Jewish intellectuals were behind the idea to unite Europe after the Second World War, according to academics from the University of Manchester.

Stefan Zweig

Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig.

In new research, Dr Cathy Gelbin says Jewish culture in Germany and Austria between the 1870s and 1930s was a hotbed of ideas which drove the formation of the European Union.

“Jews had a powerful impact on the thinking which spawned post-1945 European unity,” she said. “The time has come for their role to be recognised.”

The study shows a remarkable culture of cosmopolitanism, despite the Nazi onslaught, and just as Parisian intellectuals gathered in the cafés of the Left Bank, German-speaking Jews met at coffee houses in Berlin and Vienna.

“Even before the onset of Nazism, German-speaking Jews were seen as too assimilated on the one hand but too international on the other,” said Gelbin, who listed intellectuals such as Eduard Bernstein, Hannah Arendt and Stefan Zweig as all exerting important influences on European identity.

“This anti-Semitism, in all but name, had a profound effect on the community, rejecting the accepted definition of their own German and Austrian identities,” she said. “Jewish Zionists called for a separate homeland, but others insisted their identity was not merely Jewish or German, but one beyond ethnicity and national borders.”