In This Review

The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933
The Pity of It All: A History of the Jews in Germany, 1743-1933
By Amos Elon
Metropolitan Books, 2002, 448 pp

Elon's ambitious history of German Jews begins with Moses Mendelssohn and ends with Hitler. More an overview than a profound history, it still has the merit of being eminently readable and comprehensive. Elon covers inter alia the Jewish writers and philosophers who propagated the ideas of the Enlightenment, the divisions among German Jews and their economic success, their reactions to the Revolution of 1848 and to Germany's wars, the rise of assimilation and antisemitism, and the growing gap between Jewish liberalism and "the reactionary turn of the German middle class." Much of the book's interest lies not in the study of political currents and collective psychological tensions but in the portraits and sketches of Jewish personalities seen in all their variety. The tragic fall of German Jewry came after a period of growing intermarriage and social intermingling, which may explain why so many of its members saw the upsurge of Nazism as "a temporary warp" and stayed in Germany far too long.