Walter Benjamin derided Werner Scholem as a ‘rascal’ in 1924. Joseph Stalin referred him as a 'splendid man', but soon backtracked and labeled him an 'imbecile', while Ernst Thälmann, chairman of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), warned his followers against the dangers of ‘Scholemism’. For the philosopher and historian Gershom Scholem, however, Werner was first and foremost his older brother. The life of German-Jewish Communist Werner Scholem (1895–1940) had many facets. Werner and Gerhard, later Gershom, rebelled together against their authoritarian father and the atmosphere of national chauvinism engulfing Germany during World War I. After inspiring his younger brother to take up the Zionist cause, Werner himself underwent a long personal journey before deciding to join the Communist struggle. Scholem climbed the party ladder and orchestrated the KPD's ‘Bolshevisation’ campaign, only to be expelled as one of Stalin's opponents in 1926. He was arrested in 1933, and ultimately murdered in the Buchenwald concentration camp seven years later. This first biography of Werner Scholem tells his life story by drawing on a wide range of original sources and archive material long hidden beyond the Iron Curtain of the Cold War era.
First published in German by UVK Verlagsgesellschaft as Werner Scholem - eine politische Biographie (1895-1940), Konstanz, 2014.
Part of the Historical Materialism series.
What People Are Saying
"Werner Scholem was a leading light of the left wing of the Communist Party of Germany in the 1920s. A new biography by Ralf Hoffrogge presents a revolutionary life that refused all compromise." Nathaniel Flakin, Left Voice
"The most interesting parts of Hoffrogge's work are perhaps the thick descriptions of the Weimar Republic's communist milieu with its peculiar mixture of dogmatism and careerism, male chauvinism and women's emancipation, puritanism and sexual permissiveness. The interesting figure here is Scholem's wife Emmy, who came from humble background, eager to learn and climb the social ladder, aware of her chances for emancipation and equipped with all the weapons of a woman." Gerd Koenen, DIE ZEIT
"...in the field of historical research, it is the more refined work by Ralf Hoffrogge that will make a lasting impression. His reconstruction of events is the only one that allows us to understand Scholem's arrest and trial..." Lorenz Jaeger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
"...Two recently published biographies that could not be more different are devoted to the life of this exceptional politician, to whom the historian Miriam Zadoff attributed an "agile temperament", but also depicted him in an apotheosis of suffering, comparing Scholem to the biblical Job. Quite different is the sober reconstruction of the historian Ralf Hoffrogge, invariably oriented towards the facts. Almost entirely without gaps, this political biography reconstructs the twisted lifeline of Scholem in the context of its time. The merit of both biographies consists not least in the fact that here for the first time a personality is portrayed who embodied in his intellectual and political action the intrinsic ambiguity of the period between the two world wars."Wolf Scheller in Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung
"Hoffrogge’s narrative, expanding beyond Scholem’s tragic life trajectory, highlights numerous biographically relevant subjects: the genesis and political development of the Weimar Republic and the place of the KPD within it; the difficult relationship between Western communist parties and the Soviet Union; the prejudices communists of Jewish origin faced within and outside their movement; and even of the emergence of the Nazi concentration camp system" Ferdinand Schoning in East Central Europe Journal