The End of German-Jewish Life: Ostjuden as a Metaphor for All Jews
Anti-Semitism escalated in the post-war climate of inflation and unemployment. Fears of invasion by East European Jews resurfaced in the Weimar Republic, and the Ostjudenfrage came to symbolize the wider "Jewish question." Liberal German-Jewish intellectuals who remained committed to the fatherland were generally unable to acknowledge East European Jews as members of a shared nation.
Other German Jews grew more accepting of their eastern counterparts as they were confronted with the reality of German-Jewish incompatibility. The title of Joseph Roth's The Wandering Jews, which portrayed the plight of East European Jewish refugees in the wake of World War I, took on a new meaning following Hitler's Nuremberg Laws of 1935. In his preface to the second edition, Roth explained that the title no longer referred exclusively to the East European refugee but also to the German Jew, who was "more exposed and more homeless even than his cousin in Lodz." Having lost their civil rights, German Jews were either forced into exile or left homeless in their own land.
As the German public grew more unified in their hostility toward the Jews, few anti-Semites cared to distinguish between eastern and western Jews. The old image of the "alien" Ostjude became an all-encompassing metaphor that paved the way for the indiscriminate devastation of Jewish life throughout Europe.
(not illustrated) Joseph Roth (1894-1939). The Wandering Jews translated by Michael Hofmann. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.