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Jewish Lives Biography / Book on Walther Rathenau; German statesman Preview
January 3, 2012
256 P., 5.5" x 8.25"
978-0300144314

Walter Rathenau: The Life of Weimar's Fallen Statesman

by Shulamit Volkov

This deeply informed biography of Walther Rathenau (1867–1922) tells of a man who—both thoroughly German and unabashedly Jewish—rose to leadership in the German War-Ministry Department during the First World War, and later to the exalted position of foreign minister in the early days of the Weimar Republic. His achievement was unprecedented—no Jew in Germany had ever attained such high political rank.

But Rathenau's success was marked by tragedy: within months he was assassinated by right-wing extremists seeking to destroy the newly formed Republic.

Drawing on Rathenau's papers and on a depth of knowledge of both modern German and German-Jewish history, Shulamit Volkov creates a finely drawn portrait of this complex man who struggled with his Jewish identity and who treasured his "otherness." Volkov also places Rathenau in the dual context of Weimar Germany and of Berlin’s financial and intellectual elite. Above all, she illuminates the complex social and psychological milieu of German Jewry in the period before Hitler’s rise to power.

Feature Review: 

"An illuminating, thoroughly researched and sympathetic account of this intriguing, enigmatic life."
-- Wall Street Journal

"This is by far the best and most sophisticated life of Rathenau in English."--Richard Evans, London Review of Books

"An illuminating, thoroughly researched and sympathetic account of this intriguing, enigmatic life."--Ian Brunskill, Wall Street Journal

“In this remarkable biography, Shulamit Volkov offers a subtle analysis of Walther Rathenau's complex and often ambiguous personality. She describes admirably how Rathenau's always reaffirmed Jewishness increasingly became a target for the antisemitic elites of Imperial Germany and, notwithstanding his outstanding services to Germany, an object of fanatical hatred for the extreme Right under Weimar that led to his assassination. Shulamit Volkov's book is history at its best.”--Saul Friedlander

"Concise and revelatory." Sam Kerbel, The Forward Arty Semite Blog

"Well-researched and written...A fascinating introduction to an important, multifaceted early 20th-century figure." --Publishers Weekly

"Incisive and probing."--Martin Rubin, Washington Times

Shulamit Volkov

Shulamit Volkov

Shulamit Volkov is professor emerita of modern European history, Tel Aviv University. Her most recent book is Germans, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation. She lives in Herzliya, Israel.

See rare footage of Walther Rathenau at Cannes Conference in 1922, from Pathe News: Click on screen

Read Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech of the Walther Rathenau Prize and what she says about Rathenau CLICK HERE To see a video of Clinton receiving the prize (narration in German) CLICK HERE

Read one of Rathenau’s most famous literary works was Höre, Israel [Hear, O Israel], in which he rejected Zionism and encouraged German Jews to assimilate into German society. CLICK HERE

Listen to a talk about Walther Rathenau, given by Shulamit Volkov at the Cal Tech on November 11, 2011