Friday, March 13, 2015


Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, ed. Deutschland und der Mittlere Osten. Comparativ: Leipziger Beiträge zur Universalgeschichte und vergleichender Gesellschaftsforschung. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 2004. 186 pp. ISBN 978-3-937209-48-7.
Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, ed. Germany and the Middle East 1871-1945. Frankfurt: Vervuert Verlag, 2004. x + 267 pp. $89.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55876-299-2.
Reviewed by Ralph R. Menning (Department of History, Kent State University Stark Campus)
Published on H-German (March, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher

Mirages and Shifting Sands
These two anthologies contain some of the same essays, but are not exact replicas of one another. Germany and the Middle East presents papers given at a panel of the 2001 German Studies Association conference; Deutschland und der Mittlere Osten is an homage to the East German Arabist Gerhard Höpp. Both volumes appear under the editorship of Wolfgang G. Schwanitz. These two books fill some gaps in our understanding of Germany's official dealings with the Middle East, even though no detail offered here is so pivotal as to prompt a new departure.

Several articles are common to both volumes. In his introductions, Schwanitz stresses the role played by Max von Oppenheim--peripatetic traveler, consular official, and archeologist--in devising a strategy during the First World War to incite an Islamic rebellion against the Allies. Phrases such as "jihad made in Germany" (Germany, pp. 9, 104) are eye-catching, but Schwanitz adds little to the account of Oppenheim given by Martin Kröger in Gabriele Teichmann and Gisela Völger, Faszination Orient: Max von Oppenheim: Forscher, Sammler, Diplomat (2001). The subject of a second contribution by the editor is Fritz Grobba, Germany's first minister to Iraq and Saudi-Arabia, the German man-on-the-spot during the British invasion of Iraq in 1941, and handler of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the ex-Iraqi prime minister Rashid Ali al-Kailani during their exile in Nazi Germany. In this article, Schwanitz presents a hitherto unpublished memorandum, composed by Grobba in 1957 for the U.S. Army Historical Division, on the failure of the Third Reich to mobilize Arab nationalist sentiment against the Allies. Welcome as the publication of new archival materials surely is, Schwanitz strains the point in speculating that such a memorandum could have left an imprint on American policy or the Cold War tensions of the day. Buffeted by the Suez crisis and the Iraqi coup d'état of 1958, U.S. policy-makers hardly needed Grobba to tell them that Arab nationalism was quintessentially anti-British.

Other articles common to both of these volumes are a piece by Uwe Pfullmann on the first feelers between Germany and Saudi Arabia; a well-documented essay by Stefan R. Hauser on the changing reception of the history and archeology of ancient Mesopotamia in Wilhelmine, Weimar, and Nazi Germany; and a contribution by Karl Heinz Roth which demonstrates that Franz von Papen, as Germany's wartime ambassador to Turkey, developed an ambitious agenda in 1940-41 for bringing Iraq into Nazi Germany's orbit.

Three additional essays round out Germany and the Middle East. Thomas L. Hughes writes on the Hentig-Niedermayer mission to Afghanistan in 1915-16, but adds few details beyond those already in the first volume of Hew Strachan's The First World War (2001). Hans-Ulrich Seidt's essay, "'When Continents Awake, Island Empires Fall': Germany and the Destabilization of the East, 1919-22," focuses on the triangular collusion of officers of the former German Asienkorps with Comintern operatives and pan-Turanists to undermine the British position in the Middle East and India, and fleshes out E. H. Carr's account in the third volume of The Bolshevik Revolution (1953). In an essay entitled "In the Shadow of the Moon: Arab Inmates in Nazi Concentration Camps," Gerhard Höpp estimates their number to have been about fifteen hundred, mostly of North African provenance. Many, according to Höpp, were rounded up in France as purported supporters of the French resistance; others were forced laborers, recruited in France, who were evading their work assignments in the Reich.

Featured in Deutschland und der Mittlere Osten but not in Germany and the Middle East are essays by Renate Dietrich on the early relations between Germany and Trans-Jordan, and by Klaus Jaschinski on relations between Persia and Germany in the interwar period, which offers some interesting details on the fate of Germans living in Iran in the wake of the Anglo-Soviet ultimatum and invasion of that country in 1941.

But even in their entirety these essays cannot present, nor should the reader expect, a comprehensive history of Germany's interactions with the Middle East. Given the vast literature on the largest German-sponsored enterprise in the region, the Baghdad railroad, it is understandable if only for reasons of space that these volumes cannot do justice to this topic. But in asserting that Germany's peacetime aims in the Middle East were mostly non-political, the editor does raise the expectation that these volumes might delve more deeply into the rich cultural ties between Germany and the Middle East. It is something of a letdown, then, that we find nothing on the pioneering work of Carl Richard Lepsius in establishing the University of Berlin as a center of Egyptology, or on the role played by his son, Johannes Lepsius, in leading the humanitarian outcry against the Armenian genocide; on the contributions of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (DOG) to the archeology of ancient Egypt or the patronage of James Simon for both the DOG and Berlin's Ägyptisches Museum in securing for it one of the most exquisite artifacts of pharaonic Egypt, the bust of Queen Nefertiti; or on two of the pillars of German cultural influence in the Middle East, the German schools in Teheran and Cairo.

On the other hand, in the introduction, the editor goes beyond the chronological bounds of these books by teasing the reader with references to the Cold War contest between West and East Germany in the Middle East, and he concludes by offering prescriptions for the conduct of reunified Germany in the region. Coursing so far afield, these comments irritate rather than inform and would have been better left for another book.

Some statements are downright puzzling. For instance, we are told of "a series of conferences on African frontiers and Asian topics since the 1880s" (Germany, p. 2). This may be a novel way of lumping together the Constantinople conference of ambassadors, the Berlin West Africa conference of 1885, and the Morocco conference of 1906, but apart perhaps from the meetings of the International Opium Commission, the Great Powers did not address "Asian topics" in multilateral conferences. An assertion such as, "es gibt recht viele Belege, dass Berlin aus den kolonialpolitischen Fiaskos seiner Nachbarn gelernt und keine Kolonien in der Region angestrebt hat" (Deutschland, p. 41) will not fail to pique the reader's interest, but must be substantiated to be credible. Did the makers of German policy before 1914 (Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein or Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter come to mind) learn from the failure of, say, Stratford Canning's or Lord Salisbury's modernization schemes for the Ottoman Empire? Moreover, the practitioners of British imperialism were far subtler: technically, Egypt, Persia, or the Persian Gulf emirates were not colonies. The long path to independence for Iraq, Egypt, Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon is curiously telescoped when we read, "after it [the Ottoman Empire] broke apart, Berlin was willing to respect the national independence of former provinces of the Ottoman Empire" (Germany, p. 18). The blanket assertion that "Hitler showed no interest in French colonies" (Germany, p. 13), even when it is footnoted, is debatable. In positing that the outcome of the war "spared the Jews of the Middle East from the Holocaust" (Germany, p. 15), the editor glosses over the labor camps and deportations in Libya, Tunis, and Algeria.

Unfortunately, infelicitous translations make Germany and the Middle East less than smooth sailing: "Phantasie" should be "imagination" rather than "fantasy" (Germany, p. 4; cf. Deutschland, p. 26); "Seminar" should not be rendered "Seminary" (Germany, pp. 4, 8); "Wahlkonsulat" should be "consular agency" rather than "optional ... consulate" (Germany, p. 134); "Gesandtschaft" should be "legation" and not "embassy" (Germany, pp. 123, 133, 149). "Aussenpolitiker" cannot be rendered as "foreign politician" (Germany, p. 2; cf. Deutschland, p. 23) and rings awkward as a characterization of Bismarck. "Republic of Weimar" (Germany, pp. 10, 105) is unusual, as is the editor's reliance on terms such as "primary policy" and "secondary policy." Sometimes, usage is malapropos: "the old dream of an axis [sic] between Berlin and London was not meant to be" (Germany, p. 5). "Harry Philby" is better known as Jack or St. John Philby (Germany, pp. 126-127). Sentences such as "the Middle Eastern policy constituted politics re-directed to neighboring colonial powers" (Germany, p. 2) are simply too oracular, while the shorthand "the always-feared 'Sarajevo effect'" (Germany, p. 6), in suggesting that an earlier mindset should be named after a later event, has an ahistorical quality.
Despite these defects, some of the articles here should appealto both general readers and specialists. 

Adherents of the continuity thesis in German history will find succor in reading that Max von Oppenheim, in both world wars, suggested that Germany should incite jihad against the Allies, and that Franz von Papen, in 1940, worked with German bankers to base German claims in Iraq on concessions obtained before the First World War. Specialists will find interesting the essays by Hans-Ulrich Seidt on the strange bedfellowship of Reichswehr general Hans von Seeckt with Bolsheviks and Young Turks, and by Stefan R. Hauser on the study of ancient Mesopotamia. It is a pity, however, that these contributions lie embedded in so amorphous an introductory framework.

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