A Jewish Family in Germany Today

An Intimate Portrait

A Jewish Family in Germany Today

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 1 figure Published: December 2004

History > European History, Religious Studies, Sociology

Immediately after the Holocaust, it seemed inconceivable that a Jewish community would rebuild in Germany. What was once unimaginable has now come to pass: Germany is home to one of Europe’s most vibrant Jewish communities, and it has the fastest growing Jewish immigrant population of any country in the world outside Israel. By sharing the life stories of members of one Jewish family—the Kalmans—Y. Michal Bodemann provides an intimate look at what it is like to live as a Jew in Germany today. Having survived concentration camps in Poland, four Kalman siblings—three brothers and a sister—were left stranded in Germany after the war. They built new lives and a major enterprise; they each married and had children. Over the past fifteen years Bodemann conducted extensive interviews with the Kalmans, mostly with the survivors’ ten children, who were born between 1948 and 1964. In these oral histories, he shares their thoughts on Judaism, work, family, and community. Staying in Germany is not a given; four of the ten cousins live in Israel and the United States.

Among the Kalman cousins are an art gallery owner, a body builder, a radio personality, a former chief financial officer of a prominent U.S. bank, and a sculptor. They discuss Zionism, anti-Semitism, what it means to root for the German soccer team, Schindler’s List, money, success, marriage and intermarriage, and family history. They reveal their different levels of engagement with Judaism and involvement with local Jewish communities. Kalman is a pseudonym, and their anonymity allows the family members to talk with passion and candor about their relationships and their lives as Jews.


“[T]hese accounts offer numerous extremely intriguing insights and thought -provoking contrasts.” — Lars Fischer , European Review of History

“Bodeman’s book does not answer questions but rather raises them. (And this is the reason that it is fascinating and deserves many readers.)” — Thomas Kuhne , Central European History

“Michael Bodemann’s A Jewish Family in Germany Today is an addition to the. . .field---and a very good one at that.” — Anthony D. Kauders , Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"[I]n this timely book, which generally encapsulates the attitudes of many Jews living in Germany in the 21st century, they touch on a myriad of topics, from their Jewish identity to their thoughts on Israel."
— Sheldon Kirshner , Canadian Jewish News

"Bodemann does an excellent job dealing with questions related to the Jewish experience in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s." — Jay Geller , H-German, H-Net Reviews

"Bodemann's most important contribution is to allow the family to speak for itself. Its members are by no means representative, but their stories confirm the heterogeneity and diversity of Jewish life in Germany." — Karen Remmler , TLS

"The Kalmans . . . have a fascinating story that is as much about the problems of running a family business, the difficulties Holocaust survivors face in trusting others, and dysfunctional family relations as it is about Jews living in Germany." — Lynn Rapaport , American Historical Review

"This interesting, indeed fascinating book, will appeal to sociologists with a variety of interests. . . . Readers of this book will be left with a deeper appreciation of the enigmatic forces which shaped European Jewish life during the war, and beyond. They will have more questions than answers, which is what one expects of any good sociological work. Such is the human condition, in all its mystery."
— Morton Weinfeld , Canadian Journal of Sociology

“The lives of the Kalman family provide the perfect palette from which to understand the conflicts and the compromises and commitments that Jews have had to make to live not only in Germany but in the modern world.” — Sander L. Gilman, author of Jewish Frontiers: Essays on Bodies, Histories, and Identities

“These interviews are valuable and frank documents. The experiences of the Kalman family are representative of many Jewish families in the period 1945–2000. Y. Michal Bodemann’s astute questions and obvious intimate acquaintance with the family bring out the problematic aspects of being Jewish in Germany today. He deals not only with questions of anti-Semitism but also with the secularization process of German Jews.” — Jack Zipes, coeditor of Unlikely History: The Changing German–Jewish Symbiosis, 1945–2000

“Why did Jews choose to live in postwar Germany? Most scholars have looked for answers to this question in the official institutional history. Y. Michal Bodemann turns our view to the private sphere and thus reveals for the first time a more intimate and at the same time more complex picture of the German Jewish community as mirrored by one family.” — Michael Brenner, author of After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Y. Michal Bodemann is Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Out of the Ashes: The Vicissitudes of the New German Jewry and the editor of Jews, Germans, Memory: Reconstructions of Jewish Life in Germany.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: Contemporary German Jewish Life through One Family 1

Prologue: Rita Volkov, Great Aunt in Toronto 37

Part 1. Albert's Family

Berthold and His Father 45

Working in the Kalmans' Firm 71

Berthold in His Life 79

Eva, Swiss Mentality, Polish Company 91

Ronnie, in and out of His Father's Shadow 108

Salek, Nordau's Jew 119

Esther, the Zionist Pioneer in Our Family 132

Gabriel, Postmodern Jew 156

Part 2. Ignaz and Dina

Ignaz, Dina's Father 179

Dina, from Germany to Israel and Back 187

Johannes Rautenstrauch, A Goy in the House 218

Part 3. Jerry Guterman

Jerry and the Fossils 233

Part 4. Jurek's Family

Jurek, Benjamin and His Brothers 249

Jonny, a Career in Israel 256

Lilian, Staying at Home 261

Motti, the Sculptor-Rememberer 268

Glossary 279
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3421-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3410-1
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