Historian Julius Schoeps turns 80: A life marked by integration – knowledge

In the early 1990s, when Julius H. Schoeps moved to Potsdam from Duisburg to assist start the new university, he noticed a sign on a building that read, “Foreigners in, Rhinelanders out!” At the moment, the historian and political scientist, who will turn 80 on June 1st, was preoccupied with this. After all, he had come from the West to assist in the establishment of a new institution in the East. Schoeps, on the other hand, did not take the remark personally, but rather saw it as a sign of change, as a scientist would.

Integration was crucial to Schoeps, both his own in a new setting and that of the former GDR personnel at the newly created institution, in contrast to hardliners who suspected Stasi participation everywhere. Schoeps stands for oneness in social things, respecting the life pathways of his fellow human beings, as much as he prefers to polarize in technical matters.

The history of the German-Jewish friendship is highlighted.

Integration issues were also a hot topic at Schoeps’ Moses Mendelssohn Center for European Jewish Studies (MMZ), which he established in 1992. The focus was on the German-Jewish relationship’s history.

Julius H. Schoeps, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Potsdam, retired 15 years ago.

Andreas Klaer/Flickr

Schoeps, who was born in exile in Sweden in 1942, was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit two years ago for his contributions to the reconciliation of Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. In 1948, he returned to Germany with his father, religious philosopher and historian Hans-Joachim Schoeps, who identified as a Prussian.

In retrospect, he thought it was only natural that he, as a descendant of a family persecuted during the Holocaust, should remain in the country where the criminals were. Where else could he have devoted himself to his life’s work, the history of Jewish-non-Jewish and Jewish-Christian relations? In a country where many criminals were still in command of institutions until the following generation raised rebellious, unpleasant questions and old Nazi incrustations burst open in the late 1960s, the next generation asked rebellious, uncomfortable questions.

Schoeps, who was a student at the time, initially believed that another, more enlightened country was on the horizon. Today, he must admit, if reluctantly, that anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism appear to be ingrained in the brains of Germans. He certified a few years ago that the population had 20% visible anti-Semitism and 30% latent anti-Semitism.

Citizens of the Federal Republic who identify as Jews

He describes himself as a Federal Republic citizen with a Jewish identity who has been formed by the Protestant environment: “One who feels and thinks German.” He does not regard himself as a German and a Jew, but rather as a “German Jew,” as his autobiography’s title suggests. Moving to Berlin-Brandenburg in the early 1990s felt like a homecoming for him. He, who was descended from the former Prussian Mendelssohn-Bartholdy family, came full circle in Potsdam and Berlin. He was able to build a research center carrying his name, which today also focuses on right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism, as a distant descendent of the German-Jewish philosopher and enlightener Moses Mendelssohn.

Moses Mendelssohn, the philosopher and enlightener, is one of Julius H. Schoeps’ ancestors.

Manfred Thomas is pictured here.

Julius H. Schoeps is regarded as a legendary figure in German-Jewish history. A scientist who isn’t afraid to issue warnings and criticism. When it came to the question of who was responsible for National Socialism, he emphasized that it was not a small clique around Hitler who had invaded Germany overnight, but a broad current in German society, which included nationalist-minded circles of the German Empire and Martin Luther’s and Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism. The historian stressed that there was never a zero hour after the war, alluding to the many former soldiers who swiftly returned to significant posts.

Schoeps isn’t hesitant to ask difficult questions or poke a wound with his finger. He stated that anti-Semitism appears to remain “an intrinsic element of German culture” as anti-Semitism has become increasingly evident in recent years. Anti-Semitic stereotypes would shape German thinking until the end of the war. He likewise sees no normalcy in the German-Jewish connection in this regard. “Anomaly is normal,” he declared in an interview with the Daily Mirror a few years ago.

Enlightenment, too, has its bounds.

Anti-Semitism is still a difficult enemy to combat. In recent years, Julius H. Schoeps has expressed reservations about this. All efforts must be focused on education. Even if there are limitations, such as the fact that many individuals are content with their preconceptions and do not wish to be free of them. “It’s a battle of the windmills.” Democracy and the rule of law, according to Schoeps, must be preserved and fought for at all times.

The scientist, who aspired to be an actor and is an avid flâneur, has a set of life rules. For instance, the knowledge that anything is possible at any moment and in any place. But his ancestor Moses Mendelssohn’s words affected him: “Search for truth, adore beauty, wish good, do the best.” The right of peoples to self-determination, according to him, extends here without exception. The Ukrainian people, not the Russian president, should determine whether or not they wish to join the EU and NATO.

By Editor

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