Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Reviews: Modern Jewish History and Culture

Nils Roemer, German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010. x, 316 pp.
John M. Efron (2011).

AJS Review, Volume 35,
Issue 02, November 2011 pp 433-436

Since the end of World War II, German Jewish historiography has tended to be Berlinocentric. This is understandable, as Berlin was home to Germany's largest Jewish community, and many members of the founding postwar generation of German Jewish historians either came from there or had family ties to it. One consequence of this focus is that there have been few English-language local histories of Jewish communities other than that of the imperial capital. Nils Roemer's German City, Jewish Memory: The Story of Worms runs counter to this trend and constitutes a genuine breakthrough in our approach to the German Jewish past.
Roemer's focus is on the tension between popular history and memory in Worms, one of the founding communities of Ashkenazic Jewry. Beginning with the First Crusade and continuing as such today, Worms is remembered as a site of horrendous violence, the resting place of pious Jewish martyrs, and a great Jewish intellectual center. Rather than merely telling this story, Roemer brilliantly examines the way Worms was celebrated and remembered from the Middle Ages on. The book is divided into discrete periods—the medieval, the early modern, the modern, the Nazi period, and the postwar era. Each succeeding stage saw how the memories and rituals commemorating Worms became increasingly complex and elaborate.

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