Excerpt from interview with Professor Christopher Browning, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington
March 1997, Tacoma, Washington
Interviewer: Ephraim Kaye
How would you characterize the nature of antisemitism in Germany prior to Hitler's rise to power?
There's a kind of paradox in German history in terms of the role of antisemitism. On the one hand, Germany was the country in Europe where Jews seemed to have achieved the most successful assimilation, where they rose in society to the professions and business world, maybe to a lesser extent in education, though certainly not in the bureaucracy or the military. But in many areas of life in Germany they had made what they considered much better progress than elsewhere. One of the goals of many Jews of Eastern Europe was to get either to the United States or to Germany. Germany was one of the promised lands, one of the places that Jews had it so good. It certainly wasn't their perception at the time that Germany was a country saturated in antisemitism. George Mosse tells the “joke” that if in 1900 someone said that within fifty years all the Jews of Europe would be murdered, the response would have been, well, of course, those French or Russians are capable of anything. One would not have said Germany was the land most likely to be the genocidal murderer of European Jewry.
On the other hand, we know, for instance, that in German politics, they were not above discriminating. This was an authoritarian regime, it did not have a democratic culture. In the 1870s they passed massive discriminatory legislation against Catholics. In the 1880s they passed massive discriminatory legislation against socialists. In this period they did not revoke Jewish emancipation. This was not the burning issue of German politics in that period. That doesn't mean that within a certain segment of the population in Germany, there wasn't a growing antisemitism. In fact, precisely in reaction to the success that Jews were enjoying in German society, there grew an increasingly vicious antisemitic group — what one might call the redemptionist antisemites, or the chimeric antisemites, but I don't think we should blow them out of proportion. The question is, how important were they in German life at that time? How dominant? And my own feeling is that they weren't terribly dominant. They were one group of conservatives, but they certainly didn't make policy. They certainly couldn't put an end to German Jewish emancipation at this time, and it's important not to take what we know happened in 1933 and see it as the natural and inevitable result of a burgeoning antisemitism in Germany in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Source: Taken From The Multimedia CD ‘Eclipse Of Humanity’, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2000.