Between Concern and Difference: German Jews and the Colonial 'Other' in South West Africa

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German Jews' involvement in the colonial venture of the Kaiserreich has remained almost untouched by historical research. While it has affirmed the dominance of the nation-state in outlining the Jews' civic status and identity, historiography has overlooked the implications of colonization on Jews' self-perception as Germans. This essay inquires into this perception by focusing on the Jews' ambiguous posture towards the colonial war in South West Africa and the massacre it inflicted on the Herero and the Nama. Jews objected to the excessive violence used against the indigenous population by the German army and responded vigorously against racist theories that imposed inferior racial status on black people in the colonies, and consequently on Jews in general. At the same time, when accused of lack of patriotism and of evading military service in the colonies-thus challenging their German national belonging-Jews presented the opposite position. They used concepts of difference to confirm their national German identity, as reflected by the purported disparity between them, as Germans and Europeans, and the local population in the colony. Moreover, Jews reasserted their participation in colonial conflicts, especially in the war against the Herero, the same war that brought about the locals' destruction. The objects of a strategy of difference on behalf of Germans, Jews themselves applied the same approach in relation to the Africans. The colonial episode therefore appears to be a test case for the formation of German Jews' identity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-60
Number of pages23
JournalGerman History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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