Michael Wolffsohn. Die Deutschland-Akte: Juden und Deutsche in Ost und West,
Tatsachen und Legenden. Munich: Ferenczy bei Bruckmann, 1995. Pp. 396. Cloth
in: German Studies Review 20:2(May 1997), 369f.
This book focuses on the East German government's use of Jews and Jewish issues in its foreign policy from the immediate post-war years to the present. Wolffsohn, professor of contemporary history at the Hochschule der Bundeswehr in Munich and a leading expert on German-Israeli relations, draws on newly accessible material from East German archives, complemented by ancillary material from his own collections and other archives. The book is divided into five parts, dealing respectively with the GDR's use of Jewish issues to defame West Germany, its manipulations of GDR-Jewish literary figures, and its foreign relations with Israel, the Arab states, and the United States.
Unfortunately, despite its title, this book is less a "dossier" of relevant materials than a scathing indictment of the GDR leadership's shameless political instrumentalism, based on a staggering quantity of sometimes more, often less important details. This evidence does convincingly demonstrate Wolffsohn's main argument, namely that the "[East German] state was itself criminal and supported criminality (even serious criminality) if it appeared to be useful" (74). However, despite the author's two-page rationale explaining why he found a "biting," "provocative" and "satirical" style more appropriate than a dusty academic one (14f), after only a few chapters laced with innuendos, cynicism and rhetorical questions, this reader found himself wishing for more insightful interpretation and fewer condemnatory tidbits.
That would remain a matter of stylistic preference if interesting issues arising out of the material did not remain unexplored, such as the transformation of individual political identities after radical political shifts. Instead of analyzing this process, Wolffsohn inexorably condemns people--mostly Jews--whose adaptation did not meet some unnamed high standard of morality. The repeated use of Lenin's term "useful idiots" to characterize Jewish GDR authors, in spite of the dirt Wolffsohn musters from their Stasi files, is arrogant if not offensive, and skirts the question of what constitutes moral behavior in unfree situations. One wonders why the self-proclaimed "Jewish-German patriot" (Wolffsohn renounced his Israeli citizenship in 1984 "to avoid conflicts of loyalty," Die Zeit, 7 Jan. 1994) is so unrelenting in his criticism of Jewish German public figures.
Stefan Heym is a case in point. Wolffsohn summarizes: "In contrast to the tragic but brave Arnold Zweig, Stefan Heym was almost never a 'useful idiot.' He had a certain fool's license, without becoming a court jester for the GDR. The red court did not value him enough for that. Of course, he was not a GDR martyr either. Anything but that" (161). After describing the difficulties Jewish Germans faced in attempting to re-immigrate to East Germany from the West in the early 1950s, Wolffsohn nonetheless condemns Heym's renunciation of the McCarthyite United States, which was a precondition of his remigration, as well as Heym's initial praise of Soviet intervention on 17 June 1953, which may have enabled him to take a Soviet vacation with his wife and correspond with his stepson in the United States (162). Wolffsohn explicitly negates Heym's public criticism of the expatriation of Wolf Biermann in 1976 with an anecdote about how Heym, under dubious circumstances, betrayed an attempt to support dissident writer Jürgen Fuchs. What could have been a fascinating study of morality under real existing socialism emerges as surprisingly aggressive criticism.
The book's strength lies with foreign policy issues, where one might expect important revelations, since Wolffsohn and one of his assistants were able to work with documents from the GDR foreign ministry prior to unification in October 1990, when the files again became inaccessible. There is much to learn about the depths to which GDR leaders were willing to stoop in their pursuit of international recognition. This book will be read with enjoyment by those with a taste for scandal and a distaste for the GDR, and with profit by scholars who wish to mine the copious anecdotes for material to further our understanding of the contradictions of the SED state.
HAROLD MARCUSE, University of California, Santa Barbara