Monday, August 29, 2011

An English Rabbi's Eulogy for Kaiser Frederick III

In German history Kaiser Frederick III is often seen as the failed last great hope for German liberalism. He supported the liberalization of Parliament along the lines of the English Parliament, was an Anglophile and was married to the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately he died of throat cancer after being on the throne for just three months, handing Germany over to his son Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm II's expansionist policies and utter disregard for international treaties mark him, more than anyone, as responsible for the European arm's race of the early twentieth century, spiraling toward World War I. So Frederick III certainly stands as a historical question mark of what might have been, a liberal Germany with close ties to England with the possibility of World War I never happening and even of there being no Nazi Germany.

Considering this, it is interesting to note that we have a eulogy for Frederick III by Rabbi Hermann Gollancz of Bayswater Synagogue in London, which comes across, from our position of hindsight, as remarkably prescient even if the evidence Gollancz brings for Frederick III's philo-Semitism seems a little weak.

"What will the morrow bring, peace or war?" This question has a double bearing, as far as we are concerned. In the first place it asks: Will the peace of the wider world of Europe, which the remarkable individuality of "Frederick the Good" helped to secure, continue in the future, and for how long?

In the second place, this question has a deep significance for us as Jews. It must be apparent to every one of us that a great wave of intolerance, directed against our people, has been passing over the face of several countries during past years, and of these Germany has been one. 


Can we help calling to mind at the present moment how, as Crown Prince of Germany, he took every occasion to utter an emphatic protest against the attempts of anti-Semites? Do not the words still ring in our ears which his illustrious consort [Princess Victoria] but recently expressed in his name when visiting the flooded portions of Germany? "This anti-Semitic agitation is distasteful to my feelings to those of my husband." It is at the loss of a potentate so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of toleration and religious equality, that the nation of Israel has cause to lament and to inquire, "What will the morrow bring?" (Hermann Gollancz, Sermons and Addresses pg. 271-72.)


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