Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations With National Socialism and Other Crises

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Our understandings of culture and of the catastrophe unleashed by National Socialism have always been regarded as interrelated. For all its brutality, Nazism always spoke in the name of the great German tradition, often using such high culture to justify atrocities committed. Were not such actions necessary for the defense of classical cultural values and ideal images against the polluted, degenerate groups who sought to sully and defile them?

Ironically, some of National Socialism's victims confronted and interpreted their experiences precisely through this prism of culture and catastrophe. Many of these victims had traditionally regarded Germany as a major civilizing force. In fact, from the late eighteenth century on, German Jews had constructed themselves in German culture's image. Many of the German-speaking Jewish intellectuals who became victims of National Socialism had been raised and completely absorbed in the German humanistic tradition.

Steven E. Aschheim here engages the multiple aspects of German and German-Jewish cultural history which touch upon the intricate interplay between culture and catastrophe, providing insights into the relationship between German culture and the origins, dispositions, and aftermath of National Socialism. He analyzes the designation of Nazism as part of the West's cultural code representing an absolute standard of evil, and sheds light on the problematics of current German, Jewish, and Israeli inscriptions of Nazism and its atrocities.

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Editorial Reviews

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"[This book] ranges from the most general reflections (on the relationship between "culture" and Nazism) to the intellectual-historical (on the myth of "Judaization" in Germany, on Nazism and Nietzsche, and on the Weimar-era Jewish revolt against rationalism) to historiographical critique (on recent Holocaust literature with special attention to racial thought). Throughout the book, Aschheim is interested to provide his reader with a summary of the various ways that Nazism and the Holocaust have been treated in philosophical and historical literature, in national polemic an public commemoration."


In a unique and relevant approach, Aschheim (history, Hebrew U. of Jerusalem) presents new insights into the existential dilemma of German-Jewish intellectuals who, having shared in the disposition of a great German cultural tradition, found themselves victims of its National Socialism. Within this cultural-historical context he examines the work of Nietzche, the correspondences between Hermann Broch and Volkmar von Zuehlsdorff, and of Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers. He concludes with an examination of current trends in the "historiography" of the Holocaust, and its relevance to contemporary culture and individual self-definitions. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814706428
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 5.55 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven E. Ascheim is Associate Professor of History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the author of Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German-Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923 and The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990. Currently he is on sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

1 Culture and Catastrophe 1
2 German Jews beyond Bildung and Liberalism: The Radical Jewish Revival in the Weimar Republic 31
3 'The Jew Within': The Myth of 'Judaization' in Germany 45
4 Nietzsche, Anti-Semitism and Mass Murder 69
5 The German-Jewish Dialogue at its Limits: The Case of Hermann Broch and Volkmar von Zuehlsdorff 85
6 Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers: Friendship, Catastrophe and the Possibilities of German-Jewish Dialogue 97
7 Small Forays, Grand Theories and Deep Origins: Current Trends in the Historiography of the Holocaust 115
Notes and References 136
Index 206
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