It’s 6:45pm on Sunday, the 11th February. I’m reading a book that was recommended to me by my neighbour when I was staying in Jerusalem recently. The book is Germany’s Stepchildren, originally published in 1944. It surveys 200 years of the experience of Jews in Germany as described through the stories of fifteen or so people who were prominent in their period.
And this is what I was reading – the beginning of the story of Ludvig Borne, born Loeb Baruch in Frankfurt in 1786 – when something happened on the street as I was reading.
When Loeb Baruch was born, the Jews the Frankfurt was still restricted in their residence to a single street the Judengasse, afterwards known as the Bornestrasse. In this narrow lane, the Jews were locked in after sunset on weekdays and as early as 4 o’clock on Sundays.
On certain holidays and festive public occasions, they often had to remain indoors during the day and were let out only in the evening. A strict watch was kept the ghetto gate. The boy Baruch is said to have remarked “I don’t go outside simply because the soldier over there is stronger than I am.” When high dignitaries passed through Frankfurt, arrangements were made so that their eyes would not be polluted by the sight of Jews. Thus, at the coronation of Emperor Leopold I, the Jewish leaders, who wished to pay homage to him, were arrested and kept under a police guard during the ceremonies.
And as I was reading this I got angry and upset because I was thinking that this about me. This is not about some other people that I’m reading about, this is about me.
Just at that moment there was a loud noise outside on the footpath that leads into town near our house – a group of people marching by and chanting – and they put a chill through me to think that at some time in some place there were people marching and chanting for the death of Jews.
So I went outside and I caught up with the marchers and asked what was going on. There were about 100 women and they were marching for Reclaim the Night – reclaim the night so they don’t have to be afraid of sexual violence when they go out after dark.
So nothing threatening – not today – but it reminded me, as I said, of antisemitism in Germany.
When Solomon Liptzin wrote Germany’s Stepchildren in 1944, how much did he know of what had happened to the Jews of Europe? The book was published by The Jewish Publication Society Of America, and Liptzin was head of the German Department at the College of The City Of New York.
I know that as early as the very beginning of the Einsatzgruppen death squads in Germany’s Russian campaign, word of the mass killings had got out and was known in the USA to those who wanted to listen.
And yet, many in the USA did not know. And I don’t really understand why. That’s another story, but as I read Germany’s Stepchildren, I keep wondering what Liptzin was aware of. Maybe he will say, later in the book.