The Jews of Germany


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A Historical Portrait

Ruth Gay; Introduction by Peter Gay

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This unique book provides a panoramic overview of a now extinct culture: the 1500-year history of the Jews in Germany. Through texts, pictures, and contemporary accounts, it follows the German Jews from their first settlements on the Rhine in the fourth century to the destruction of the community in World War II. Using both voices and images of the past, the book reveals how the German Jews looked, how they lived, what they thought about, and what others thought of them.

Ruth Gay's text, interwoven with passages from memoirs, letters, newspapers, and many other contemporary sources, shows how the German Jews organized their communities, created a new language (Yiddish), and built their special culture—all this under circumstances sometimes friendly, but often murderously hostile. The book explores the internal debates that agitated the community from medieval to modern times and analyzes how German Jewry emerged into the modern world. The earliest document in the book is a fourth-century decree by the Roman emperor Constantine permitting Jews to hold office in Cologne. Among the last are poignant letters from Betty Scholem in Berlin, writing during the Nazi years to her son Gershom in Palestine. In between are accounts of a ninth-century Jewish merchant appointed by Charlemagne to a diplomatic mission to Baghdad, a thirteenth-century Jewish minnesinger, a seventeenth-century pogrom in Frankfurt in which gentiles helped to save their Jewish neighbors, and the nineteenth-century innovation of department stores, palaces of consumerism. The book tells a story—moving, terrifying, and exhilarating—that must be remembered.

Ruth Gay is the author of Jews in America: A Short History and has published numerous articles on Jewish life in the United States and Germany.

"In its combination of text, pictures, and short documents, this is by far the best and most accessible account yet of German Jewry. Ruth Gay makes a Jewish community—one that has widely influenced our intellectual life—come alive. The destruction of this community and the exile of so many of its members are given new meaning through this book."—George L. Mosse, Weinstein-Bascome Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"The Jews of Germany is a powerful and moving book. Intelligently organized and richly illustrated, it also provides a reliable narrative by Ruth Gay. She succeeds in recapturing for us in one volume the vanished history and culture of German Jewry from its beginnings on the Rhine to World War II."—Jehuda Reinharz, Richard Koret Professor of Modern Jewish History and Provost, Brandeis University

"Through a lively narrative, enhanced by abundant contemporary documents and illustrations, Ruth Gay lays out a broad and fascinating panorama. This popularly written book presents the reader with a fine introduction to the leading personalities, the significant economic and cultural achievements, and the ultimate tragedy of German Jewry."—Michael A. Meyer, Professor of Jewish History, Hebrew Union College

"In an old German-Jewish tradition, this is a memorial book, but it has not been content with reciting the names of the dead. Rather, it wants to remember those who lived, the world they made, the lives they led, and the vitality they brought to German civilization. . . . It is a mosaic in time."—Peter Gay, from the Introduction

"The Jews of Germany is a magnificently illustrated historical synthesis. It will be an essential reference work for a long time to come."—Saul Friedlander, Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles

"A beautifully produced volume, combining text, pictures, and contemporary documents to illustrate a history full of contrasts. . . . Ruth Gay's book goes beyond defamation and persecution; it fully documents the impressive achievements of German Jews throughout the centuries. . . . This is a worthy monument, commemorating a lost world."—Ilse Wolff, Anglo-German Review

"Eminently informative . . . enhanced by extracts from highly pertinent documents and superb illustrations. . . . A highly readable and very moving book."—Schifra Strizower, Australian Jewish News

"This book is a splendid achievement, at once intellectually stimulating and visually stunning. It is lavishly and profusely illustrated, with the most exceptional artistic examples appearing separately in the text in a beautiful series of color reproductions. . . . It is a book not so much to be read as savored. One cannot help lingering over its pages and years, with so much brilliant achievement and expression, being destroyed in a decade. . . . A stimulating and sympathetic treatment which will reward a reading by specialists and the general public alike."—Irwin M. Wall, Central European History

"Given the recent eruptions of the 'ethnic-cleansing' mentality, . . . this kind of book acquires an urgent significance. . . . Much, much has been lost along with the lives of millions. Gay retrieves traces of what was there and reproduces images that will stay in the mind."—Rob Suggs, Christian Century

"Gay's wit and wisdom, taste and judgment, have produced a volume rich in insight and beauty, and the only appropriate praise can be, her book is worthy of its subject and of the task she has taken for herself."—Jacob Neusner, Chronicles

"Provides not only a fine introduction to its subject but visual delights even for those already familiar with it."—Jerry Z. Muller, Commentary

"Ruth Gay's important, beautiful book is a gift to Jewish life and thought."—Evelyn Friedlander, European Judaism

"An engrossing narrative of the 1500-year history of the Jews in Germany. . . . Gay has supplemented her text with nearly 300 photographs, drawings and excerpts from primary documents such as diaries, letters and newspapers, to illustrate popular conceptions of Jews and the social policies towards them as well as to provide images of Jewish life and first-hand accounts of individual Jewish lives. . . . The fascinating record of documents and illustrations Ms. Gay has assembled stands as a vivid memorial to one of the most vital cultures of Jewish history."—Anne Whitehouse, Forward

"Gay displays a remarkable talent for condensing the history of Jews in Germany in a cogent manner and including fascinating details that enrich our understanding of Jewish social and cultural life."—Jack Zipes, German Studies Review

"A useful volume, long overdue, and beautifully written."—Julia Neuberger, History Today

"A comprehensive, richly illustrated survey. . . . Here is displayed a millennium of achievement, in ceremonial art and synagogue architecture, philosophy, literature, commerce, even politics."—Stuart Schoffman, Jerusalem Report

"There is a haunting quality to Ruth Gay's valuable volume."—Arnold Ages, Jewish Post News, Winnipeg

"A handsomely illustrated volume which combines scholarly source material with accessible presentation. Text and image are effectively integrated to create a panorama of German-Jewish experience."—Edward Timms, Jewish Quarterly

"In this elegant account in words and evocative pictures, Ruth Gay has given the English language a worth candidate for the epitaph for German Jewry—a great and beautiful book. . . . Gay's wit and wisdom, taste and judgement have produced a volume rich in insight and beauty. . . . Gay's touch is so sure that anyone who wants to know what it has meant, and now means, to live the life of Judaism will find here, in words and in pictures, as authentic an account of Judaism as a living religion as today exists in print."—Jacob Neusner, Jewish Spectator

"Through texts, pictures and contemporary accounts the author covers the history of German Jews up to the destruction of the German-Jewish community under Hitlerism. Their fortunes as a community varied as the centuries passed, but in general German Jews had come to take on the coloration of German life until Nazism finally doomed Germany to crushing defeat in World War II. The book is especially strong on German-Jewish intellectual life through the centuries."—John Barkham Reviews

"Ruth Gay's Beautiful historical portrait will remain an extremely valuable introduction for anyone interested in this subject. The Jews of Germany is a richly engaging book which is well worth both buying and reading."—Harriet Freidenreich, Judaism: Modern

"A fascinating account . . . [in which] almost every page offers some intriguing tidbit."—Kirkus Reviews

"The well-balanced text accompanied by lavish illustrations and passages from a wide variety of highly pertinent documents will appeal to virtually anyone with an interest in the European past."—Library Journal

"Illuminating and copiously illustrated."—E. J. Hobsbawm, London Review of Books

"A necessary and welcome corrective to received prejudices and a fitting tribute to a great culture, tragically destroyed. An important book, recommended for all libraries."—Stephen Lehmann, Multicultural Review

"Lusciously illustrated. . . . Smoothly written. . . . The social setting of the German violence against Jews is powerfully evoked in the 277 black-and-white photographs, drawings and documents, plus 20 color plates, that Ruth Gay chose for her book."—Susanne Klingenstein, New Leader

"A moving, lively account of a vanished community and the surrounding society, from A.D. 70 to Hitler."—New York Times Book Review

"Modeled on the tradition of memorial books handed down among German-Jewish families to commemorate the lives of the dead, Ruth Gay's moving and lively portrait of the Jews in Germany succeeds in restoring a culture's rich history, despite the menacing strokes that so quickly erased it. . . . Illustrated sumptuously with paintings, photographs, and excerpts from letters and historical documents."—Peter Filkins, New York Times Book Review

"A rich, often-forgotten culture springs to life in this panoramic, popularly written history. . . . Superb illustrations and excerpts from period writings amplify this moving narrative."—Publishers Weekly

"[Gay] provides readers [with] a long-term look at an amazingly vibrant community. . . . The book is immensely valuable as both a collection of sources and an informational resource."—Glenn R. Sharfman, Shofar

Selected as a Notable Book of the Year (1992) by the New York Times Book Review
ISBN: 9780300060522
Publication Date: September 28, 1994
336 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
277 b/w + 20 color illus.
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Jacob Gordin; Translated by Ruth Gay, with notes and essays

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