The Pity of It All

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The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933 by Amos Elon is an extremely informative account of German Jewish history from the arrival of Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin to Hitler’s being appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg.

Amos Elon focuses on influential Jews while giving a detailed picture of the political background behind these well-known figures.

The book starts with the German Enlightment, which was not very enlightened as far as Jews were concerned, before dealing with the rise of Germany as a nation and international power. It shows how a handful of Jewish intellectuals, political reformers and artists contributed to the shaping of Germany as a modern nation despite the pervading anti-Semitic conservatism of the time.

This book reads like a story of unrequited love. The Jews adopted German culture with almost fanatical devotion to its music, literature, art and philosophy. This culminated in 1914 with their almost unanimous backing of the German aggression and their patriotic enthusiasm for war.

Unfortunately this did not prevent the Germans, as a people, to conclude that the Jews were responsible for all their problems and turn against them very soon after the German defeat in 1918. A feeling that gradually led to Hitler’s accession to power.

The Pity of It All is a scholarly yet entirely readable book and I higly recommend it.