Passing Illusions

Jewish Visibility in Weimar Germany
Kerry Wallach
Challenges the notion that Weimar Jews sought to be invisible or indistinguishable from other Germans by “passing” as non-Jews



Weimar Germany (1919–33) was an era of equal rights for women and minorities, but also of growing antisemitism and hostility toward the Jewish population. This led some Jews to want to pass or be perceived as non-Jews; yet there were still occasions when it was beneficial to be openly Jewish. Being visible as a Jew often involved appearing simultaneously non-Jewish and Jewish. Passing Illusions examines the constructs of German-Jewish visibility during the Weimar Republic and explores the controversial aspects of this identity—and the complex reasons many decided to conceal or reveal themselves as Jewish. Focusing on racial stereotypes, Kerry Wallach outlines the key elements of visibility, invisibility, and the ways Jewishness was detected and presented through a broad selection of historical sources including periodicals, personal memoirs, and archival documents, as well as cultural texts including works of fiction, anecdotes, images, advertisements, performances, and films. Twenty black-and-white illustrations (photographs, works of art, cartoons, advertisements, film stills) complement the book’s analysis of visual culture.
“A powerful and original work of scholarship . . . Wallach brings a fresh theoretical perspective to the study of early twentieth-century German-Jewish history and culture, drawing her concept of passing from African-American and LGBT Studies and paying systematic attention to the category of gender throughout.”
—Jonathan Hess, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Wallach’s superbly researched study convincingly shows that German Jews of this era not only had the ability to pass or not-pass as Jewish, but also had ample reasons for taking advantage of this powerful assimilation strategy. One of its great strengths is the author’s careful attention to detail about how the need for Jews to pass or not-pass varied according to time, place, and gender.”
—Lisa Silverman, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Kerry Wallach is Associate Professor of German Studies and an Affiliate of the Judaic Studies Program at Gettysburg College.


Praise / Awards

  • "This well-written book makes for a fascinating exploration of how Jewishness was coded, displayed, concealed, and both voluntarily and involuntarily revealed, or outed. Extensive notes and bibliography...Highly recommended."
    --Choice Reviews
  • "Wallach’s clear writing, deft analysis, and the wealth of fascinating detail in her book left me wanting more."
    --Valerie Weinstein, The German Quarterly
  • "Passing Illusions proves to be very exciting reading, opening a number of new perspectives for research on German-Jewish history."
  • "Wallach chooses a new angle from which to observe German Jews at a critical point in their history. She throws fresh light on a number of old issues in this history, especially on the delicate theme of assimilation, and she does so without even once falling into the old ideological pits that awaited all who worked in this field for so long."
    --American Historical Review
  • "Passing Illusions contains insightful discussions of gender issues but also of German Jews’ often complex relationships to East European Jews, coded sometimes as 'authentic,' sometimes as too visibly Jewish. ... [This is] a book one can well recommend to colleagues and graduate students interested in German or Jewish cultural studies."
    -- Monatshefte

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 286pp.
  • 20 B&W Illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07357-3

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  • $84.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05357-5

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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  • German-Jewish culture, Jewish history, Weimar Republic, film, gender, performance, race and ethnicity, minorities, African American passing, queer passing