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Bismarck, Antisemitism and the Tragedy of German Jewry

Making History: Archives, Artefacts and Interpreting the Past - Lecture Series in partnership with the Wiener Library

Event Information

26th May, 2011
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Room B04, 43 Gordon Square, Birkbeck, University of London, Bloomsbury, London WC1
Jonathan Steinberg, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Modern European History, University of Pennsylvania

Drawing on his authoritative new biography, Bismarck: A Life, Professor Steinberg will shed new light on the man he describes as, “the most remarkable figure of the 19th century….a political genius who combined creative and destructive traits, generosity and pettiness, tolerance and ferocious enmity…”. Steinberg’s biography is the first to make antisemitism a central stand of the Bismarck story.

What the critics say: “The best study of its subject in the English Language.” Henry Kissinger, New York Times Book Review;  “Magnificent new biography” Tim Blanning, Literary Journal;  “Steinberg has an eye for details…and a talent for reconstructing the political drama of the period…” David Blackbourn, The Guardian.

Jonathan Steinberg will argue that Bismarck staged the first act of the ‘tragedy of German Jewry’. Steinberg argues that not only did antisemitism have deep roots in the aristocratic class from which Bismarck came, but also that Bismarck used it when it suited his politics. The first modern depression hit Germany in 1873 and Jews as prominent bankers took the blame. Bismarck abandoned his Liberal allies and after 1878 set out to destroy them by crushing the Jews in their leadership. He allowed a wave of antisemitism to spread and watched as the Prussian parliament had its infamous ‘Jew Debate’ in 1880 – the first time the unified Germany declared that Jews were not real Germans.

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