The Pity of It All: A Portrait of German Jews 1743-1933 by Amos Elon - review by David Cesarani

David Cesarani

A Chronicle of Suffering and Spirituality

The Pity of It All: A Portrait of German Jews 1743-1933


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 446pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Jews of Germany have always fascinated historians, Jewish and non-Jewish. For those with a Zionist inclination the trajectory of German Jews proved the folly of assimilation and the illusion of integration. For German and German-born Jewish scholars who emerged from the wreckage of exile the question that begged for an answer was, How did this happen? Their tortured, often self-tormenting enquiries have caught the imagination of successive generations obsessed by questions of identity and belonging, especially since the 1960s.

However, thirty years after the virtual extinction of German Jewry a new wave of historians fundamentally challenged the assumption that there had been reckless assimilation and an abandonment of Jewish identity in pursuit of a chimerical German-ness. Steven Lowenstein showed that the most extreme form of assimilation, the wave of

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