Twentieth-Century Trajectories in European Economic History and the “Economic Function of the Jews”
In the war years of 1943–1944, when the destruction of European Jewry was spiraling to its dreadful end, two Jewish émigrés took up their pens to write about Roscher’s old essay on the economic function of medieval Jewry. This was their war effort. For Guido Kisch and Toni Oelsner, writing about Roscher’s essay was a way to refute Nazi antisemitic propaganda. But, although they shared the same aim, their conclusions were radically different.2 Kisch celebrated Roscher’s theory on the Jewish economic function as historically valid “in every age and in every type of economy.” Oelsner condemned it as fallacious—a theory that when “deprived of [its] philo-Semitic and liberal guise” could be turned into an instrument of “the destructive Nazi ‘Jewish science.’”3 Kisch’s and Oelsner’s interpretations of Roscher’s theory reflect many of the main themes in this chapter: a reinterpretation of the Historical School in the context of WWII and the Holocaust, a focus on the origins of capitalism in medieval Europe, the role of Jewish émigrés and scholars of Jewish origin in the new intellectual trajectories, and the contradictions in the state of the field lying just below the surface.