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Reviving a Jewish Icon of German Democracy, Assassinated by Far Right Antisemites

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A hundred years ago, on June 24, 1922, Walther Rathenau – Germany's first and only Jewish foreign minister – was assassinated by far-right nationalists who believed him to be one of the 300 Elders of Zion, plotting to take over the world.

After only five months in office, Rathenau was a figure of international standing: a liberal Jewish industrialist, who had just negotiated the Rapallo Pact with Soviet Russia as a first step towards re-integrating Germany into the family of nations.

The aftermath of World War I was an era marked by revolution, civil war and the uncompromising political extremism of both left and right. Nevertheless, contemporaries recognized Rathenau’s murder as a seismic international event which, in retrospect, came to symbolize the fragility of the Weimar Republic.

Rathenau had never been a popular figure. He was, instead, a rarefied intellectual born into great wealth, as the son of the founder of the electricity giant AEG. Before 1914, he had been yet another exceptional Jew unable to progress his political career in the hostile environment of Wilhelmine Germany: a man who began by calling for assimilation, but later took a different tack, asserting in 1911 that, before long, the German state would need to deploy all of its moral and intellectual resources – including, of course, of its Jewish citizens.

His own career seemed to bear out that prediction. Barred in his youth from serving as a Prussian reserve officer, Rathenau had been a lynch pin of the German war effort. When appointed foreign minister, he famously refused to comply with the standard request to state his religious affiliation, noting: "This question does not conform to the constitution." As the author of the wartime bestseller, "Of Things to........

© Haaretz

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