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Published by   (October, 1999)

Dirk Walter.  Antisemitische Kriminalitaet und Gewalt.
Judenfeindschaft in der Weimarer Republik (Antisemitic Criminality
and Violence: Jewish Hatred in the Weimar Republic). Bonn: J. H. W.
Dietz Verlag, 1999. 349 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and
index.  DM 48.00 (cloth), ISBN 3-8012-5026-1.

Reviewed for H-Antisemitism by Richard Bodek,
College of Charleston

In this well-researched and well-written study, Dirk Walter provides
us with the first focused analysis of antisemitic criminality in the
Weimar Republic.  Walter's narrative traces illegal action over the
course of the Republic's history, dividing it into three relatively
coherent periods: 1918-23, 1923-28, and 1928-32.  Violence marked
the initial--or pogrom--phase.  Although, as Walter shows, even then
debates about proper tactics punctuated the flurry of street attacks
and hostage-taking.  The second phase saw a shift from real to
symbolic violence, when desecrations of synagogues and Jewish
cemeteries--there were 200 such attacks between 1923 - 1932--largely
replaced physical violence against Jews.  The offenders' youth
defined this era.  It was in this period, according to Walter, that
anti-antisemites came to view anti-Jewish activity as being also
intrinsically antidemocratic.  The third and final phase was marked
by a return to violence against Jewish bodies.  This violence was
much more organized than that of the first phase, being largely
under the direction of the SA of the NSDAP.  Also of note in this
period was an upsurge of interest in Jewish texts, both real and
spurious, among antisemites. For example, a belief in the
authenticity of the _Protocols of the Elders of Zion_ was conjoined
with a renewed interest in the Talmud as an allegedly anti-Gentile
work of lore and law.

Within this chronological framework, Walter's gaze shifts among
multiple perspectives.  His readers learn about the debates within
and among antisemitic organizations and their foes, as well as
discussions by legislators and in the press. He also chronicles
several violent incidents in frighteningly graphic detail.  Here
especially his eye for a story well told, presumably still useful in
his current career as a Munich newspaper editor, stands him in good
stead.  Among the work's other strengths are his discussion of the
generational shift among antisemitic perpetrators (street thugs in
the revolutionary period tended to be older than synagogue and
cemetery desecrators of the Golden Twenties) and his exposition and
discussion of tactical debates among antisemites.  This serves to
remind us that right-wing, proto-fascist, and fascist antisemites
were not all cut from the same mold, but rather had multiple and
often conflicting positions on tactics, strategy, and even goals.

Although Walter narrates the story in brisk fashion, there are a
number of issues that could have been dealt with in more depth.  For
example, he claims a very different atmosphere for Weimar than that
which existed during the Kaiserreich, yet some of his evidence (he
states that there were no antisemitic newspapers before World War
One) is suspect.  A broader comparison of the two eras would have
been most interesting.  On a more interpretive note, he studies
antisemitic criminality, yet never fully explains why this would
provide a coherent focus.  One is left wondering if there might be
other, more interpretive, foci which might have proved more
appropriate to the subject.

Finally, there are a number of loose threads which would make for
interesting studies in themselves.  Walter tells of the antisemitic
campaign of Talmud denigration.  One is led to wonder why there was
a resurgence of interest in Jewish writing, especially in classical
texts.  Could the antisemites have been reading, or misreading, the
works of scholarship and translation of the Weimar Jewish
Renaissance?  Walter also tells us that in the mid 1920s, democrats
came to see antisemitism as being intrinsically antidemocratic.  Did
the antisemites also see it this way?  What are the implications of
either a yes or no answer?  Walter describes and discusses synagogue
and cemetery desecration, in harrowing detail.  The discussion
raises the question of what this defilement meant to the
perpetrators.  In other words, why this kind of action?  To invoke
the language of cultural studies, what did the perpetrators mean in
the creation of this text?  Finally, did these youthful perpetrators
mature into the SA thugs of late Weimar, or never again engage in
physical violence during the Republic?

It is important to recognize that probably none of these questions
would have been asked without Dirk Walter's fine study, which forces
his readers to reconceptualize antisemitic action in the Weimar

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Document compiled by Dr S D Stein
Last update 12/01/00
S D Stein

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