... for openness and credibility....

Lori Gemeiner Bihler.  Cities of Refuge: German Jews in London and
New York, 1935-1945.  Albany  State University of New York Press,
2018.  Illustrations. 232 pp.  $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4384-6887-7.

Reviewed by Hasia R. Diner (New York University)
Published on H-TGS (August, 2018)
Commissioned by Alison C. Efford

In _Cities of Refuge_, Lori Gemeiner Bihler, a historian trained at
the University of Sussex, seeks to answer the fairly straightforward
question of why German Jewish refugees had quite distinct experiences
in the two largest cities to which they fled--London and New York--in
the face of the Nazi menace. The United Kingdom and the United States
accepted the largest number of Jews seeking refuge from Adolf
Hitler's regime. Bihler's investigation is as clearly laid out as her
question. She sets out to compare different aspects of the refugees'
lives, including their patterns of arrival and settlement, their
interactions with the UK and US governments, and the ways in which
they forged new identities, as English and as American.

How, Bihler asks, can we understand the somewhat divergent paths
these two refugee populations trod? Why did they not experience their
new homes the same way? After all, the Jews who managed to find
safety in New York and in London for the most part resembled each
other. Largely urban before migration, they all came from the middle
class. They had embraced _Bildung _and had sincerely and deeply
accepted the values and appearances of bourgeois German life. The
refugees, regardless whether they ended up in the United Kingdom or
the United States, shared a common experience. As Jews they had
endured the recent trauma of losing their rights, status,
livelihoods, and physical safety with the rise of the Third Reich.

Following the lead of students of migration, such as the
anthropologist Nancy Foner, Bihler directly poses the analytic
problem in comparative terms. Assuming that these women, men, and
children shared common origins, how can scholars explain the
differences in their migration outcomes? Why did the refugees, coming
from the same place, representing the same cultural and economic
background, not adjust similarly to these two big, English-speaking,
free, modern cities? What were the differences between these two
places and how did these distinctions affect the adjustment and
settlement of the Jewish refugees from Germany?

With her underlying assumption, Bihler has overlooked a few
premigration differences between the London and New York groups,
perhaps minor but potentially analytically significant. For one, she
gives little attention to the fact that the Breuer Hasidim, who
joined the flight to New York from Germany and formed an important
enclave in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, had no
equivalent among those who went to London. The members of the Breuer
community like other Orthodox Jews had experienced German life
differently than did the majority of German Jewish women and men who
had departed from the meticulous observance of Jewish law and ritual.
Second, while Bihler rightly spends much time in various places in
the book on the youngsters who went to London through the organized
_Kindertransport _program, she does not dwell on the fact that as
children they had experienced Germany and emigration quite
differently than the largely adult population that went to New York.
The _Kindertransport_ children had not lived in pre-Hitler Germany,
and no doubt had few encounters with freedom and emancipation as
Jews. Finally, and it deserves much more analysis here, more of those
who came to the United States likely had relatives who had moved in
earlier decades. Those with kin in the receiving society knew more
about their new home before migration than those who went wherever
they could find a place of refuge. That knowledge also had to have
influenced how they endured the years, brief as they were, under the
Third Reich.

These differences before migration aside, Bihler's book succeeds in
showing that whether a German Jewish refugee settled in London or in
New York mattered. Looking at work, home furnishings, diet, clothing,
name changes, occupations, language acquisition, relations with the
state, and patterns of community building, the author found that
indeed, despite the marked similarities before emigration, German
Jews navigated London and New York in quite different ways. For the
most part, the German Jews who found themselves in England integrated
somewhat more slowly and developed more haltingly a sense of
themselves as English, in contrast to their American counterparts.
Yet somewhat paradoxically, they seem to have dropped German
foodways, domestic interiors, and clothing styles more rapidly. Less
likely to speak German in public than their kin--whether literal or
figurative--who went to New York, the German Jews in London took
cover more rapidly under the pressure of needing to blend in and
worked more assiduously to appear British. Point by point, Bihler
shows how much the two groups diverged from each other.

She does an admirable job of proving, however, that these patterns
had little to do with the much-vaunted rhetoric of America as a
welcoming nation of immigrants, in contradistinction to the popular
understanding of England as a more insular and homogeneous society
that had integrated many fewer foreigners over the course of its
history. Instead Bihler forces us to think about historical matters.
England's proximity to Germany, its entry into the war two years
before the United States, the constant bombardment of the island from
the German Luftwaffe, and other factors that had nothing to do with
national narratives shaped the encounter of German Jews with England
in ways utterly different than America, an ocean away from the war.
Further influencing the English experiences were sociological and
political factors, such as the reality that German Jews arriving in
England had no guarantee that they could stay indefinitely and become
naturalized, the fact that so many German Jewish women went into
domestic service, and the structure that left the children of the
_Kindertransport _living not with their own families but in English

It is notable--although Bihler does not deal with this enough--that
the Jews who came to New York entered into a city with one of the
largest, best funded, and most highly developed Jewish social service
networks ever in existence. Those organizations went into high gear
to address the needs of the refugees in New York and elsewhere, and
indeed the United Jewish Appeal came into existence in 1939 to serve
them. Likewise, New York's linguistic and ethnic diversity had no
equivalent in the world, and refugees arriving in New York, despite
the stingy quotas allotted to them, came into a place where the
streets resounded with a cacophony of languages, and buildings,
stores, social halls, and religious institutions bore signs in
Polish, Italian, Greek, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Spanish, and German. That
New York had functioned for over a century as a German city cannot be
discounted but gets no attention here. New York also had been a
destination for German Jews since the middle of the nineteenth
century, and some of their institutions, such as synagogues and B'nai
B'rith lodges, continued to function into the 1930s.

Overall this book is a solid exercise in comparative history. Yet a
few problems deserve mention. It is marred by the fact that it relies
too heavily on memoirs and autobiographies. Bihler has looked at some
archival materials, including some records of organizations and some
issues of the publications of the refugees, particularly the
_Aufbau_, New York's German-language Jewish newspaper. But she has
mined these sources and other possible troves of primary material,
particularly government records, less thoroughly and systematically
than memoirs and other ego documents. The bulk of those documents
represent the sensibilities and recollections of individuals decades
later. Bihler offers little on the role of Jewish social service and
welfare institutions in New York and London, and the book pays
woefully little attention to synagogues and other religious
organizations. Her reading of American Jewish history tends to be
superficial and she tells little about the ethnic and class
compositions of the neighborhoods where German Jews settled.

_Cities of Refuge _not only demonstrates the importance of
comparative history but also highlights the need for serious
scholarship among American immigration historians and American Jewish
historians to study in depth German Jewish refugees. To date, no real
history of this community has been written, and while Bihler draws
much from the one book on the subject, that of Steven M. Lowenstein
published in 1989 (_Frankfurt on the Hudson: The German-Jewish
Community of Washington Heights, 1933-1983, Its Structure and
Culture)_, its limitations should have led other historians to turn
to this topic in greater depth and sophistication. It did not do so
and Bihler's study here is the poorer for not having had a rich body
of secondary scholarship from which to draw.

Citation: Hasia R. Diner. Review of Bihler, Lori Gemeiner, _Cities of
Refuge: German Jews in London and New York, 1935-1945_. H-TGS, H-Net
Reviews. August, 2018.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Important Notice to Readers about PE [Points East] Archives

All readers of Points East may now access back issues of this journal
as the result of a decision by its Managing Board.

To access the archives, go to the "Members' Section" on the far right
of our website homepage ( and click on "Archived
Issues". The username is "member" and the password is "Gabow" -- in
honor of the late Leo Gabow, the Sino-Judaic Institute's founding
president. [Note: Capital letter "G"]

SOURCE: Points East [newsletter/journal of the Sino-Judaic Institute]
33, no.2 (July 2018), page 1




Flora Cassen.  Marking the Jews in Renaissance Italy: Politics,
Religion, and the Power of Symbols.  Cambridge  Cambridge University
Press, 2017.  300 pp.  $99.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-17543-3.

Reviewed by Cornelia Aust (Leibniz Institute of European History)
Published on H-Judaic (May, 2018)
Commissioned by Katja Vehlow

In general perception, the yellow badge appears to be a clear and
long-living marker of Jews, first initiated in Christian Europe at
the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 and eventually revived in the
modern period under the reign of Nazi Germany. In _Marking the Jews
in Renaissance Italy_, Flora Cassen aims at drawing a more complex
picture. She sets out to answer two main questions: first, who indeed
was forced to wear a yellow badge or any similar marker in fifteenth-
and sixteenth-century Italy, and second, did the badge indeed make
Jews recognizable who otherwise would not have been recognizable as
Jews? The book, thus, more generally aims at dissecting the
"dialectic of inclusion and exclusion of Jews from Italian society"
(p. 3).

Cassen opens her book with an overview of Jewish distinctive signs
after the Fourth Lateran Council across Europe, though unfortunately
not touching on East Central Europe except for Hungary, followed by
an analysis of its symbolic meaning. She then examines case studies
of the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Genoa, and the Duchy of
Piedmont-Savoy and their changing application of the badge or a
yellow hat to its own Jewish population or traveling Jews. In doing
so, she detects several models of how different authorities
approached the question; how religious, economic, and political
motives shaped decisions regarding the Jewish badge or hat; and how
individual Jews and Jewish communities reacted to the challenge of
being marked. These models were closely related to the varied social
and political structures of the three neighboring states. In chapter
2, addressing fifteenth-century Milan, Cassen shows how neither the
attempts of city councils nor public religious pressure, for example,
via sermons of zealous friars, could convince the dukes to force Jews
to wear a badge. Here, Jews were able to successfully defend their
original rights and charters (_condotte_) and to prevent the
imposition of the badge.

In chapter 3, Cassen looks comparatively at sixteenth-century Milan,
then in the process of becoming part of the Spanish Empire. After the
expulsion of Jews from Spain, Jews living under Spanish rule did not
have high expectations. The lower and upper strata of Milanese
society were particularly interested in sartorial markers, making
those sixteenth-century attempts at introducing a Jewish badge more
successful than earlier ones. Only the increasingly weakened middle
strata of society supported the Jews. Eventually, wealthy Jews were
the only ones who had the means to buy themselves out of wearing a
yellow badge, while the poor had no choice, leading to the
fragmentation and increasing stratification of Jewish society.
Moreover, Jewish men now had to wear a yellow hat, which was much
harder to cover and hide.

Unlike the Duchy of Milan, wealthy Jews in Piedmont (chapter 4) had
no possibility to buy their way out of wearing distinctive signs, and
instead tried to negotiate exemptions for the entire Jewish
community, though their success was limited to reaching exemptions
during the time of travel. Cassen argues that this showed that the
Jews of Piedmont were relatively wealthy, and formed a "cohesive and
well-organized community capable of collecting money from Jews across
the duchy" (p. 136). This example indicates how different the
approaches to sartorial markers could be; in the Duchy of Milan, both
local and foreign Jews were forced to wear discriminating marks
precisely during the time of travel. However, in Piedmont, too, the
application of the Jewish badge became increasingly a moneymaker for
the authorities; Cassen poses that eventually, the high degree of
solidarity among Piedmont Jews had an adverse effect as it turned
Jews into a target for higher tax revenues. In the final years of
Jewish settlement in Piedmont, the situation resembled that in Milan
and the cohesion of the community disintegrated.

In the Republic of Genoa (chapter 5), the situation was different as
officially, there were no Jews living there and the Jewish badge did
not become a means for the authorities to acquire or yield power.
Cassen discusses the lives of five individuals who lived for a
shorter or longer time in the Republic of Genoa and had to deal with
the attempts to impose sartorial markers onto them. The reactions of
these doctors and moneylenders, among them the well-known physician
and historian Joseph ha-Cohen (1496 to circa 1575), ranged from
buying one's way out or wearing the sartorial marker, to leaving
instead of having to wear a yellow hat or deciding to wear
provocatively luxurious yellow hats.

Along with the socioeconomic and political developments and their
influence on marking Jews in the northern parts of Renaissance Italy,
and away from the well-researched cities of Venice, Rome, or
Florence, Cassen discusses the symbolic meaning associated with
discriminating markers, based on local archival materials. She shows
how Jewish moneylending was stigmatized and Jews were portrayed as
sexual predators. The badge or hat then became less a means of
recognition and more a means of instigating violence against Jews,
especially when traveling, or promising fiscal revenues through
exemptions or fines.

Cassen's book takes us beyond a simplified interpretation of the
Jewish badge as a means to make Jews recognizable. In small places,
Jews were well known to their neighbors, and Jewish travelers were
identified by language, while Jewish women apparently wore
distinctive accessories. Rather than making Jews identifiable, the
badge or hat made them prone to persecution and molestation. _Marking
the Jews in Renaissance Italy _thus adds valuable insights to the
larger story of Jewish-Christian relations in Renaissance Italy in
less well-known Jewish communities through the lens of sartorial
markers. Unlike other recent and stimulating works, like Irven M.
Resnick's _Marks_ _of_ _Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jews in
the High Middle Ages_ (2012) or Sara Lipton's _Dark Mirror: The
Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography_ (2014), Cassen's study
is particularly interested in the social reality of distinctive
signs. The book also provides a basis for thinking about
discriminating signs, the motives for introducing them, and their
repercussions for Jews elsewhere in Europe. It certainly speaks not
only to scholars of Renaissance Italy but also to anybody interested
in mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion in medieval and early
modern Jewish history, including graduate students.

Citation: Cornelia Aust. Review of Cassen, Flora, _Marking the Jews
in Renaissance Italy: Politics, Religion, and the Power of Symbols_.
H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews. May, 2018.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States