Weimar's Fallen Statesman
By Shulamit Volkov
(Yale University Press, Hardcover, 9780300144314, 256pp.)
Publication Date: January 2012
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This deeply informed biography of Walther Rathenau (1867–1922) tells of a man who—both thoroughly German and unabashedly Jewish—rose to leadership in the German War-Ministry Department during the First World War, and later to the exalted position of foreign minister in the early days of the Weimar Republic. His achievement was unprecedented—no Jew in Germany had ever attained such high political rank. But Rathenau’s success was marked by tragedy: within months he was assassinated by right-wing extremists seeking to destroy the newly formed Republic.
Drawing on Rathenau’s papers and on a depth of knowledge of both modern German and German-Jewish history, Shulamit Volkov creates a finely drawn portrait of this complex man who struggled with his Jewish identity yet treasured his “otherness.” Volkov also places Rathenau in the dual context of Imperial and Weimar Germany and of Berlin’s financial and intellectual elite. Above all, she illuminates the complex social and psychological milieu of German Jewry in the period before Hitler’s rise to power.
Shulamit Volkov is professor emerita of modern European history, Tel Aviv University. Her most recent book is Germans, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation. She lives in Herzliya, Israel.
"In this remarkable biography, Shulamit Volkov offers a subtle analysis of Walther Rathenau''s complex and often ambiguous personality. She describes admirably how Rathenau''s always-reaffirmed Jewishness increasingly became a target for the antisemitic elites of Imperial Germany and, notwithstanding his outstanding services to Germany, an object of fanatical hatred for the extreme Right under Weimar, which led to his assassination. Shulamit Volkov''s book is history at its best."—Saul Friedlander, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Nazi Germany and the Jews
"Volkov’s scholarship illuminates many sides of Rathenau’s personality. Her discussion of Rathenau’s Jewishness is informed, often moving, and absorbing as both personal and social history."—A. J. Sherman, Associate Fellow, St. Antony’s College, Oxford
-A. J. Sherman