, economics, or definite historical events.The Twelve Thesesmanifesto of the students who organized the burning celebrations stated: “The Jew can only think in a Jewish way. When he writes in German, he lies. We want to eradicate the lie. Jewish works should be published...

    • THREE Imagining the Jews as Everywhere and Already Gone
      (pp. 88-112)

      Grete Nussbaum was twenty years old and living in Cologne when she decided to travel with friends over Christmas 1935 to Upper Bavaria for a ski vacation and to get away from two horrible years of Nazi persecution. “Perhaps it is the last time,” she thought, “and I loved the Bavarian mountains so much.” The group arrived at sunset, the place was beautiful. “Then we came to the entrance of the resort, and saw a wide banner stretched across the main street: ‘Jews enter this place at their own risk.’ . . . Here went my vacation mood.” In the...

  7. Part II 1938–1941:: The Jew as the Origins of Moral Past

    • FOUR Burning the Book of Books
      (pp. 115-141)

      The Nazis burned the Hebrew Bible on November 9 and 10, 1938. Not one copy but thousands, not in one place but in hundreds of communities across the Reich, and not only in such metropolises as Berlin, Stettin, Vienna, Dresden, Stuttgart, and Cologne but in such small communities as Sulzburg, a Protestant village in Baden with 1,070 inhabitants where the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were thrown from the roof of the synagogue and the Nazis marched mockingly up and down the main street with Torah scrolls before destroying them.¹ By fire and other means, the destruction of the...

    • FIVE The Coming of the Flood
      (pp. 142-180)

      In Talheim bei Hilbronn, a small town in Württemberg, the mayor’s office announced on November 11, 1938: “Relations with Jews . . . 1) He who still has relations with Jews, in spite of all the warnings, will be publicly beaten on the Jewish pillory; 2) Any public presence of Jews in streets, squares or in their vicinity is from now on forbidden.”¹ The order was revoked a week later after Jews who could not buy food went starving. In big cities and small towns, only rarely did one now see a Jew on the street. Jews did not go...

  8. Part III 1941–1945:: The Jew as the Origins of History

    • SIX Imagining a Genesis
      (pp. 183-232)

      Police Battalion 309 of the German army entered Bialystok without a fight on June 27, 1941. The city, in the Soviet area of north-eastern Poland, was home to 100,000 people, half of them Jews. The commander, Lieutenant General Johann Pflugbeil, had orders to “clean up the city of population that is considered a German enemy.” An orgy of violence began in the city center, an area inhabited mostly by Jews. In the afternoon, German soldiers led hundreds of Jews into the main synagogue, now surrounded by machine guns. When the building had been filled with more than seven hundred Jews,...

    • Epilogue: A World with Jews
      (pp. 233-246)

      The war ended, sorting out lives and fates. The Germans now faced a world without Nazism but with Jews. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on April 20, 1945; Goebbels and his wife, Magda, after arranging to kill their six children, on May 1; Himmler, while in British custody, on May 23; and Göring, sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials, on October 15, 1946, a day before he was to be hanged. Walter Frank, the historian and president of the Reich Institute for History of the New Germany, committed suicide on May 9, believing that the world no longer held...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 247-268)
  10. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 269-272)
  11. Index
    (pp. 273-284)