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Geller, book cover

Life After Genocide in Germany: How Jewish Life Continued to Progress

Book Essay on: Jay Howard Geller, Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany: 1945-1953:
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 296 pages. UCSB: DS135.G332 G39 2005

by Raquel Abrahamian
December 5, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Raquel Abrahamian

I am a senior history major who has always been interested in post WWII history in Europe. I have been to Europe and discovered the fascinating histories of these countries and its people. The reason I have chosen this topic is because I am interested in the dynamics of certain groups of peoples and struggles they have overcome

Abstract (back to top)

Jews in Germany realized that in order to grow as a group, they needed to band together to make a stronger unit against fighting opposition. Jay Howard Geller concentrates his topic on the political and economic structures of Jews in Germany after the Holocaust. Eastern European Jews and German Jews needed to overcome their differences in opinion and create an organization that was capable of handling any future complications. Although, many Jews felt that Germany could no longer be a good home to them, they moved to the new state of Israel. Those who opted to stay in their familiar homes, found that getting back to normalcy needed more effort than excepted. While reparations and fighting for equal rights came at different times, life continued to progress regardless of any racial suppression. The European Jews and the German Jews gathered organizations to help lead their cause, but the process took longer than they had anticipated and realized the road to justice would be a harder fight.

Essay (back to top)

Jay Howard Geller tells about the lives and struggles of Jews in post Holocaust Germany by focusing on the political and economic structures of German-Jewish life. Geller discusses the organizations being formed in both Germany and the world in order to create unity and cooperation. Strong Jewish leaders believed that in order to gain momentum and progress, the Eastern European Jews and the German Jews needed to band together to assemble a strong voice. After the formation of Israel in 1947, it was assumed that all displaced persons would flock to Israel and abandon their homes in Germany. This proved to be a false expectation, since many Jews in Germany felt it was their home and they needed to gain status and acceptance in their country regardless of the Anti-Semitism and repression they would have to face. Geller focuses his attention on the idea of unity and its challenges. His thoughts are well organized and clear, however, more detail on social life would have made his book more complete. Some survivors of the Holocaust wished to attempt to thrive in Germany, while others were in search of something new, but both knew that in order to gain respect and equality, they would have to work together. Jews in Germany for a while struggled to come together. The groups they formed with the proper leadership meant that they would be able to gain reparations and eventually equal rights as other Germans. The time in order to gain equality and acceptance on the other hand was longer than they had axpecteed and it took many different strategies to get there.

The German government in the 1930s began to remove Jews from jobs, organizations and even removed them from office. As they were being booted out the German economy, their children were being denied a proper education or medical care from any public school or hospitals. They were considered the lowest of the social class in Germany and to the members of the Nazi party it meant that it was time for extermination. However, those who did survive the Holocaust were determined to improve their lives. Most chose to leave Germany in search of a fresh start. A majority moved to Palestine and the United States. Many “displaced persons” chose to live in the American or British zones of occupation in Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany was formed in order to be the voice for Jewish rights in Germany after World War II. This group also served as a voice for German Jews throughout the rest of the world. In East Germany, the State Association of Jewish Communities held ties with German leaders and served as a contrast to Jewish rights in the West. The immediate goal in returning to Germany, as a survivor, was to create new Jewish communities and religious organizations. In 1951 Konrad Adenauer began to address the issues of reparations, which led to reparations being given to Israel in September of 1951. As Geller points out in his book, the issues the Jews faced were fundamentally an issue of lack of unity and cohesion. Geller discusses how Jews in the West moved slightly more quickly than the East because of their use of organizations. As a result, Jewish leaders in the West had more power to work with politicians and gain reparations as a form of compensation from the government. Reviewer Richard S. Levy points out, he expresses his fondness towards the author's clear narration of the restoration of Jewish life in Germany. Other reviews echo to this statement, which claim that although his book focuses more on Western German organizations, it gives a clear view of the changes attempted by the Jews in Germany after the Holocaust. The book focuses on organizations, unity and social intolerance in place in Germany. His view is more politically based instead of socially, however it discusses the larger factors and events that took place in order to change history.

In 1933, the Nazi regime had begun disbanding the Jewish people in Germany from their jobs and social positions. Laws such as the Aryan Paragraphs removed Jews from high-ranking positions as doctors and lawyers. They banned Jews from governmental positions and removed them from office. They were replaced by “Aryan” workers who stepped in to fill the positions regardless of their education or skill. The Anti-Semitic laws continued to aggravate tensions between the Jewish community and the government. Anti-Jewish propaganda was posted throughout the cities in shops and markets promoting the hatred of Jews. Jewish life and society was no longer safe from annihilation. As the genocide began, Jewish life became of the lowest standard and respect. Their racial status amongst the German population began the separation of the Jews from Aryan life. The book states that historians refer to this moment in history as “the war against the Jews”. After the war, non-Jewish Germans interpreted the past differently from Jewish Germans, which reflected how Germany was viewed internationally and domestically. Both the East and the West had difficulty in trying to integrate Jews back into the German society without injustice or upheaval. Reparations were a dilemma for politicians on how to deal with victimization and renew faith in society. In the West, many Germans also categorized themselves as “victims” of the Nazi regime in order to gain monetary support or gain sympathy towards sometime they wish to disassociate themselves from. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer worked with Israeli diplomats and the World Jewish Congress to develop a proper system for Jews living in Germany. In the East, the Germans were less tolerant of the idea of victimization and downplayed many issues that needed to be resolved for Jewish equality. Jewish political organizations flourished in the Western occupation zones. The Jewish Relief Unit worked with the World Jewish Congress to implement tasks or goals needed in the Jewish community. They dealt with issues of immigration, political struggles and work

After 1945: Most survivors of the holocaust chose to relocate themselves to different countries to start a new. They felt a need to disassociate themselves from a state that caused them anguish. They felt a stronger attachment to their religion than to their country that attempted to exterminate them. Many Jews in East Germany after 1945 weren't as active in the Jewish community as were those in the West. The close cooperation between Jewish organizational leaders and politicians in Germany seemed to have a rocky start, but by the mid 1950s they worked together to create a balance that was suitable for both sides. However, in the world's view, it seemed unnatural for Jews to remain in Germany. They felt it was detrimental to the development of their communal goals. The World Jewish Congress urged displaced persons (DPs) to relocate to the newly formed Israel, but many urged to stay and help the Jewish community attempt to thrive in Germany. Anti-Semitism was still apparent in Germany. The Jews were being supported by many new politicians that worked with them to reverse any oppression against the community. There continued to be political help given to the community, but conditions like schools and labor were still poor. The hope of Jews to prosper in Germany after it being a controversial issue seemed to dwindle.

Soon it was understood that in order to create change, it was vital that all Jews came together as a unit to gain support. They formed a representative collection that was an all-German group called the Working Alliance of Jewish Communities in Germany. Their main concern became about compensations and not immediately on social or economic issues. The idea was that in order to thrive as a community they needed to gain monetary power. This didn't get them the immediate changes they were hoping for. The development of Jewish life in Germany was a slow process that required social acceptance and communal collaboration. Some German-Jews could no longer tolerate conditions and decided to leave to Israel after the agreement of reparations being given to the newly developed country. Others married into non-Jewish German families and cut off ties to their religion. They chose to lead “normal” lives just as one would in Germany had they not been a minority group. Social tensions continued between non-Jews and Germans who no longer tolerated of the idea of “victimization”. They no longer felt it was a viable excuse to gain special treatment from the government or from politicians. In 1948, the Joint Distribution Committee offered to care for the Jews not immediately planning to leave Germany. The tensions between the American Zone and the creation of a new Palestine made things difficult especially after the U.N. vote. Israel was determined to welcome as many displaced persons as possible during this time. American involvement soon began to dwindle as their focus and policies shifter to help only Jews left in Germany and not all displaced persons. Although, the United States began to pull away from Jewish affairs, they still continued to fund reparations. Laws still needed to be altered to include Jews in voting rights and political and economic equality as those of any German.

By the 1950s, Jews on both sides of Germany wanted to unite, but it was still too difficult. The World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee tried to step in to help mediate both sides. In the East, progress seemed slower. The SED leaders were very Anti Semitic and were uninterested in the Jews claiming victimization. They felt that they owed nothing to the group and felt that they shouldn't be treated differently because of their religion or ethnicity. The SED was struggling to maintain a national ideology and felt that by giving in to Jewish demands it would interfere with their socialist agenda. The Soviets had to approve all organizations under their occupation, which meant that many Jewish groups were not allowed to form or operate under them. This created division in the Jewish community in the East because they had no common unite. By being banned from proper communication and structure, the plan to flourish and progress moved at a glacial pace.

Life didn't change drastically throughout the years of occupation in Germany. Slow changes were being implemented. The World Jewish Council and other committees in Germany were vital in creating change for the Jewish people. The West progressed more quickly than the East due to restrictions by the Soviets. Both sides, continued to suffer Anti Semitism. Geller does mention that Jewish life returned to Germany eventually. Regardless of tensions between the German Jews and Jewish displaced persons in Western Germany, the scattered Jewish communities were able to unify after the formation of Israel. The Central Council of Jews in Germany grew to become a very popular body, which played a critical role in the progress of Jewish life in Germany after the Holocaust. German Jews were excluded from many outside Jewish organizations, so the expansion of the council in Germany meant that they could be involved in the development of change.

Levy, Richard S. “Europe: Early Modern and Modern”. Rev. of Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany by Jay Howard Geller. The American Historical Review Vol. 111, Issue 1

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)

Book Reviews

  • Gerstenfeld, Dr. Manfred. “The Reconstitution of Postwar German Jewry”. Rev. of Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany by Jay Howard Geller. Jewish Political Studies Review Vol. 18, 1-2. 2006.
    Gerstenfeld gives a good review to Geller because of the theme of the book, which is the relationship between Eastern European Jews and German Jews. Gerstenfeld gives a thorough summary of the book and acknowledges the important points of Jewish organizations and restitution.
  • Levy, Richard S. “Europe: Early Modern and Modern”. Rev. of Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany by Jay Howard Geller. The American Historical Review Vol. 111, Issue 1. 2006.
    Richard Levy reviews Geller's book as a well constructed analysis of history during this time. His fair review discusses Geller's description of the organizations and political parties that were against a Jewish presence in Germany. He also notices in the book the emphasis of reparations and the struggle against continued fascist racism.
  • McLellan, Josie. Rev. of Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany by Jay Howard Geller. The Journal of Modern History Vol. 79. 219-221. 2007
    When reviewing Geller's work, McLellan points out some good points the Geller makes about Jews in West Germany, He also notices that Geller is much more comfortable talking about the West than the East. McLellan also points out that Geller structures the topic very clearly and notes that Geller's book is helpful in understanding German-Jewish life after the Holocaust.
  • Timm, Angelika. Rev. of Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany by Jay Howard Geller. Holocaust and Genocide Studies Vol. 21. 1. 2007
    Angelika Timm discusses the strong points of the book such as the Jewish organizations and their relations to German political groups. She also points out his clarity in organization and detail. She also talks about how Geller is one of the first historians to point out the relationship between Jewish community leaders and German Politicians.


  • Geller, Jay Howard. Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany: 1945-1953. Cambridge University Press. New York. 2005.
    Jay Howard Geller is a respectable professor and the University of Tulsa. This book gives a detailed overview on the Jewish political groups that formed in Germany after the Holocaust. He discusses life after World War II and the obstacles that they needed to overcome in order to progress into equal members of society in Germany. This scholarly recap of the systems in place and the long process of change is intended to be read by scholars and well educated lovers of Jewish and European History.
  • Bodemann, Y. Michael. Jews, Germans, Memory: Reconstruction of Jewish Life in Germany, University of Michigan Press, Michigan.1996
    This book discusses how leadership in relation to German politics helped influence the growth of Jews in Germany. He also talks about social reconstruction and how the development of Israel helped shape Jewish culture in both Eastern Europe and Germany.
  • Brenner Michael, After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany. Princeton University Press 1999. 208 pages.
    This book covers a more psychological and emotional process of Jewish lives in Germany after the Holocaust. Their everyday lives and the struggle to get back to normalcy is a stronger topic than of organizations or systems in place to create change. [133c review by S. Sadighi]

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/14/08; last updated:
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