Review

Review of Anne-Christin Klotz’s Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland

Mariusz Kałczewiak

Anne-Christin Klotz, Gemein­sam gegen Deutsch­land. Warschaus jid­dis­che Presse im Kampf gegen den Nation­al­sozial­is­mus (1930 – 1941). Old­en­bourg: DeGruyter, 2022. 534 pp. $118.99.


Anne-Christin Klotz’s book is a remarkable piece of historical scholarship that transforms our understanding of the Nazi era by including the voices of Polish Jews who, in the 1930s, lived in troubling and dangerous proximity to the German “Nazi-land.” Klotz analyzes how the “makers” (“Macher”) of the Polish Jewish press approached the rise of Hitler to power, the anti-Jewish measures that followed, and the expulsion of Polish Jews from Germany in 1938, and she shows how they translated the anti-Jewish persecution they observed and described into coherent narratives and practices of resistance and mutual aid. The study places East European Yiddish voices at the center of a larger historical discussion about the rise of German nationalism, which has been widely studied in its national, European, and global contexts, albeit in ways that too often neglect the voices of marginalized groups. Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland is a refreshing study that questions established lines of thought and proposes correctives that allow us to see Polish, Polish-Jewish, and German history in a new light.

Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland is innovative in defining Polish Jewry, and specifically local Yiddish writers and journalists, as central to understanding the Nazi threat in the 1930s. Using the figures of the “tuer” (activist) and “shrayber” (writer, journalist), Klotz shows how journalism and social activism intertwined. In her account, the work of Marek Turkow, Khaim Avraham Hurvits, and Yeshayahu Klinov, who were both journalists and activists, demonstrates that a Yiddish newspaper was much more than a daily paper. The editorial offices of Yiddish newspapers served as discussion spaces that often crossed political boundaries. While the various Yiddish newspapers struggled to lobby support for competing Jewish political moments, in a situation of crisis, many Jewish journalists in Warsaw proved able and willing to cooperate. Klotz’s study humanizes the often-reified Warsaw Yiddish press. While Warsaw’s Jewish press landscape has already been explored by scholars such as Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov and Nathan Cohen, Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland is particularly successful in underscoring the agency of individual actors hidden behind the mythologized Warsaw Yiddish dailies. For instance, her study explores not only the content of articles in specific newspapers but also shows how specific authors such as Rachel Auerbach and Wiktor Alter constructed their particular and individualized approach to the rise of Nazism, independently from the medium for which they wrote.

Klotz applies the term “subversive knowledge” to describe Jewish-produced knowledge about developments in Nazi Germany. By writing about German-Jewish reactions to antisemitic legislation and by publishing reportages from Nazi Germany or from the refugee camp in Zbąszyń, Poland’s Yiddish newspapers created a body of knowledge that was hardly accessible otherwise. This included for instance Shlomo Mendelsohn’s, Khaim Shoshkes’s, Marek Turkow’s, and Leyb Malakh’s travel reports from Nazi Germany, which reflected, for example, on the responses of German majority society and of Eastern European Jews living in Germany. Against the backdrop of bans on foreign press correspondents in Germany, border and visa regimes that made travel to Germany difficult and dangerous, and censorship in Poland, Polish-Jewish journalists who wrote about Germany indeed created knowledge that the German Nazis, but also, to a certain extent, the Polish authorities, wanted to keep inaccessible. The subversive potential of this knowledge was manifold, but most importantly, as Klotz argues, it led to a coordinated Jewish protest movement in Poland and elsewhere around the world.

Anne-Christin Klotz’s study proves that “Polish Jewries,” in all their diversity, could unite and join forces to resist Nazi Germany. This undermines the stereotype of East European Jews as comically quarrelsome, senselessly divided, and unable to form a unified position, which is still a commonplace in popular discourse. Showing how Jewish publishers and journalists from Zionist bourgeois, Bundist, and Orthodox papers managed to build alliances, Klotz uncovers the existence of a robust and coordinated stance against Nazi Germany. By establishing committees assisting Jewish refugees from Germany, organizing large-scale fundraising campaigns, and spearheading a boycott movement, the makers of Warsaw’s Yiddish press revealed how cooperative, goal-oriented, and resistant they were. Underscoring cases of Polish-Jewish resistance, Klotz offers a narrative that challenges old, but still widely accepted, misconceptions concerning Jewish passivity in the light of the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The major achievement of Klotz’s book is that she shifts focus away from German-Jewish perceptions of East European Jewry, which have long been foregrounded by scholars, and toward East European Jewish perceptions of Germany and German Jewry. While the ways in which German Jews approached, discussed, feared, and admired Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in early twentieth-century Germany have been intensively studied at least since the 1980s, we know much less about how the Jews of Poland conceptualized Germans and German Jewry. Klotz has recreated the mosaic of personal and professional entanglements between Jews in Poland and Germany. Focusing on the Berlin correspondents of Warsaw’s Yiddish dailies Haynt, Der moment, and Folks-tsaytung, as well as on their exchange with editorial teams in Warsaw, Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland reconstructs how East European Jews maneuvered between the historical, but strong, associations of Germany with culture and civilization, and the gruesome social reality that emerged between 1933 and 1939.

While Klotz argues that the “transfer of knowledge” influenced how Polish Jews in general approached the rise of the Nazis to power, it seems that any conclusion concerning the broad social impact of the Yiddish press would be difficult to substantiate. Klotz uses the categories of “Mitbetroffene” and “Mitdenkende” (“co-affected” and “co-thinking”) to describe the desire of Polish Jewish journalists writing about Germany to shape public opinion. While this desire is well-evidenced in the sources she brings up, I believe that the direct connection between the proclaimed goals of the journalists and their impact is hard to trace. Klotz is right when she establishes the Yiddish dailies, their journalists, and their readers as an alternative public sphere in Poland, but the knowledge produced and interpreted by journalists does not necessarily translate into a position shared by readers.

Anne-Christin Klotz has done a wonderful job in connecting fields that for too long have been, to a certain extent, separate. She has combined East European Jewish Studies and German-Jewish Studies with German history and Holocaust Studies. Particularly in the context of Jewish Studies in German academia, her work importantly brings to the fore the East European Jewish perspective, which has been under-researched and neglected for decades. 1 1 See my article Mariusz Kałczewiak, “When the “Ostjuden” Returned: Linguistic Continuities in German-Language Writing about Eastern European Jews,” Naharaim 15, no. 2 (2021): 287-309. Klotz joins scholars such as Gertrud Pickhan, Anne-Christin Saß, Agnieszka Wierzcholska, and Markus Nesselrodt, who have contributed to the diversification of the study of modern Jewish history at German universities beyond the established local focus on German Jewry and its legacy. Klotz analyzes sources and literature in Polish, Yiddish, German, English, and Hebrew and succeeds in both reclaiming spaces for East European Jewish voices often absent in German-language scholarship and in entering a dialogue with scholars in Israel, Poland, the United States, and elsewhere.

As we learned from the recent debate at the American Historical Association, “presentism” still appears as a point of contention in disputes about history as a discipline. 2 2 See the New York Times coverage of the 2022-23 debate at the American Historical Association: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/08/arts/american-historical-association-james-sweet.html. In contrast to those concerned about using contemporary social justice causes to elevate historically suppressed perspectives, Klotz makes clear that her book seeks to undo the “work of injustice” and to make earlier marginal voices hearable. She does so on many levels. She highlights how Polish Yiddish-speaking Jews viewed and discussed Germany and German Jews, dismantling established cultural hierarchies that have long preferred to listen to voices in German. She uncovers Bundist narratives that approached antisemitism in Germany through a perspective of organized resistance—one that differed from the Zionist approach, which centered the victimhood of European Jews and which has solidified how we think about antisemitism. Finally, Klotz shows that resistance and self-defense were valid and popular Polish-Jewish responses to the Nazis’ seizure of power in Germany, which puts into question notions of East European Jewish passivity, still voiced by some historians. Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland is a thought-provoking work that redefines the way we approach the East European encounter with the Nazi regime in the 1930s.

MLA STYLE
Kałczewiak, Mariusz. “Review of Anne-Christin Klotz's Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland.” In geveb, March 2023: https://ingeveb.org/articles/gemeinsam-gegen-deutschland.
CHICAGO STYLE
Kałczewiak, Mariusz. “Review of Anne-Christin Klotz's Gemeinsam gegen Deutschland.” In geveb (March 2023): Accessed Apr 22, 2024.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mariusz Kałczewiak

Mariusz Kałczewiak is a historian of Modern Jewish History and Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.