Paris, Warsaw, Berlin—and Vienna


As the storm gathered over Europe, throughout the Continent the Jews once again became objects of widespread debate, targets of suspicion and sometimes of outright hatred. The general ideological and political cleavages of the mid-thirties were the main source of change, but in countries other than Nazi Germany, a pervasive atmosphere of crisis prepared the ground for a new surge of anti-Jewish extremism.

The first signs of this radicalization had appeared at the beginning of the decade. Growing doubts about the validity of the existing order of things arose as a result of the economic crisis but also because of a more general discontent. By dint of an almost “natural” reaction, the Jews were identified—and not only on the extreme right—with one or another aspect of the apparent social and cultural disintegration, and were held responsible for some of its worst consequences. It was a time when the Catholic writer Georges Bernanos, no fanatic as such, could glorify France’s arch-anti-Semite of the late nineteenth century, Edouard Drumont, the notorious editor of La Libre Parole and author of La France Juive, and lash out at the Jewish threat to Christian civilization.

In Bernanos’s 1931 book, La grandepeur des bien-pensants (The great fear of the right-thinking), the values threatened by what he perceived as an ever-increasing Jewish domination were those of Christian civilization and of the nation as a living organic entity. The new capitalist economy was controlled by the concentrated financial power of “les gros”—the mythical “two hundred families” that both Right and Left identified with the Jews.1In other words the Jewish threat was, in part at least, that of modernity. The Jews were the forerunners, the masters, and the avid preachers of the doctrine of progress. To their French disciples, wrote Bernanos, they were bringing “a new mystique, admirably suited to that of Progress…. In this engineers’ paradise, naked and smooth like a laboratory, the Jewish imagination is the only one able to produce these monstrous flowers.”2

La grande peur ends with the darkest forebodings. In its last lines the Jews are left unnamed, but the whole logic of the text links the apocalyptic conclusion to Drumont’s lost fight against Jewry. The society being created before the author’s eyes was a godless one in which he felt unable to live: “There is no air!” he exclaimed. “But they won’t get us…they won’t get us alive!”3

Bernanos’s anti-Semitism was passionate without necessarily being racist. It was part and parcel of an antimodernist and antiliberal trend that later would split into opposed camps with regard to Nazi Germany itself. It was the voice of suspicion, of contempt; it could demand exclusion. Such were among others, the anti-Jewish attitudes of a powerful group of European intellectuals steeped in Catholicism, either as believers or as men strongly influenced by their Catholic background: In France, such writers as Thierry Maulnier, Robert Brasillach, Maurice Bardèche, and a whole phalanx of Catholic and nationalist militants of the Action Française (the royalist movement founded by the ultranationalist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Dreyfusard Charles Maurras at the beginning of he century) represented this trend; they either still belonged to Maurras’s movement or kept close ties to it. Paradoxically Maurras himself was not a believing Catholic, but he understood the importance of Catholicism for his “integral nationalism.” The church banned Action Française in 1926, yet many right-wing believers remained loyal to Maurras’s movement. In England such illustrious representatives of Catholicism as Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, and T. S. Eliot acknowledged their debt to Maurras, yet their anti-Jewish outbursts had a style and a force of their own. Catholic roots were explicitly recognized by Carl Schmitt, and their indirect influence on Heidegger is unquestionable. There was an apocalyptic tone in this militant right-wing Catholicism, a growing urge to engage in the final battle against the forces evoked by Bernanos, forces whose common denominator was usually the Jew.

Simultaneously, however, a growing cultural pessimism—whose political and religious roots were diffuse but that exuded a violent anti-Semitism of its own—was taking hold of various sectors of the European intellectual scene. Here, too, some of the most prominent French writers of the time took part: Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Paul Léautaud, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Maurice Blanchot, Marcel Jouhandeau, Jean Giraudoux, and Paul Morand. But it is not Céline’s 1937 Bagatelles pour un massacre itself, possibly the most vicious anti-Jewish tirade in modern Western literature (apart from outright Nazi productions), that was most revealing, but André Gide’s favorable review of it in the Nouvelle Revue Française, under the guise that what Céline wrote in the book was not meant to be taken seriously.4 And it was not Brasillach’s outspoken hatred of the Jews that was most indicative of the prevailing atmosphere, but the fact that Giraudoux, who had just launched a vitriolic attack against Jewish immigrants in Pleins pouvoirs, became minister of information during the last year of the Third Republic.5

Against the background of this religious-cultural-civilizational crisis and its anti-Jewish corollaries, other, less abstract factors appear as causes of the general exacerbation of anti-Jewish attitudes and anti-Semitic agitation in countries other than Nazi Germany.

The convergence of the worldwide economic crisis and its sequel, decade-long unemployment, with the growing pressure of Jewish immigration into Western countries on the one hand, and economic competition from a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe on the other, may have been the most immediate spur to hostility. But for millions of disgruntled Europeans and Americans the Jews were also believed to be among the beneficiaries of the situation, if not the manipulators of the dark and mysterious forces responsible for the crisis itself. Such constructs had penetrated all levels of society.

In countries such as France, England, and the United States, where some Jews had achieved prominence in journalism, in cultural life, and even in politics, prevailing European pacifism and American isolationism depicted Jewish protests against Nazi Germany as warmongering. The Jews were accused of serving their own interests rather than those of their countries. The French politician Gaston Bergery, a former Radical Socialist who became a collaborator during the German occupation, described in November 1938, in his periodical La Flèche (The arrow), how “the Jewish policy” of a war against Nazi Germany was perceived by the wider public: “A war—public opinion senses—less in order to defend France’s direct interests than to destroy the Hitler regime in Germany, that is, the death of millions of Frenchmen and [other] Europeans to avenge a few dead Jews and a few hundred thousand unfortunate Jews.”6

Another immediately apparent factor was—as it had been in the earlier part of the century—the visibility of Jews on the militant left. In both Eastern Europe and France, identification of the Jews with the Marxist peril was partly as phantasmic as it had been in the past, but also partly confirmed by significant left-wing activism by Jews. Such activism arose for the same sociopolitical reasons that had played a decisive role several decades earlier. But in the thirties there were Jews, mainly in Western Europe, who became supporters of the Left in order to find a political expression for their anti-Nazism (at the same time in the Soviet Union, many Jews were falling victim to Stalin’s purges). In general terms, however—as had also been the case at the beginning of the century (and has been ever since)—the majority of European Jews identified themselves, and could be identified, with liberalism or social democracy, and, to a lesser extent, with traditional conservatism. At the same time, the crisis of the liberal system and the increasing discontent with democracy led to a growing hostility toward a group that, in addition to its partial identification with the Left, was regarded as the supporter and beneficiary of the liberal spirit both in the economy and in public life.

The spread of anti-Semitism on the European (and American) scene was one of the reasons for the growing difficulties placed in the way of Jewish emigration from Germany, then from Austria and the Sudetenland, and later from the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia. Traditional anti-Semitism was also one of the reasons that prompted the Polish government to take measures about the citizenship of nonresident Polish Jews that, as will be seen, gave the Nazis the necessary pretext for expelling thousands of Polish Jews residing in Germany. A few years later, this surge of anti-Jewish hostility was to have much more catastrophic results. The Jews themselves were only partly aware of the increasingly shaky ground on which they stood because, like so many others, they did not perceive the depth of liberal democracy’s crisis. The Jews in France believed in the strength of the Third Republic, and the Jews of East Central Europe believed in France. Few imagined that Nazi Germany could become a real threat beyond its own borders.

Eastern Europe’s participation in the growing anti-Jewish agitation of the second half of the thirties took place within the context of its own traditions. The influence of Christian anti-Jewish themes was particularly strong among populations whose majority was still a devout peasantry. Social resentment on the part of budding nationalistic middle classes of the positions acquired by Jews in commerce and the trades, light industry, banking, and the press, as well as in the prototypical middle-class professions of medicine and the law, created another layer of hostility. The latest and possibly strongest ingredient was the fierce anti-Bolshevism of regimes already oriented toward fascism, regimes for which identification of the Jews with Bolshevism was a common slogan—for example in Hungary, where the memory of the Béla Kun government remained vivid. In Poland these diverse elements merged with an exacerbated nationalism that tried to limit the influence of any and all minority groups, be they Ukrainians, Belorussians, Jews, or Germans. By a somewhat different process, the wounded nationalism of the Hungarians and the Slovaks, and the megalo-maniacal nationalist fantasies of the Romanian radical right dreaming of a greater Dacia,* led to the same anti-Semitic resentment. “Almost everywhere [in these countries],” writes Ezra Mendelsohn, “the Jewish question became a matter of paramount concern, and anti-Semitism a major political force.”7

The leaders of the East Central European countries (Miklós Horthy in Hungary, Jósef Beck in Poland after Jósef Pilsudski’s death, Ion Antonescu in Romania) were already close to fascism or at least to extreme authoritarianism. All had to contend with ultra-right-wing movements—such as the Endek in Poland, the Iron Guard in Romania, the Hlinka Guard in Slovakia, and the Arrow Cross in Hungary—that sometimes appeared to be allies and sometimes enemies. The right-wing governments, mainly in Romania and Hungary, attempted to take the “wind out of the sails” of the radical right by adopting anti-Semitic policies of their own. Thus, Romania adopted an official anti-Semitic program by the end of 1937, and Hungary in 1938. The results were soon evident. As the Italian journalist Virginio Gayda, a semiofficial representative of the fascist regime, noted at the beginning of 1938, anti-Semitism was the point of “national cohesion” of the political scene in the Danubian states.8

Anti-Semitism’s deepest roots in Poland were religious. In this profoundly Catholic country, the great majority of whose population still lived on the land or in small towns, the most basic Christian anti-Jewish themes remained a constant presence. In early 1937 Augustus Cardinal Hlond, the primate of Poland, distributed a pastoral letter that, among other things, addressed the Jewish issue. After pointing to the existence of a “Jewish problem” demanding “serious consideration,” the head of the Polish Church turned to its various aspects. “It is a fact,” Hlond declared, “that the Jews are struggling against the Catholic Church, that they are steeped in free thought, that they are the vanguard of godlessness, of the Bolshevik movement, and of subversive action. It is a fact that Jewish influence on morals is deplorable and that their publishing houses spread pornography. It is true that they are cheaters and carry on usury and white slave traffic. It is true that in the schools the influence of Jewish youth upon the Catholic is in general negative from the religious and moral point of view.” But in order to seem equitable, Cardinal Hlond then took a step back: “Not all the Jews are such as described. There are also faithful, righteous, honest, charitable and well-meaning Jews. In many Jewish families there is a wholesome and edifying family spirit. We know some people in the Jewish world who are morally prominent, noble and respectable.”

What attitudes did the cardinal therefore recommend to his flock? “I warn you against the moral attitude imported from abroad which is fundamentally and unconditionally anti-Jewish. This attitude is contrary to Catholic ethics. It is permissible to prefer one’s people; it is wrong to hate anyone. Not even Jews. In commercial relations it is right to favor one’s own people, to avoid Jewish shops and Jewish stalls on the market, but it is wrong to plunder Jewish shops, destroy Jewish goods, break windowpanes, throw bombs at their houses. It is necessary to find protection from the harmful moral influence of the Jews, to keep away from their anti-Christian culture, and in particular to boycott the Jewish press and demoralizing Jewish publications, but it is wrong to attack Jews, to beat, wound or libel them. Even in the Jew we must respect and love the man and neighbor, even though one may not be able to respect the inexpressible tragedy of this people which was the guardian of the Messianic idea and gave birth to our Savior. When God’s grace will enlighten the Jew and when he will sincerely join the fold of his and our Messiah, let us welcome him joyfully in the Christian ranks.

“Let us beware of those who endeavor to bring about anti-Jewish excesses. They serve a bad cause. Do you know whose orders they are obeying in so doing? Do you know in whose interest such disorders are fomented? The good cause gains nothing from such inconsiderate acts. And the blood which sometimes flows on such occasions is Polish blood.”9

This is precisely the translation of Cardinal Hlond’s pastoral letter that was sent from Poland to Rabbi Stephen Wise in New York on February 9, 1937. According to the sender, “The statements contained in the first part concerning the moral inferiority and crimes of the Jews have been surpassed in a pronouncement by the prince-bishop of Cracow, Sapieha. But both these pronouncements have been surpassed by the mischief-making public addresses and the recently published book by the prelate Trzeciak, which might compete with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”10

Traditional Polish Christian anti-Jewishness was fueled by a particularly difficult demographic and socioeconomic context. When the Polish state was reestablished in the wake of World War I, approximately 10 percent of its population was Jewish (3,113,933 in 1931, i.e., 9.8 percent of the general population). But about 30 percent of the urban population was Jewish (this average was valid for the largest cities such as Warsaw, Cracow, and Lodz, but the Jewish population was more than 40 percent in Grodno and reached 60 percent in Pinsk).11

The social stratification of Polish Jewry added to the difficulties created by sheer numbers and urban concentration: the majority, or more than two million, of the Jewish population belonged to the politically crucial petty bourgeoisie.12 Finally, contrary to the situation in Germany, France, Great Britain, and other Western countries, where the Jews aspired above all to be considered nationals of their respective countries—even though the majority insisted on keeping some form of Jewish identity—in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, the self-definition of minorities was often that of a separate “nationality.” Thus, in the Polish census of 1921, 73.76 percent of the overall number of Jews by religion also declared themselves to be Jews by nationality, and in the 1931 census, 79.9 percent declared that Yiddish was their mother tongue, while 7.8 percent (an implausibly high number, presumably influenced by Zionism) declared that Hebrew was their first language. That left only a small percentage of Polish Jews who declared Polish to be their mother tongue.”13

Thus the basically religious anti-Jewish feelings of the Polish population were reinforced by what was perceived as a Jewish hold on a few key professions and on entire sectors of lower-middle-class activities, mainly commerce and handicrafts. Moreover, the clear identification of the Jews as an ethnic minority within a state that comprised several other minority groups but aimed, of course, at Polish national supremacy, led the Polish nationalists to consider Jewish religious and national-cultural “separatism” and Jewish dominance in some sectors of the economy to be a compound threat to the new state. Finally the Poles’ exacerbated anti-Bolshevism, fed by new fears and an old, deep hatred of Russia, identified Jewish socialists and Bundists with their Communist brethren, thereby inserting the standard equation of anti-Bolshevism with anti-Semitism into a specifically Polish situation. This tendency became more pronounced in the mid—1930s, when the Polish “regime of the colonels” moved to what was in fact a semifascist position, not always very different in its nationalist-anti-Semitic stance from Roman Dmowski’s Endek (National Democratic) Party. The Endeks brandished the specters of a Folksfront (that is, a popular front like the one in France; for Poles, the spelling with an “F” signaled Yiddish and thus Jewish origin) and Zydokomuna (in the sense of Jewish communism) to identify the Jews and their political activities.14 They were for a massive transfer of Jews to Palestine and for a Jewish quota in universities, and their action squads found the smashing of Jewish shops particularly attractive.15 The trouble was that, despite official declarations, the government and the church were not loath on occasion to encourage similar policies and activities, albeit in an indirect way.16

Estimates in the Polish press in 1935 and 1936 that hundreds of Jews died in the pogroms that erupted at the time in no fewer than 150 Polish cities were probably too low.17 A hidden quota in the universities brought the percentage of Jewish students down from 20.4 percent in 1928–29 to 9.9 percent in 1937–38.18 What happened in the universities took place more openly in the economic field, with a boycott of Jewish commerce leading to a sharp decrease in the number of Jewish businesses during the years immediately preceding the war.19 The pauperization of wide sectors of the Jewish population had begun long before the war, but in the post-Pilsudski era, the economic boycott was supported by the government itself. To be sure, anti-Jewish violence was officially condemned, but, as Prime Minister Felician Slawoj-Skladkowski put it in 1936, “at the same time, it is understandable that the country should possess the instinct compelling it to defend its culture, and it is natural that Polish society should seek economic self-sufficiency.” The prime minister explained what he meant by self-sufficiency: “economic struggle [against the Jews] by all means—but without force.”20 By 1937–38 Polish professional associations were accepting Gentile members only. As for the civil service, at the national or at the local level, by then it had entirely ceased employing Jews.21

One of the by-products of the “Jewish problem” in Poland was the reemergence in the mid-1930s of an idea that had first been concocted by the German anti-Semite Paul de Lagarde: transfer of part of the Jewish population to the French island colony of Madagascar.22 In January 1937 the positive attitude of Marius Moutet, the French Socialist colonial minister in Leon Blum’s Popular Front government, gave this plan a new lease on life, and soon negotiations between Poland and France regarding practical ways and means for implementing such a population transfer got under way. The Paris government agreed that a three-man Polish investigation commission, two of them Jews, be sent to the island. On their return the Jewish members submitted a report pessimistic about Madagascar’s absorptive capacities, but the Polish government adopted the favorable view of the commission’s Polish chairman, Mieczyslaw Lepecki. Thus, negotiations with the French continued and, at the beginning of 1938, Warsaw still seemed to be giving serious support to the project.

Whereas at the outset, the European Jewish press was reporting positively on the initiative, and official Nazi comment originating in the Paris and Warsaw embassies appeared only noncommittal, the Nazi press became highly sarcastic once it became clear, at the end of 1937, that the plan had little chance of implementation. “Madagascar could become a ‘promised land’ for the Jews Poland wants to get rid of,” said the Westdeutscher Beobachter on December 9, “only if they [the Jews] could lead a life of masters there, without effort of their own, and at the expense of others. It is therefore questionable whether the invitation for an exodus of the Children of Israel to Madagascar will soon free Poland of any great part of these parasites.”23 The plan nonetheless seems to have attracted Heydrich’s attention, and on March 5, 1938, a member of his staff sent the following order to Adolf Eichmann:

“Please put together in the near future material for a memorandum which should be prepared for C [Heydrich] in cooperation with II B4 [the Gestapo’s Jewish affairs section]. It should be made clear in the memorandum that on its present basis (emigration), the Jewish question cannot be solved (financial difficulties, etc.) and that therefore we must start to look for a solution through foreign policy, as is already being negotiated between Poland and France.”24


There were 90,000 Jews in France at the beginning of the century; in 1935 their number had reached 260,000. On the eve of the war, the Jewish population had risen to approximately 300,000, two-thirds of it in Paris.25 The most detailed counts of Jews were conducted later by the Vichy government and by the Germans in the occupied zone, in accordance, of course, with their own definition of who was Jewish. The results nonetheless give a more or less precise image of the immediate prewar situation. In mid-1939 approximately half the Jewish population in Paris was French and half was foreign. But even among the French Jews, only half were French-born. In the Paris region 80 percent of the foreign Jews were of East European origin, half of them from Poland.26Although there were three million foreigners living in France in the late thirties, of whom only about 5 percent at most were Jews,27 the Jews were more conspicuous than the others. In the eyes of both the authorities and the population, the foreign Jews were likely to create problems. This was the opinion of many French Jews as well. “As early as 1934,” writes Michael Marrus, “R. R. Lambert, editor of the Univers Israélite and one of the leading figures of the Franco-Jewish establishment, warned his coreligionists that other Frenchmen were losing their patience: in the current state of affairs, mass emigration [to France] is no longer possible. Foreign Jews should watch their step, should abandon their tendency to cling closely to one another and should accelerate their assimilation into French society.”28

Actually Lambert was relatively compassionate and did not advocate expelling the refugees; Jacques Helbronner, president of the Consistoire, the central representative body of French Jews, thought otherwise: “France, like every other nation,” Helbronner declared as early as June 1933, “has its unemployed, and not all the Jewish refugees from Germany are people worth keeping…. If there are 100 to 150 great intellectuals who are worthy of being kept in France since they are scientists or chemists who have secrets our own chemists don’t know…these we will keep, but the 7, 8, or perhaps 10,000 Jews who will come to France, is it really in our best interests to keep them?”29 Helbronner continued for years to hold this view; in 1936 he expressed regrets about the liberal French immigration policy of 1933. For him, the Jewish refugees were simply “riff-raff, the rejects of society, the elements who could not possibly have been of any use to their own country.”30 Even after the defeat of France, it should be added, Helbronner, still head of the Consistoire, kept his antipathy toward foreign Jews. His attitude changed only in the course of 1943. Soon after this change of heart had taken place, the Nazis caught up with him as well: In October of that year he was arrested, deported to Auschwitz with his wife, and murdered.

The Consistoire’s position had its effect, and from 1934 on, material help to the refugees almost totally ceased. “Clearly the French Jewish establishment was giving up all efforts to reconcile its competing loyalties and obligations to the refugees and to France. In this struggle, French interests…dominated. The refugees were quite simply abandoned.”31

The first official measures against foreigners (expulsion of those whose papers were not in order) were taken during the first half of the thirties, mainly in 1934 under the premiership of Pierre-Etienne Flandin.32 After a brief improvement under the Blum governments, anti-immigrant measures became ever more draconian, culminating in the highly restrictive law of November 1938, which facilitated the immediate expulsion of aliens and made their assigned residence in some remote corner of the country a matter of simple administrative decision. Stripping naturalized foreigners of their newly acquired French nationality also became possible, and a number of professional groups that considered recently arrived Jews to be dangerously competitive began to lobby for their exclusion from various domains such as medicine and the law.33

However, there was more to the rapid rise of French anti-Semitism in the mid-thirties than the problems of Jewish immigration.34 As the economic crisis was worsening, in late 1933 the Stavisky Affair, a scandal involving a series of shady financial deals in which the central role was played by a Russian Jew named Serge-Alexandre Stavisky and in whose mysterious ramifications major French political figures were implicated, came to a head. In the early days of 1934, Stavisky’s body was discovered near Chamonix in the French Alps. The Radical Socialist government of Camille Chautemps was brought down and replaced by the ephemeral premiership of Édouard Daladier, also a Radical Socialist, and the entire array of extreme right-wing organizations, from the Action Française of Maurras and Daudet to the Croix de Feu, the war veterans’ organization headed by Fraçois de La Rocque, was in an uproar. A riot was quelled in Paris on February 6, 1934: Eighteen rightists were killed by the police on the Place de la Concorde and the rue Royale as they tried to storm the Chambre des Députés. The republic survived the crisis, but the internal rift that had divided French society since the Revolution and dominated the political life of the country from the time of the restoration to that of the Dreyfus affair was wide open again.

A turning point came with the confrontations that preceded and followed the 1936 elections, with the overwhelming victory of the Popular Front led by Léon Blum. When, on June 6, the new government was sworn in, Xavier Vallat, the future Vichy delegate general for Jewish Affairs, turned to Blum at the rostrum of the Chambre des Députés: “Your accession to power, Mr. Prime Minister, is an undeniably historic occasion. For the first time, this ancient Gallo-Roman country will be governed by a Jew. I dare say aloud what the country thinks: that it would be preferable to put at the head of this country a man whose roots belong to its soil rather than a subtle Talmudist.”35

Much of what Blum did during his two brief tenures as prime minister of the Popular Front government seemed to play into the hands of the Right. Admirable as his social achievements—the forty-hour work week and the two-week paid annual vacation—were, they appeared manifestly to contradict his urge to speed up rearmament in the face of the Nazi menace. In any event, if it was somewhat incongruous to see traditional pacifists turn into the military guardians of France, it was certainly much worse to watch the shift of right-wing nationalists toward outright appeasement of Nazi Germany, among other reasons out of hatred for the enemy within. “Better Hitler than Blum” was just one of the slogans; worse were to come.

As in Germany in previous decades, notwithstanding the visibility of some Jewish left-wing activism, the majority of the Jews in France were in fact anything but politically supportive of the Left. The Consistoire was an essentially conservative body that did not hesitate to welcome the presence of right-wing organizations, such as La Rocque’s Croix de Feu, at its commemorative occasions; it openly backed, at least until 1935, a Jewish patriotic and ultraconservative movement, Édouard Bloch’s Union Patriotique des Français Israelités.36 Even among the immigrants from Eastern Europe, support for the Left was not pervasive. In the 1935 Paris municipal elections and in the decisive 1936 elections for the legislature, official immigrant bodies were readier to give their support to right-wing than to Communist candidates.37

Blum himself often seemed impervious to the role played by anti-Semitism in the mobilization of right-wing opinion against his leadership. Or possibly his awareness was of the detached and fatalistic kind that characterized Rathenau’s acceptance of the hatred directed against him in the months preceding his assassination. In February 1936 Blum himself was slightly wounded by right-wing demonstrators as his car passed the funeral cortege of the Action Française historian Jacques Bainville.38 Blum’s imperviousness made it easy for the extreme right to point to the number of Jewish ministers in his cabinets.39

Anti-Semitism did not play a central role in the programs or the propaganda of the French parties closest to fascism, at least during the thirties. Although anti-Jewish slogans were part of the repertory of Solidarité Française and other leagues, Jacques Doriot’s Parti Populaire Français became anti-Semitic only after 1938 in order to attract voters from among the notoriously anti-Semitic French settlers in North Africa.40 But anti-Jewish themes were the major staple of a host of right-wing periodicals that carried the message to hundreds of thousands of French homes: L’Action Française, Je suis partout, and Gringoire were merely the most widely read among them. On April 15, 1938, Je suis partout published the first of its special issues on “the Jews.” The articles carried such titles as “The Jews and Germany,” “Austria and the Jews,” “The Jews and Anti-Semitism,” “The Jews and the Revolution,” “When Israel Is King: The Jewish Terror in Hungary,” and so on. Brasillach’s lead article demanded that the Jews in France be put under alien status.41 The continuing stream of anti-Semitic articles reached such proportions that, in April 1939, a law was passed to prohibit press attacks “against a group of persons belonging by their origin to a given race or religion, when these attacks aim at inciting hatred among citizens or inhabitants.” The perceived need for such a law was a sign of the times. Another such sign, also in April 1939, was that the newly elected pope, Pius XII, repealed the ban on Action Française. Neither the ban nor its repeal had anything to do with anti-Semitism, but nonetheless, as of 1939 Maurras’s doctrine of anti-Jewish hatred was no longer beyond the official Catholic pale.

Nazi Germany encouraged the spread of anti-Semitism all over Europe and beyond. Sometimes these initiatives were indirect: In France the France-Allemagne Committee, organized by Joachim von Ribbentrop’s Foreign Policy Office and guided by the future Nazi ambassador to occupied France, Otto Abetz, carefully supported various cultural activities, most of which carried a subtle pro-Nazi ideological slant.42 On the other hand, the function of Nazi organizations, such as the Stuttgart-based press agency Weltdienst, was worldwide anti-Jewish propaganda.43 Yet it was not the Nazi-like and sometimes Nazi-financed groups of French, Belgian, Polish, and Romanian Jew-haters who were of significance during the immediate prewar period. The really ominous aspect in these countries was the exacerbation of homegrown varieties of anti-Semitism; Nazism’s contribution was that of an indirect influence. At this time the upsurge of anti-Jewish passion, with or without Nazi incitement, had some immediate impact both on attitudes toward local Jewish communities and on immigration policies toward Jews trying to flee from Germany, Austria, and the Czech Protectorate. In more general terms, it prepared the ground for active collaboration by some, and passive acquiescence by many more, in the sealing of the fate of European Jewry only three or four years hence.


On September 29, 1936, the state secretary in the German Ministry of the Interior, Wilhelm Stuckart, convened a conference of high officials from his own agency, from the Ministry of the Economy, and from the Office of the Deputy Führer in order to prepare recommendations for a meeting of ministers regarding the further steps to be taken in regard to the Jews at this post-Nuremberg stage. As the Office of the Deputy Führer represented the party line, the Ministry of the Interior (though headed by the Nazi Wilhelm Frick) often represented middle-of-the-road positions between the party and the conservative state bureaucracy, and the Ministry of the Economy (still headed by Schacht), was decidedly conservative, it is remarkable that, at this conference, the highest officials of the three agencies were entirely in agreement.

All those present recognized that the fundamental aim now was the “complete emigration” of the Jews and that all other measures had to be taken with this aim in mind. After restating this postulate, Stuckart added a sentence that was soon to find its dramatic implementation: “Ultimately one would have to consider carrying out compulsory emigration.”44

Most of the discussion was concentrated on dilemmas that were to bedevil German choices until the fall of 1938: First, what measure of social and economic activity should be left to Jews in the Reich so as to prevent their becoming a burden to the state and yet not diminish their incentive to emigrate? Second, toward which countries was Jewish emigration to be channeled without it leading to the creation of new centers of anti-German activity? The participants agreed that all emigration options should be left open, but that German means should be used only to help the emigration to Palestine. In answer to the question whether the press was not slowing down Jewish emigration to Palestine by reporting the Arab anti-Jewish unrest there, Ministerial Director Walther Sommer (from the Deputy Führer’s Office) indicated that “one could not reproach other nations for defending themselves against the Jews.” No measures regarding the press reports were to be taken.45 And no decision was made regarding the problem of the identification of Jewish businesses.46

The September 1936 conference was the first high-level policy-planning meeting devoted to the regime’s future anti-Jewish measures in which the priority of total emigration (compulsory emigration: that is, expulsion if need be) was clearly formulated. Before the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, segregation had been the main goal, and it was only in September 1935 that Hitler, in his declaration to Walter Gross, mentioned “more vigorous emigration” of the Jews from Germany as one of his new objectives. Thus, some time at the end of 1935 or in 1936, Hitler’s still tentative formulations became a firm guideline for all related state and party agencies. The move to new objectives tallied, as has been seen, with the new radicalization in both the internal and the external domains.

Simultaneously the “cleansing” process was relentlessly going forward: The major initiatives stemmed from Hitler, yet, when other initiatives were submitted to him by cabinet ministers or high party leaders, his approval was far from being automatic.

On April 1, 1933, some 8,000 to 9,000 Jewish physicians were practicing in Germany. By the end of 1934, approximately 2,200 had either emigrated or abandoned their profession, but despite a steady decline during 1935, at the beginning of 1936, 5,000 Jewish physicians (among them 2,800 in the Public Health Service) were still working in the Reich. The official listing of the country’s physicians for 1937 identified Jewish physicians as Jews according to the Nuremberg criteria; by then their total was about 4,200, approximately half the number of those listed in 1933,47but in Nazi eyes still too many by far.

On December 13, 1935, the minister of the interior submitted the draft of a law regulating the medical profession. According to the protocol of the cabinet meeting (which gave no details of the draft), Frick drew the ministers’attention to the fact that articles 3 and 5 “settled the Aryan issue for the physicians.” The proposal was accepted.48 It seems, however, that for an unspecified reason the final drafting of the law was postponed for more than a year.

On June 14, 1937, Wagner met with Hitler in the presence of Bormann: “As I submitted to the Führer that it was necessary to free the medical profession of the Jews,” Wagner wrote, “the Führer declared that he considered such cleansing exceptionally necessary and urgent. Nor did he consider it right that Jewish physicians should be allowed to continue to practice [in numbers] corresponding to the percentage of the Jewish population. In any case, these doctors had also to be excluded in case of war. The Führer considered the cleansing of the medical profession more important than for example that of the civil service, as the task of the physician was in his opinion one of leadership or should be such. The Führer demanded that we inform State Secretary Lammers of his order to prepare the legal basis for the exclusion of the Jewish physicians still practicing (cancellation of licenses).”49

Two months later Lammers informed State Secretary Pfundtner that the issue of Jewish physicians was on the agenda for a meeting, scheduled for September 1, of state secretaries with Hitler.50 Within a year the professional fate of the remaining Jewish physicians in Germany would be sealed.

Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick, a party stalwart if ever there was one, nevertheless seemed to have underestimated the stepped-up pace of radicalization. It appears, from a November 25, 1936, Education Ministry memorandum, that at the beginning of the year, Frick had decided that there was no legal basis for the dismissal of Aryan civil servants with Jewish wives. In the memorandums words, “[Frick’s] position has not received the approval of the Führer and Reich Chancellor.” The corollary was simple: Frick’s initiative was invalid.51

A few months later Frick made up for his initial lack of creative legal-ism. On April 19, 1937, he issued the following ordinance: “My memorandum of December 7, 1936, which forbids the raising of the national colors over the house of a German living in a German-Jewish mixed marriage, also applies to civil servants. As a situation in which a civil servant cannot raise the national flag at home is not tenable in the long run, civil servants married to a Jewish wife are usually to be pensioned off.”52 Some exceptions were allowed, but the legal basis for dismissing civil servants with Jewish spouses had been found.

Generally, however, Frick could boast of outright success. On July 21, 1937, he solved another major problem: safety measures to be taken regarding the presence of Jews in health resorts and related establishments. Jews were to be housed only in Jewish-owned hotels and guesthouses, on condition that no German female employees under forty-five worked on the premises. The general facilities (for bathing, drinking spa waters, and the like) were to be accessible to Jews, but there was to be as much separation from the other guests as possible. As for facilities with no immediate health function (gardens, sports grounds), these could be prohibited to Jews.53

But as in previous years, Hitler hesitated when a measure could create unnecessary political complications. Thus, on November 17, 1936, he ordered further postponement of a law on Jewish schooling,54 a draft of which had been submitted to him by the minister of education. It seems that at the time Hitler was still wary of implementing the segregation of Jewish pupils on racial lines, as it would have entailed the transfer of Jewish children of Christian faith into Jewish schools and added further tension to relations with the Catholic Church.55

At times the cleansing measures turned into a totally surrealistic imbroglio. The issue of doctoral degrees for Jewish students was one such instance.56 The problem was apparently raised at the end of 1935 and discussed by the minister of the interior: Any restrictions on the right to obtain a doctoral degree were not to apply to foreign Jewish students; for German Jews the issue remained unresolved. At the beginning of 1936, it was brought up again by the notorious Wilhelm Grau, who was about to become head of the Jewish Section in Walter Frank’s Institute for the History of the New Germany. On February 10, 1936, Grau wrote to the secretary of state for Education that he had been asked to evaluate a dissertation on the history of the Jews of Ulm in the Middle Ages, submitted by a Jew at the faculty of philosophy of Berlin University. “Whereas in the above-mentioned case,” wrote Grau, “the dissertation is already inadequate from a scientific viewpoint, a general question also arises, namely whether Jews should be allowed to obtain a doctorate at all in a German university on such historical subjects. As our university professors unfortunately have little knowledge and even less instinct regarding the Jewish question, the most incredible things happen in this area.” Grau continued with a story mentioned in the discussion of his first contribution to the Historische Zeitschriff. “Last October, an Orthodox Jew called Heller obtained his doctorate at the University of Berlin with a dissertation on Jews in Soviet Russia, in which he attempted to deny entirely the Jewish contribution to Bolshevism by using a method that should raise extreme indignation in the National Socialist racial state. Heller simply does not consider those Jews he finds unpleasant, such as Trotsky and company, to be Jews but anti-Jewish ‘internationalists.’ With reference to this, I merely want to raise the question of the right of Jews to obtain a doctorate.”57

The discussion on this topic, which developed throughout 1936 and the early months of 1937, involved the Ministry of Education, the deans of the philosophy faculties at both Berlin and Leipzig Universities, the rectors of these universities, the Reichstatthalter of Saxony, and the Office of the Deputy Führer. The Ministry of Education’s attitude was to adhere to the law regarding Jewish attendance at German universities: As long as Jewish students were allowed to study in German universities, their right to acquire a doctoral degree could not be canceled. The best way of handling the situation was to appeal to the national feelings of the professors and prevail upon them not to accept Jews as doctoral students.58 But some deans (particularly the dean of the philosophical faculty at Leipzig) declared that, as party members, they could no longer bear the thought of signing doctoral degrees for Jews.

On February 29, 1936, the philosophy dean at Berlin University emphasized the negative consequences that stemmed from the rejection of the dissertations of all four Jewish doctoral candidates (Schlesinger, Adler, Dicker, and Heller) in his faculty. Since in each instance the dissertation topics had been suggested by “Aryan members of the faculty,” rejection of the theses also affected the professors concerned. The dean cited one of them, Professor Holtzmann, sponsor of “the Jew Dicker’s” rejected thesis on the Jews of Ulm: “Filled with anger, Holtzmann declared that he had had enough, and that he would no longer direct the doctoral work of any Jew.”59

On October 15, 1936, Bormann intervened. For him, appealing to “the national consciousness of the professors” was not the right way to handle the matter. “In particular,” Bormann wrote to Frick, “I would not want the implementation of basic racial tenets that derive from the worldview of National Socialism to be dependent upon the goodwill of university professors.” Bormann did not hesitate: A law prohibiting the award of doctoral degrees to Jewish students was necessary, and it was to be aimed at the professors, not the students. As for foreign reactions, Bormann thought that the impact of the law would be beneficial; in justifying this claim he used an argument whose significance extended well beyond the issue at hand: “Furthermore, I believe that the decree will fall on favorable ground, particularly in racially alien countries, which feel slighted by our racial policy, as thereby Jewry will once more be consciously set apart from other foreign races.” There was no objection to granting the doctoral degree to Jewish students who had already fulfilled all the necessary requirements.60

A decree reflecting Bormann’s view was drafted by the minister of education on April 15, 1937: The universities were ordered not to allow Jewish students of German citizenship to sit for doctoral exams. Exemptions were granted to Mischlinge under various conditions, and the rights of foreign Jews remained as before.61

The matter seemed settled. But only a few days later, on April 21, a telegram from Dean Weinhandel of the Kiel University philosophy faculty arrived at the Ministry of Education requesting “a decision whether reservations exist against acceptance of anthropology doctoral dissertation when candidate has Jewish or not purely Aryan wife.”62

The purification process also duly progressed at the local level. Thus, the Munich city fathers, who had excluded the Jews from public swimming pools in 1935, took a further bold step in 1937. Now the Jews were to be forbidden access to municipal baths and showers. But as the matter was weighty, Bormann’s authorization was requested. It was refused,63 although it is not clear what Bormann’s reasons were.

Slowed down in one area, the Munich authorities pushed ahead in another. Since 1933 the city streets that bore Jewish names had gradually been renamed. At the end of 1936, however, Mayor Karl Fiehler and the Construction Commission discovered that eleven Jewish street names still remained. During 1937, therefore, with assistance from the municipal archive, the names that were undoubtedly Jewish were changed. But as an archive official put it, there was always the possibility that “as a result of more thorough research, one or more street names might be identified as being Jew-related.64

In Frankfurt the problems created by Jewish street names were worse. It seems that the first person to raise the issue publicly was a woman party member, who on December 17, 1933, wrote an open letter to the Frankfurter Volksblatt: “Please do me the great favor of seeing whether you could not use your influence to change the name of our street, which is that of the Jew Jakob Schiff. Our street is mainly inhabited by people who are National Socialist-minded, and when flags are flown, the swastika flutters from every house. The ‘Jakob Schiff’ always gives one a stab to the heart.”65 The letter was sent to the municipal chancellery, which forwarded it to the city commission for street names. In March 1934 the commission advised the mayor of all the donations made by the Jewish-American financier Jacob Schiff to various Frankfurt institutions, including the university, and therefore suggested rejecting the proposed name change, especially since, given the importance of the Jacob Schiff private banking house in the United States, such a change would be widely reported and could lead to a demand for restitution of the monies that had been given to the city.66

The letter in the Volksblatt had, however, triggered a number of similar initiatives, and on February 3, 1935, after a lengthy correspondence, the city commission for street names requested the mayor’s agreement to the following proposal: The names of fourteen streets or squares were to be changed immediately, starting with Borne Square, which was to become Dominicans’ Square. When Nazi propaganda “discovered” that Schiff had heavily financed the Bolsheviks, Jakob-Schiff-Strasse became Mumm-Strasse (in honor of a former Frankfurt mayor).67 Twelve more streets were to be renamed in 1936, and twenty-nine others whose renaming had been suggested were to keep their names, either because their real meaning could be explained away (Mathilden-Strasse, Sophien-Strasse, Luisen-Strasse, and Luisen-Platz, all in fact named after women of the Rothschild family, would now be regarded as merely named for generic women) or because no sufficient or valid reason could be found for the change. In the case of Jakoby-Strasse, for instance, the name’s possibly Aryan origins had still to be researched; as for Iselin-Strasse, “Isaac Iselin was not a Jew (the biblical first name was common among Calvinists from Basel).”68

In Stuttgart the exclusion of Jews from public swimming pools was postponed until after the Olympic Games; anti-Jewish initiatives did not, however, lag behind those in other German cities. Quite the contrary. The local party leaders were infuriated by the fact that, at least until 1937, the Jewish population of the city was growing rather than declining. Jews from the small towns and villages of surrounding Württemberg were fleeing to the city in the hope of finding both the protection of anonymity and the support of a larger community. Thus, whereas during the first seven months of 1936, 582 Jews left Stuttgart, 592 moved in. It was only at the end of 1937 that the four-thousand-strong Jewish population started to decline.69

The city council decided to take Jewish matters in hand. After asking for advice from, of all places, Streicher’s Nuremberg, the council decided at its September 21, 1936, meeting that old people’s homes, nursery schools, and (finally) swimming pools belonging to the city were forbidden to Jews; in hospitals Jews were to be separated from other patients; city employees were forbidden to patronize Jewish shops and consult Jewish physicians; Jewish businessmen were forbidden to attend markets and fairs; and the city canceled all its own real estate and other business transactions with Jews.70

Paradoxically these initiatives led to a clash with the state administration of Württemberg, when the latter demanded that a Stuttgart Jewish developer be exempted from the building limitations. The city council complained to the Württemberg Ministry of the Interior, and Stuttgart mayor Karl Strölin mentioned the incident as an example of the differences that could arise between city and state authorities regarding the implementation of anti-Jewish policies.71

Such confrontations, mainly between regional bureaucracies and local party members, were actually not unusual. In Offenburg, in Baden, one started on March 19, 1937, with a complaint sent by a Jewish attorney, Hugo Schleicher, to the Offenburg district office in the name of the local Jewish community and of the Jews of Gengenbach, an Offenburg suburb. A grocer there, a certain Engesser, had refused to sell groceries and milk to a Jewish customer named Ferdinand Blum. The reason, it soon appeared, was that the mayor of Gengenbach, who also chaired the finance committee of the local hospital, had informed Engesser that he would not be allowed to sell his wares to the hospital if he continued to sell goods to Jews. As all grocers in Gengenbach were allowed to sell to the hospital, the mayor’s tactics would quickly achieve a result that Schleicher clearly defined in his letter: “The final consequence of this measure will be that the Jewish population of Gengenbach will no longer be provided with food and milk.”72

The Offenburg district office forwarded the complaint to Gengenbach’s mayor and asked for an answer. On April 2 the mayor wrote back “concerning the complaint of the Jew H. Schleicher”: “The facts presented in the complaint are correct. At the crow-black Engesser’s [“crow-black” meant that Engesser was a devout Catholic], the customers, apart from the Jews, are the blackest types of Gengenbach, so that his store has become a meeting place for all the obscurantists of our time.* I confronted Engesser with the option of giving up either his deliveries to the hospital or his Jewish customers. He immediately declared that he was ready to give up his Jewish customers. Whether the Jews here get food or whether they croak is one and the same to me; they can leave for more fertile regions where milk and honey already flowed in Abraham’s time. In no way shall I permit deliveries to an institution under my authority to be made by Jew lackeys; neither will I allow myself to be held responsible because of a Jew’s complaint, and as a National Socialist I reject the demand for explanations and answers. I ask that the Jew be given the appropriate answer.”73

The district office soon answered. On April 5 the mayor’s letter was sent back to him because of its “entirely irrelevant and incredible tone, totally inappropriate and unacceptable in addressing superior authority.” This was the message throughout: “When superior authority demands a report, it is the duty of your office to present it in a factual and relevant way. I am now expecting such a concretely formulated report, which will also state whether and how the provision of milk will be assured in Gengenbach to the Blum family.”74


For Jews and Germans alike, the fundamental criterion for measuring the success of the anti-Jewish segregation policies was the level of Jewish economic presence in Germany. Some local occurrences seemed, on occasion, to point to unexpected resilience. Thus, on February 2, 1937, the Stuttgart NS-Kurier published a lengthy article on a particular instance of “wretchedness and lack of character.” The wife of the director of a city enterprise (whose name was withheld) had been seen buying laundry soap in the Jewish department store Schocken.75 Still worse, on March 20 that same year, the NS-Kurier must have deeply angered its readers when it reported that the Munich Jewish-owned fashion house Rothschild had presented its designs at the Marquardt Hotel, and that “some German women, rich and accordingly devoid of convictions,” had accepted the Jewish invitation to attend.76

Sometimes silence was a safer option for the local party press. No Munich newspaper published anything about the four-hour visit paid in 1936 by Göring, accompanied by his adjutant, Prince Philipp von Hessen, to Otto Bernheimer’s carpet and tapestry store. Although Bernheimer s was well known as a Jewish-owned business, Göring paid 36,000 Reichsmarks for two rare carpets, which were duly sent to their lofty destination in Berlin.77

Indeed, Göring was no exception, nor were the Stuttgart society ladies. Gestapo reports from various parts of the Reich indicate that at the end of 1935 and in 1936, many Germans were still not hesitating to do business with Jews. Despite the party’s growing concern, the cattle trade in rural areas remained largely Jewish; according to a Gestapo report on the month of November 1935 “the Jews almost totally control the cattle trade [in Hesse]. They have transferred their activities to the late evening hours or to night time. Sometimes it even happens that Volksgenossen put themselves at the Jews’ disposal as hidden representatives, i.e., under their own name but for the benefit of the Jews, and do business for them in the large markets of cattle for slaughter in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, and Koblenz.”78Almost one year later, a report from the Franconian district of Hipoltstein sounded the alarm: “The peasants’ business relations with Jews have assumed such a dimension that the political leadership felt prompted to intervene energetically.”79

In the cities the annual late-winter sales at Jewish stores were big occasions. Thus in February 1936, the Munich police directorate reported that the sale at the Jewish-owned textile house Sally Eichengrün had drawn “large crowds.” At times as many as three hundred eager female customers stood in line on the street outside the store.80 And various SD reports indicate that even in 1937 economic relations between Germans and Jews still remained active in several domains, with, for example, members of the aristocracy, of the officer corps, and of the high bourgeoisie still keeping their assets in Jewish banks.81

It is difficult to assess what was paid—as an average percentage of value—to the tens of thousands of Jewish owners of small businesses during this early phase of Aryanization. As noted in chapter 1, recent research indicates that the considerable scope of Aryanization at the medium- and small- business level was not indicative of the situation at the higher levels of the economy: There the competition was more limited, and the attitude toward extortion still negative, because the enterprises involved had higher international visibility. The Nazis decided, therefore, to avoid any head-on clash.82

Dozens of Jews remained on boards of directors and in other important managerial positions at companies such as Mannesmann, IG Farben, Gesellschaft für Elektrische Unternehmungen, and so on. The Dresdner Bank, for instance, “still had 100 to 150 Jewish employees in Berlin in 1936, and five directors retained their posts until the period 1938 to 1940.”83

When Aryanization did take place at the big-business level, there are indications in some very significant instances that fair prices were being offered to the owners until the end of 1937, when the situation was to change drastically. Self-interest was obviously part of the motivation for this kind of seeming restraint and fairness. The economic recovery remained uncertain. Some of the largest German firms, eager to avoid additional taxation of their new profits or to escape the effects of eventual devaluation, used the costly acquisition of tested yet depreciable enterprises to improve their accountable benefits. In any case, this is both the Nazi and the business press interpreted the acquisition by Henkel of the Jewish-owned Norddeutsche Hefeindustrie above par, and a similar operation by Unilever’s main German subsidiary.84 In general, however, the overall economic situation of the Jews in Germany was steadily worsening.

A remarkable contemporary summary appeared in December 1935 in the Austrian Reichspost “The Jewish merchants in small- and medium-size [German] provincial towns have, for some time now, been fighting a difficult battle. In these towns, the weapon of the boycott can be utilized far better than in a place like Berlin, for example. The consequence is that there is now a massive sell-off of Jewish retail shops…. There are reports…from certain areas…that an average of 40 to 50 percent of all Jewish businesses have already been transferred to Aryan ownership. Along with this, there are many small towns in which the last residues of Jewish business activity have already been liquidated. This is also the reason for the fact that various small congregations are offering their synagogues for sale. Only recently, a farmer in Franconia was able to purchase such a building for the price of 700 marks—for the purpose of storing grain.”85

In villages and small cities, harassment was often the easiest way to compel Jews to sell their businesses at a fraction of their value and move away or emigrate. In the larger cities and for larger businesses, credit restrictions and other boycott measures devised by Aryan firms led to the same result. Those Jews who clung to their economic activity were increasingly confined to the rapidly shrinking Jewish market. Excluded from their occupations, Jewish professionals became peddlers, either selling wares out of their homes or traveling from place to place—a reversal of the historic course of Jewish social mobility. Barkai has noted that, since peddling had to be registered, the state and party authorities were sometimes under the misapprehension that Jewish economic activity was growing. After the Nuremberg Laws forbade Jews to employ female Aryans under forty-five in their homes, young Jewish girls moved into the newly vacant positions, again reversing a trend that modern Jewish women had been supporting, and fighting for, for decades.86

This overall evolution is unquestionable; yet it demands to be nuanced if we are to rely on SD reports. Thus, the annual report for the year 1937 of the SD’s Jewish section gives the impression that attitudes toward the Jews among some sectors of the population remained mixed, and were fed not only by economic but also by religious and possibly some political motives:

“The year covered by the report has shown that large parts of the population, and even of the Party community, do not bother anymore even about the most basic demand, namely not to buy from the Jew. This kind of sabotage is particularly strong in strictly Catholic areas and among the supporters of the Confessing Church, who partly from ideological motives—the solution of the Jewish question by way of baptism and the inclusion of the Jews in the Christian community—but also partly in order to strengthen the opposition to National Socialism, try to hamper the work of the Reich with regard to Jewry. The best proof of the success of this oppositional activity is the fact that, in contrast to other parts of the Reich, in mid and lower Franconia as well as in Swabia a move of the Jewish population is taking place from the cities to the rural areas, where the Jews, under the moral protection of the Church, are less directly affected by the measures taken by the Reich. A similar trend can be noticed in the Catholic areas of the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau and in Hesse.”87

Although the SD report only described the situation in some areas, and although—since the contrary trend is generally documented—the movement of Jews from the cities to the countryside must have been very limited, anti-Semitism was apparently not becoming an active force within the overall population. The words “do not bother anymore” even indicate a growing indifference, on this subject, to party propaganda. Yet, as before, during these two years some religious constraints and economic self-interest seem to have been the main motivations for such “lax” attitudes toward the Jews. But the forthcoming disappearance of almost all Jewish economic activity, coupled with more violent official pressure, would soon make themselves felt.

Once Hitler had taken concrete steps to launch the Reich on the course of a major military confrontation, the fate of the conservatives was sealed. At the end of 1937, Schacht would be on his way out, replaced by the Nazi Walther Funk. At the beginning of 1938, other conservative ministers, including Foreign Minister Neurath and Defense Minister Blomberg, would follow. At the same time, the army chief of staff, Gen. Werner von Fritsch, left in disgrace on trumped-up charges of homosexuality. Hitler himself became the commander of the armed forces, which henceforward were led de facto by a new Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW), under Gen. Wilhelm Keitel. The ever weaker and ever more ambiguous protection offered by the conservatives against radicalization of the regime’s anti-Jewish policies had therewith disappeared.

In the directive establishing the Four-Year Plan, Hitler demanded passage of a law that “would make the whole of Jewry responsible for all damage some individual members of this gang of criminals caused the German economy and thereby the German people.”88 In order to punish the Jews for Gustloff’s death (Gustloff, it will be remembered, was the Nazi representative in Switzerland who was murdered by a Jewish student in early February 1936), the decree concerning the collective fine Hitler wanted to impose on the Jews of Germany was to be ready by the end of the assassin’s trial in Switzerland. The deadline was missed because discussions between the Ministries of Finance and the Interior on technicalities regarding the fine continued throughout 1937 and the first half of 1938. But the postponement really resulted from Göring’s hesitations about the potential effects of such a decree on the Reich’s foreign currency and raw materials situation.89 It would be Göring, however, who finally announced the imposition of a collective fine on the Jews of Germany after the Kristallnacht pogrom that followed Ernst vom Rath’s assassination.

The waning of conservative influence, particularly with regard to the economic situation of the Jews, became palpable at various levels, as well as in the tone of the exchanges between party grandees and the Ministry of the Economy. In the fall of 1936, the Chemnitz clothing manufacturer Königsfeld became a target of growing harassment from the local party organizations. As the owner of the firm was a Mischling of the first degree married to a German woman and therefore still entitled to the status of full-fledged German citizen (Reichsbürger), and as, according to a Ministry of the Economy memorandum, no Jewish influence could be perceived in that enterprise, the party authorities in Saxony were requested to put an end to their campaign against the Königsfeld company. On December 6 Reichsstatthalter Mutschmann responded to this request in a letter to Councillor Hoppe at the ministry. Mutschmann was “astounded” by Hoppe’s stance regarding the “non-Aryan” Königsfeld enterprise: “Such a position is contrary to the National Socialist worldview and is, in my opinion, a sabotage of the Führer’s orders. I request you therefore not to change any aspect of the existing situation; otherwise I would be compelled to take countermeasures that might be quite unpleasant. In time I shall present your position to the Führer very clearly. In any case, I am not willing to transmit your instructions to the officials who are under my orders; quite the contrary, I am of the opinion that you have proven by your attitude that you are totally in the wrong job.”90

Party activists now took it upon themselves to publish in the press the names of Volksgenossen who patronized Jewish stores; for good measure, the culprits’ addresses were added. Bormann had to react. In an order of October 23, 1937, he took issue with these initiatives by pointing out a well-known circumstance: Many shoppers were not aware that a particular store was Jewish, and thus found themselves exposed in the press for a totally unintentional misdeed. Names should therefore be carefully checked before publication, and party members who were in an area unfamiliar to them should avoid buying in Jewish stores by inquiring beforehand about the proprietors’ identity.91

By 1936 it was clear that the Haavarah Agreement had brought Germany no economic or political advantages, but, quite the contrary, that channeling Jewish emigration toward Palestine could foster the creation of an independent Jewish state. Such a state could become a center of agitation against Nazi Germany or, worse still, could enhance and coordinate world Jewry’s power. The issue seemed to become particularly urgent from the end of 1936 and into 1937, when Britain’s Peel Commission recommended the division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab-Palestinian states, with other areas to remain under British control. What should Germany’s diplomatic stance be? By April 1937 Ernst von Weizsäcker, head of the political division of the Wilhelmstrasse and future secretary of state, had adopted a position, consistently promoted by the Foreign Ministry’s Department Germany against the creation of a Jewish state; in concrete terms, however, the policy remained one of noninterference, which meant, among other things, no active support for the Arab national movement.92

The Wilhelmstrasse’s anti-Zionist position became more adamant, at least on the level of principle, when, in June 1937, Foreign Minister Neurath himself took a stand: “The formation of a Jewish State or of a Jewish political entity under British Mandate is not in Germany’s interest,” Neurath cabled to his diplomatic representatives in London, Jerusalem, and Baghdad, “given the fact that such a state in Palestine would not absorb all the Jews of the world but would give them a new power position, under the cover of international law, something comparable to what the Vatican represents for political Catholicism or Moscow for the Comintern. That is why it is in the interest of Germany to contribute to the strengthening of the Arab world in order to offset, if need be, the increased power of world Jewry. Clearly, one cannot expect the direct intervention of Germany in order to influence the evolution of the Palestinian problem. However, it would be good if the interested foreign governments were not left uninformed of our position.”93

Neurath’s position and the general trend of thought prevailing at the Foreign Ministry encouraged opponents of the Haavarah through the year 1937, although it was becoming clear that the recommendations of the Peel Commission were leading nowhere, mainly as a result of violent Arab opposition. But no one dared to take any concrete measures against the agreement, as Hitler had not yet expressed his viewpoint. His decision, announced at the end of January 1938, clearly implied maintenance of the Haavarah: Further Jewish emigration by all possible means. The bureaucracy was left with only one choice: Comply. And so it did.94

A few days before Hitler’s decision, a somewhat less weighty matter was resolved in court: A Jewish businessman was sentenced for selling swastika flags and other national emblems. The court argued that, just as the law forbade Jews to display the national colors because they had no possible “inner relation” to the symbols of the movement or were even hostile to them, so trading in these symbols by Jews—an even more demeaning action—represented an offense against the honor of the movement and of the German people.95


On November 5, 1937, Hitler convened a wide array of military, economic, and foreign affairs experts to inform them of his strategic plans for the next four to five years. In the near future Hitler envisioned taking action against Czechoslovakia and against Austria (in that order), given the Western democracies’ glaring weakness of purpose. In fact Austria came first, due to an unforeseen set of circumstances cleverly exploited by Hitler.

In the German-Austrian treaty of 1936, the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg had promised to include some Nazi ministers in his cabinet. As, in the Nazis’ eyes, Schuschnigg was going neither far nor fast enough in acceding to their requirements, Hitler summoned him to Berchtesgaden in February 1938. Under threat of military action, Schuschnigg accepted the German dictator’s demands. Yet, once back in Vienna, he tried to outwit Hitler by announcing a plebiscite on Austrian independence. Hitler responded by threatening an immediate invasion of Austria if the plebiscite was not canceled. Berlin’s further demands—including Schuschnigg’s resignation and his replacement by an Austrian Nazi, Arthur Seyss-Inquart—were all accepted. Nonetheless Hitler’s course was now set: On March 12, 1938, the Wehrmacht crossed the Austrian border; the next day Austria was annexed to the Reich. On March 15 Hitler spoke from the balcony of the Hofburg to hundreds of thousands of ecstatic Viennese assembled on the Heldenplatz. His closing words could hardly have been surpassed: “As Führer and Chancellor of the German nation and Reich, I now report to history that my homeland has joined the German Reich.”96

On March 16, as the Gestapo was coming to arrest him, the Jewish playwright and historian of culture, Egon Friedell, jumped to his death from the window of his Vienna apartment. Five Jews had committed suicide in Vienna in January 1938, four in February. In the second half of March, seventy-nine Viennese Jews killed themselves.97

In Austrian author Thomas Bernhard’s last play, Heldenplatz, the Jewish professor Robert Schuster, originally from Vienna, returns from Oxford to the Austrian capital sometime in the 1980s. For himself and his wife, he discovers, the past remains hauntingly present:

My brother Josef may speak of luck

that he managed such a spontaneous departure

I always admired those who committed suicide

I never believed that my brother would be capable of

doing it….

Later he alludes to his wife:

For months, she again hears the really frightening way

in which the masses were shouting on the Heldenplatz

You know: on March fifteenth Hitler arrives

at the Heldenplatz…98

*Dacia was an ancient kingdom and a Roman province whose borders roughly corresponded to those of the Romanian state of the 1930s.

*This tirade was in keeping with the party’s vituperative anti-Catholic campaign of the late thirties: Its main ideologue was Alfred Rosenberg, but soon Martin Bormann was to become its principal driving force.

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