In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modern Germany

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sources
  • Journals
  • Historiography
  • Gender
  • Voluntary Migration and Transnational History
  • Comparative Studies
  • New Period: Imperial Germany, First World War, and Weimar Republic, 1871–1933
  • Anti-Semitism and Jewish Responses
  • Cultural History
  • Biographies
  • Jews from Eastern Europe
  • First World War and Its Aftermath
  • Museums and Memory

Jewish Studies Modern Germany
Tobias Brinkmann
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0132


The beginning of modern Jewish history in central Europe is associated with the Haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment (cited under Beginning of Periods: Haskalah and Emancipation, 1780–1871). During the middle decades of the 19th century, Jews in the German states achieved a remarkably high social mobility, moving as a group in little more than one generation from the margins of rural societies into the urban bourgeoisie. Emancipation (cited under Beginning of Periods: Haskalah and Emancipation, 1780–1871), even though it was first developed and debated in late-18th-century Berlin, proceeded only fitfully and differed between German states. All Jews were only fully emancipated when the German nation-state was founded in 1871. In Imperial Germany (see New Period: Imperial Germany, First World War, and Weimar Republic, 1871–1933), Jews were important innovators as entrepreneurs in banking, journalism, new academic fields such as chemistry or theoretical physics, and sociology. Rabbinical seminaries in Breslau and Berlin established Imperial Germany as a renowned center of academic Jewish studies. Jewish women were at the forefront of the women’s movement in and beyond Germany. Jews faced anti-Semitic discrimination and were excluded from certain positions in the civil service, the judicial system, the traditional academic system, and the Prussian officer corps. Before it was overtaken by the United States during the 1890s, Imperial Germany was home to the largest Jewish community outside of eastern Europe. By 1910 the 615000 Jews in Imperial Germany represented slightly less than 1 percent of the general population; almost 70 percent lived in cities. The First World War and the postwar political and economic crisis shattered the relative security Jews had enjoyed. In the war’s aftermath, anti-Semitic violence became more common. The democratic Weimar Republic provided more opportunities to Jews, especially in the civil service, the legal system, and the political sphere. Jewish scientists, writers, journalists, and artists were acclaimed representatives of Germany’s academic and cultural avant-garde. Eleven German Jews won Nobel Prizes before 1933, none after that date. The 1923 hyperinflation and the Great Depression of the early 1930s hit bourgeois Jewish families hard. After 1918 a growing number of younger Jews questioned the values of their parent’s generation and explored new forms of sociability. Some joined Zionist organizations. After coming to power in January 1933, the Nazi Regime systematically isolated Jews, drove them out of cultural and economic life as well as the civil service, stripped them of civil rights, and “aryanized” Jewish-owned businesses and property (see Aryanization). State-sponsored violence reached new levels of destruction during the occupation of Vienna in March 1938 and the notorious “Reichskristallnacht” pogrom on 9–10 November 1938. Between January 1933 and September 1939 about 304000 Jews emigrated from Germany. Of the estimated 192000 Jews living in Austria in 1938, about 117000 left between 1938 and 1940. The Nazi regime deported between 160000 and 180000 German Jews to ghettos, extermination camps, and other killing sites between 1939 and 1945. Few survived; few returned to their homeland. After liberation, Jewish survivors and refugees, mostly from eastern Europe, found protection in camps for Displaced Persons (DP), especially in the American-occupied zones in South Germany and Austria. Jewish life reemerged outside the DP camps, albeit on a modest scale. After most Jewish DPs had left for Palestine/Israel and the United States by the mid-1950s, the Jewish population in West Germany decreased to 30000. Many fewer Jews lived in East Germany. After German reunification in 1990, Jews from the Soviet Union and its successor states boosted the membership of Jewish communities to slightly over 100000 (as of 2010).

General Overviews

Germany represents one of the most extensively researched subfields of modern Jewish history. Studies about German Jewish history and culture before 1914 frequently include the German-speaking parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and border regions such as Alsace and Posen. The 19th-century German Jewish historians Isaac Markus Jost and Heinrich Graetz, and the Russian Jewish historian Simon Dubnow, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1941, covered Germany in their surveys of Jewish history. Elbogen and Sterling 1988 is a republication of the first survey of German Jewish history. The most detailed and balanced overviews of German Jewish history are multi-author volumes, reflecting in part the broad range and complexity of the field. The multi-author four-volume collection edited by Michael A. Meyer (Meyer 1996–1998) remains the most comprehensive overview to date. The essays in Kaplan 2005 reflect the increasing interest in the history of everyday life. Other surveys treat different aspects (Liedtke and Schüler-Springorum 2012–2015) or specific periods of German Jewish history (Volkov 1994 and Brenner 2012, cited under New Period: Jewish Life after the Holocaust, 1945–Present). Elon 2003 provides an excellent and accessible survey for the period before 1933.

  • Elbogen, Ismar, and Eleonore Sterling. Rev. Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland. Frankfurt: Athenäum Verlag, 1988.

    Revised version of the first comprehensive survey of German Jewish history, published in 1935 in Berlin by Jüdische Buch-Vereinigung with Elbogen as sole author. The original publication date is significant: Elbogen’s study demonstrated the determination of the historian to stand by his interpretation at a time of increased pressure by the Nazi regime.

  • Elon, Amos. The Pity of It All: A History of Jews in Germany, 1743–1933. London: Allen Lane, 2003.

    Excellent overview of modern German Jewish history before 1933 by the late Vienna-born Israeli journalist and writer.

  • Gilman, Sander, and Jack Zipes, eds. Yale Companion to Jewish Writing and Thought in German Culture, 1096–1996. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

    Valuable collection of over one hundred selected passages from sources relating to German Jewish culture, each followed by an essayistic interpretation by a specialist scholar. One hundred ten of the 119 texts deal with the post-1780 period of German Jewish history.

  • Kaplan, Marion A., ed. Jewish Daily Life in Germany: 1618–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    The four essays in this volume examine daily Jewish life in the German lands in different periods between the Thirty Years’ War and the end of World War II. The volume expands the four-volume study Meyer 1996–1998. Each chapter covers family life, education, work, religious practices, and social life.

  • Liedtke, Rainer, and Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, eds. Perspektiven deutsch-jüdischer Geschichte. 7 vols. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2012–2015.

    The seven concise monographs in this series written primarily by younger scholars are designed as textbooks and cover key aspects of German Jewish history: culture, business and economy, migration and transnational history, gender, social history, religion, and political history.

  • Meyer, Michael A., ed. German-Jewish History in Modern Times. 4 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996–1998.

    The four-volume collection of essays written by leading specialists under the auspices of the Leo Baeck Institute remains the most extensive and detailed overview to date. It is also available in a German-language edition.

  • Volkov, Shulamit. Die Juden in Deutschland 1780–1918. Enzyklopädie deutscher Geschichte 16. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1994.

    A useful textbook designed for students. A concise survey is followed by a discussion of the historiography and a bibliography.

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