Five Germanys I Have Known: A History & Memoir

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9780374530860: Five Germanys I Have Known: A History & Memoir

The "German question" haunts the modern world: How could so civilized a nation be responsible for the greatest horror in Western history? In this unusual fusion of personal memoir and history, the celebrated scholar Fritz Stern refracts the question through the prism of his own life. Born in the Weimar Republic, exposed to five years of National Socialism before being forced into exile in 1938 in America, he became a world-renowned historian whose work opened new perspectives on the German past.

Stern brings to life the five Germanys he has experienced: Weimar, the Third Reich, postwar West and East Germanys, and the unified country after 1990. Through his engagement with the nation from which he and his family fled, he shows that the tumultuous history of Germany, alternately the strength and the scourge of Europe, offers political lessons for citizens everywhere―especially those facing or escaping from tyranny. In this wise, tough-minded, and subtle book, Stern, himself a passionately engaged citizen, looks beyond Germany to issues of political responsibility that concern everyone. Five Germanys I Have Known vindicates his belief that, at its best, history is our most dramatic introduction to a moral civic life.

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About the Author:

Fritz Stern, University Professor Emeritus and former provost at Columbia University, is the author of many works of European history, including Gold and Iron:Bismarck, Bleichröder and the Building of the German Empire and Einstein's German World.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FIVE GERMANYS I HAVE KNOWN
CHAPTER 1ANCESTRAL GERMANYTHERE HAVE BEEN FIVE GERMANYS I have known since my birth in 1926, but it is the Germany I didn't know, the Germany of the years before World War I, that I think I understand the best. That Germany I have studied in my professional life, with proper distance and a measure of detachment. Only when beginning this book did I discover the thousands of letters my parents brought with them when we immigrated to the United States in 1938: bundles of letters, neatly wrapped or placed in wooden boxes, that had been left unopened since they were brought here; letters from earlier generations of my family, from my parents' friends and colleagues, family letters written in the peaceful times of that earlier Germany; and a trove of letters written to and by my father when he was at the front in the Great War. The letters are conversations about the mundane and the unusual; they take for granted the unspoken assumptions of that earlier time. They touch on all manner of subjects, and they confirm, amplify, and modify what scholarship has taught me. They speak with a special immediacy, and even their silences bespeak the customs of their time. Many, I now realize, would have served me well as illustrative footnotes to my earlier work or prompted second thoughts.Home to at least four generations of my family was Breslau, capital of Silesia, in eastern Germany, a city with different masters and its own disputed history. Its origins went back to medieval times, its growth favored by its location on the banks of the River Oder, which flows into the Baltic. In early centuries,it was a Polish city called Vretslaw--a fact that Germans later tended to forget. When I grew up there, I knew that it had been part of the Habsburg Empire, until the day in 1741 when the young Prussian king, Frederick II, later known as Frederick the Great, wrested all of Silesia, the jewel of the Austrian Empire, from Empress Maria Theresa, a major moment in the astounding rise of Prussia. After 1871, Breslau became part of the newly created German Empire, a federal structure that apportioned some powers to its member states and allowed the great, ancient German states such as Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony to retain their monarchies. Prussia was preeminent in the Reich by virtue of its size and tradition, and this was symbolized by the fact that the Prussian monarchs doubled as German emperors.The citizens of Breslau had multiple overlapping civic identities: they were Silesians, with their own dialect; Prussians with austere traditions; and Germans, heirs to an old national culture. Breslau was the second largest city in Prussia. Many of Breslau's citizens in the nineteenth century were partisans of the struggle for the twin goals of unity and freedom--that is, for a German nation-state with the basic civic freedoms guaranteed in a modern constitution. Their liberal dream was shattered with the failure of the revolution in 1848; the Prussian king granted a constitution in 1850 that reserved executive power to the monarch (still deemed of divine right), though it provided for a legislature with some budgetary powers to be elected by (almost) universal male suffrage according to a three-class voting system (depending on the amount of direct taxes paid). Skipping over the details, one need but remember that this was a blatantly plutocratic system--and of course it had unanticipated consequences. After a decade of reaction and repression, during which the German economy grew significantly, the prosperous bourgeoisie of Silesia and elsewhere sent a liberal majority to the Prussian Diet.In the face of this liberal opposition, the king, in a desperate effort to safeguard his monarchical power, appointed Otto von Bismarck as prime minister. Bismarck, a passionate but unconventional monarchist, fought the liberals and divided them--by fulfilling their wish for national unity. Under his leadership, Prussia was victorious in three wars in a span of only eight years, culminating in the victory over France in 1871 and the concurrent establishment of a unified Germany, with its federal structure leaving important powers to the member states. Prussia's old aristocracy and army struggled to maintain political dominance, but Bismarck also provided for a German parliament, the Reichstag, to be elected by universal male suffrage. He resorted to this revolutionary principle of universal suffrage (and was consequently often labeled "awhite revolutionary") because he assumed that a conservative peasantry would outnumber the detested liberal bourgeoisie. This was a miscalculation: the exuberant growth of Germany's industrial capitalism created a different society--with an ever-swelling proletariat swamping a shrinking peasantry and sending its own, socialist, deputies to the Reichstag.Most middle-class and professional Germans rejoiced that national unity had been achieved at last--pleased about or accepting of a country that combined the rule of law with a monarchical-authoritarian order at home and ever-increasing power abroad. The deepening divisions within the new Reich--Bismarck himself began to call Socialists and politically organized Catholics "enemies of the Reich"--were partly obscured by the astounding growth in every kind of power and by the often overweening pride in seeing Germany rise to dominance in Europe. Left-liberals, with their commitment to popular sovereignty and tolerance, were a declining minority within the Reich; the discrepancy between the ever more conservative Prussian Diet, determined to preserve the anachronistic political system, and an increasingly progressive Reichstag, presaged an ultimate conflict. But only a very few contemporaries recognized the contradiction between a dynamic modern society and an anachronistic political system marked by a coalition of overlapping elites--East German landowners (Junkers), powerful industrialists, the armed forces, and high civil servants. Put differently, in a dynamically growing capitalist country an economically declining agrarian aristocracy was desperately clinging to power, while the once-liberal middle classes felt squeezed between the old rulers and the ascendant Social Democrats, an ever-growing political by-product of Germany's industrialization. There were many Germans who realized the need for political reform--a frightening prospect to the entrenched powers.My forebears reflected the successes and the contradictions of this world. To them, "the German Question" seemed settled after 1871; they were mostly absorbed in other things than national politics. After his dismissal in 1890, Bismarck became an idol for many of them--there was a virtual cult that celebrated the "strong leader," a dangerous view to which some of my family succumbed. Municipal politics, however, were different: the voting system favored, in urban local affairs, the prosperous bourgeois class that still happened to be liberal.My great-grandparents and their descendants participated in the prosperity and prominence of Breslau, a dynamically expanding commercial-industrial center with a large agricultural hinterland and rich coal mines to the southeast. The population of the city grew apace; between 1861 and 1910 it quadrupled,from 128,000 to half a million; of these, 60 percent were Protestant, 35 percent Catholic, and about 5 percent (20,000) Jews. Breslau had a proud civic life and a vibrant cultural one--the two closely related. German cities competed for cultural distinctiveness, with their bourgeois fathers striving to replicate for their class and era what princely courts had done before.A key institution in Breslau's cultural life was the Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, established in its modern form in 1811, during the Prussian Reform Era that had responded to the forces unleashed by the French Revolution with a carefully controlled "revolution from above." It replaced a Catholic university that had been founded in 1702 by Emperor Leopold of Austria, and it was Prussia's first nonconfessional university, with both Catholic and Protestant theological faculties. After four decades of penurious mediocrity, it became eminent--in medicine, even preeminent--and internationally renowned. The state sustained the university, while the city fathers promoted Breslau's cultural life--as evident in theater and music, in its academy of arts--attracting talent in all fields. Breslau wasn't comparable to Berlin or Munich or Vienna, but it was ambitious and successful.Given its important industrial sector, exemplified by the Borsig engineering plant, Breslau also had a growing proletarian population. In the early 1860s, Ferdinand Lassalle, a converted Jew and son of a Breslau merchant, had become the first leader of a German working-class movement, a non-revolutionary alternative Marx. And for decades, Breslau had a strong Social Democratic Party and radical groups to the left.The Jewish community of Breslau was as diversified as any in the German lands. Some Jewish families had lived there since Jews were first readmitted to the city in 1744; others, attracted by Breslau's urban opportunities, had moved there from smaller towns in the countryside. A few had come from farther east, so-called Ostjuden, who thought of Prussia as a promising haven. Breslau Jews were rich and poor, Orthodox and Reformed, traditionalist and fully assimilated; as we shall see, some Jewish men lived a full civic life while women pioneered in social work and communal responsibilities. Jews, barred from certain careers, as in the army, or hindered in others, as in the civil service, were disproportionately concentrated in trade and the professions; and they were disproportionately represented in the highest rungs of the public educational system. Also, they were disproportionately wealthy, that is, they were major taxpayers and philanthropists.In many ways, my forebears--going back to my great-grandparents, born in the 1820s and 1830s--exemplified this commonality and diversity. My fourgreat-grandfathers, my two grandfathers, and my father were all physicians, and their successes and setbacks were characteristic of their class--increasingly prosperous until at least 1914, and professionally innovative and eminent, with a very distinct ethos.Of my four grandparents, who were exceptionally close friends, I knew only my maternal grandmother, Hedwig Brieger, who died in 1939 in our small flat in Queens; her husband, Oskar, had died in 1914. My paternal grandfather, Richard Stern, died in 1911, and his widow, a year later, leaving my father, Rudolf, aged seventeen, an orphan, with an older and a younger sister.The Sterns and Briegers belonged to what we have come to call the Bil-dungsbürgertum, bourgeois citizens of some means who cherished what all Germans of their class cherished, Bildung, that goal of self-formation and education that sprang in part from knowing and exulting in the great works of culture, the classics, poetry, music, and the arts. It was assumed that this cultural heritage, or patrimony, molded one's code of behavior, the values one professed and tried to live by. Many Germans quietly believed that theirs was a country of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers); others wore this culture all too loudly, and by 1873 the then still obscure Friedrich Nietzsche coined for them the term Bildungsphilister (cultured philistines). By the late nineteenth century, this cultural heritage was more and more fused with an exuberant faith in science and progress. Wissenschaft, the German term for science, had a special, sanctified aura, connoting both an ordered and verifiable body of knowledge and the dedication to the pursuit of truth; Wissenschaft had a moral character, implying total seriousness. For many, Bildung and Wissenschaft became twin deities, a faith fortified by the continuous advance of science as a life-transforming phenomenon, made still more attractive by the austere ethos that scientists adhered to. Goethe had given a warrant to this conceit with his oft-invoked dictum: "He who possesses art and science has religion; he who does not possess them needs religion." In those years and for many people, science was still innocent, an emancipatory force as against the intimidating orthodoxies of the Christian churches.The father of my paternal grandmother, Sigismund Asch, born in 1825, was a legendary figure in Breslau: in 1848, a newly minted medical doctor, he took a leading part in the revolutions of that year, when, incited by the uprisings in Milan and Paris, Germans went to the barricades with diverse aims, of which national unity and civic freedom were the common denominators. Asch added his own radical social goals, for he was outraged at existing injustice and poverty (he had been raised in lower-class conditions) and filled with democraticfervor; in his speeches he demanded an end to indirect taxes and the institution of the ten-hour workday, a most radical idea at that time. Asch often referred to the Silesian Weavers' Riots of 1844, early protests against capitalist power and the exploitation of individual artisans. Gerhart Hauptmann's celebrated drama of 1892, The Weavers, evoked the conditions of immiseration that had given rise to their futile rebellion.The newspapers reported the doings of this tall, lean young doctor, with his impressive rhetorical powers, when he addressed various protest meetings. Once, in September 1848, amid another demonstration that threatened to storm Breslau's royal residence and thus precipitate a battle between revolutionaries and armed soldiers, Asch pushed himself to the front of the crowd, warning against violence. The soldiers, he repeatedly cried out, were "the unwilling instruments of black reaction." To harm them would be "the greatest injustice," because they were bound by oath to resist the demonstrators and they deserved "respect." That and other protests remained peaceful. By December 1848, however, Asch left the Democratic League, disappointed by the intolerance and radicalism of his allies. His earlier hopes were dashed when the old order, somewhat modified, was restored.Since he had been involved in producing placards denouncing the huge costs for royal extravaganzas at the expense of the poor, the authorities charged Asch with lèse-majesté. After a judicial delay, in May 1851 he was sentenced to a year's arrest under especially harsh conditions. After his release and his marriage to the daughter of a prosperous Jewish merchant, he concentrated on his medical practice, gaining notice by holding office hours at dawn for indigent patients. He charged his rich patients enough so that he was able to treat the poor for nothing, and often he unobtrusively left money in the latter's homes so that they could buy the medications he had prescribed. In 1863, he was elected Stadtverordneter, or representative to the city council, a position he held for sixteen years, and in which he fought for various causes concerning urban improvement and public health. He became a celebrated figure, honored as the subject of various plays and known for his family connections with progressive movements throughout Germany: one of his sisters-in-law, Lina Morgenstern, née Lina Bauer, became an early feminist leader.Asch had three children: one, Betty, converted to Protestantism at the age of fourteen; another, Toni, married a young doctor, Richard Stern, my grandfather. Asch himself died in 1901, in the city where he was affectionately known as "der Alte Asch," publicly mourned and properly buried in the Jewishcemetery. His son, Robert, also a ...

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Descripción Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The German question haunts the modern world: How could so civilized a nation be responsible for the greatest horror in Western history? In this unusual fusion of personal memoir and history, the celebrated scholar Fritz Stern refracts the question through the prism of his own life. Born in the Weimar Republic, exposed to five years of National Socialism before being forced into exile in 1938 in America, he became a world-renowned historian whose work opened new perspectives on the German past. Stern brings to life the five Germanys he has experienced: Weimar, the Third Reich, postwar West and East Germanys, and the unified country after 1990. Through his engagement with the nation from which he and his family fled, he shows that the tumultuous history of Germany, alternately the strength and the scourge of Europe, offers political lessons for citizens everywhere--especially those facing or escaping from tyranny. In this wise, tough-minded, and subtle book, Stern, himself a passionately engaged citizen, looks beyond Germany to issues of political responsibility that concern everyone. Five Germanys I Have Known vindicates his belief that, at its best, history is our most dramatic introduction to a moral civic life. Nº de ref. de la librería AAB9780374530860

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Descripción Farrar, Straus Giroux Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The German question haunts the modern world: How could so civilized a nation be responsible for the greatest horror in Western history? In this unusual fusion of personal memoir and history, the celebrated scholar Fritz Stern refracts the question through the prism of his own life. Born in the Weimar Republic, exposed to five years of National Socialism before being forced into exile in 1938 in America, he became a world-renowned historian whose work opened new perspectives on the German past. Stern brings to life the five Germanys he has experienced: Weimar, the Third Reich, postwar West and East Germanys, and the unified country after 1990. Through his engagement with the nation from which he and his family fled, he shows that the tumultuous history of Germany, alternately the strength and the scourge of Europe, offers political lessons for citizens everywhere--especially those facing or escaping from tyranny. In this wise, tough-minded, and subtle book, Stern, himself a passionately engaged citizen, looks beyond Germany to issues of political responsibility that concern everyone. Five Germanys I Have Known vindicates his belief that, at its best, history is our most dramatic introduction to a moral civic life. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780374530860

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