The Perils of Prominence: Jews in Berlin

Fritzi Massary in "Die Rose vom Stambul"

The social and political turmoil following Germany’s crushing defeat in World War I paved the way for daring innovations and profound changes in all areas of cultural and public life: the arts, literature, business, architecture and the theater. For a little more than one brief decade, 1919-1933, Berlin became the cultural capital of Europe, a magnet for the artistic avant-garde from all over the world. What made Berlin attractive was the exceptionally liberal cultural and social climate, which emerged from the collapse of the old imperial order. All those who had formerly been excluded from the conservative mainstream were catapulted into prominent positions of power and influence, not surprisingly an extraordinarily large number of Jews among them.

Jews came to exemplify “modernity” in the Weimar Republic because so many Jewish artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs were on the forefront of change. While many “modernists” were not Jewish, and many of the Jews barely observant, the association was nonetheless strong.

While Weimar did present new opportunities for Jews, their increasing participation in German culture, in disproportionate numbers as many critics asserted, intensified debates on the “Jewish question” as anti-Semitism gained political respectability and mass support that it did not have in earlier times.

This LBI exhibition on the “Perils of Prominence” explores the decisive role Jewish artists, journalists, composers, and architects played in defining modernity in the Weimar years. From Schönberg’s twelve-tone music, to Erich Mendelsohn’s elegant architectural designs, to Alfred Döblin’s expressionist prose, all helped steer European imperial culture of the post-World War I era onto a more democratic course.

A catalog, with an essay by David Clay Large, is available.

December 5, 2001 – May 15, 2002 at Leo Baeck Institute

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.