Jews In Germany 1870-1933

In order to understand the Holocaust we need to paint a portrait of the Jewish community in Germany during the time directly preceding Hitler’s rise.  The Jews made up less than one percent of the population of Germany, and never numbered more than 500,000 persons at any point in time.  Their visibility in German society can be attributed to the fact that they were so densely concentrated in cities – 33% of all Jews in Germany resided in Berlin.

German Jewry became increasingly inundated by foreign Jews during this time; in 1910 only 14% of Jews were foreign-born, whereas by 1933 over 20% were immigrants.  This statistic helps us understand the increase in perceived “other-ness” of German Jewry. Foreign Jews faced particular problems as they tried to assimilate. They were Yiddish-speaking, wore black clothing, had side-locks, and were generally Orthodox Zionists.  Things were further complicated by internal conflict between the different nationalities of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Germany.

Another aspect that is crucial to understand is: though Jews were a small and shrinking minority, they were overrepresented in certain occupations.  In 1933 61% of all Jews were employed in the fields of business and commerce, as opposed to 18% of the general population.  Jewish families tended to be more educated and, thereby, were more financially secure than their non-Jewish counterparts.  Jews paid between three and nine times the taxes of non-Jews, simply due to the disparity between average income. One can easily see how things can be misconstrued when looking at the general success of the German Jew with respect to Germans as a whole.  However, that being said, German Jews by no means had a stranglehold on the economy (as Hitler would later claim.) The explanation for the disproportionate concentration in some professions lies in the fact that Jews were traditionally excluded from landownership, concentrated in large cities, and highly mobile.

  • Number of Jews in Germany as a Percent of Total German Population 1.09% 1.09%
  • Proportion of Private Banks that were Owned by Jews [vs. Gentiles] in 1930: 18% 18%
  • Proportion of Jewish University Professors [vs. Gentile Professors] in 1910: 12% 12%
  • Proportion of Jewish Theater Directors [vs. Gentiles] in 1931: 50% 50%
  • Portion of Total Jewish Population that Resided in Large cities in 1933: 71% 71%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that was Foreign-born in 1933: 20% 20%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that was Occupied in Business or Commerce in 1933: 61% 61%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that was Occupied in Agriculture 1933: 2% 2%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that was Converted to Christianity between 1800 and 1933: 10% 10%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that was Married to Non-Jews in 1933: 44% 44%
  • Proportion of Total Jewish Population that held German Citizenship in 1933: 80% 80%

Anti-Semitism In Germany 1870-1933

Current historians almost unanimously agree that Jewish emancipation began to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the non-Jewish population shortly after its inception. A form of acceptable, ethnically-based anti-Semitism started to materialize as a result of declining German liberalism. Jewish Germans prospered during the years of economic growth, but when the economy slowed down there was a rise in competition and anti-Semitism soon followed.  The increasing secularization of Germany made religious anti-Semitism less popular, but it gave way to the more sinister, racial anti-Semitism. I

The particularly interesting thing about the rise in anti-Semitism was that many of the subscribers were educated, rational individuals.  Anti-Semitism was most popular at universities and amongst the learned professions. Why? Probably because there were some actual, objective differences between the two groups [Germans and Jews,] as evidenced by the statistics above. Although these differences were not enough to cause the Holocaust (considering Jews were much less assimilated in other countries at the time of the Holocaust in Germany,) they were enough to provide fodder for the rise in the many racist political and intellectual movements that characterized the era. “Völkisch” political thought; social Darwinism; nationalism; and a xenophobic anti-Communism, are more responsible for the facilitation of the terrible genocide that followed.