When Democracy Died in Darkness: German-Jewish Responses to Hitler’s Rise

Nov 10, 2022  | 5:00 - 7:00 PM (ET)

36th Annual Lecture at GHI Washington | Speaker: Michael Brenner (American University/Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), Comment: Marion Kaplan (New York University)

In a letter to the Hebrew poet Hayim Nachman Bialik and the Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff, the German painter Max Liebermann wrote in June 1933: “Like a horrible nightmare the abrogation of equal rights weighs upon us all, but especially upon those Jews who, like me, had surrendered themselves to the dream of assimilation....As difficult as it has been for me, I have awakened from the dream that I dreamed my whole life long.”

This lecture addresses the different ways in which German Jews – Zionists, Liberals, Orthodox – awoke from their dream of being German citizens of the Jewish faith. What were their expectations of the new year 1933 and how did they react to the rapidly changing circumstances after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933? This lecture concentrates on the first three months of 1933 and encapsulates a broad variety of reactions, reaching from German nationalists to Orthodox and Zionists.

The German Historical Institute’s 36th Annual Lecture, will be an in-person event. Michael Brenner’s lecture will followed by a comment by Marion Kaplan and the event will be moderated by GHI’s Deputy Director Axel Jansen. A reception will follow the lecture.

About the Speakers


Michael Brenner is the Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and Director of American University’s Center for Israel Studies. Prof. Brenner received his PhD at Columbia University and taught previously at Indiana and Brandeis Universities. Since 1997 he has been Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. He holds a significant role in both German and Jewish History and his voice is heard frequently on PBS and international radio and TV stations. Michael Brenner publishes widely in international media, including the Washington Post, the Times of Israel, and the Spiegel. His voice is heard frequently on PBS and international radio and TV stations. His latest book In Hitler’s Munich: Jews, Antisemitism, and the Rise of Nazism was published Princeton University Press in 2022.


Marion Kaplan is the Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History at NYU and a three-time National Jewish Book Award winner for The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family and Identity in Imperial Germany (1991), Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (1998), and Gender and Jewish History (with Deborah Dash Moore, 2011) as well as a finalist for Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosua (2008). Her newest book, Hitler’s Jewish Refugees: Hope and Anxiety in Portugal, 1940-45 was published in 2020.