German Jewry and the Crisis: Economic Committee of Federation of Jewish Communities Hears Report on
Menu JTA Search

German Jewry and the Crisis: Economic Committee of Federation of Jewish Communities Hears Report on

Download PDF for this date

The Economic Committee of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Prussia has held a special meeting here in order to consider the question of the growing economic distress among the Jews of Germany, and to discuss methods of alleviating the distress. Herr Georg Tietz, the head of the big Tietz chain-stores; Dr. Alfred Wiener; Dr. Ludwig Hollaender; Rabbi Dr. Galliner; Professor Dr. Eugen Mittwoch; Herr Alfred Berger; Herr S. Adler-Rudel; Herr Wilhelm Marcus; Judge Dr. Teitel; Dr. A. Singalowsky; Dr. Mark Wischnitzer; Dr. Moses Waldman; Dr. Ollendorff, and other well-known authorities on Jewish economic life took part in the discussion.

Herr Georg Tietz said that he did not believe that the men at the head of the big concerns could point to new ways. Our Jewish power of adaptability has declined, he said, and we have become “conservative” to a disquietening extent. The Jews ought rather to strive for a higher average, he thought, than to attain the topmost positions. We must learn again how to fight for our successes, he urged, and we must always keep in mind the great point that our future lies not in a return to the ghetto, but in taking our place as a vital element in German economic life as a whole, in spite of the opposition of the antisemites.

Herr Alfred Berger drew attention to the close association between the economic question and the political situation, and also the similarity of the situation of German Jewry and that of Polish Jewry at the present moment. In both countries the Jews could hardly look to the big Jewish leaders in economic life as an asset. A Jew who had succeeded in finding employment in an atmosphere of boycott and ill-will could not keep his job for very long. One small slip and his faults are presented in a magnified form to the Jewish industrial magnate. The subordinates in such cases are all-powerful. He thought their best work lay in the development of the system of Jewish employment bureaus, and to make German Jewry aware of its real position.

Herr Marcus said that in his opinion they had to tell German Jewry to think back to what the position was a hundred years ago, to recall the modest beginnings, to accustom themselves to a lower standard of life. The Jews of America and the Western European countries ought to be approached for help to enable German Jews to be trained in productive occupations and should be made to realise that their fate, too, is sealed if German Jewry break up.


Dr. Bruno Voyda, who was in the chair, said that he wanted to emphasise that the fate of German Jewry is indissolubly bound up with the general fate of Germany as a whole. All the same, we have a right, he went on, to consider our special position as Jews, and to try to influence it as far as possible. But the great thing in this discussion, he said, is that it should turn less on theory and more on practical application.

State Secretary Professor Julius Hirsch, who delivered a long address to the meeting, said that the general economic situation in Germany was very similar to that which had obtained at the end of the inflation period, only now there was a crisis also outside Germany, all over the world. The Jewish crisis was world-wide and largely due to the close association of Jewish economic life almost everywhere with the credit system, whose collapse had meant also the collapse of the Jewish economic position, and the uprooting of large circles of the Jewish population, while the increase and the brutalisation of antisemitism had made the situation still more acute.

The extent of the crisis in German Jewry was seen in the fact that in addition to the large number of Jews who were unemployed or had been displaced from their economic positions, they had about 10,000 young Jewish people each year, the new generation, seeking admission into economic life, who could find no openings.

Another factor in the crisis, Professor Hirsch said, was that a third of all the German Jews live in Berlin, that the great majority of them live in the cities, and that more than half the German Jews are engaged in banking and trading, and in trading, too, they concentrated mainly in the textile trade. Another thing is that Jews are their own masters, conducting large or small concerns, to an extent utterly unwarranted on the ground of averages.

The general tendency of economic life nowadays is in the direction of a decline of agriculture, Professor Hirsch proceeded, and the result of this is to stimulate the development of agricultural co-operatives, both for buying and selling, eliminating the trader. Taken together with the new moratorium, this was breaking up the Jewish small communities in the small towns and villages. In the cities, too, big concerns have been established, which have hit hard the Jewish trading population. The big Jewish industrialists and commercial magnates in Germany were fast disappearing, and great numbers of Jews were feeling the effect in the rapid growth of Jewish pauperisation in the country.


Professor Hirsch submitted to the meeting four cardinal points of activity: (1) the maintenance of the economic foundations of Jewish life; (2) a determined movement to direct Jewish labour into such branches of activity into which Jews have hither to failed to penetrate; (3) the systematic development of employment exchanges in as many fields of labour as possible, and (4) the establishment of a research office to deal with Jewish economic questions.

With regard to point 1, Professor Hirsch said that they had to organise an effective resistance to the boycott movements, especially by means of legal defence. In the matter of credit-aid, they should see that when these institutions are taken over by the public authorities the needs of the Jewish population should not be overlooked.

In regard to point 2, he complained that Jews are unequally distributed in the various branches of trading. Very few Jews were to be found in groceries, in chemist shops, or in the co-operative movement, and there were also very few Jews in radio, or automobile trading, or in the growing chain-stores industry.

In wholesale trading, too, there were new branches developing, like the supply of artificial manure, building materials, the running of big motor-traffic systems, and in the talkie industry.


Artisanship and craftsmanship also had a big future still before them, Professor Hirsch said. People had not thought of the dynamo when they had predicted their disappearance. With the aid of the dynamo many small artisans were able to run small workshops even under the most advanced conditions. There was too much of the ghetto tendency among Jews entering the liberal professions, Professor Hirsch complained. Jews concentrated too much in particular professions and ignored the others. They should make a greater effort to enter the civil service, although he recognised that its routine character made it unpalatable to the individualist mind of the Jew.

Jews should also utilise the land settlement opportunities offered by the State, he said, but they should not sink any large sums of money into land settlement.

With regard to point 3, he urged the need of a regrouping of Jewish economic life by adding agricultural production to trading. In this connection, they should as far as possible, utilise the foreign relief funds, especially those of the still very powerful United States of America.

With regard to point 4, Professor Hirsch warned the gathering against entertaining illusions. More important than the research institutes was the contact with the big leaders of economic life. The Jewish economic question was largely a question of leaders and leadership, and they must have close collaboration in this matter. The Federation of Jewish Communities could do a great deal, he thought, by setting up special advisory committees, which would be responsible for such regrouping of Jewish economic life, would secure the necessary capital and credit-aid funds, and would extend the fields of Jewish economic endeavour and conduct a systematic investigation to find new economic possibilities.

The increasing distress in Germany and in German Jewry, Professor Hirsch concluded, compels us to embark on a policy of far-reaching co-operation and concentration in all-embracing organisations. The German Jews, he said, must stand united and look far ahead if they want to alleviate the Jewish distress in Germany.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund