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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Odeonsplatz, Munich

Odeonsplatz and the Feldherrnhalle

The Munich Odeonsplatz is a large and beautiful square bordered by the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal's Hall), the Italianesque Theatinerkirche and the Hofgarten, a former court garden.

The Feldherrnhalle consists of three arches, with at the entrance two Bayern lions. The building was designed in 1841 by Friedrich von Gärtner after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy [1] on request of Ludwig I in honour of Bayern generals.

On 2 August 1914, Adolf Hitler attended a rally at the Odeonsplatz to celebrate the declaration of WWI.

On 9 November 1923, police stopped Hitler's attempt to bring down the Weimar Republic - the so-called Beer Hall Putsch [2] - at the Odeonsplatz. A fierce skirmish with the police left 16 Nazis and 4 policemen dead. Hitler was injured, captured shortly thereafter and sentenced to a prison term.

When Hitler was in power, a memorial to the fallen putschists was erected on the east side of the Feldherrnhalle, opposite the spot in the street where the dead had fallen and the putsch had been halted. The memorial was guarded perpetually by SS guards, and all who passed the memorial had to give the Nazi salute.

Each year special parades were held in Munich on November 9 for the commemoration of Hitler's unsuccessful Putsch. On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a wave of pogroms against Germany's Jews, known as Crystal Night or the Night of Broken Glass [3].

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jewish Ostracism in Germany

“In Russia, I was discriminated for being a Jew. In Germany, the Jewish community does not let me become a member because my mother was not Jewish,” Diana K., a Ukrainian immigrant to Berlin told European Jewish Press [1].
Over the last 15 years more than 200,000 Jews have immigrated to Germany from the former Soviet Union (CIS).
Recent statistics compiled on behalf of the German government show that 205,905 Jews came from the CIS to Germany between 1991 and 2005. The largest influx of arrived between 1995 and 2004, when an estimated 10,000 Jews per year entered Germany as permanent residents.
Many of the Jews were driven out of the CIS after an upsurge in anti-Semitism. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Soviet Jews feared an increase in anti-Semitic violence. And indeed, anti-Semitic violence and hate propaganda surged when newly-founded right-wing parties and nationalist groups took advantage of the political freedoms that resulted with the demise of communist party hegemony. In the early 90s, most Jews left with the pretext that the newly founded Russian Federation was becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews and other minorities.
Until January 2005, Jews from the former Soviet Union could enter Germany as contingency refugees. This status allowed Jews to be able to get around Germany’s ever-increasing immigration restrictions. The contingency-refugee law, passed on January 9 1991, did not limit the number of Jews that could enter Germany. It was also an open-ended law – meaning that there were no time restrictions forcing Jews to make the decision of whether or not to emigrate or when.
The German government has recognised that a great many immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been seeking to establish residency in Germany for the sole purpose of bettering their economic standing or in order not to lose their chance at being allowed to receive automatic residency.
Nonetheless, the government has exercised restraint over the past 15 years. Knowing that it had a historical debt to pay to the Jews of Europe, it sought to right a historical wrong by supporting the re-population of former Jewish centres throughout Germany through its Jewish immigration policy. However, the government has come under increasing pressure to revamp its failed integration policies.
But even the cash strapped Jewish communities want to see more involvement in their congregations by the new immigrants, should they seek to live in Germany – and have thus found a consensus with immigration policy makers. “If the immigrants do not want actively participate in Jewish life here, then what on earth are they coming here for… they might as well stay home” one disgruntled Berlin community member told EJP.
The member lamented that at least half of all CIS Jews have not registered with a local congregation. In fact, of the 220,000 Jews living in Germany today, only 120,000 are officially registered with any congregation associated with the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
“Many of the Russians are not members because many of them are not Jewish in the first place,” one Dresden Jewish community leader told EJP [2,3].
She was referring to Jewish law which prescribes that a Jew is a person born of a Jewish mother. German immigration policy, however, has also let the offspring of Jewish fathers into Germany as contingency-refugees.
“Anyone descended from a Jew, whether from a Jewish mother or, only, a Jewish father was considered ethnically Jewish in the former Soviet Union. Anyone there that was branded ‘Jewish’ was open game to all forms of discrimination. Therefore, the German government did not distinguish between a people whose mother or only whose father was Jewish,” an interior ministry source said.
This policy has, however, also created a social problem among the contingency-refugees within Germany’s established Jewish community structures.
Many of these so-called not-Jewish-Jews are not considered Jewish by their local congregations, even though they have shown an interest in becoming a member of a congregation.
“In Russia, I was discriminated for being a Jew. In Germany, the Jewish community does not let me become a member because my mother was not Jewish,” Diana K., a Ukrainian immigrant to Berlin told EJP.
“If being Jewish is a heritage, then it must also come from the father,” Diana said.

Nuremberg Race Laws [4]
The Jewish communities have offered to convert these immigrants. However, many contingency-refugees, such as Diana, told EJP that they do not think it is right for them to have to convert to something that they feel that they already are.
Like in Israel, many Russians who have immigrated here are neither Jewish from either their mother or father’s side. Some are the spouses of Jews. However, many have used falsified documents claiming to be Jews for the sole purpose of obtaining easy visa for a western country.
Since last year, the Jewish roots of new immigrants are being more severely scrutinised at German consulates throughout the CIS.
As a result of the tightening up of the contingency-refugee laws, which also makes it mandatory for new arrivals to become active members of a Jewish synagogue congregations, fewer Jewish immigrants have been coming into Germany.
Last year, less than 6,000 Jews entered Germany from CIS countries. So far this year, fewer than 400 Jews have immigrated to Germany. Non-Jewish spouses and children will still be let into Germany, as long as the Jewish partner fulfils the new requirements.
Perhaps due to Germany’s historical responsibility towards Jews, government analysts have avoided scrutinising the integration processes of the contingency-refugees. Thus, official statistics about the integration of Jews is not available.
One source told EJP that most offspring of CIS-Jewish immigrants have learned German and, unlike immigrants from most other non-EU countries, an above average number of them have gone on to further their education. However, many of their parents cannot speak German properly and have been collecting some form of state aid. Also, many have been unwilling to identify with Germany at all. In fact, many have shown open disdain for their host country as a result of its Nazi past.
At a leadership conference of Germany’s Jewish Student Union, last year, the question of whether the Union should better integrate itself with other student organisations was rejected. Most of the student leaders underlined the fact that Jews were still not being accepted by other groups as full-fledged citizens and thus they did not feel that any alliance with other student or civic organisations would further their cause.
Because of their claim that Germany is severely riddled in latent anti-Semitism, about half of the student leaders even claimed that they were still in Germany only because of their parents and that Germany was nothing more than a way-station for them on their final road to Israel or countries with a less tainted past.
"Such an attitude is not indicative of whether a person is integrated or not,” the interior ministry source said. “If the immigrants learn the language, have a job and have a clean police record, then they are considered integrated,” he said. “Since about half of these young people’s parents have no solid working knowledge of German and because a large number of these hold no long-term job, then we can assume that the integration process has failed here too.”
In order to combat language and social deficits among its migrant population, the government has intensified its offer of German and integration courses – free of charge. Such courses are now mandatory for recipients of welfare benefits. For many Jews from the CIS, these courses have been made available at Jewish community centres throughout Germany.
However, as one critic put it, “how do you expect these Russian speaking Jews to properly learn German or to integrate with other cultures in Germany if their courses are held among themselves… this is indicative of why integration has been failing”.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who is a Jew in Germany ? The Wankum Question

What if the head of Hamburg’s Jewish community wasn’t actually Jewish?, Tablet [1]

On March 6th 1997, 2.574.000 Jews live in Europe, they were 10.048.400 in 1930; 62.000 Jews live in Germany, they were 564.400 in 1930; 2.900 Jews live in Hamburg, they were 20.800 in 1930 (from Jews In Hamburg - Permanent Exhibition at the Museum of Hamburg History [2])

For years, Andreas Christoph Wankum was the Hamburg, Germany, Jewish community’s favorite son. A self-made millionaire who made his fortune in real estate, he signed fat checks to Keren Hayesod, the influential pro-Israel charity. When Communism collapsed in Hungary, he was instrumental in helping many of that country’s Jews make aliya. He funded scores of Jewish philanthropies in Israel and Germany alike, including a Birthright-type initiative that sent local Jewish students on their first visit to the Jewish state.

There was only one problem: he may not have been Jewish, and the rabbi who appointed him to the presidency of the Hamburg branch of Keren Hayesod, the global equivalent of the United Jewish Communities, may not even been a real rabbi. As if being a Jew in Germany wasn’t complicated enough, this case of identity wars is threatening to tear apart Hamburg’s Jewish community, which is one of Germany’s most resurgent and influential. And, like so many things in Germany, this affair is all about adhering to the rules.

Born in 1955, Wankum first discovered his Jewish roots when he was 13. Observing that his neighbors, the Wolfs, shut down their dry-cleaning business every Saturday, he asked his mother about this odd business practice. The Wolfs, she said, were Jewish, and so were the Wankums, even though they’d concealed it during the war for obvious reasons.

Enamored with his new identity, Wankum reached out to Hamburg’s Jewish community, and even received documents from its leaders that helped him avoid military service. But his Jewish provenance remained questionable, and he never joined the community as a full-fledged member.

In 1999 when Wankum was offered the presidency of the local branch of Keren Hayesod, he found himself facing an unexpected hurdle. To accept the position, he was told, he needed to be an official member of the community. And to do that, he needed to prove, beyond any doubt, that he was indeed Jewish. He was helped in his quest by Rabbi Dov Levi Barzilai, Hamburg’s chief orthodox rabbi. In December of 1999, Barzilai heard four witnesses, including Wankum’s brother and his wife’s uncle, and then signed a paper declaring, officially, that Wankum was a Jew. Soon thereafter, Wankum accepted his new position.

Under Wankum’s leadership, Keren Hayesod experienced unparalleled success. But in late December 1999, following terrible liquidity problems with his company, Wankum declared bankruptcy, which, in Germany’s unremitting political and economic landscape, is a death sentence: Bankruptcy and debt are unacceptable, and forgiveness is never offered. To anyone, that is, but Wankum. Remembering his charitable past, his fellow community members kept him in their warm embrace, and, in 2003, bestowed on him the highest honor imaginable, the chairmanship of Hamburg’s Jewish community.

It was at that time that Wankum aroused the interest of Stefan Knauer, a veteran journalist for the venerated German weekly Der Spiegel. Nearing retirement, Knauer decided to abandon the hard-edged topics he’d been covering throughout his career and examine instead the state of religion in his local community. The Jewish community in particular struck him as insular, further igniting his curiosity. He was especially fascinated by its boisterous chairman, Wankum. Then, one day, he had an epiphany. “[Wankum] was just looking for rehabilitation,” Knauer said in a recent interview, “a place where no one can criticize him after his bankruptcy, and the Jewish community is the best shelter because any criticism about its chairman is immediately tagged as anti-Semitism and Nazism.”

Guided by his suspicions, Knauer started to ask around about Wankum and his religious affiliations. Wankum, on his end, kept referring the reporter to Rabbi Barzilai, and claimed that 2,000 years of Jewish history gave him the right not to talk to the media.

“We started to look in archives in villages around Hamburg where his family used to live,” Knauer said. “There were registration forms with religion identity and we found that Wankum’s mother was named Ruth Morgenstern and she was registered as Lutheran. But you can’t really know because many Jews hid their identity under the Third Reich. On the other hand, how do you explain that his middle name is Christoph?”

Knauer’s quest might have ended up nowhere if it weren’t for Ruben Herzberg. A local educator and a former beneficiary of Wankum’s funds, he was appointed the community’s chairman after Wankum’s term ended in 2007. Soon thereafter, he said, strange things began to happen. “When I was elected as chairman,” he said, “I found out that we basically don’t have any money to maintain ourselves and that we must find ways to cut our expenses. I might be naïve, but I was expecting our rabbi to care about the situation and take a pay cut.”

Rabbi Barzilai, however, would do no such thing, and an exasperated Herzberg began looking into the rabbi’s conduct. During one such investigation, he learned that several community members, Wankum among them, had no documents certifying his Jewishness. Alarmed, he asked the rabbi to provide proof that Wankum was indeed a Jew.

“After a while we understood that Rabbi Barzilai has no documents,” Herzberg said, “just four witnesses and that only one of them was Jewish himself.” In his defense, Rabbi Barzilai claimed he was not permitted to divulge the names of Wankum’s witnesses, but Herzberg asked around and learned that no such rabbinic edict existed. Suspicious, Herzberg decided to call the central rabbinate in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya, where Barzilai claimed to have gotten his rabbinic certification. They were shocked to learn it wasn’t kosher: the chief rabbi of Netanya wrote Herzberg back, saying that the people who appointed Barzilai had no authority to do so. (Barzilai’s credentials are currently being examined by a German rabbinical court. He refused to comment for this piece.)

At this point, Hamburg’s wars of the Jews escalated. “During our checkup,” Herzberg said, “we found that 20 people were missing documents in their files; 16 responded and brought us the papers, but four, including Wankum and his brother, never answered and were ousted from the community.”

Herzberg fired Rabbi Barzilai, an act he he’s claimed in previous interviews with the press was motivated by financial issues, with the community refusing to pay his pension. Some of his colleagues in the community were so livid about what they perceived to be Wankum’s deception that they suggested digging Wankum’s deceased mother from her grave in the Jewish cemetery and interring her elsewhere. Within months, former collaborators became the worst of enemies.

“I will tell you what Herzberg is according to the Jewish halacha,” Wankum fumed recently. “He is a total schmuck, a pathological liar of the worst kind. He just wants to clean the community from anyone who was there before and he uses methods that Nazis used in order to do it.”

Any attempt to question his sincerity, Wankum added, was malicious. “After all I did,” he said, “the claim that I used Judaism as shelter is a disgusting lie. I have a daughter who volunteered in a kibbutz and lives a traditional life in Israel. So what kind of other proof do I need?” Wankum also said that it was sheer jealousy that motivated his enemies and fueled the fallacious claims against him. “Our fight” he said, “is a fight for Jewish identity.”

Stefan Kramer, the General Secretary of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, agrees. “What Herzberg and his friends are doing is Chillul Hashem,” he said, using the Hebrew term for desecration of the holy. “For me there are more important things in Judaism than whether you mother is Jewish or not. If you support Jewish issues and if you educated a daughter and live in Israel it is much more Jewish to me than people who want to drag you mother out of her grave. Herzberg is Jewish by birth, but him running to the media, letting goyim in, shows me that he lacks Jewish brains. Jews can’t sit in a house of glass and throw rocks outside, definitely not in Germany.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Uncertain Future, Undisputable (and Blissful) Ignorance

Jews in Germany past their peak [1]

I read with wry amusement the following post (see below in italics). In my personal experience, Jewish communities and Jewish associations in Germany - and specifically in Bavaria - are utterly, completely and supremely unwelcoming. The truth is that the Moses-Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam has absolutely no estimate whatsoever of how many Jews who are not members of a community live in Germany. So I would be very curious to hear who in Germany has any “expertise” on the question.

A number of years all sound good: The number of Jews increased from 1989 from 28.000 to some 130.000, what is less than a quarter of the number of Jews living in Germany in 1933, when Hitler rose to power. Several Jewish Communities all over Germany were reestablished, some of them even occupied Rabbis, the first time for 60 years and … worldwide headlines announced a kind of Jewish Renewal in Germany. Only some years ago German newspapers relished that the number of Jewish immigrants from Russia to Germany exceeded the one to Israel. But this was just a snap-shot …

Julius Schoeps, historian and head of the Moses-Mendelssohn Center in Potsdam in view of declining figures of member in Jewish Communities in Berlin as well as Brandenburg suggested to pool them together in order to keep the Jewish Communities “alive”. In Berlin for instance last year there was a decrease of 121 people. 139 arrivals (immigrants, removals and births) contrasted 260 leavings (deaths, removals). The decrease is an underestimated trend for some years. In 2003 the Jewish Community in the German Capital had more than 13.000 members, now at the end of 2008 the figure shrank to mere 10.794 (that is a downturn of 17 % in 5 years). Smaller communities of course are affected by this trend more badly, the more so because there was a trend in recent years that Communities like Berlin advanced there growth by people moving in from surrounding localities.

The situation in Berlin and Brandenburg is representative for the situation of the development in whole Germany. The figure of immigrants decreased to less than one thousand a year – it was at an annual average of 10.000 a couple of years ago. Since a vast majority of the immigrants from former Soviet Union were elderly people, figure of deaths is exceeding nationwide. Especially in smaller communities there are few births, circumcisions or bar mitzvahs.

As few experts predicted the figures of Jewish growth in Germany had reached the point of culmination in 2004/5 and are decreasing since. The high rate of inter-marriages, the increasing leaning towards splitting up into sectarian “liberal” or “reform” communities as well as the current age distribution illustrate that the often acclaimed “normalization” of Jewish life in Germany merely was a kind of flash in the pan. You don’t need to be a prophet to predict that the speed of the diminishment will increase. Maybe as early as 2025 the figures of Jews in Augsburg, Bavaria and Germany again will reach the level of 1990.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Operation Reinhard and the Shoah by bullets

Holocaust: The Ignored Reality, by Timothy Snyder [1]

Though Europe thrives, its writers and politicians are preoccupied with death. The mass killings of European civilians during the 1930s and 1940s are the reference of today's confused discussions of memory, and the touchstone of whatever common ethics Europeans may share. The bureaucracies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union turned individual lives into mass death, particular humans into quotas of those to be killed. The Soviets hid their mass shootings in dark woods and falsified the records of regions in which they had starved people to death; the Germans had slave laborers dig up the bodies of their Jewish victims and burn them on giant grates. Historians must, as best we can, cast light into these shadows and account for these people. This we have not done. Auschwitz, generally taken to be an adequate or even a final symbol of the evil of mass killing, is in fact only the beginning of knowledge, a hint of the true reckoning with the past still to come.

The very reasons that we know something about Auschwitz warp our understanding of the Holocaust: we know about Auschwitz because there were survivors, and there were survivors because Auschwitz was a labor camp as well as a death factory. These survivors were largely West European Jews, because Auschwitz is where West European Jews were usually sent. After World War II, West European Jewish survivors were free to write and publish as they liked, whereas East European Jewish survivors, if caught behind the iron curtain, could not. In the West, memoirs of the Holocaust could (although very slowly) enter into historical writing and public consciousness.

This form of survivors' history, of which the works of Primo Levi are the most famous example, only inadequately captures the reality of the mass killing. The Diary of Anne Frank concerns assimilated European Jewish communities, the Dutch and German, whose tragedy, though horrible, was a very small part of the Holocaust. By 1943 and 1944, when most of the killing of West European Jews took place, the Holocaust was in considerable measure complete. Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Be zec, and Sobibor in occupied Poland.

Auschwitz as symbol of the Holocaust excludes those who were at the center of the historical event. The largest group of Holocaust victims—religiously Orthodox and Yiddish-speaking Jews of Poland, or, in the slightly contemptuous German term, Ostjuden—were culturally alien from West Europeans, including West European Jews. To some degree, they continue to be marginalized from the memory of the Holocaust. The death facility Auschwitz-Birkenau was constructed on territories that are today in Poland, although at the time they were part of the German Reich. Auschwitz is thus associated with today's Poland by anyone who visits, yet relatively few Polish Jews and almost no Soviet Jews died there. The two largest groups of victims are nearly missing from the memorial symbol.

An adequate vision of the Holocaust would place Operation Reinhardt, the murder of the Polish Jews in 1942, at the center of its history. Polish Jews were the largest Jewish community in the world, Warsaw the most important Jewish city. This community was exterminated at Treblinka, Be zec, and Sobibor. Some 1.5 million Jews were killed at those three facilities, about 780,863 at Treblinka alone. Only a few dozen people survived these three death facilities. Be zec, though the third most important killing site of the Holocaust, after Auschwitz and Treblinka, is hardly known. Some 434,508 Jews perished at that death factory, and only two or three survived. About a million more Polish Jews were killed in other ways, some at Chelmno, Majdanek, or Auschwitz, many more shot in actions in the eastern half of the country.

All in all, as many if not more Jews were killed by bullets as by gas, but they were killed by bullets in easterly locations that are blurred in painful remembrance. The second most important part of the Holocaust is the mass murder by bullets in eastern Poland and the Soviet Union. It began with SS Einsatzgruppen shootings of Jewish men in June 1941, expanded to the murder of Jewish women and children in July, and extended to the extermination of entire Jewish communities that August and September. By the end of 1941, the Germans (along with local auxiliaries and Romanian troops) had killed a million Jews in the Soviet Union and the Baltics. That is the equivalent of the total number of Jews killed at Auschwitz during the entire war. By the end of 1942, the Germans (again, with a great deal of local assistance) had shot another 700,000 Jews, and the Soviet Jewish populations under their control had ceased to exist.

There were articulate Soviet Jewish witnesses and chroniclers, such as Vassily Grossman. But he and others were forbidden from presenting the Holocaust as a distinctly Jewish event. Grossman discovered Treblinka as a journalist with the Red Army in September 1944. Perhaps because he knew what the Germans had done to Jews in his native Ukraine, he was able to guess what had happened there, and wrote a short book about it. He called Treblinka "hell," and placed it at the center of the war and of the century. Yet for Stalin, the mass murder of Jews had to be seen as the suffering of "citizens." Grossman helped to compile a Black Book of German crimes against Soviet Jews, which Soviet authorities later suppressed. If any group suffered especially under the Germans, Stalin maintained wrongly, it was the Russians. In this way Stalinism has prevented us from seeing Hitler's mass killings in proper perspective.

In shorthand, then, the Holocaust was, in order: Operation Reinhardt, Shoah by bullets, Auschwitz; or Poland, the Soviet Union, the rest. Of the 5.7 million or so Jews killed, roughly 3 million were pre-war Polish citizens, and another 1 million or so pre-war Soviet citizens: taken together, 70 percent of the total. (After the Polish and Soviet Jews, the next-largest groups of Jews killed were Romanian, Hungarian, and Czechoslovak. If these people are considered, the East European character of the Holocaust becomes even clearer.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Warburgs: The Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family

The Warburgs [1]

The Warburg saga can be traced to 1559, when a German Jew known as Simon of Cassel moved from Hesse to Warburg, a town in Westphalia. There he worked for the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn as a moneychanger and pawnbroker, two of the very few professions the Catholic authorities in the region permitted Jews to enter. In 1668 Simon’s great-grandson, Juspa Joseph of Warburg, moved to Altona, near Hamburg, and in 1773 one of the latter's descendants moved into the great port city itself. There, in 1798, two Warburg brothers, Moses Marcus and Gerson, created M.M. Warburg & Co., which mostly brokered bills.

The Warburgs' first claim to major prominence coincided with the life-times of five Warburg brothers: Aby (1866-1929), Max (1867-1946), Paul (1868-1932), Felix (1871-1937), and Fritz (1879-1964). Aby turned his back on finance and became one of the great bibliophiles and art historians of the twentieth century. Max and Paul worked diligently and patriotically for a German empire that had allowed Jews much freedom after centuries of anti-Semitic deprivation. By 1914, M.M. Warburg & Co. was the leading private bank in Hamburg, playing a top role in acceptance credits, foreign exchange, and securities operations.

In 1895, the firm cemented ties to Kuhn, Loeb, and Company, Wall Street's second most important investment banking house, when Paul married Nina Loeb, daughter of one of its founders, and Felix married Frieda Schiff, whose father Jacob was the leading partner in Kuhn, Loeb and was himself a Loeb son-in-law. With Max and Fritz in Hamburg, and Paul and Felix in New York, the Warburgs could now boast strong global connections. Indeed, 1900-1914 was a high point of financial success for the Hamburg Warburgs, as they floated numerous government loans and enjoyed close ties to the Kaiser and the German Foreign Office.

This summit would prove ephemeral, however, for it was followed by World War I, chaos in international banking, hyperinflation in the German mark, and, most ominously, a new German nationalism resulting from the Versailles Treaty that would make the Warburgs the most visible scapegoat for Nazi propagandists and their disillusioned, resentful followers. By 1938, after a 140-year existence, M.M. Warburg & Co. had been plundered and then "Aryanized" as Brinckmann, Wirtz & Co. by the Nazi regime. After World War II, the Warburgs persevered in resuscitating the family name in Hamburg banking circles, and Max's son Eric (1900-1990) succeeded in capturing control of the old firm and restoring the original name.

In America, Paul grew weary of Wall Street and, having long been interested in importing European banking theories and practices, pushed certain basic reforms for U.S. finance--all of them tied to his vision of a central bank. In 1913 his brainchild, the Federal Reserve System, was enacted and President Woodrow Wilson appointed him a member of its first board of governors. Felix remained with Kuhn, Loeb but found time, like many other Warburgs past and present, to be extremely active in Jewish causes. He donated generously to philanthropy at home and to overseas relief efforts for impoverished and endangered Jews in Europe and pre-state Israel. For many years he was a leader of the Joint Distribution Committee, and in 1917 he was instrumental in bringing together 75 different charities to form the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.

In the generation succeeding the five Hamburg-born brothers, Max's son Eric, was notable for his attempts to reinvigorate a Jewish presence in post-Holocaust Germany; Paul's son James (1896-1969), moved in high government circles during the New Deal, was an intimate of John F. Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson, and wrote numerous books on government economic policies and international relations; and Felix's son Frederick (1897-1973), secured much business for Kuhn, Loeb through his well-placed connections and continued his father's high-level identification with Jewish philanthropy.

The most successful of all the Warburgs, incidentally, was not a son of the five brothers but a nephew, Siegmund (1902-1982). Having apprenticed with Uncle Max in the 1920s, he later fled the Nazis for London, where he eventually developed this century's foremost global banking firm.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Heine, the non-Jewish Jew

Heine, a double life [1]

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), the great poet of 19th-century German romanticism, has always been a most controversial figure. A Jew self-converted to Protestant Christianity, heavily influenced by French culture, and sharply critical of the semi-feudal Germany of his own time, Heine was rejected by German Jews and Christians alike. Heine played no small role in forging this polemic: his biting sarcasm was bestowed upon friends and enemies alike.

Heine had a flair for making enemies, as dramatic as his genius for composing poetry in the lyric vein—verses that made him, justly, the idol of millions of readers. As an essayist, literary critic, political analyst, arts and theater journalist, philosopher and music connoisseur, Heine bequeathed his singular prophetic vision to the German literary scene.

During his lifetime and posthumously, Heine suffered the slings and arrows of anti-Semitism. The Nazis tried to erase him from German history, but the popularity of his song, the “Lorelei,” was too great; though in the end, it was attributed to an anonymous source.

Whenever the Jewish intellectual contribution to world culture is discussed, Heine’s own Judaism comes in for questioning. Whenever the thorny question of Jewish identity is raised, Heine’s name is bandied about interminably.

Heinrich Heine was born into a well-to-do business family. His mother, Piera van Geldern, envisioned a great future for her offspring, and sent young Heinrich to a Roman Catholic finishing school. Despite his mother’s assimilationist tendencies, the family’s own Jewish tradition was quite strong, exerting a strong influence on Heine’s life. His uncle, the rich Hamburg banker Salomon Heine, supported Heine financially from the cradle to the grave. This gross dependency inevitably led to a love-hate relationship, and periodic explosions were the rule between the two. In Heine’s youth, his uncle set him up in a business framework that ended, as was to be expected, in total bankruptcy.

Though Heine considered himself a steadfast opponent of society’s hypocrisy, he frequently submitted, albeit unwillingly, to norms that he inwardly rejected. Though an enemy of institutionalized religion, he made sure to be married in a Parisian Catholic church; while proclaiming the delights of hedonism and free love, the woman he married was a near-illiterate Paris merchant, and their life together was the height of “middle-class” existence. He did all this while preaching the ideas of Jewish pride, and decrying the servile attitude of Jews who converted to Christianity for social advancement. Heine was the epitome of self-contradiction: converting was exactly what he did.

A vocal critic of organized Jewish community life, Heine was emphatic in his condemnation of the more reactionary aspects of Jewish faith. He clashed with the fanaticism of Orthodox sects, while simultaneously opposing the crass opportunism of the upwardly mobile assimilationists. Of all the elements in Heine’s life that shaped his Judaism most clearly, his membership in “The Jewish Society for Science and Culture,” in his youth, had the greatest impact upon him.

No less important, however, was his return to Judaism following his own apostasy, in his later years of illness and paralysis. It would be fitting indeed to remember Heine’s celebrated response to a friend who inquired about the poet’s desire to re-join the Jewish people: “There is no need to return, for in fact I have never left.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Felix Mendelssohn and Jewish Identity

Felix Mendelssohn and Jewish Identity [1,2]

Felix Mendelssohn was born into a family of means and privilege. His intellect and aptitude for music were apparent at an early age; by the age of fourteen he had already demonstrated an astonishing facility for musical composition, composing over one hundred works, from small scale keyboard works to large scale operas and symphonies. But the apparent effortlessness with which Mendelssohn met continued successes (and enjoying that rarest of commodities extended to composers -- fame and recognition by the public during their lifetime) as well as the advantages afforded him due to his family's social standing belied a turbulence that would appear incongruous to the composer of vibrant, joyous works such as the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture and the Octet. The society and culture in which Mendelssohn worked and lived was rapidly evolving.

Born into a Protestant family of Jewish heritage, at a time when Jews were still largely marginalized in society, Mendelssohn's own life might aptly serve as a metaphor for the conflicting social attitudes of his era. His maternal grandfather, Daniel Itzig (1723-1799), worked within the status quo by serving as a banker to the royal court of Frederick the Great, eventually obtaining special privileges for his family and heirs -- that is, the same privileges enjoyed by other German (Christian) citizens. Mendelssohn's paternal grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), is considered to be the preeminent Jewish philosopher of the German Enlightenment; as an objective observer of society, removed from the status quo, he called for religious tolerance towards Jews and for their full participation in German society.

Despite the pro-Jewish stance of the children of both Moses Mendelssohn and Daniel Itzig, the sober reality of the era was that practicing Judaism in late eighteenth century Germany substantially limited one's access to professional opportunities. While two of Moses's children retained the Jewish faith, two others converted to Catholicism, and the remaining two embraced Protestantism. Felix's father Abraham Mendelssohn (1776-1835) was one of the latter, although (tellingly enough) he and his wife Lea Salomon (1777-1842) did not officially convert until 1822.

In 1816, at the age of seven, Felix, along with his siblings, were baptized into the Protestant faith. At about this time, the family added the surname "Bartholdy" to their existing name (to become Mendelssohn Bartholdy). The addition of this surname, urged by Lea's brother Jakob Salomon (later Jakob Bartholdy, adopting the name of a family dairy farm) who had converted to Christianity in 1805, indicates the lengths to which even cultured, protected, monied, educated Jews felt constrained to conceal their heritage within an intolerant society.

While Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was raised and remained a practicing Lutheran throughout his life, and never received any religious instruction in Judaism, it would appear that he retained a substantial sense of his Jewish identity -- something of which he would have certainly been aware in his daily life as part of a family that had, by all indications, successfully assimilated into German (Prussian) culture, but who were nevertheless regularly subject to instances of anti-Semitism. Predictably, the very public nature of Mendelssohn's career proved the easiest target for anti-Semitic sentiments. It is revealing, however, that in the subjects of the two biblically-inspired oratorios produced in the last year of his life -- Elijah and Christus, reflecting, respectively, the Old Testament of his Jewish heritage and the New Testament of the Protestant faith adopted by his family -- may be discerned a rapprochement, or an attempt at such, between these two parts of his identity. Perhaps like his grandfather Moses before him, Mendelssohn was striving to reconcile issues of spirituality and religious tolerance within society, and within himself as well.

Friday, July 3, 2009

German Jewish Refugees (1933-1938)

Atlas of the Holocaust, Martin Gilbert [1]

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A critical reaction to the film “Munich” (2005) direct by Steven Spielberg

Israel-blaming Spielberg hast lost 'direction', by Andrea Peyser [1]

WHEN did Steven Spielberg turn into Barbra Streisand? That's what springs to mind after seeing "Munich" - the director's startlingly anti-Semitic rumination on Arab terrorism and the state of Israel. In 2 1/2 excruciating hours, Spielberg's film about the 1972 Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes by Islamic butchers sets out to solve Middle East violence while providing a blueprint for world peace.

Instead, Spielberg proves two things in his film, due in theaters just in time for Hanukkah: 1. Steven Spielberg is too dumb, too left and too Hollywood (or is that redundant?) to tackle such complex and polarizing themes as Islamic fundamentalism and Jewish survival. 2. Spielberg is a decent enough filmmaker to persuade some people that Israel has outlived its usefulness and should - as enemies in Iran maintain - be wiped off the face of the earth.

The backlash has begun. The Jewish Action Alliance has already called for a boycott of "Munich." Written by Zionism-hating screenwriter Tony Kushner, the film concerns a hit squad sent to assassinate 11 Arab terrorists in retaliation for the 1972 massacre.

One by one, the terrorists fall. And one by one, hit squad members suffer crises of conscience, culminating in one Israeli assassin crying out in agony, "All this blood cries back to us! Jews don't do wrong because our enemies do wrong. We're supposed to be righteous!" Mercifully, he soon blows himself up.

Here lies the film's biggest flaw - and its greatest danger. "Munich" reeks of moral relativism. It puts the terrorists and those who respond to terror on even moral footing. It suggests that Israel must pay, one way or another, for vengeance. In Time magazine, Spielberg reveals how Hollywood he's sunk. About the Israelis, he said, tellingly, "A response to a response doesn't really solve anything." Wait! The unprovoked atrocity carried out by Arabs in Munich is a "response?" To what, exactly? To the existence of Israel?

In one scene, the Israeli hit squad spends a night in a house with unsuspecting members of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), the Israeli team's leader, befriends a man called Ali, who argues eloquently that Israel has turned his people into hungry refugees. The Arabs may have killed. But here, they win the race to victimhood.

Blood does not scare Spielberg - think of the bloody beach in the lyrical opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan." But here, the blood spurts, explodes and flows in slo-mo. Not satisfied, Spielberg brings his movie to its metaphorical climax when Avner, in bed with his wife, literally climaxes while daydreaming about the Munich massacre.

At the end, a demoralized Avner flees to Brooklyn. The head of Israel's Mossad (Geoffrey Rush) tries to lure him back into service, saying his actions will bring peace. "There is no peace!" Avner wails. In the background, the World Trade Center is visible. I guess that's Israel's fault, too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Rintfleisch Pogrom of 1298

Rintfleisch Pogrom (1,2,3,4,5)

The Rintfleisch pogrom was a pogrom against Jews of southern Germany in April-September 1298, during the civil war between Adolph of Nassau and Albert I of Nassau.

The Jews of the Franconian town of Röttingen were charged with profanation of the Host, a medieval superstition that maintained that Jews defiled the communion wafer with blood.

Rintfleisch, whom the sources refer to either as an impoverished knight or a butcher (the name Rindfleisch means beef meat in German), believed to have received a mandate from heaven to avenge the sacrilege and exterminate the Jews.

Under his leadership, an armed band fell upon the Jews of Röttingen, who were massacred and burned down to the last one. After this, he and his mob went from town to town and killed all Jews that fell under their control, destroying the Jewish communities at Rothenburg-on-Tauber, Nördlingen and Bamberg. The great community of Würzburg was entirely annihilated. The Jews of Nuremberg sought refuge in the fortress but were overpowered and butchered.

The persecutions spread from Franconia to Bavaria, and within six months 146 Jewish communities were attacked and often destroyed. In Bavaria, only the congregations of Ratisbon and Augsburg escaped the slaughter, owing to the protection of the magistrates of the city.

The end of the civil war, following the death of Adolph of Nassau, terminated these persecutions. King Albert I finally had Rintfleisch arrested and hanged.

We may say in modern terms that - apart from the excesses of the Crusaders - it was the first case of Jewish “genocide” in Christian Europe. For the first time all the Jews of the country were held responsible for a crime imputed to one or at most several Jews.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Jewish view of the Wandering Jew

The Eternal Jew by Shmuel Hirszenberg (1865-1907) [1,2,3,4]

Jewish culture never accepted the legend of the Wandering Jew as historical information. However, a modern Jewish interpretation of the figure of the Wandering Jew shows how lack of knowledge has changed a fundamentally anti-Jewish (read today anti-Semitic) character to a real cultural phenomenon. In an ironic twist of view, the non-Jewish portrayal of the Jew has now been adopted by many ignorant Jews themselves:

“Been there, seen that, am the Wandering Jew…”

A painting by Shmuel Hirszenberg, a young Polish Jewish artist who had studied at the Munich Academy of Art gives an interesting illustration of how Jews themselves have ended up using this figure from medieval Christian folklore.

The legend of the Wandering Jew began to spread in Europe in the thirteenth century and became a fixture of Christian mythology, and, later, of Romanticism. The original legend concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming.

The earliest known mediaeval source quoting the legend of the Eternal Jew appears in an Italian monastic chronicle written about 1223. According to this chronicle, while Christ "was going to his Martyrdom, a Jew drove Him along wickedly with these words: 'Go, go thou tempter' .... Christ answered him: I go and you will wait me till I come again". The Jew is condemned by Christ to wait, rather than to wander, until his second coming in the Last Judgement.

This version of the legend persisted with many variations in the details of the story, including different names given to the Jew up to the end of the 16th century.

The legend of the Wandering Jew appeared in print for the first time in 1602. In this version, the Jew is described as a shoemaker named Ahasver or Ahasverus. Unlike his mediaeval predecessors, Ahasverus is not condemned by Christ to wait until his second coming in the Last Judgement. Instead, he is doomed to expiate his crime by eternal wandering.

Numerous reprints and translations into several other European languages soon followed, and made the legend of the Wandering Jew widely known throughout Europe already by the beginning of the 17th century.

In the late 18th and throughout the 19th century, particularly during the rise of Romanticism, it inspired numerous literary, poetical, theatrical and even musical works, as well as dozens of graphic illustrations and popular single-leaf prints. The best known of such works is the famous series of twelve wood-engravings made after Gustave Doré's designs (1856).

A depiction of the Wandering Jew as an anti-Jewish figure was given by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1804-1874) in his large painting The Destruction of Jerusalem. King Ludwig I of Bavaria paid 35,000 gulden for this painting, the largest sum ever paid in Germany up to then for an individual painting. The finished work was installed in 1853 in a place of honour in the central hall of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich which had been inaugurated that year by Ludwig I. It has been on display there ever since.

Kaulbach transformed the historical event of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans into a visual Christian allegorical sermon according to which the destruction of Jerusalem was a divine punishment wrought upon the Jews for their rejection of Christ. The destruction of Jerusalem is seen as marking the downfall and dispersion of the Jewish people and also the end of their ancient religion, and the triumphal emergence of the new faith - Christianity. Kaulbach's interpretation follows a long tradition already apparent in the teachings of early Christian writers such as Tertullian. It was, however, in Kaulbach's work that the Wandering Jew made his first appearance in a large-scale painting, and in a representation with an even stronger anti-Jewish flavour than the original legend of Ahasverus. Kaulbach's Wandering Jew escaping from the burning Jerusalem is an allegorical reference to the dispersion of the Jews that followed the destruction of their holy city. In Kaulbach's painting the Wandering Jew, pursued by the demons of revenge, represents both the legendary Ahasverus suffering the punishment for his personal sin, and the entire Jewish people, doomed to dispersion among the nations and "to eternal darkness" as divine revenge for their rejection and condemnation of Christ.

In 1899, Shmuel Hirszenberg reacted to the anti-Jewish message of Kaulbach with his painting The Eternal Jew, which was exhibited in Lodz, Warsaw and Paris. To Hirszenberg's great regret, the artistic authorities in both Munich and Berlin refused to exhibit his work, probably because of its outspoken polemic content.

Hirszenberg transformed Kaulbach's legendary offender of Christ into a victim and a Martyr of Christian Persecution. Hirszenberg lifted the Eternal Jew from the pseudo-historical context of Kaulbach's Christian Allegory, inserting him instead into an original symbolical environment of his own conception: a forest of dark, huge crosses strewn with massacred corpses which represent Christian persecution that pursue the Eternal Jew on his desperate flight. Hirszenberg also transformed the ideal generic figure of Kaulbach's Ahasver into that of a realistically rendered figure of a contemporary, frail old Jew of the Eastern Europe Diaspora.

Hirszenberg died in September 1907, a few months after he had arrived in Jerusalem, having responded to an invitation to head the recently founded painting department of the Bezalel School of Art. The Eternal Jew, which the artist had brought with him to Jerusalem, remained in the possession of the Israel National Museum.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Scattered among the nations

“For thousands of years since successive waves of invaders chased the Israelites from their ancestral home, Jews have carried their religion with them wherever they have gone. Living in the Diaspora, Jews maintained their way of life, gathering in communities to share their traditions. Others were touched by the faith of the Jews scattered among them, or by the words of the Torah, and bound their lives to this enduring heritage.

There are scarcely more than thirteen million Jews in the world today; most of them live in established Jewish centers like Israel and large cities in North America and Western Europe. But what many do not know is that there are Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, South America, even parts of Europe and the Former Soviet Union, in which the Jewish populations do not have white skin or do not live fast-paced, modern lives. Some of these communities exist in places so geographically and culturally distant from other Jews that they must struggle daily to maintain the religion of their ancestors.

Scattered Among the Nations is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the Jewish and non-Jewish world about the beauty and diversity of our people. We assist geographically and politically isolated Jewish or Judaism-practicing communities to continue embracing the Jewish religion and culture, while documenting these communities as they are today before they disappear through immigration or assimilation.”

I would suggest this non-profit organization to document atheist Jews living in Germany as they are today, because they too are geographically and politically isolated and will soon disappear through immigration or assimilation :D :D :D

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Russian Jewish Identity-Building

By Olga Gershenson and David Shneer [1]

It has been nearly 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the exodus of Russian-speaking Jews to locations around the world. And now, paradigms that predicted Russian Jewry’s decline and disappearance are giving way to a more nuanced understanding of a global Russian Jewish diaspora. Rather than approaching the Russian Jewish experience with presumptions of what it means to be Jewish and how Russian Jews do (or more likely don’t) measure up, some are asking what being Jewish means to Russian-speaking Jews.

For most Russian Jews, the primary ways of understanding Jewishness are not through synagogues, Hebrew schools and bar mitzvahs. In the Soviet Union, Jews were identified by their passports, which clearly marked their ethnicity as Jewish. Today, Russian Jews continue to see themselves as ethnically different. They also see themselves as distinct from other Russians because they possess different peer networks and have different educational and cultural expectations. For them, Jewishness is less about religious practices and more about ethnic and social relations.

That doesn’t mean that Russian Jews are lacking in the realm of Jewish identity. Indeed, the most recent National Jewish Population Survey found that while Russian-speaking Jews in the United States may affiliate with synagogues at much lower rates than their American-born kin, they actually score significantly higher on many other measures of Jewish identity, particularly those related to peoplehood and attachment to Israel — not surprising given their community’s international ties.

In Germany, Russian Jews have fundamentally transformed the Jewish landscape. According to some estimates, Russian-speakers now represent up to 80% of Germany’s Jewish population, depending upon how one counts. These newcomers rarely register with the organized Jewish community, the Gemeinde, and even if they wanted to, many of them would not qualify as Jews according to the Gemeinde’s halachic definition. German Jews complain that the Russians don’t integrate and don’t participate. At the same time, the Russian Jewish writer Wladimir Kaminer’s German-language stories about Russian immigrants in Germany have made him a literary sensation — and one of the most popular Jewish authors in the country.

Given that Russian-speakers now make up a sixth of the Israeli population, it is not a surprise that they have transformed Israeli culture too. Russian has become a de facto language of the Jewish state, with Russian-language radio and television stations, newspapers, theaters and film. “The Russians,” as they are known, have their own political, social and economic agendas. Predictably, tensions developed between immigrants and native Israelis. These tensions reveal deep cultural gaps: The immigrants brought with them not only their food (non-kosher), their language (Russian) and their holidays (many celebrate the New Year with decorated fir trees), but also their own understanding of what it means to be Jewish and to be Israeli.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander [1]
Youtube Video [2]

When I was a child, my parents and teachers told me about a man who was very strong. They told me he could destroy the whole world. They told me he could lift mountains. They told me he could part the sea. It was important to keep the man happy. When we obeyed what the man had commanded, the man liked us. He liked us so much that he killed anyone who didn’t like us. But when we didn’t obey what he had commanded, he didn’t like us. He hated us. Some days he hated us so much, he killed us; other days, he let other people kill us. We call these days “holidays.” On Purim, we remembered how the Persians tried to kill us. On Passover, we remembered how the Egyptians tried to kill us. On Chanukah, we remembered how the Greeks tried to kill us.

—Blessed is He, we prayed.

As bad as these punishments could be, they were nothing compared to the punishments meted out to us by the man himself. Then there would be famines. Then there would be floods. Then there would be furious vengeance. This was the song we sang about him in kindergarten:

God is here,
God is there,
God is truly

Then snacks, and a fitful nap.

I was raised like a veal in the Orthodox Jewish town of Monsey, New York, where it was forbidden to eat veal together with dairy. Having eaten veal, one was forbidden to eat dairy for six hours; having eaten dairy, one was forbidden to eat veal for three hours. One was forbidden to eat pig forever, or at least until the Messiah arrived; it was then, Rabbi Napier had taught us in the fourth grade, that the wicked would be punished, the dead would be resurrected, and pigs would become kosher.

The people of Monsey were terrified of God, and they taught me to be terrified of Him, too—they taught me about a woman named Sarah who would giggle, so He made her barren; about a man named Job who was sad and asked, —Why?, so God came down to the Earth, grabbed Job by the collar, and howled, —Who the fuck do you think you are?

And so, in early autumn, when the leaves choked, turned colors, and fell to their deaths, the people of Monsey gathered together in synagogues across the town and wondered, aloud and in unison, how God was going to kill them: —Who will live and who will die, they prayed, —who at his predestined time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning.

Then lunch, and a fitful nap.

It is Monday morning, six weeks after my wife and I learned that she is pregnant with our first child, and I am stopped at a traffic light. The kid doesn’t have a chance. It’s a trick. I know this God; I know how He works. The baby will be miscarried, or die during childbirth, or my wife will die during childbirth, or they’ll both die during childbirth, or neither of them will die and I’ll think I’m in the clear, and then on the drive home from the hospital, we’ll collide head-on with a drunk driver and they’ll both die later.

That would be so God.

The teachers from my youth are gone, the parents old and mostly estranged. The man they told me about, though—he’s still around. I can’t shake him. I read Spinoza. I read Nietzsche. I read National Lampoon. Nothing helps. I live with Him every day, and behold, He is still angry, still vengeful, still—eternally—pissed off.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Religious beliefs in Europe

Eurobarometer [1]

Four in five EU citizens have religious or spiritual beliefs. In fact, over one in two EU citizens believe there is a God (52%) and over one in four (27%) believe there is some sort of spirit or life force. Only 18% declares that they don’t believe that is any sort of spirit, God or life force.

The graph above is representative of the diverse nature of Europe’s religious and spiritual composition. The average results mask considerable differences in the beliefs of the various nationalities.

Roman Catholicism is the official religion of Malta and 95% of Maltese respondents confirm that they believe in a God. The majority of the population of Cyprus is Greek Cypriot and Christian Orthodox and the results show that nine in ten declare that they believe in a God. Four in five respondents in Greece (81%), Portugal (81%) and Poland (80%) declare that they believe in a God and are followed by Italy and Ireland where respectively 74% and 73% confirm their religious beliefs. These are all countries where the Church as an institution has, historically, always been present and strong.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Lamfroms from Augsburg, Bavaria founders of Columbia Sportswear

The Lamfroms from Augsburg, Bavaria [1,2,3,4]

Gertrude Lamfrom was born in Augsburg, in southern Germany some 40 miles from Munich, in 1924. She was the middle sister of three, and her father Paul owned the largest shirt, sock, and underwear factory in the country. Her family lived the Bavarian good life, complete with maids.

It was 1937 when Paul Lamfrom decided to flee with his family from the Nazi regime in Germany to America. He left behind a successful clothing factory and nearly all his money and possessions, but sought safety for himself and his family.

The Lamfrom family was Jewish, and by the mid-1930s it was clear that the wind had begun to blow very chillingly the wrong way. As was often the case in her father’s generation, the eldest son was shipped off to make his way in the New World, and several years earlier her uncle had sailed away to a faraway place called Portland, Oregon. In 1935, Gert’s grandmother traveled to America to visit her son, and before long Gert’s father received a cable from her: “Please dissolve my household. I am not coming back.”

Events in Nazi Germany soon went from very bad to even worse, and in 1937 Gert’s father decided to emigrate to America. His daughter Gertrude wouldn’t return to her homeland for sixty years.

“We were fortunate to be able to get out,” she says now. “We had to leave all our money behind. But we were allowed to bring goods with us, so my parents took my sisters and me to a shoe store and bought each of us 20 pairs of shoes, in different sizes! And they made us clothes and bought a dowry for each of us. Packed everything in two big containers that looked like the back ends of trucks. I wasn’t scared about leaving. I’ve always been one of those people who never live in the past.”

The family sailed first-class from Le Havre in Normandy to New York, then through the Panama Canal and on to Portland. They arrived in August, and immediately the three Lamfrom girls stood out from the Portland crowd.

“Oh, we were quite unusual,” says Gert. “My sisters and I had long braids and we looked very different. It became the thing to do for people to invite us over to their homes: ‘Get those little undernourished German girls over and feed them!’”

Gert spoke no English, so, at 13 years old, she was placed in 1st grade. Two weeks later, she was moved up to 7th grade.

“I must have said ‘Hello’ or something, so they figured I suddenly spoke the language,” she says, “but my complete vocabulary was ‘One a-penny, two a-penny, hot cross buns’! I remember one day the class was learning about Germany, so I had to talk about it. Everyone listened for the whole hour, and later they told me no one had understood a single word!”

"My father decided that our family also had to make a new beginning; we were in a new country and needed to learn a new language. From that moment on no more German was spoken in our house."

Her father borrowed money and bought a small hat manufacturer, the Rosenfeld Hat Company. Having just fled the Nazis, and not entirely convinced that anti-Semitism was nonexistent in his new home, Gert’s father began looking for a new company name. “I won’t deny that I’m Jewish,” he told the family, “but I don’t have to put it on the label.”

He settled on Columbia Hat Company, named after the Columbia River, which forms most of the border between the states of Oregon and Washington.

After graduating from high school, Gert broke form when she took off by herself for the University of Arizona in Tucson. In 1946 she received her sociology degree.

Her family had never been overly Orthodox, so there was nothing to prevent them from embracing the staunchly Catholic Neal Boyle. “I fell in love with a guy who happened to be Catholic, who cares?” Gert says. “It doesn’t really make any difference, and it didn’t bother my family one bit.” In 1948 she married Neal Boyle, who went to work for his father-in-law in the business.

The business grew slowly but steadily. So that the firm could enter other market segments, the name was changed to Columbia Sportswear Company in 1960.

When Paul Lamfrom suddenly died of a heart attack four years later, Neal Boyle took over the helm.

In 1970, Neal Boyle died following a heart attack. Gert and son Tim Boyle, then a University of Oregon senior, took over the operations of Columbia, rescuing it from near bankruptcy.

Columbia Sportswear distributes its products in more than 72 countries and 13,000 retailers. Its flagship store is located in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Religiosity in the World

A global perspective on Americans’ religiosity offers a few surprises

by Steve Crabtree and Brett Pelham, [1]

Are Americans among the most religious people in the world? The answer depends on which "world" you're talking about. If you're referring to the entire planet, the answer is plainly "no." In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Gallup asked representative samples in 143 countries and territories whether religion was an important part of their daily lives. The accompanying map shows religiosity by country, ranging from the least religious to the most religious on a relative basis. Across all populations, the median proportion of residents who said religion is important in their daily lives is 82%. Americans fall well below this midpoint, at 65%.

But before you point out the considerable effect religion has on U.S. society and politics, let's change the lens to account for a basic insight multicountry surveys offer: a population's religiosity level is strongly related to its average standard of living. Gallup's World Poll, for example, indicates that 8 of the 11 countries in which almost all residents (at least 98%) say religion is important in their daily lives are poorer nations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 10 least religious countries studied include several with the world's highest living standards, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, and Japan. (Several other countries on this list are former Soviet republics, places where the state suppressed religious expression for decades.)

Social scientists have noted that one thing that makes Americans distinctive is our high level of religiosity relative to other rich-world populations. Among 27 countries commonly seen as part of the developed world, the median proportion of those who say religion is important in their daily lives is just 38%. From this perspective, the fact two-thirds of Americans respond this way makes us look extremely devout.

What's more, as Gallup's Frank Newport recently pointed out, there is wide regional variation in religiosity across the 50 American states. The proportion of those who say religion is important in their daily lives is highest in Mississippi, at 85% -- a figure that is slightly higher than the worldwide median (among all countries, rich and poor). Two others, Alabama (82%) and South Carolina (80%) are on par with the worldwide median.

Lining up these percentages with those on our worldwide list allows us to match residents of the most religious states to the global populations with which they are similar in terms of religiosity. The results produce some interesting comparisons -- Alabamians, for example, are about as likely as Iranians to say religion is an important part or their lives. Georgians in the United States are about as religious as Georgians in the Caucasus region.

On the less religious end of the spectrum, residents of New Hampshire look similar to their neighbors in Canada and Alaskans are about as religious as Israelis.

Bottom Line

Obviously, these data only compare the importance of religion in people's lives -- they say nothing about what being highly religious means in different parts of the world and among different faiths. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to note that in terms of religiosity, Americans span a range that invites comparisons to some predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and tribal societies in Southern Africa, as well as to some relatively secular nations in Europe and developed East Asia. Examining regional variations within many other large countries would almost certainly uncover similar diversity.

Recognition of that fact should give Americans pause when we're tempted to apply blanket generalizations to other cultures; for example, to say residents in those nations are less devout or more prone to zealotry than people in America. It should also help those outside the United States avoid applying such oversimplified judgments to Americans.

Survey Methods

Global results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2008 with approximately 1,000 adults in each country. Results from each country have an associated sampling error of ±4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hollywood's take on the Holocaust

Good Germans and Uplifting Uprisings

By Ben Crair [1]

One way to measure the approach of the new year is to count the Holocaust films at your local multiplex. The holidays arrive just as studios begin wooing academy members with serious dramas, and there's nothing more serious than genocide. Over the decades, this award-baiting subject has enticed directors Otto Preminger, Sydney Lumet, and Steven Spielberg and stars such as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Judy Garland, and Meryl Streep. This winter there's a slew of new additions to the genre, including Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, Stephen Daldry's The Reader, Edward Zwick's Defiance, and several smaller features like Good, Adam Resurrected, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Or maybe new isn't quite the right word. If you watch several Holocaust films back to back, as I did recently (during the most wonderful time of the year, no less), you start to notice patterns. In fact, by my count, there are really only five basic Holocaust plots. Forthwith, Slate's taxonomy of the genre:

Good Germans

Before the Marshall Plan had run its course, Hollywood combed through the rubble looking for tales of German goodness. One of the earliest results of this search was The Desert Fox (1951), which tells the story of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. As commander of the Deutsches Afrikakorps, Rommel supposedly ignored orders to execute captured Jewish soldiers.
The Young Lions (1958) starring Marlon Brando fits into this category, too. Although protagonist Christian Diestl was not a virtuous type in Irwin Shaw's source novel, Brando insisted that his character be sympathetic. To accommodate the actor's ego, the screenwriters turned Christian into an honorable German who is shocked by his countrymen's atrocities.

Of course the most famous film about German decency is Schindler's List (1993). The real-life Oskar Schindler was, undoubtedly, good—he is the only person known to have gotten Jews out of Auschwitz. Lest that seem too slight, director Steven Spielberg threw in a rousing speech for Schindler, in which he declares "I could have done more." The latest good German is Tom Cruise's Claus von Stauffenberg in Bryan Singer's Valkyrie. Some might dispute the classification of Valkyrie as a Holocaust film, since it concerns the July '44 plot to assassinate Hitler and neither Jews nor concentration camps enter its frames. But the viewer is alerted to von Stauffenberg's goodness when the first thing he says he'll do "once we have control of the government" is "shut down all concentration camps."

Von Stauffenberg and his ilk were historical anomalies, but Hollywood seems not to have taken notice. In the mid-'60s, critic Judith Crist quipped, "[A] screenwriter, with a revolutionary glint in his eye was telling me the other day he's going all-the-way original; he's writing a World War II movie with bad Nazis."

Resistant Jews

Films about Jews during the war typically focus on resistance, which, unlike the camps, lends itself to moral uplift. Anne Frank never fired a rifle, but her survival for two years in an Amsterdam attic foiled the Nazis' ambitions—that is, at least until they found her. The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) is, in this sense, the first American film about Jewish resistance. It is not the darkest: Anne's despair is twice relieved by spontaneous group song.

Later resistance films lose the music as they move out of the attic and into the ghettos. Yet they retain the spirit of the line that Anne utters twice, shortly before she is deported: "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart." In the first American feature about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the television film The Wall (1982), a character similarly chimes, "[T]he only way to answer death is with more life." Another television film, Jon Avnet's Uprising (2001), also tells the story of the Warsaw Ghetto, and it ends with a triumphant speech by Yitzhak Zuckerman, one of the resistance's surviving leaders: "The dream of my life has come true."

Edward Zwick's new film, Defiance, concerns the plucky Bielski Partisans, who fought against the Nazis in present-day Belarus, and focuses on Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig), who prances around the Belarusian forest on a white horse. At the film's end, a dying man tells Tuvia, "I almost lost my faith, but you were sent by God to save us."

Postwar Judgment

Culpability is a notoriously thorny issue among Holocaust scholars, since the scale of the crime blurred the line between perpetrators and bystanders. But Hollywood started issuing verdicts directly after the war.

Orson Welles' The Stranger (1946) was the first American feature film to incorporate documentary footage of the camps, which, it claims, were "all the product of one mind"—the fictional Nazi genius Franz Kindler, who "conceived the theory of genocide." The consolidation of German guilt into a single villain makes retribution rather simple, since all the protagonist has to do is find and punish Kindler.

Justice is more elusive in Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), which stars Spencer Tracy as an American judge flown in to preside over the trial of four German judges. The main defendant is Ernst Janning, the German minister of justice, who takes the stand against his lawyer's wishes at the film's climax and confesses, "If there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it—whatever the pain and humiliation." So much for Janning, but Judgment also explores how the Cold War undermined America's determination to try rank-and-file Nazis. "There are no Nazis in Germany," an embittered American prosecutor tells Tracy at one point. "Didn't you know that, judge?"

The Reader likewise takes place at Nuremberg, where young law student Michael Berg witnesses the trial of his former lover Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). But the film is less concerned with Schmitz's crime than with her own personal tragedy. Embarrassed by the fact that she's illiterate, Hanna refuses to take a handwriting test to prove that she did not order the deaths of 300 Jews. Illiteracy, it would seem, is more shameful than the orchestration of mass murder and more dangerous, too: Hanna is sentenced to life, while her guilty-but-literate co-defendants get away with just a few years behind bars.


There are two basic survivor narratives. Redemption stories, like The Juggler (1953) and Exodus (1960), frequently present Israel as the key to their heroes' deliverance and star good-looking men like Kirk Douglas and Paul Newman. By contrast, films like Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker (1964) suggest that the camp experience is inescapable and star homely actors like Rod Steiger.

Films that fall into the "no escape" group often unfold like mysteries, with the survivors' camp experiences functioning like clues to their present behavior. Sophie's Choice (1982) and Steven Soderbergh's The Good German (2006) fit the bill, as does this season's Adam Resurrected, which stars Jeff Goldblum as a mental patient who survived the Holocaust by playing the part of an S.S. commandant's dog.

The Fable

Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (1997) is an Italian film, but Americans were happy to surmount the language barrier—the film grossed $57 million at the box office and Benigni won an Oscar for best actor. This story about a Jewish father who convinces his son that their internment is a game proved that you can depict concentration camps so long as you pretend they're something else. Two years later, Jakob the Liar (1999) tried a similar trick: Jakob (Robin Williams) spreads hope through a camp by making up stories about Allied victories. This season's entry is a British film, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which tells the story of the friendship between a Jewish boy and a German boy across a concentration-camp fence.

Though films across these five categories are rarely as outright cheery as, say, The Diary of Anne Frank, they almost all project the optimism that Lawrence Langer described in 1983: "[T]he American vision of the Holocaust … continues to insist that [the victims] have not [died in vain], trying to parlay hope, sacrifice, justice, and the future into a victory that will mitigate despair." As a Holocaust survivor puts it in the penultimate scene of The Reader: "Go to the theater if you want catharsis."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Levi Strauss, a German Jewish immigrant from Buttenheim, Bavaria

Levi Strauss from Buttenheim, Bavaria [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

Levi Strauss, born Löb Strauß, (February 26, 1829 - September 26, 1902), was a German-Jewish immigrant to the United States who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans. His firm, Levi Strauss & Company, began in 1853 in San Jose, California.

Levi Strauss was born on February 26, 1829 in Buttenheim, Bavaria to Hirsch Strauss and his wife Rebecca (Haas) Strauss. His parents named him Löb, but he changed it to Levi after he came to the United States.[2]

The Strauss family was a member of the respected rural French Jewish community in Buttenheim. In the year 1810, a fifth of the inhabitants of Buttenheim were of the Jewish faith. In the 19th century, the Bavarian laws restricted the choice of profession and married partners of the Jews. Additionally they were only allowed to settle down in the community under certain circumstances. Only emigration allowed those particular freedoms. When the situation of the poor was made remarkably worse by general economic conditions the subsequent emigration included many Jews. So by the 1820 many members of the Jewish community in Buttenheim had been gone to emigrate.

On June 4, 1847 the widowed Rebecca Strauss applied for permission to emigrate to the USA. This permission was granted on June 14, 1847. At the age of 18, Strauss sailed for the United States to join his brothers Jonas and Louis, who had begun a dry goods business in New York City. His mother and two sisters came with him. By 1850, Strauss was already calling himself Levi.

In 1853, Strauss became an American citizen. He moved to San Francisco, where the California Gold Rush was still going on. Strauss expected the miners would welcome his buttons, scissors, thread and bolts of fabric. He also brought along canvas sailcloth, intended to make tents and covers for the Conestoga wagons many miners lived out of.

Strauss opened his dry goods wholesale business as Levi Strauss & Co. He often led his pack-horse, heavily laden with merchandise, to the mining camps in the Gold Rush country. He learned that prospectors and miners complained about their cotton trousers and pockets tearing too easily.

A Jewish Latvian immigrant named Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes) decided to make rugged overalls to sell to the miners. Fashioned from brown sailcloth made from hemp, his trousers had ore storage pockets that were nearly impossible to split. Davis wanted to register a patent, but lacked money. Strauss agreed to help him and they went into partnership.

On May 20, 1873, Strauss and Davis received US patent 139121 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Levi Strauss & Co. began manufacturing the famous Levi's brand of jeans, using fabric from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Strauss died in 1902 at the age of 73. He was buried in Colma. Strauss had never married and left his thriving business to his nephews Jacob, Louis, Abraham and Sigmund Stern. They rebuilt the company after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The following year, Jacob Davis sold back his share of the company.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lazarus Straus and Macy’s

Lazarus Straus and Macy’s [1,2,3]

Lazarus Straus was born in Otterberg, Bavaria, in 1809. His grand-father, who bore the same name, was one of the most prominent Jews on his day in the Rhenish Bavaria. When in 1806 Napoleon conceived the idea of according the Jews emancipation in the territory of which he has assumed control, he appointed Mr. Straus’s grandfather, who was known as Reb Lazar, a member of the Sanhedrin, or council, which was entrusted with the preparation of a plan for emancipation.

Mr. Straus’s father was identified with large farming interests, and the son also devoted himself to this vocation during his early manhood. He was eminently successful and accumulated a comfortable competence. His leisure time was devoted to study, and more especially to the acquisition of Hebrew learning and knowledge of the Jewish literature.

When the revolution of 1848 stirred Germany, Lazarus Straus championed at once the cause of liberty and emancipation. While not actively engaged, he did his utmost to raise recruits and gave largely of his means to aid the cause. Notwithstanding his ardent devotion to the ends for which the revolutionists fought, Mr. Straus was not exiled with the other prominent leaders. He remained at his home for the next five years, but then he became dissatisfied with the existing order of things and resolved to emigrate to the USA.

He landed in 1853 and proceeded to Talbotton, Ga., where he started a general merchandise business. There he remained until the first year of the war, when he removed to Columbus, Ga. The close of the war found him considerably poorer, and the general depression which followed induced him to come East and try his fortune anew. He had made up his mind to move to Philadelphia, but his son Isidor prevailed upon him to come to New York instead.

Mr. Straus arrived in New York in 1865 and he established with his son Isidor the firm L. Straus & Son. The business prospered from the start and soon the other sons were drawn into it, the firm eventually becoming L. Straus & Sons, and at the same time one of the most extensive importing houses of glassware and crockery in the country.

When R. H. Macy, the head of the firm of R. H. Macy & Co. died in 1874, L. Straus & Sons acquired an interest in that concern. In 1893, R. H. Macy & Co. was acquired by Isidor Straus and his brother Nathan Straus. In 1902, the flagship store moved uptown to Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Gimbels and Saks Fifth Avenue

Gimbels, Wikipedia [1,2]

Gimbels was an iconic major American department store corporation from 1887 through the late 20th century.

Gimbels was founded by a young German Jewish immigrant, Adam Gimbel (1817–1896). Gimbel arrived as a penniless young immigrant from Bavaria in 1835, settled in New Orleans and earned a living as a travelling peddler. He opened his first store in Vincennes, Indiana, in 1842.

After a brief stay in Danville, Illinois, Gimbel relocated in 1887 to the then boom-town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The new store was an immense success, quickly becoming the leading department store in Milwaukee.

In 1894 Adam Gimbel acquired the Granville Haines store in Philadelphia, and in 1910 opened another branch in New York City. With its arrival in New York, Gimbels prospered, and soon became the primary rival to the leading Herald Square retailer, Macy's.

In 1922 the chain went public, offering shares on the New York Stock Exchange, though the family retained a controlling interest. This provided the capital for expansion, starting with the 1923 purchase of across-the-street rival, Saks & Co., which operated under the name "Saks Thirty-Fourth Street". With ownership of Saks came a new, about-to-open uptown branch, Saks Fifth Avenue.

In 1925 Gimbels entered the Pittsburgh market with its purchase of Kaufmann & Baer's. Although this expansion spurred talk of the stores becoming a nation-wide chain, such hopes were ended by the Great Depression. The more-upscale and enormously profitable Saks Fifth Avenue stores did continue to expand in the 1930s, opening branches in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.

At one point, Gimbel Brothers Inc. was the largest department store in the world. By 1930 Gimbels had branched to seven flagship stores throughout the country and had net sales of $123 million. By the time of World War II, profits had exploded to a net worth of $500 million, or over $1 billion in today's money. By 1965, Gimbel Brothers Inc. consisted of 53 stores throughout the country, which included 22 Gimbels, 27 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, and four Saks 34th St.