The Jews of Hitler’s Munich

May 24, 2022 | Tevi Troy
About the author: Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. In 2001, he served as the first director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives at the Department of Labor. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump

The earliest records of Jewish life in the Bavarian city of Munich date back to the 13th century. The same city was also home to Adolf Hitler in the years just before and just after World War I, and it was there in 1923 that he and his fellow Nazis tried, and failed, to overthrow the German government. Reviewing the historian Michael Brenner’s book In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, the Revolution, and the Rise of Nazism, Tevi Troy writes:

There was even a Jewish premier of Bavaria in the years after World War I, the journalist and revolutionary Kurt Eisner. Eisner was assassinated by an anti-Semite, Count Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley. Arco-Valley, as he is more commonly known, had Jewish ancestry—a reminder of the complicated nature of German-Jewish relationships even before the rise of Nazism. . . . Brenner . . . makes the interesting counterfactual claim that if somehow Eisner had not been assassinated and had helped navigate Germany to a successful post-World War I democratic status, the history books of today might see Germany in a similar light as France.

And yet, as Brenner explains, the Eisner assassination was far from the only anti-Semitic flashpoint of those years. He also explores Germany’s equivalent of the Dreyfus trial: the accusation and unjust conviction of the German-Jewish journalist Felix Fechenbach for treason. As in the Dreyfus affair, the case against Fechenbach had anti-Semitic origins and ended with a pardon.

Things were bad for the Jews in Germany in some ways, but good in other ways. The Jews had a long history there and had success in many important fields. In addition, some of the surrounding nations, such as Russia and Poland, were often far worse to their Jewish populations. The Jews had reasons to think that Germany, while not perfect, might have been the best option for them at the time.

And yet, with the Eisner assassination and the Fechenbach trial, and Jews beaten on the streets of Munich in random fashion—a phenomenon that unfortunately happens all too often in America today—most German Jews decided that staying in Germany was a viable option. Tragically, of course, this was very much not the case.

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