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Nazi tyranny’s origins |

Nazi tyranny’s origins

A stone outside the house in which Adolf Hitler was born has the inscription, 'For peace, freedom and democracy, never again fascism, millions of dead are a warning.' (Reuters)

A 1980 German guidebook to Berlin by Karl Voss states that “the history of literature in Berlin begins on an autumn day in 1743 when a fourteen-year-old Talmudic student named Mendelssohn entered the city through the gate reserved for Jews and cattle.”

“Only a limited number of rich Jews (and, occasionally, a scholar) were allowed to settle in Berlin,” explains Amos Elon in “The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933,” his 2002 book. “In 1743,” 146 years before Adolf Hitler’s birth, reports Elon, “the movements of Jews — many of whom were wandering peddlers — were tightly regulated and controlled.” The Berlin gatekeeper’s task, writes Elon, was to “stop and register all incoming Jews, keep an eye on them during their stay, and expel the foreign ones” as soon as possible.

Elon writes, “The gatekeeper’s surviving log for 1743, the year Mendelssohn trudged through the Rosenthal Gate, includes this information: ‘Today there passed six oxen, seven swine, and a Jew.’” Decades later, the poor, frail 14-year-old with a badly hunched back and awkward stutter who was interrogated about his purpose for entering Berlin had become famous throughout Europe as German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. This “philologist, stylist, literary critic, and man of letters,” explains Elon, was “one of the first to bridge the social and cultural barriers between Jews and other Germans.”

In 1850, the German empire’s leading state, Prussia, with Berlin as its capital, had a new constitution. Under it, “Jews would continue to be barred from high positions in government, the judiciary, universities, and state schools,” reports Elon. “With few exceptions, these restrictions were reinstated elsewhere in Germany too, at least until 1868, when the state of Baden appointed Moritz Ellstatter minister of finance … .” He “was the first and, until 1918, the only unconverted Jew appointed a cabinet minister anywhere in Germany.”

It was not until 1874 that German law permitted civil marriages between Christians and Jews. Five years later, Elon explains, virulent anti-Semitism was widely legitimized when leading Prussian historian Heinrich von Treitschke “brought the wisdom of the beer cellars” — in the words of leading 19th-century Jewish historian Heinrich Graetz — “to the rostrum of a great university.” Treitschke, reports Elon, “welcomed the ‘amazing, powerful excitement’ that was finally moving ‘the deep recesses of our national life. … Even among men of the highest culture inclined to reject national arrogance or religious intolerance,” Treitschke stated, “‘the cry is everywhere the same: the Jews are our misfortune.’” Treitschke warned that “the most dangerous of all is the unfair dominance that the Jews exert in the daily press.”

Subsequently, Germany’s Jews were blamed for its World War I defeat and associated territorial losses, and likewise falsely held responsible for the Great Depression’s devastating impact on 1930s Weimar Germany.

On Jan. 30, 1933, Hitler, a product of the aforesaid past, was appointed chancellor by German President Paul Von Hindenburg.

Ralph R. Reiland is associate professor of economics emeritus at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (

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