During World War I, most of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Jewish subjects were eager to show their devotion to their fatherland and, despite the persistent claims of anti-Semites to the contrary, were quite willing to risk their lives at the frontlines. The historian Tim Grady, in his new book A Deadly Legacy: German Jews and the Great War, pushes this observation a few steps farther, making much of those Jews, and Jewish converts to Christianity, who distinguished themselves by their hyper-patriotism—such as Fritz Haber, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist who weaponized poison gas. Jews, argues Grady, even played a role in concocting the myth that a socialist “stab-in-the-back” precipitated Germany’s defeat, which was quickly transformed into a myth about a Jewish “stab-in-the-back.” Allan Arkush writes in his review:
Together with other Germans, [Grady claims], Jews left a number of “dangerous legacies” for their country. In contributing to the “specifics of Germany’s First World War,” they unwittingly played a part in establishing “the foundations for Hitler’s eventual path to power.” . . . Grady does not intend to say that the Jews reaped what they sowed, only that they reaped what some or even most of them together with others helped to sow—which is still a grave enough judgment, if not exactly an accusation.
One can’t say that it is utterly unwarranted, but it is overblown. As Grady demonstrates, German Jews were surely caught up in the wave of war enthusiasm, persisted for the most part in supporting the war effort to the end, and by and large acquiesced in Germany’s most egregious misdeeds. And a number of individual Jews bore a considerably greater degree of culpability. Still, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that some of the worst things that Grady repeatedly attributes to “Jews and other Germans” were really the work mostly of other Germans—and some Jews. Nor are the Jews in question always as representative or as numerous as his account, at first glance, makes them appear to be.
One has to wonder, [moreover], about Grady’s regular identification of converts from Judaism as Jews. . . . But can one on these grounds count any ex-Jew as a Jew, without further explanation, as Grady generally seems to do? I am not entirely sure that this is how he is counting Jews, but if it is, he doesn’t do it with perfect consistency.