In Hitler’s Munich

In Hitler’s Munich –
Jews, The Revolution and The Rise of Nazism
By Michael Brenner
Princeton University Press – £28.00

Munich is the city of Hitler, the leader of the German fascists; the city of the Hakenkreuz [swastika], this symbol of popular defiance.

(Thomas Mann, June 1923).

Das Jüdische Echo described these deportees – some of whom got only a few days before the date of their expulsion – in detail. They included persons who had lived in Munich for seventeen years, some of them since they were two years old. Among them was a girl apprentice, a tailor, an engineer, and a medical student. The group contained a decorated war veteran from the Austrian army, the father of a family of nine, and a man whose pregnant wife was close to confinement. Some of them no longer had any ties to Poland or Russia or family members there.

(‘The Hotbed of Reaction’).

Munich the asylum for all persecuted freedom fighters.

(‘The City of Hitler’).

As if anyone were to need reminding, this more than resolute, insistent book sheds a lot of disturbing and illuminating light upon the rife divisions which persist within the current day UK and US.

In an almost awkward, breathtaking kind of way, In Hitler’s Munich – Jews, The Revolution and The Rise of Nazism really does make for uncanny reading. For instance, in the following (again, from the chapter ‘The City of Hitler’), the author Michael Brenner could just as easily be writing of Britain’s brain and economic drain in direct relation to the traumatic trajectory of Brexit – wherein so many financial institutions have decamped to the more financially stable cities of Frankfurt, Dublin and Amsterdam: ‘’In former times the beautiful, comfortable, well-beloved city had attracted the best brains in the Empire. How was it that all these had left now, and that all the lazy and the vicious, who could not find a home in the Empire or anywhere else, rushed, as if magically drawn, to Munich?’’

Just like Jeremy Corbyn was (and to a certain degree, still is) to blame for ALL of the UK’s nefarious woes during the disastrous election of 2019 and everything that that STILL entails – a mere recent tip of the iceberg ranging from the ever increasing cost of living to ever increasing food banks, from the ghastly Home Secretary, Priti Patel, wanting to sever links with the European Court of Human Rights to this week’s first national rail strike in thirty years – so too were the Jews to blame for ALL of Bavaria and Germany’s nefarious woes: ‘’The Jews are to blame for everything! Wherever and whenever something might happen that displeases some Germans, the Jews are behind it. And since, according to what antisemites everywhere demand, there should only be one percent of Jews in every occupation, with the exception, naturally, of public offices, which should not be occupied by even a single Jews, what Jewish Germans are to blame for is obvious and, for a change, even provable with numbers. The revolution is alleged to be one made by Jews’’ (‘A Pogrom Atmosphere in Munich’).

Again, In Hitler’s Munich makes for an uncanny, if not reflective read; which, to be honest, might strike some as being a little (too) close to the bone. But, one can at least read this altogether disturbing book from the defined premise of hindsight.

In other words, the very kernel of Germany’s disastrous and catastrophic disintegration lies within the pages of this book.
In black and white.
For all to see.
The cloying caveat being: it’s just such a colossal shame that Britain’s disastrous and catastrophic disintegration – before our very eyes – cannot be seen in ragingly similar fashion.

Were one to replace the word Jew with the word Immigrant, the following could just easily have been written about today’s Kent. Or Essex. Or any number of Home Counties so horribly infected with regal racism: ‘’In a letter to the editor of Das Jüdische Echo, Helene Cohn, who had recently arrived in Munich, agreed with Kopel: ‘’Never before in my life have I sensed around me such a degree of hate-filled passion as in the streets of this city. When I buy newspapers on the street corner, look at book-store displays, hear a conversation in a tram or restaurant – everyone is filled with hate and inflammatory defamations of Jews.’’ No distinction was really made any more between German and East European Jews. It bordered on madness that the people, afflicted with hardship, could not think about anything else besides ‘’hating and annihilating the 2,500 Jewish families within the walls of the city of Munich.’’ These words written by an observer who had only recently moved to Munich very clearly expressed what was happening at that time and place. For the first time in a German city, the ‘’Jewish question’’ had arrived to the centre of daily life. In his study of postwar Munich, Martin Geyer comes to the conclusion: ‘’What was only marginally successful (including in Munich) before the war, in spite of the campaigns waged incessantly by the largely nationalistic and antisemitic wing of the Conservative party – namely turning antisemitism into a central component of debate and speech – was now being accomplished with astonishing speed. The ‘Jewish question’ was on everyone’s lips’’ (‘The Hotbed of Reaction’).

Dense, dry, maybe a tad repetitive here and there, but eye-opening nevertheless, In Hitler’s Munich makes for powerful reading. To quote Peter Fritzsche, author of Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich: ‘’Set in what Thomas Mann recognised as ‘the city of Hitler’ already in 1923, this unusually intimate account of revolution and counter-revolution reveals how unexpectedly crossed relationships between Jews, revolutionaries, and antisemites turned unforgiving and lethal in a few short years.’’

Unforgiving and lethal in a few short years – sound familiar?

David Marx

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