In Hitler’s Munich – Jews, the revolution, and the rise of Nazism

Michael Brenner, Princeton University Press. £28.00. ISBN 9780 691191034

This book started out with hope and ended with disaster. The main comment that should be made is that unless you know the background the reader can get lost. In fact until you look at the timeline at the end of the book as well as perhaps read the last couple of pages does some of the basic history make sense. However, if you have previously studied the end of the First World War and the changes that took place in Germany between then and the beginning of the Second World War, it all becomes clear.

From the outset this is not a book about Hitler per se, although it traces his rise and that of the Nazi party. However, it does trace the rise of antisemitism, in what had been a multicultural state – Bavaria and specifically the city of Munich. It is an interesting historical account of the revolution that took place in Bavaria in particular Munich immediately after the end of the First World War. It shows how the few Jews who lived there were either communists and nationalists at both extremes of these political movements, and the opposition of a vast majority of Jews who either had absolutely no interest in politics whatsoever – or wanted their section of the community to have a low profile and not get involved.

This is a fascinating story of how with the end of was in sight, all be it an armistice, Bavaria ended up as one of the first to have a new revolutionary government, and one which was initially without bloodshed. However, it was because most of those involved initially were Jewish intellectuals that antisemitic further led to a number of bloody counter revolutions.

It should be remembered as a background to the events of 1918, not mentioned in the book, that there had been a mutiny by the German High Seas Fleet on 3 November. In the meantime, the German high command had been pursuing an armistice. On the 9 November the head of the German Government, Maximilian, Prince of Baden, known as Max, announced that the Kaiser had resigned all titles. The actual abdication took place at the end of November, but the Armistice could be signed and enacted on 11 November at 11am. (abstracted from https://www. britannica.com/)

On 7 November 1918, the King of Bavaria left his residence at the palace, following a march there, a proclamation was made at the Mathaserbrau brewery, however the official proclamation was made a short while later. Kurt Eisner was declared “as minister-president of the new republic, now also designated as the Free State of Bavaria” p.29. Michael Brenner goes on to describe Catholic Bavaria now run by Eisner, the chair of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD). “Hardly anyone overlooked the fact that on the morning of November 8, 1918, a socialist Jewish journalist from Berlin was governing Catholic Bavaria” p.29. The interesting twist was that another Jew assassinated him, although Count Anton von Arco auf Valley was half Jewish himself.

Following on from the short-lived peaceful revolution the book then goes on to show that not only were many Jews not political, they warned that just being Jewish you should have nothing to do with politics or it will be your downfall. Rabbis even went Kurt Eisner to try and persuade him to leave the political arena. From the second chapter onwards, Michael Brenner describes how life for the Jewish community and those who were thought to be Jewish saw freedom and toleration change to the worst sort of antisemitism.

Here, using extensive sources, the author shows how Jews were firstly accused of being not only socialist but probably communists. This charge was laid at the thousands who were fleeing to Germany from revolutionary Russia and the pogroms that were taking place there. At the same time there were many right-wing nationalist Jews who thought that the political parties who advocated returning these Jewish refugees to their country of origin. Why would Jews back those who would be their oppressors? For that answer you need to study this work! There is no simple answer.

What is very clear from this study is that Munich had not only welcomed Jews, it had for decades not imposed the restrictions that most other places imposed on them. It is a sad reflection of human nature that your friends and neighbours with whom you get on very well will suddenly turn into vicious enemies. Could the Jews have done anything to safe themselves? From Michael Brenner’s book it would appear not, as the community was not one, but made up of individuals who all had thoughts of what was best for themselves. It was made up of a multitude of opinions, as most of society is. This book makes sad but interesting and poignant reading, as well as giving a little insight as to why the Nazi party were able to so easily take over a liberal and freedom loving state and later the rest of Germany.

Stanley Bernard