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Review of Michael Brenner’s In Hitler’s Munich — Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism: Lessons from Nazi Germany

In Hitler’s Munich — Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism by Michael Brenner.

In Hitler’s Munich — Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism by Michael Brenner. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement.

In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism, Michael Brenner, the distinguished German Jewish historian, provides important lessons which might help thwart the ongoing collapse of democracies across the world. In many countries, liberal democracy is evolving into totalitarianism, and unbridled racism is leading to the rise of a political elite making way for populist demagogues.

Drawing on previously unknown documents, Brenner puts Munich under the scanner, and reveals how a cosmopolitan city became, in the words of Thomas Mann, “the city of Hitler.” It is surprising that what took place in Munich and Nazi Germany is repeating itself in many cities which deem themselves to be egalitarian.

Nazism began with the protests led by the Jews of Munich

It is a known fact of history that the road to Nazism began with the protests led by the Jews of Munich, along with minorities and other individuals with left leanings against the rise of right-wing politics. The right-wing responded by initiating physical attacks on Jews as well as by destroying their synagogues.

The conservative government of Bavaria systematically identified Jews with left-wing radicalism and spearheaded racist attacks on the basis of religion, thereby setting up a fertile breeding ground for the establishment of Nazism and an anti-Semitic ideology. The Jewish revolutionaries were the reason why Hitler became a national socialist.

In a stirring account, Brenner shows how Hitler’s return to the Bavarian capital of Munich became an opportunity to test Nazism, facilitated especially by his followers consisting of the fringe elements who terrorised the Jews with the full backing of the political leadership, the law and order machinery and the compliant public. Munich thus metamorphosed from a liberal diverse society into a city of discrimination and violence.

After the humiliating defeat of World War I conservative nationalists looked for the enemy within, resulting in the targeting of Jews who ironically were the much-lauded entrepreneurs. Interestingly, they had introduced the Lowenbrau beer while their culinary art was widely relished by the Germans. Sadly, the peaceful atmosphere changed overnight. From being integral to the Bavarian economy and culture, Jews became the evil outsiders who needed to be ruthlessly put down.

The Reich government pass the Enabling Act of 1933 to bypass parliament

The hopes of turning Bavaria into a socialist republic in 1919 did not gain favour with the right-wing leadership. Many Jewish rebels who stood for liberalism, like Kurt Eisner, the first ever Jewish Prime Minister of a German state, and his colleague, Gustav Landauer, were executed in 1919 on the grounds of being “perfidious” and “back stabbers”.

The Reich government would soon pass the Enabling Act of 1933 that gave tyrannical powers to the governing party to bypass parliament. This legislation gave the underlying impetus to Nazism thereby buttressing its narrative of challenging a “Jewish-Bolshevik global conspiracy.”

With a Nazi police head in place in the 1920s, anti-Jewish atrocities had already begun before Hitler’s arrival in Munich. The horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen were around the corner.

The book is a timely lesson on how it’s imperative to shake up people gullible enough to fall into the trap of manufactured lies and give their unequivocal allegiance to forces that silently work towards genocidal politics and the weakening of the fabric of constitutional democracy. As democracies are imperilled, Brenner’s relevant account of the anti-Semitic discourse that underpinned the early years of Hitler’s quest for power becomes a wake-up call.

In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, the Revolution and the Rise of Nazism; Michael Brenner, translated by Jeremiah Riemer, Princeton University Press, £28.

The reviewer has taught cultural theory at Panjab University.


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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 9:53:47 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/michael-brenners-in-hitlers-munich-jews-the-revolution-and-the-rise-of-nazism-review-lessons-from-nazi-germany/article65500165.ece