Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History

Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History In the introduction to their edited volume, Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup make the strong point that space as an analytical category would enhance modern German-Jewish history. The place of minorities in societies is marked by boundaries, by their position vis-à-vis the majority society both spatially and metaphorically. According to Lässig and Rürup, it was precisely in the transition from the more stable pre-modern to the modern world that the boundaries defining Jewish life became increasingly unstable. Investigating the production of Jewish space, the editors argue, provides a way to challenge the historiographical boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish history. It would get the Jews out of the ghetto twice, so to speak. As some of the chapters of the volume, for example Anna Holian’s or Ruth Ellen Gruber’s achieve this double task, the editors’ subsequent statement that while ‘[a]cknowledging the trans-territorial and transnational dimensions of Jewish history, we wish especially to contribute to unveiling spatial and temporal structures particular to being Jewish or being defined as such’ (p. 5) seems like a retrenchment. It is, however, also a better description of what most of the chapters do. Considerably more consistent and consistently heeded is the editors’ call to focus on the construction of space and spatial identity through action and interaction—a trend that has, as the editors themselves indicate, gathered steam in German-Jewish studies, with some of the pioneers such as Michael Meng contributing to the volume. It thus seems a bit surprising if Lässig and Rürup initially declare that they do not want to subscribe to the spatial turn. Their introduction eventually seems to advocate just such a reorientation. While German-Jewish studies is turning, it might also bring affects and emotions into focus. Specifically with regards to space and practices surrounding them, the hopes and aspirations, but also anxieties, fears and disappointment, let alone anger and hate, would be fruitful considerations. Marion Kaplan’s forthcoming book on Jewish refugees in Portugal tries to do just that. And in the present volume, Nils Roemer and Anne-Christin Saß, for example, already do so implicitly. Unfortunately, some of the chapters also remain implicit about the themes contained in the introduction. The origin of the volume in a conference shines through here, as it does on a few other occasions. The editors nonetheless make a valiant effort to impose order, even as they themselves admit the divisions are occasionally arbitrary. The fact that one chapter is introduced as anchoring one part, yet appears in another, only highlights this. The three parts are called Imaginations, Transformations and Practices. Yet admittedly, and much to the volume’s credit, almost every chapter engages with all of the three themes. The book provides a rich playing field ranging from the early modern Jewish press to the virtual Jewish spaces of today’s Central Europe. If anything, the chapters and in extension the volume as a whole would have benefitted from a greater engagement of the chapters with each other. The ghetto, for example, which interestingly enough only appears once in the introduction in a reference to Jürgen Heyde’s contribution, appears in five out of the sixteen chapters. Some chapters might have approached space as an analytical rather than a descriptive category more consistently, in the way the introduction very convincingly argues. This too could have strengthened the overall cohesion of the volume. Those chapters which do so and move beyond descriptions of space display the immense potential of the concept. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are the chapters of Alexandra Binnenkade, Nils Roemer, Kerstin von der Krone, Andreas Gotzmann, Björn Siegel, Anne-Christin Saß, Anna Holian, Robin Ostow and Ruth Ellen Gruber. These chapters do so with reference to concrete spaces, such as Saß’s contribution on Berlin’s Scheunenviertel, and in working with the more abstract concept of space that the volume also embraces, as in the case of Siegel’s analysis of Jewish philanthropists. Holian’s contribution about the city of Munich’s campaign to remove Jewish and other non-German merchants from the once upscale Möhlstraße in the years following the Holocaust and the Second World War demonstrates the strength of the approach. Holian uses the history of the street to explore the lives and identities of DPs operating their businesses there. The legal status of the DPs, subject only to the Allies, and the DPs’ practices, marked the street almost as extraterritorial. German official responses were thus embedded in a web not only of antisemitic and xenophobic stereotypes, but also in the desire to re-establish German sovereignty. Space and spatial practices are key to her argument, and Holian also most clearly tells a German-Jewish story in the full sense of the word. Roemer makes a strong case for role nostalgia and the narration of regional histories in German Jews’ construction of their modern German and modern Jewish identity. Far from being in opposition to modernity, this nostalgia was a crucial element of the very modernity German Jews embraced. Their practices also aligned them, as Roemer argues, simultaneously with non-Jewish practices. Gruber expands and updates her argument from her previous book about virtually Jewish spaces in an Eastern Europe mostly devoid of Jews. Here, she moves from virtual to ‘real imaginary’ and explores how in recent years these places might have acquired a new ‘real’ Jewishness, which in turn questions more common definitions of which practices, and whose presence, might make a place Jewish. Kerstin von der Krone’s and in some ways Michael Meng’s chapters are equally about the intersection of metaphorical and real spaces. Von der Krone’s account of a Jewish public sphere is theoretically fascinating. This reviewer at least would have craved to hear more about the actual papers and their publications, their readership and how they compared to the non-Jewish press at the time. Michael Meng deals primarily with historiographical space albeit by way of actual space, namely the conflict around Frankfurt’s Judengasse in the early 1980s. His account of the way the past disrupts historical narratives, in a way reminiscent of Benjamin’s famous image, is fascinating. Yet the ‘place of the Holocaust in German history’ remains a place that is primarily temporal rather than spatial. In their various ways, the contributions of the volume, of which they are too many to discuss all in detail, offer rich food for thought. This reviewer, however, was struck with the almost complete absence of discussions of gender in the construction of space. Ofer Ashkenazi’s discussion of Das alte Gesetz, a movie centred around the potential of a Jewish-non-Jewish romantic relationship, would have benefitted considerably from a more forceful discussion of gender. The space that the film’s protagonist eventually occupies in the city seems to be bound up with the construction of Jewish masculinity in the process of emancipation. In Siegel’s description of Baron Hirsch, the way that his philanthropic endeavours were structured by gender (gardening here, nurseries there) is barely addressed and mostly by a brief reference to Baron’s wife’s influence over her husband. These are only two most obvious cases, but greater thought about the gendered nature of these Jewish spaces, the assumptions of Jewish masculinity and femininity within them, could have further strengthened the volume’s goal of demonstrating the importance of space. Regardless of these quibbles, the volume advances the discussion of space and spatiality in German-Jewish history considerably, and in the best instances individual contributions successfully break down the barriers between German and non-German historiography, just as the editors hoped they would. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png German History Oxford University Press

Space and Spatiality in Modern German-Jewish History

German History , Volume 36 (3) – Sep 1, 2018

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0266-3554
eISSN
1477-089X
D.O.I.
10.1093/gerhis/ghy024
Publisher site
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Abstract

In the introduction to their edited volume, Simone Lässig and Miriam Rürup make the strong point that space as an analytical category would enhance modern German-Jewish history. The place of minorities in societies is marked by boundaries, by their position vis-à-vis the majority society both spatially and metaphorically. According to Lässig and Rürup, it was precisely in the transition from the more stable pre-modern to the modern world that the boundaries defining Jewish life became increasingly unstable. Investigating the production of Jewish space, the editors argue, provides a way to challenge the historiographical boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish history. It would get the Jews out of the ghetto twice, so to speak. As some of the chapters of the volume, for example Anna Holian’s or Ruth Ellen Gruber’s achieve this double task, the editors’ subsequent statement that while ‘[a]cknowledging the trans-territorial and transnational dimensions of Jewish history, we wish especially to contribute to unveiling spatial and temporal structures particular to being Jewish or being defined as such’ (p. 5) seems like a retrenchment. It is, however, also a better description of what most of the chapters do. Considerably more consistent and consistently heeded is the editors’ call to focus on the construction of space and spatial identity through action and interaction—a trend that has, as the editors themselves indicate, gathered steam in German-Jewish studies, with some of the pioneers such as Michael Meng contributing to the volume. It thus seems a bit surprising if Lässig and Rürup initially declare that they do not want to subscribe to the spatial turn. Their introduction eventually seems to advocate just such a reorientation. While German-Jewish studies is turning, it might also bring affects and emotions into focus. Specifically with regards to space and practices surrounding them, the hopes and aspirations, but also anxieties, fears and disappointment, let alone anger and hate, would be fruitful considerations. Marion Kaplan’s forthcoming book on Jewish refugees in Portugal tries to do just that. And in the present volume, Nils Roemer and Anne-Christin Saß, for example, already do so implicitly. Unfortunately, some of the chapters also remain implicit about the themes contained in the introduction. The origin of the volume in a conference shines through here, as it does on a few other occasions. The editors nonetheless make a valiant effort to impose order, even as they themselves admit the divisions are occasionally arbitrary. The fact that one chapter is introduced as anchoring one part, yet appears in another, only highlights this. The three parts are called Imaginations, Transformations and Practices. Yet admittedly, and much to the volume’s credit, almost every chapter engages with all of the three themes. The book provides a rich playing field ranging from the early modern Jewish press to the virtual Jewish spaces of today’s Central Europe. If anything, the chapters and in extension the volume as a whole would have benefitted from a greater engagement of the chapters with each other. The ghetto, for example, which interestingly enough only appears once in the introduction in a reference to Jürgen Heyde’s contribution, appears in five out of the sixteen chapters. Some chapters might have approached space as an analytical rather than a descriptive category more consistently, in the way the introduction very convincingly argues. This too could have strengthened the overall cohesion of the volume. Those chapters which do so and move beyond descriptions of space display the immense potential of the concept. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are the chapters of Alexandra Binnenkade, Nils Roemer, Kerstin von der Krone, Andreas Gotzmann, Björn Siegel, Anne-Christin Saß, Anna Holian, Robin Ostow and Ruth Ellen Gruber. These chapters do so with reference to concrete spaces, such as Saß’s contribution on Berlin’s Scheunenviertel, and in working with the more abstract concept of space that the volume also embraces, as in the case of Siegel’s analysis of Jewish philanthropists. Holian’s contribution about the city of Munich’s campaign to remove Jewish and other non-German merchants from the once upscale Möhlstraße in the years following the Holocaust and the Second World War demonstrates the strength of the approach. Holian uses the history of the street to explore the lives and identities of DPs operating their businesses there. The legal status of the DPs, subject only to the Allies, and the DPs’ practices, marked the street almost as extraterritorial. German official responses were thus embedded in a web not only of antisemitic and xenophobic stereotypes, but also in the desire to re-establish German sovereignty. Space and spatial practices are key to her argument, and Holian also most clearly tells a German-Jewish story in the full sense of the word. Roemer makes a strong case for role nostalgia and the narration of regional histories in German Jews’ construction of their modern German and modern Jewish identity. Far from being in opposition to modernity, this nostalgia was a crucial element of the very modernity German Jews embraced. Their practices also aligned them, as Roemer argues, simultaneously with non-Jewish practices. Gruber expands and updates her argument from her previous book about virtually Jewish spaces in an Eastern Europe mostly devoid of Jews. Here, she moves from virtual to ‘real imaginary’ and explores how in recent years these places might have acquired a new ‘real’ Jewishness, which in turn questions more common definitions of which practices, and whose presence, might make a place Jewish. Kerstin von der Krone’s and in some ways Michael Meng’s chapters are equally about the intersection of metaphorical and real spaces. Von der Krone’s account of a Jewish public sphere is theoretically fascinating. This reviewer at least would have craved to hear more about the actual papers and their publications, their readership and how they compared to the non-Jewish press at the time. Michael Meng deals primarily with historiographical space albeit by way of actual space, namely the conflict around Frankfurt’s Judengasse in the early 1980s. His account of the way the past disrupts historical narratives, in a way reminiscent of Benjamin’s famous image, is fascinating. Yet the ‘place of the Holocaust in German history’ remains a place that is primarily temporal rather than spatial. In their various ways, the contributions of the volume, of which they are too many to discuss all in detail, offer rich food for thought. This reviewer, however, was struck with the almost complete absence of discussions of gender in the construction of space. Ofer Ashkenazi’s discussion of Das alte Gesetz, a movie centred around the potential of a Jewish-non-Jewish romantic relationship, would have benefitted considerably from a more forceful discussion of gender. The space that the film’s protagonist eventually occupies in the city seems to be bound up with the construction of Jewish masculinity in the process of emancipation. In Siegel’s description of Baron Hirsch, the way that his philanthropic endeavours were structured by gender (gardening here, nurseries there) is barely addressed and mostly by a brief reference to Baron’s wife’s influence over her husband. These are only two most obvious cases, but greater thought about the gendered nature of these Jewish spaces, the assumptions of Jewish masculinity and femininity within them, could have further strengthened the volume’s goal of demonstrating the importance of space. Regardless of these quibbles, the volume advances the discussion of space and spatiality in German-Jewish history considerably, and in the best instances individual contributions successfully break down the barriers between German and non-German historiography, just as the editors hoped they would. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)

Journal

German HistoryOxford University Press

Published: Sep 1, 2018

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