This examination of in-group identity issues and the essence and unique development of Germans' national identity has direct relevance for those who seek an answer to the question - Why were the Germans of all people the perpetrators of the Holocaust? The answer lies in a 'triangle' of the fateful encounter of Germans and their problematic historical development, Nazi race theory, and the success of German Jewry. The author focuses on weaknesses in German identity which led to the attraction of a blood-based race theory as a national ethos - a narrative of German racial superiority which was invalidated by the very presence and prominence of Jews in German culture and society. Eliminating this 'affront' was an existential issue for Germans that impelled a Judenrein Europe - whether by expulsion or extermination. Such a linkage has been overlooked because scholars have concentrated on the Holocaust as a Jewish experience, not a German one.
In elucidating fundamental differences between anti-Semitism and race-theory, ethnicity and nationhood, and Nazi race theory and other manifestations of European racism, Yehuda Cohen brings to the surface underlying reasons for the phenomenal attraction of Germans to race theory. Covering new ground, comparison of the pattern of German development with the path taken by other nationalities reveals German-specific motifs that weakened German national development - first and foremost the lack of an ancient national all-German heritage. This and other under-researched facets of the German experience prevented German-speaking people from forming a shared national identity. The author's thought-provoking conclusion is that with the exception of the Nazi period, Germans have never been a nation, only an ethnicity. Only a German (Nazi) race theory provided Germans with a venerable history and vision of Oneness around which an Aryan national ethos very briefly coalesced into a genuine shared national identity.
In conclusion, the author sets out how the European Union's vision of an overarching 'European nationality' provides a constructive solution for Germans' identity conflicts: it is a framework that also, ironically, supports an innate German drive to dominate the European sphere, albeit now through economic clout - a dominance never achieved by Bismarck or Hitler.
Yehuda Cohen is a Jerusalem advocate whose post-doctoral work at the Political Science Department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem focused on nationalism and the European Union. He is the author of two previous works - Who's Afraid of a Jewish State? Constitutional and Ideological Aspects (2001), and Why Religion? (2003), a study of the role of religion and nationality.