In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism
by Michael Brenner, translated by Jeremiah Riemer, published by Princeton University Press 2022, pp.392
In the immediate aftermath of the sudden defeat in the First World War in 1918, Munich — before the appearance of Hitler on the political stage — emerged as ‘the capital of antisemitism’ in Germany. Humiliated nationalists, Catholic emissaries and the conservative middle class all looked for a scapegoat’, characterised as ‘a stab in the back’ — and conveniently found one in the Jews. In his excellent new book, the noted German Jewish historian, Michael Brenner explains and analyses how and why Munich became the bedrock for Nazism.
Ironically Jews had felt at home in the city. They ran the Löwenbräu brewery and the FC Bayern München soccer club. The Wallach Brothers who specialized in retailing and exhibiting traditional folk costumes, pioneered the popularity of lederhosen. Jews brought their kosher food into welcoming beer gardens — and the beer, brewed according to tight Bavarian regulations, also concurred with Jewish dietary laws.
In early 1919, several attempts were made to establish a socialist Bavarian republic. In the first, somewhat amateurish, attempt, its leader, Kurt Eisner and many of his ministers were well-intentioned Jews. In the second, the Russian-born Eugen Leviné and his comrades hoped to repeat the ruthless professionalism of the Bolsheviks. Eisner was assassinated and Leviné executed by a firing squad.
The Catholic and far Right press described the German-born Eisner as a ‘little dirty Jewish Polish schnorrer’ and transformed him into the fictious ‘Salomon Kruschnovsky from Galicia’.
Michael Brenner argues that there was no political consensus amongst the Jewish revolutionaries or within the Jewish community as a whole. There were even nationalists of Jewish origin who joined the violent Freikorps.
Orthodox Jews distanced themselves from these revolutionaries. They believed that the model for a Jew in public service should not be Kurt Eisner, but instead the biblical Joseph, appointed by the Egyptian pharaoh. Rabbi Seligmann Meyer logically embraced the Bavarian People’s Party, a branch of the Centre Party that ended up in voting for the Enabling Act in 1933 This gave the governing party and specifically the chancellor, powers to pass laws without reference to the parliament, thereby bolstering the Nazi dictatorship.
Yet figures such as Eisner’s colleague, Gustav Landauer, felt a deep attachment to Jewishness and the values of the Hebrew prophets and even corresponded with Martin Buber. Brenner writes that ‘like many of his generation’s Jewish rebels, Landauer rejected the self-satisfied, bourgeois, religiously reformed German Judaism of his parents’ generation’. When Landauer was murdered shortly after Eisner’s killing, the Zionist paper, Das Jüdische Echo, lauded him despite the fact that he remained formally outside the community.
The papal nuncio in Munich, Eugenio Pacelli, spoke of a ‘Jewish-Bolshevik global conspiracy’. He later became Pius XII, the silent Pope of the Shoah. Archbishop Michael Faulhaber similarly spoke about ‘perfidious Jews’ in the Good Friday prayers.
Michael Brenner alludes to the authoritarian leaders of our own time in his introduction and asks us to remember the forces that Munich spawned. While history may not repeat itself exactly, Brenner shows that certain themes recur in every generation.
Jewish Chronicle 18 March 2022