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Einstein's German World
By Fritz Stern
Princeton University Press, 1999, 335 pp.
A superb and gripping collection of essays. The book's first half depicts how a group of distinguished German Jews grappled with German antisemitism, World War I, and their predicament as German patriots in a nation that did not fully trust them. The immunologist Paul Ehrlich, the physicist Max Planck, and the chemist Fritz Haber (who helped produce poison gas during World War I) all supported the German war cause; only Albert Einstein remained antimilitaristic and embraced Zionism. Meanwhile, industrialist and statesman Walther Rathenau was deeply ambivalent about his Judaism, holding the Prussian officer up as his ideal. With subtlety and compassion, Stern also offers a fine biographical sketch of Chaim Weizmann, the great Zionist leader whose faith in Great Britain later turned into bitter disappointment. The book's second half turns to broader themes in German history. Stern's essay on historians and World War I is a model of scholarship and humanity, contrasting the shrill nationalism of most German historians with the breadth and depth of views of scholars such as Henri Pirenne, Marc Bloch, and Elie Halevy. But Stern's attack on Harvard political scientist Daniel Goldhagen is an intemperate piece in an otherwise judicious selection, misrepresenting Goldhagen's case and failing to see that the two men are actually in basic agreement over the extent of antisemitism in pre-Nazi Germany.
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