From economic to political participation
The creation of a German state not only unified German markets, but also provided the political stability essential to sustained economic activity. The new single currency and commercial code, as well as the abolition of tax barriers on trade, lowered transaction costs for businesses and led to a boom during which thousands of new businesses were founded. Jews participated in these developments, from introducing the necessary legislation to establishing new firms.
Despite their increased political freedoms and growing affluence, however, the social standing of Jews remained ambiguous. Physical violence was no longer the norm in Imperial Germany or the Habsburg Monarchy, though periodic riots injured Jewish communities and destroyed their property. Business opportunities also opened a path to political engagement for the most prominent German Jewish businessmen. The price of inclusion was nevertheless high and often accompanied by antisemitic insults.
It was only after the Revolution of 1918 and the establishment of Germany’s first democracy that the remaining occupational restrictions for Jews were lifted. Although Imperial Germany formally granted Jews the right to serve the state, internal administrative rules had prevented Jews from serving as professors, judges, civil servants, postal workers, and officers in the army. In the Weimar Republic, all professions were open to Jews, even as informal discrimination persisted.
1933 and beyond
Philanthropy and social justice
Two brothers, Moses Marcus Warburg and Gerson Warburg, founded the M.M. Warburg & Co. banking company in 1798. The banking tradition was cultivated in the next generations. Moses’ grandsons thrived on two continents. Max Mortiz Warburg ran the Warburg Bank, located in Hamburg. He was actively involved in the Hamburg Jewish community and engaged in a variety of philanthropic ventures. Like Simon and the Rathenaus, Max was an advisor to the Kaiser, but later concluded there was no place for a Jewish banker in German politics. His brother, Fritz M. Warburg, who lived during the WWII in Sweden during WWII, organized Kinderstransport in 1938 and 1939. Abraham H. Warburg became a famous art historian and founder of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg (Library for Cultural Studies), a private library, later named the Warburg Institute, London. His brothers, Felix M. and Paul M. Warburg spent their careers predominantly in the United States. Felix became was a banker at Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Paul was appointed a member of the Federal Reserve Board in New York City in 1914. He became a driving force behind the establishment of an American centralized American bank, which proved essential to economic stability in the volatile interwar economy and in lowering capital costs for companies.
For more information about Glückel of Hameln see Shared History Project: https://sharedhistoryproject.org/object/hamburg-during-the-life-of-gluckel-of-hameln
Over time, Emperor Wilhelm II invited prominent Jewish businessmen, including James Simon, Max Warburg, and Emil and Walther Rathenau, to sit and discuss economic matters on a regular basis. They tried to use the access to power provided by their wealth to advocate for Germany’s Jews. But the Kaiser and his entourage, like most non-Jews, viewed them as uncouth parvenus. Many Jews, moreover, felt uncomfortable about the political power their wealth gave these businessmen.
From a Zionist perspective, attempts to curry favor with the Kaiser were doomed, since antisemitism prevented any real integration into German society and fostered open humiliation. Chaim Weitzman, who ultimately became the first president of Israel, famously captured this dilemma when he accused Simon, Warburg, and the Rathenaus of being Kaiserjuden – “the Emperor’s Jews,” a disdainful reference to the older phenomenon of “court Jews.”