In 1913, Adolf Hitler settled in Munich, and it was there that he later joined the Nazi party and, in 1923, led it in the failed attempt to overthrow the German government known as the Beerhall Putsch. The city was also the center of three socialist revolutions in 1918 and 1919, the leaders of which were mostly Jews. That story, and its connection to the rise of Hitler, is the subject of a recent book by the historian Michael Brenner. Steven Aschheim writes in his review:
The conventional wisdom is that when Jews actively participated in 20th-century revolutionary movements and regimes, they did so as “non-Jewish” Jews who had cut off all ties to Judaism and the Jewish community. But, at least in Munich, Brenner paints a rather different picture. Although these radicals had no formal ties to the organized Jewish community—both of [Kurt] Eisner’s wives, for instance, were not Jewish—they never denied their origins, explicitly opposed anti-Semitism and, most importantly, were actively interested in their Jewish cultural heritage.
Eisner, chair of the Independent Social Democrats, was an intellectual, a Kantian socialist whose greatest inspiration was the idealism of the great Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen, who, he wrote, exercised “intellectual influence on my innermost being.” When [the Jewish anarchist Gustav] Landauer eulogized Eisner before thousands of mourners, he proudly declared that “Kurt Eisner, the Jew, was a prophet.” Landauer himself looked like one, and though his relationship with Martin Buber was at times tense, it was always close. “My Judaism,” he declared, “lives in everything that I start and that I am.”
For all that, as Brenner notes, “Jewish revolutionaries do not a Jewish revolution make.” This is not simply because its Jewish participants had removed themselves from the official Jewish community, since in most cases the feeling was mutual, but also because the myth of Jewish solidarity was certainly just that.
Eisner’s assassin, Count Anton von Arco auf Valley, wrote that he was going to shoot his victim because he was “a Bolshevik, he is a Jew, he’s not a German, he doesn’t feel German, he is undermining every kind of German feeling, he is a traitor.” Yet, a key motive of Arco’s act was his obsession with his own partially Jewish background. Indeed, he had been excluded from joining the extremist right-wing Thule Society because, as its founder Rudolf von Sebottendorf observed, given his converted mother’s Jewish descent, he was a “Yid.”