Jews and how Germany had a short moment under a civilized sun

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Germany

Germany, both past and present, is an object lesson in the way that treating Jews well allows a country to thrive and treating them badly kills a country.

I’ve long said that the most successful countries are those that treat their Jews well. It’s not that Jews work some bizarre magic on those places that let them live and worship freely. It’s simply that individual liberty tends to improve the standard of living within a country. Even if, by modern standards, a country would not be considered liberal today, the fact that it was more liberal than the rest of the countries around it, as evidenced by allowing Jews to live freely, was always enough to power its innovation and, by extension, its economy.

Take England, for example. It started its trajectory to ruling most of the world after 1660, when Cromwell invited Jews back into England. Or take America, in which Jews were always allowed to live freely. No one, no matter how much they dislike America, can deny its economic success.

The flip side, of course, is that countries that particularly loath Jews tend to be economically stagnant, with Poland and Russia as good historic examples. And of course, there’s Germany.

There hasn’t always been a Germany. Indeed, modern Germany is a recent phenomenon. Between Napoleon and 1871, that region now known as Germany it was a loose confederation of Germanic states. Before Napoleon, the region wasn’t even a loose confederation. It was simply a patchwork of duchies and principalities, all blessed with productive land and hard-working people, and all cursed with tyrannical monarchs or aristocrats. Prussia, which morphed into the dominant German kingdom, making it the core of the eventual German nation, was a monarchial and military dictatorship.

Long before there was a German nation, and even long before there were all those ratty or rich little nation states, there were Jews in that part of Europe now known as Germany. They entered the barbaric German forests when the Romans did and stayed.

In the early Middle Ages (before the 12th century or so), German Jews were considered ordinary citizens. A few centuries on, though, Germans had embraced wholeheartedly medieval Christianity’s most ferocious antisemitism. This didn’t just include personal revulsion, a la “I don’t want anything to do with them.” Instead, one petty German state after another enacted laws making it virtually impossible for all but a few “court Jews” to survive at anything above the most minimal subsistence level. And of course there were the mass slaughters, inspired by crusades and plagues, and whatever else the German mind could invent.

This same religious fanaticism led (unsurprisingly) to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). What started as a Protestant versus Catholic fight was brutal even by the standards of that cruel age. I think Wikipedia sums it up nicely (hyperlinks omitted; emphasis mine):

The Thirty Years’ War was a war fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. One of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history,[22] it resulted in eight million fatalities not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine and plague. People who perished over its course were overwhelmingly and disproportionately inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire, and the rest were mostly fallen soldiers of foreign armies.[20] It was the deadliest European religious war and remains the utmost war trauma in the German collective memory.

By the time the brilliant Enlightenment humanist Moses Mendelssohn sought entry into Berlin in 1743, the German lands had calmed down, but the antisemitism was just as virulent as ever. Jews continued to be taxed, denied opportunities to make a living, forced to buy products they didn’t want to fund the state (so that’s where Obama got the idea!), deprived of even the limited civil rights available to citizens in Prussia, and were generally treated as subhuman creatures.

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Eventually, though, the Enlightenment touched even the backwater that was the scattering of German nation states. Combine that creeping Enlightenment with Napoleon’s breaking down ghetto walls, and Jews started emerging into the weak German sunshine. What happened was an explosion in Germany.

This was not a destructive explosion but was, instead, an extraordinary one, as Germany suddenly became the place for the arts and sciences. Often, Jews were at the forefront of these changes, but I’m again going to resist the temptation to say it was the Jews who brought about these changes. What really changed was liberty. For a brief, shining moment, Germany had liberty, Jews thrived, and the rest of Germany thrived too.

Still, Germans continued to be Germans: warlike and antisemitic. Their warlike qualities led to Germany’s complete political and economic collapse in 1918 and the subsequent 15 years. Their warlike qualities and bone-deep antisemitism led to Hitler, the Holocaust, and the destruction of at least 40,000,000 other lives around the world.

No wonder that, back in the early 1960s, Tom Lehrer, contemplating new multilateral force proposals, was openly dubious about a remilitarized Germany:

A considerable amount of commotion was stirred up during the past year over the prospect of a multilateral force, known to the headline writers as MLF. Much of this discussion took place during the baseball season, so the Chronicle may not have covered it, but it did get a certain amount of publicity; and the basic idea was that a bunch of us nations, the good guys, would get together on a joint nuclear deterrent force including our current friends, like France, and our traditional friends, like Germany. Here’s a song about that, called the MLF Lullaby:

Sleep, baby, sleep, in peace may you slumber,
No danger lurks, your sleep to encumber.
We’ve got the missiles, peace to determine,
And one of the fingers on the button will be German.

Why shouldn’t they have nuclear warheads?
England says no, but they all are soreheads.
I say a bygone should be a bygone,
Let’s make peace the way we did in Stanleyville and Saigon.

Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn’t happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they’ve hardly bothered us since then.

So, sleep well, my darling, the sandman can linger.
We know our buddies won’t give us the finger.
Heil – hail – the Wehrmacht, I mean the Bundeswehr,
Hail to our loyal ally!
M.L.F.
Will scare Brezhnev.
I hope he is half as scared as I!

Given that today’s German military is training with broomsticks, not guns, I don’t think we have to worry about Germany’s current military ambitions, but Germany continues to be the cuckoo in the nest. Only Germany, having wiped out its Jewish population, could come up with the brilliant notion of expiating that stain on its national soul by inviting into its country a people even more warlike and antisemitic than the Germans. I don’t know if Merkel was acting out of idiocy or malice, but anybody with a functioning brain could see that Merkel’s open border policy was going to end badly. Here’s VDH on Germany’s status as the canker at the heart of the EU (emphasis mine):

Eastern Europeans revolt at the open-borders bullying of Berlin and Paris and are beginning to refuse entry to any more Muslim men from the Middle East. Meanwhile Mediterranean Europeans see their frontline burdens of dealing with massive illegal immigration not just as underappreciated, but also as another manifestation of an earlier northern European financial diktat. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom just drifts away. In the center of these regional tensions stands Germany, the EU’s largest nation—and the one with its most problematic history. In theory, Germany asserts that it no longer is the bully of 1871, 1914, and 1939. In fact, Berlin shows little patience with those who object to its plans of dealing with Brexit, Muslim immigration, and indebted southern European Union members.

As VDH indicates, Merkel’s bullying was going to end badly not just for the few Jews stupid enough still to live in Germany, but for everyone else too. Why? Because to go back to my originally stated proposition, when a country treats its Jews well, everyone thrives. The same country that treats its Jews badly, though, is going to treat its other citizens badly and is quite likely to visit that same type of malevolent tyranny on surrounding nations, given the chance.

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Germany is an object lessons in two things: (1) if you want to thrive, be good to your Jews and (2) never trust Germany, which has had only a single enlightened century-and-a-half in its history.

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Bookworm came late to conservativism but embraced it with passion. She's been blogging since 2004 about anything that captures her fancy -- and that's usually politics. Her blog's motto is "Conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions; liberals have conclusions and sell them as facts."