Philipp Nielsen. Between Heimat and Hatred: Jews and the Right in Germany, 1871–1935. (Oxford University Press)
The book builds on recent studies of Jews' relation to German nationalism, the experience of German Jews away from the large cities, and the increasing interest in Germans' obsession with regional roots and the East. The study follows these lines of inquiry to investigate the participation of some German Jews in projects dedicated to originally, or increasingly, illiberal projects. As such it shines light on an area in which Jewish participation has thus far only been treated as an afterthought and illuminates both Jewish and German history afresh.
What's the one key idea or message you want readers to take from your book?
That there were moments in which for German Jews to be on the right of politics was not entirely delusional. And that these moments had a lot to do with the regional nature of German nationalism. We already know quite a bit about this from the non-Jewish side, thanks to last year’s finalist for this prize by Brendan Karch for example. But I think we can still learn more about the way this played out with regards to German Jews.
What got you interested in the topic of your book?
I kept stumbling over these conservative Jews while reading for a, at that point still different, dissertation project. And they were almost always described as a fringe group and sort of deluded or self-hating depending on the author’s perspective. But they seemed otherwise so perfectly ‘normal,’ no different from their more liberal family members. So I wanted to find out more about them and their motivations, and in the long run about German Jews and the space they had for political choices. And then it all got complicated, though apparently some people think the book’s arguments make sense after all.
Books answer questions, but they also raise new questions. What questions does your book raise?
I kind of answered this above already. Generally speaking, the regional nature of German nationalism at this point is old news. But I think we still don’t know enough of how that affected German Jews. Here too a number of important new studies have come out/are about to come out. But in particular the position of German Jews in the Eastern provinces and their active role in politics needs more attention. I think the book also raises the question of the connection between democratization and radicalization on the right once more. The German Nationalists, for example, fully embrace antisemitism at the same time that they engage with the democratic system in a slightly more constructive fashion (though this is its own debate). Looking once more at this nexus might also be insightful for our confrontation with radical right-wing movements today.
What are you currently reading, in your field or just generally, and what do you like about it?
I am reading Johny Pitts’ Afropean right now. It’s not a light read. But maybe because Pitts is not only a writer but also a photographer, the book is arresting in the way it conjures up scenes. This semester I am teaching a seminar on urban history in Europe after 1945, and I am excited to assign sections of Afropean to it.