Monday, April 18, 2011
Of Jews and Prussians
(Werner Klemperer was a German Jew, who fled the Nazis in his youth and went on to play the the Nazi Colonel Klink to comic hilarity in Hogan's Heroes. Apparently he got the job due to his ability to do an over the top Prussian Junker.)
When I first was accepted to Ohio State and came for orientation I managed to make my advisor rather nervous when, in response to a girl telling me that her family originated from Prussia, I responded jokingly by asking her if she kept a pair of jack-boots. In my defense I would point out that this girl, a historian no less, specifically mentioned Prussia, that small State in northern German that took over the rest of Germany in the nineteenth century, creating the modern German State, and not Germany. Prussian militarism is cute, inoffensive and therefore a legitimate subject of humor, particularly among professional historians, that small minority of the population who have actually heard of Prussia.
Jews and Prussians are not known for having much in common. Sure they both wear funny hats and are stiff, legalistic and wish to take over the world. Prussians were interested in literal global power, backed by their unique genius for building armies, the statecraft to support them and the international diplomacy to reap the benefits of their military. Jews are more interested in banks and Hollywood.
And then one reads the following about the eighteenth century Prussian court:
A visitor from Saxony who resided in Berlin for several months during 1723 recalled that the great festivities of the courtly season were held ‘according to the Jewish manner’ with the women separated from the men, and observed with surprise that there were many dinners at court at which no women appeared at all. (The Iron Kingdom kindle 1844-45.)
I must admit to finding this piece intriguing as evidence of European Jews segregating by gender at public events and not just during prayer services to the extent that such practices would be labeled as “Jewish” as opposed to say "Prussian."