An Austrian Model?


On June 4, 1938, Sigmund Freud, aged eighty-two, was allowed to depart from Vienna, the city that had been his home since he was four years old. His apartment had twice been searched by the Gestapo, and his daughter Anna summoned for interrogation. Finally, after the Nazis had impounded part of his possessions and imposed the emigration tax, they demanded his signature on a declaration that he had not been ill treated. Freud dutifully signed, and added: “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.” The Gestapo men were too dull witted to perceive even such heavy-handed sarcasm, but the risk of such a comment was considerable—and one may wonder “whether there was something at work in Freud making him want to stay, and die, in Vienna.”1

As a result of the Anschluss, an additional 190,000 Jews had fallen into Nazi hands.2 The persecution in Austria, particularly in Vienna, outpaced that in the Reich. Public humiliation was more blatant and sadistic; expropriation better organized; forced emigration more rapid. The Austrians—their country renamed Ostmark and placed under the authority of Gauleiter Josef Bürckel, who received the title Reich Commissary for the Reunification of Austria with the Reich—seemed more avid for anti-Jewish action than the citizens of what now became the Old Reich (Altreich). Violence had already started before the Wehrmacht crossed the border; despite official efforts to curb its most chaotic and moblike aspects, it lasted for several weeks. The populace relished the public shows of degradation; countless crooks from all walks of life, either wearing party uniforms or merely displaying improvised swastika armbands, applied threats and extortion on the grandest scale: Money, jewelry, furniture, cars, apartments, and businesses were grabbed from their terrified Jewish owners.

In Austria in the early 1930s, the Jewish issue had become an even more potent tool for right-wing rabble-rousing than had been the case in Germany during the last years of the republic.3 When the Nazi campaign against Engelbert Dollfuss reached its climax in early 1934, it harped unceasingly on the domination of the chancellor by the Jews.4 The incitement intensified after Dollfuss’s assassination, on July 25, and during the entire chancellorship of his successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, which ended with the German invasion of March 1938. According to police sources, anti-Semitism was of “decisive importance ‘for the success of Nazi propaganda’ during the Schuschnigg years. ‘The most dangerous breach in the Austrian line of defense [against Nazism] was caused by anti-Semitism,’ wrote the ultraconservative Prince Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, the commander of the Heimwehr and head of the Patriotic Front, in his postwar memoirs. ‘Everywhere people sniffed Jewish influence and although there was not a single Jew in any leadership position in the whole Patriotic Front, the Viennese were telling each other…of the Judaization of this organization, that after all the Nazis were right and that one should clean out the Jews.”5

The wild aggression following the Anschluss quickly reached such proportions that by March 17 Heydrich was informing Burckel that he would order the Gestapo to arrest “those National Socialists who in the last few days allowed themselves to launch large-scale assaults in a totally undisciplined way [against Jews].”6 In the overall chaos, such threats had no immediate effect, nor did the fact that the violence was officially attributed to the Communists change the situation. It was only on April 29, when Bürckel announced that the leaders of SA units whose men took part in the excesses would lose their rank and could be dismissed from the SA and the party, that the violence started to ebb.7

In the meantime the official share of the takeover of Jewish property was rapidly growing. On March 28 Göring had issued orders “to take quiet measures for the appropriate redirecting of the Jewish economy in Austria.”8 By mid-May a Property Transfer Office (Vermögensverkehrsstelle) with nearly five hundred employees was actively promoting the Aryanization of Jewish economic assets.9 Within a few months, 83 percent of the handicrafts, 26 percent of the industry, 82 percent of the economic services, and 50 percent of the individual businesses owned by Jews were taken over in Vienna alone; of the eighty-six Jewish-owned banks in Austria’s capital, only eight remained after this first sweep.10 The funds made available by the confiscations and expropriations were used in part to compensate the losses suffered by “Nazi fighters” (NS-Kämffer) in “Jewish-Socialist Vienna” and to give some support to the pauperized Jewish population that was unable to emigrate.11 The compensation idea actually offered a wide array of possibilities. On July 18 the Office of the Führer’s Deputy sent to Bürckel a draft of the Law for the Compensation of Damages Caused to the German Reich by Jews. The law had not yet been announced, the letter indicated, “as it is not yet clear how the compensation fund should be set up after implementation of the measures planned against the Jews by Göring.”12

Some measures were not in need of any law. A few days after the Anschluss, SA men took the board chairman of the Kreditanstalt, Austria’s leading bank, Franz Rothenberg, for a car ride and threw him out of the moving vehicle, killing him. Isidor Pollack, the director general of the chemical works Pulverfabrik, received a visit from the SA in April 1938 and was so badly beaten up during the “search” of his home that he died shortly afterward. The Deutsche Bank confiscated the Rothschild-controlled Kreditanstalt, while Pulverfabrik, its subsidiary, was taken over by l. G. Farben.13

The overall Aryanization process continued to unfold with extraordinary speed. By mid-August 1939 Walter Rafelsberger, the head of the Property Transfer Office, could announce to Himmler that within less than a year and a half his agency “had practically completed the task of de-Judaizing the Ostmark economy.” All Jewish-owned businesses had disappeared from Vienna. Of the 33,000 Jewish enterprises that had existed in the Austrian capital at the time of the Anschluss, some 7,000 had already been liquidated before the setting up of the Transfer Office in May 1938. “Of the other 26,000, approximately 5,000 were Aryanized and the remaining 21,000 liquidated in an orderly way.”14

Simultaneously Jewish dwellings began to be confiscated throughout the country, particularly in Vienna. By the end of 1938, out of a total of approximately 70,000 apartments owned by Jews, about 44,000 had been Aryanized. After the beginning of the war, the rate of occupancy in the remaining Jewish apartments was approximately five to six families per apartment. Often there were neither plumbing nor cooking facilities, and only one telephone was available in every building.15

Herbert Hagen arrived in Vienna on March 12 with the first units of the Wehrmacht; a few days later Adolf Eichmann, who had just been promoted to second lieutenant in the SS (SS Untersturmführer), joined him. On the basis of lists that had been prepared by the SD, employees of Jewish organizations were arrested and documents impounded.16 After this first sweep, some measure of “normalization,” allowing for the implementation of more far-reaching plans, took place. Eichmann was appointed adviser on Jewish affairs to the inspector of the Security Police and SD, Franz Stahlecker. In a letter dated May 8, he informed Hagen about his new activities: “I hope that I will shortly be in possession of the Jewish yearbooks of the neighboring states [probably Czechoslovakia and Hungary], which I will then send to you. I consider them an important aid. All Jewish organizations in Austria have been ordered to make out weekly reports. These will go to the appropriate experts in II 112 in each case, and to the various desks. The reports are to be divided into a report on the situation and a report on activities. They are due each week on Monday in Vienna and on Thursday in the provinces. I hope to be able to send you the first reports by tomorrow. The first issue of the Zionist Rundschau is to appear next Friday. I have had the [printer’s copy] sent to me and am now on the boring job of censorship. You will get the paper, too, of course. In time this will become ‘my paper’ up to a point. In any case, I have got these gentlemen on the go, you may believe me. They are already working very busily. I demanded an emigration figure of 20,000 Jews without means for the period from April 1, 1938, to May 1, 1939, from the Jewish community and the Zionist organization for Austria, and they promised to me that they would keep to this.”17

The idea of establishing a Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für Jüdische Auswanderung) apparently came from the new head of the Jewish community, Josef Löwenherz. The community services assisting the would-be emigrants had been overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of requests for departure authorizations; a lack of coordination among the various German agencies involved in the emigration process turned obtaining these documents into a lengthy, cumbersome, and grueling ordeal. Löwenherz approached Eichmann, who transmitted the suggestion to Bürckel.18 Berlin gave its agreement, and on August 20, 1938, the central office was established under the formal responsibility of Stahlecker and the de facto responsibility of Eichmann himself.” The procedure inaugurated in the former Rothschild palace, at 20–22 Prinz Eugen Strasse, used, according to Eichmann, the “conveyor belt” method: “You put the first documents followed by the other papers in at one end and out comes the passport at the other.”20 One more principle was implemented: Through levies imposed on the richer members of the Jewish community, the necessary sums were confiscated to finance the emigration of the poorer Jews. Heydrich later explained the method: “We worked it this way: Through the Jewish community, we extracted a certain amount of money from the rich Jews who wanted to emigrate…. The problem was not to make the rich Jews leave but to get rid of the Jewish mob.”21

Aside from hastening legal emigration by all available means, the new masters of Austria started to push Jews over the borders, mainly those with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Switzerland. What had been a sporadic Nazi initiative in some individual cases until March 1938 became a systematic policy after the Anschluss. According to Göring and Heydrich, some five thousand Austrian Jews were expelled in that way betwen March and November 1938.22 And even tighter control was imposed on those Jews who had not left. Sometime in October 1938, Himmler gave the order to concentrate all Jews from the Austrian provinces in Vienna. According to an internal memo of the SD’s Jewish section, Eichmann discussed the transfer of an estimated 10,000 Jews still living outside the capital with Odilo Globocnik, the Gauleiter of Lower Danube, and himself set out on October 26 to tour the Austrian provinces in order to inform the SD chiefs in each region “that with the help of the Gestapo stations, they advise the Jews either to leave the country by 15/12/1938 or to move to Vienna by 31/10/38 [probably an error for 31/12/38].”23 Within six months of the Anschluss, 45,000 Austrian Jews had emigrated, and by May 1939, approximately 100,000, or more than 50 percent, had left.24 The Jewish exodus from Austria had an unexpected side benefit for the Nazis. Each emigrant had to attach three passport photos to the forms. The Vienna SD drew the attention of the party’s Racial Policy Office to such an outstanding collection; Walter Gross’s office responded immediately: It was “exceptionally interested” in this immense inventory of Jewish faces.25

The Germans had some other plans as well. In October 1938 Rafelsberger suggested the setting up of three concentration camps for 10,000 Jews each in areas empty of population, mainly in sandy regions and in marshes. The Jews would build their own camps; costs would be kept to about ten million marks, and the camps would provide work for approximately 10,000 unemployed Jews. It seems that one of the technical problems was to find enough barbed wire.26 Nothing came of this idea—for a short while at least. Another idea—not directly related to anti-Jewish policies, and deadlier in the immediate future—was, however, quickly implemented.

“Mauthausen,” writes its most recent historian, “sits amid lovely rolling hills whose fields cover the Austrian landscape like the bedspread of a giant. The town nuzzles peacefully along the north bank of the Danube, whose swift current is quickened by the nearby confluence of the Enns, a major Alpine waterway…. Mauthausen lies just 14 miles downriver from Linz, the provincial capital of the province of Upper Austria; 90 miles to the east the spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the landmark of Vienna, rises to meet the sky…. Of all the area’s treasures, however, the most significant to our story are the great yawning pits of granite.”27

A few days after the Anschluss, in March 1938, Himmler, accompanied by Oswald Pohl, chief of the administrative office of the SS-Hauptamt, made a first inspection of the quarries. The intention was clear: excavation of the granite would bring considerable financial benefits to an SS-operated enterprise, the German Earth and Stone Works Corporation (BEST), which was about to be established in April; a concentration camp on location would provide the necessary work force. The final decision must have been taken quickly as, according to a report in the London Times of March 30, “Gauleiter Eigruber, of Upper Austria, speaking at Gmunden, announced that for its achievements in the National Socialist cause his province was to have the special distinction of having within its bounds a concentration camp for the traitors of all Austria. This, according to the Völkischer Beobachter, aroused such enthusiasm in the audience that the Gauleiter could not continue his speech for some time.”28

A second visit took place at the end of May; this time it included Theodor Eicke, the inspector of concentration camps, and Herbert Karl of the SS construction division.29 The first 300 inmates, Austrian and German criminals from Dachau, arrived on August 8, 1938. By September 1939 Mauthausen held 2,995 inmates, among them 958 criminals, 1,087 Gypsies (mainly from the Austrian province of Burgenland), and 739 German political prisoners:30 “The first Jewish inmate was a Vienneseborn man arrested as a homosexual, who was registered at Mauthausen in September 1939 and recorded as having died in March 1940. During 1940 an additional 90 Jews arrived; all but 10 of them were listed as dead by the year’s end.”31

According to Götz Aly and Susanne Heim, it was in Austria that the Nazis inaugurated their “rational” economically motivated policy regarding the Jewish question, which from then on dictated all their initiatives in this domain, from the “model” established in Vienna to the “Final Solution.” The Viennese model (Modell Wien) was basically characterized by a drastic restructuring of the economy as a result of the liquidation of virtually all the unproductive Jewish businesses on the basis of a thorough assessment of their profitability prepared by the Reich Board for Economic Management (Reichskuratorium für Wirtschaftlichkeit);32 by a systematic effort to get rid of the newly created Jewish proletariat by way of accelerated emigration whereby, as we saw, wealthy Jews contributed to the emigration fund for the destitute part of the Jewish population; by establishing labor camps (the three camps planned by Walter Rafelsberger), where the upkeep of the Jews would be maintained at a minimum and financed by the labor of the inmates themselves.33 In essence those in charge of the Jewish question in annexed Austria were supposedly motivated by economic logic and not by any Nazi anti-Semitic ideology. The argument seems bolstered by the fact that not only was the entire Aryanization process in Austria master-minded by Göring’s Four-Year Plan administration and its technocrats, but the same technocrats (such as Rafelsberger) also planned the solution of the problem of impoverished Jewish masses by way of forced-labor concentration camps that appeared to be early models of the future ghettos and eventually of the future extermination camps.

In fact, as has been seen, the liquidation of Jewish economic life in Nazi Germany had started at an accelerated pace in 1936, and by late 1937, with the elimination of all conservative influence, the enforced Aryanization drive had become the main thrust of the anti-Jewish policies, mainly in order to compel the Jews to emigrate. Thus what happened in Austria after the Anschluss was simply the better organized part of a general policy adopted throughout the Reich. The link between economic expropriation and expulsion of the Jews from Germany and German-controlled territories did continue to characterize that stage of Nazi policies until the outbreak of the war. Then, after an interim period of almost two years, another “logic” appeared, one hardly dependent on economic rationality.


After the Anschluss the Jewish refugee problem became a major international issue. By convening a conference of thirty-two countries in the French resort town of Evian from July 6 to 14, 1938, President Roosevelt publicly demonstrated his hope of finding a solution to it. Roosevelt’s initiative was surprising, because “he chose to intrude into a situation in which he was virtually powerless to act, bound as he was by a highly restrictive immigration law.”34 Indeed, the outcome of Evian was decided before it even convened: The invitation to the conference clearly stated that “no country would be expected to receive a greater number of emigrants than is permitted by its existing legislation.”35

The conference and its main theme, the fate of the Jews, found a wide and diverse echo in the world press. “There can be little prospect,” the London Daily Telegraph said on July 7, “that room will be found within any reasonable time.”36 According to the Gazette de Lausanne of July 11: “Some think that they [the Jews] have got too strong a position for such a small minority. Hence the opposition to them, which in certain places has turned into a general attack.” “Wasn’t it said before the first World War that one-tenth of the world’s gold belonged to the Jews?” queried the Libre Belgique on July 7.37

Not all of the press was so hostile. “It is an outrage to the Christian conscience especially,” said the London Spectator on July 29, “that the modern world with all its immense wealth and resources cannot get these exiles a home and food and drink and a secure status.”38 For the future postwar French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, writing in the left-wing Catholic paper L’Aube on July 7, “One thing is clearly understood: the enlightened nations must not let the refugees be driven to despair.”39The mainstream French Catholic newspaper La Croix urged compassion: “We cannot stand aside,” it pleaded on July 14, “in view of the suffering of human beings and fail to respond to their cry for help…. We cannot be partners to a solution of the Jewish question by means of their extinction, by means of the complete extermination of a whole people.”40 But no doors opened at Evian, and no hope was offered to the refugees. An Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees was established under the chairmanship of the American George Rublee. Rublee’s activities, which ultimately achieved no result, will be discussed further on.

Nazi sarcasm had a field day. For the SD Evian’s net result was “to show the whole world that the Jewish problem was in no way provoked only by Germany, but was a question of the most immediate world political significance. Despite the general rejection by the Evian states of the way in which the Jewish question has been dealt with in Germany, no country, America not excepted, declared itself ready to accept unconditionally any number of Jews. It was remarkable that the Australian delegate even mentioned that Jewish emigration would endanger his own race.”41 There was no fundamental difference between the German assessment and the biting summary of Evian by the Newsweek correspondent there: “Chairman Myron C. Taylor, former U.S. Steel head, opened the proceedings: ‘The time has come when governments…must act and act promptly.’ Most governments represented acted promptly by slamming their doors against Jewish refugees.”42 The Völkischer Beobachter headlined triumphantly: “Nobody wants them.”43

For Hitler too, this was an opportunity not to be missed. He chose to insert his comments into the closing speech of the party rally on September 12. Its main theme, the Sudeten crisis, riveted the attention of the world; never since 1918 had the danger of war seemed closer, but the Jews could not be left unmentioned: “They complain in these democracies about the unfathomable cruelty that Germany—and now also Italy—uses in trying to get rid of their Jews. In general, all these great democratic empires have only a few people per square kilometer, whereas Germany, for decades past, has admitted hundreds and hundreds of thousands of these Jews, without even batting an eye.

“But now, as the complaints have at last become too strong and as the nation is not willing any more to let itself be sucked dry by these parasites, cries of pain arise all over. But it does not mean that these democratic countries have now become ready to replace their hypocritical remarks with acts of help; on the contrary, they affirm with complete coolness that over there, evidently, there is no room! Thus, they expect that Germany with its 140 inhabitants per square kilometer will go on keeping its Jews without any problem, whereas the democratic world empires with only a few people per square kilometer can in no way take such a burden upon themselves. In short, no help, but preaching, certainly!”44

The Evian debacle acquires its full significance from its wider context. The growing strength of Nazi Germany impelled some of the countries that had aligned themselves with Hitler’s general policies to take steps that, whether demanded by Germany or not, were meant to be demonstrations of political and ideological solidarity with the Reich. The most notorious among such initiatives were the Italian racial laws, approved by the Fascist Grand Council on October 6, 1938, and taking effect on November 17.

In Italy the Jewish community numbered barely more than fifty thousand and was fully integrated into the general society. Anti-Semitism had become rare with the waning of the church’s influence, and even the army—and the Fascist Party—included prominent Jewish members. Finally Mussolini himself had not, in the past, expressed much regard for Nazi racial ideology. Devised on the Nuremberg pattern, the new anti-Jewish laws caused widespread consternation among Italian Jews and many non-Jews alike.45

The October laws had been preceded, in mid-July, by the Racial Manifesto, a declaration setting forth Mussolini’s concoction of racial anti-Semitism and intended as the theoretical foundation of the forthcoming legislation. Hitler could not but graciously acknowledge so much goodwill. He duly did so on September 6, in the first of his speeches to the Nuremberg party rally: “I think that I must at this point announce, on my own behalf and on that of all of you, our deep and heartfelt happiness in the fact that another European world power has, through its own experiences, by its own decision and along its own paths arrived at the same conception as ourselves and with a resolution worthy of admiration has drawn from this conception the most far-reaching consequences.”46 The first anti-Jewish law introduced in Hungary, in May 1938, was greeted with less fanfare than Mussolini’s decision, but it pointed to the same basic evidence: The shadow of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy was lengthening over ever larger parts of Europe.47

While the Jews were becoming targets of legal discrimination in a growing number of European countries, and while international efforts to solve the problem of Jewish refugees came to naught, an unusual step was being taken in complete secrecy. In the early summer of 1938, Pope Pius XI, who over the years had become an increasingly staunch critic of the Nazi regime, requested the American Jesuit John LaFarge to prepare the text of an encyclical against Nazi racism and Nazi anti-Semitism in particular. LaFarge had probably been chosen because of his continuous antiracist activities in the United States and his book Interracial Justice, which Pius XI had read.48

With the help of two other Jesuit priests, the French Gustave Desbuquois and the German Gustav Gundlach, LaFarge completed the draft of Humani Generis Unitas (The unity of humankind) by the autumn of 1938 and delivered it to the general of the Jesuit order in Rome, the Pole Wladimir Ledochowski, for submission to the pope.49 In the meantime Pius XI had yet again criticized racism on several other occasions. On September 6, 1938, speaking in private to a group of Belgian pilgrims, he went further. With great emotion, apparently in tears, the pope, after commenting on the sacrifice of Abraham, declared: “It is impossible for Christians to participate in anti-Semitism. We recognize that everyone has the right to self-defense and may take the necessary means for protecting legitimate interests. But anti-Semitism is inadmissible. Spiritually, we are all Semites.”50

In this declaration, made in private and thus not mentioned in the press, the pope’s condemnation of anti-Semitism remained on theological grounds: He did not criticize the ongoing persecution of the Jews, and he included a reference to the right of self-defense (against undue Jewish influence). Nonetheless his statement was clear: Christians could not condone anti-Semitism of the Nazi kind (or for that matter, as it was shaping up in Italy at the very same time).

The message of the encyclical was similar: a condemnation of racism in general and the condemnation of anti-Semitism on theological grounds, from the viewpoint of Christian revelation and the teachings of the church regarding the Jews.51 Even so, the encyclical would have been the first solemn denunciation by the supreme Catholic authority of the anti-Semitic attitudes, teachings, and persecutions in Germany, in Fascist Italy, and in the entire Christian world.

Ledochowski was first and foremost a fanatical anti-Communist who moreover hoped that some political arrangement with Nazi Germany remained possible. He procrastinated. The draft of Humani Generis Unitas was sent by him for further comment to the editor in chief of the notoriously anti-Semitic organ of the Roman Jesuits, Civiltà Cattolica.” It was only after LaFarge had written directly to the Pope that, a few days before his death, Pius XI received the text. The pontiff died on February 9, 1939. His successor, Pius XII, was probably informed of the project and probably took the decision to shelve Humani Generis Unitas.53


Even in 1938, small islands of purely symbolic opposition to the anti-Jewish measures still existed inside Germany. Four years earlier, the Reich Ministry of Education had ordered the German Association for Art History to expel its Jewish members. The association did not comply but merely reshuffled its board of directors. Internal ministry memoranda indicate that Education Minister Rust repeated his demand in 1935, again apparently to no avail. In March 1938 State Secretary Werner Zschintsch sent a reminder to his chief: All funds for the association were to be eliminated, and, if the order was not obeyed, it would no longer be allowed to call itself “German.” “The Minister must be interested,” Zschintsch concluded, “to have the association finally comply with the principles of the National Socialist world-view.”54 We do not know what the association then decided to do; in any case its Jewish members were certainly not retained after the November 1938 pogrom.

There were some other—equally unexpected—signs of independence. Such was to be the case at the 1938 Salzburg Festival. After the Anschluss, Arturo Toscanini, who had refused to conduct at Bayreuth in 1933, turned Salzburg down as well.

Salzburg was emblematic in more ways than one. From the very outset, in 1920, when Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Max Reinhardt had organized the first festival around a production of Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann (Everyman; based on the medieval mystery play of the same name), the Austrian anti-Semitic press had raved against the Jewish cultural invasion and the exploitation by three Jews (the third was the actor Alexander Moissi) of Christianity’s loftiest heritage.55 Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann nonetheless opened the festival year in year out (except for performances of his Welttkeater in 1922 and 1924). In 1938 Jedermann was of course removed from the repertory.56 The Jewish invasion had been stemmed.

Wilhelm Furtwängler agreed to take Toscanini’s place at Salzburg. Throughout his career in Nazi Germany, Furtwängler showed himself to be a political opportunist who had moments of courage. In Salzburg he agreed to conduct Wagner’s Meisfersinger on condition that the Jew Walter Grossmann be kept as the understudy in the role of Hans Sachs. As it happened, on opening night Karl Kammann, the scheduled Hans Sachs, fell ill, and Walter Grossmann sang: “A glittering crowd headed by Joseph Goebbels and his entourage sat dutifully enthralled through the Führer’s favorite opera, while Grossmann brought Nuremberg’s most German hero to life.”57 But neither the actions of the art historians’ association nor Walter Grossmann’s performance could stem the ever growing tide—and impact—of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda.

“The Eternal Jew” (Der ewige Jude), the largest anti-Jewish exhibition of the prewar years, opened on November 8, 1937, in Munich’s Deutsches Museum. Streicher and Goebbels gave speeches. On the same evening the director of the Bavarian State Theater organized a cultural event in the Residenz Theater, which, according to the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, expressed “the basic themes of the exhibition.” The first part of the program offered a staged rendition of excerpts from Luther’s notorious pamphlet Wider diejuden und ihre Lügen (Against the Jews and their lies); the second part presented readings from other anti-Jewish texts, and the third, the Shylock scenes from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.58

A SOPADE report written a few weeks after the opening stressed that the exhibition “did not remain without effect on the visitors.” In the first hall the viewer was faced with large models of Jewish body parts: “Jewish eyes…, the Jewish nose, the Jewish mouth, the lips,” and so on. Huge photographs of various “racially typical” Jewish faces and mannerisms followed—Trotsky gesticulating, Charlie Chaplin, and so on—” all of it displayed in the most repulsive way.” Material (extracts from the Book of Esther, for instance), and caricatures, slogans, and descriptions of “Jews in politics,” “Jews in culture,” “Jews in business”—and accounts of Jewish goals and methods in these various domains—filled room after room. According to the report, “Jews in film” was particularly effective: An unbearably kitschy commercial production was shown in that section; at the end Alfred Rosenberg appeared on the screen and declared: “You are horrified by this film. Yes, it is particularly bad, but it is precisely the one we wanted to show you.”

The author of the SOPADE report admits that he was deeply impressed on leaving the exhibition; so was his companion. She asked questions about what they had seen: “I couldn’t tell her the truth,” he admits. “I did not have sufficient knowledge for that.”59Some SA units were so inspired by the exhibition that they started a boycott action of their own as an “educational follow-up” to what they had learned at the Deutsches Museum.60

An exhibition such as The Eternal Jew was merely the most extreme expression of the ongoing effort to assemble any kind of damning material about the Jews. Diverse forms of this endeavor were encountered during the first years of the regime. Now, at the end of 1937 and throughout 1938, the search went on with renewed inventiveness. On February 24, 1938, the minister of justice informed all prosecutors that it was no longer necessary to forward a copy of every indictment against a Jew to the ministry’s press division, as it had already acquired a sufficient perspective on the criminality of Jews. The kinds of criminal acts by Jews that still had to be included were “cases that raised new legal points; those in which the perpetrator had demonstrated a particularly evil intention or had used particularly objectionable methods; those in which the crime had been perpetrated on an especially large scale or had caused particularly great damage or aroused uncommon interest among the public; finally, cases of racial defilement in which the perpetrator was a recurrent offender or had abused a position of power.”61 Such instances of Jews in Germany abusing their positions of power in order to commit Rassenschande must have been rather rare in the year of grace 1938….

In March 1938 the issue of Jewish Mischlinge and persons related to Jews still in government employment came to the fore. The order for an investigation seems to have originated with Hitler himself, since it was a member of the Führer’s Chancellery, Hans Hefelmann, who on March 28, 1938, asked the SD, and specifically section II 112, to collect all the relevant documentation. The II 112 officials pointed out that the forthcoming population census would give an exact account of this particular group and that, in any case, such files as existed were most probably to be found in the higher reaches of each ministry, as any promotion had to take into consideration the candidate’s partly Jewish origin or Jewish family connections.62

By the beginning of 1938 all German Jews had had to turn in their passports (new ones were issued only to those Jews who were about to emigrate).63 But another identification document was soon decided upon. In July 1938 the Ministry of the Interior decreed that before the end of the year all Jews had to apply to the police for an identity card, which was to be carried at all times and shown on demand.64 On August 17 another decree, prepared by Hans Globke, announced that from January 1, 1939, Jews who did not bear the first names indicated on an appended list were to add the first name Israel or Sara to their names.65 The appended list of men’s names started with Abel, Abieser, Abimelech, Abner, Absalom, Ahab, Ahasja, Ahaser,66 and so on; the list of women’s names was of the same ilk. (Had these lists been compiled under other circumstances, they could stand as an appropriate illustration of the mind-set of bureaucratic half-wits.)

Some of the names on Globke’s lists were entirely fictitious and others were grotesque choices manifestly resulting from a compounded intention of identification and degradation. A surprising inclusion among the typically Jewish names was that of Isidor. As has been pointedly remarked, “Saint Isidor of Seville, the anti-Jewish church father, and Saint Isidor of Madrid, the patron saint of so many village churches in Southern Germany, would have been astonished.”67 But it may well be that Globke was merely following the current custom: In Germany at the time, Isidor was a name borne mainly by Jews.68

A few months after the Anschluss, Streicher demanded from Himmler that his researchers be granted access to the Rothschild archives in Vienna in order to collect material for a “monumental historical work about Jews, Jewish crimes and Jewish laws in Germany from past to present.” Himmler agreed but insisted on the presence of an SD representative during the perusal of the documents.69 The Rothschild archives exercised a widespread fascination. Rosenberg planned an official exhibition at the September 1938 party congress, whose theme was to be “Europe’s Fate in the East.” His office turned to SS-Hauptsturmführer Hard of the Vienna Gestapo, who had impounded the Rothschild archives, in the hope of finding documents illustrating that Jewry in the East maintained contacts with both industrialists and Marxist leaders: “We assume,” wrote Rosenberg’s delegate, “that among the confiscated material in the Rothschild House, some valuable original information on this subject will be found.” Hartl’s office answered a few weeks later: No material relevant to the exhibition theme could be found in the Rothschild papers.70 At approximately the same time, SS-Oberführer Albert indicated to his SD colleague, SS-Standartenführer Six, that he was particularly interested in access to the Rothschild archives for “research purposes”; Six assured Albert that the material was accessible, although it had now been moved to several different places; its curators, it should be noted, were not all ordinary archivists: the Frankfurt Rothschild material and the thirty-thousand-volume library that came with it were being kept secure in the SS main region Fulda-Werra.71

After the annexation of the Sudetenland, Rosenberg turned to the leader of the Sudeten Germans, Konrad Henlein, with demands for any Marxist, Jewish, and also religious literature that “offers invaluable resources to the library and the scientific research work of the ‘Hohe Schule’ [institute] that is being established.”72

It stands to reason that in such a far-flung research drive, some borderline issues presented serious challenges to the Nazi sense of fine distinctions. Thus, on March 9, 1938, Otto Winter, the owner of the Carl Winter University Publishing House in Heidelberg, turned to Rosenberg for advice on a rather delicate matter. In the twenties Winter had published four volumes of a projected five-volume standard edition of Baruch Spinoza’s works; the type for the fifth volume had been set in 1932, but the book had not been printed. Winter felt that he could not decide on his own whether to publish the last volume (in his letter he emphasized his longtime party membership and extended involvement in Nazi publishing activities).73 On March 18 Rosenberg’s Main Office for Science (Amt Wissenschaft) authorized publication (probably on the recommendation of party philosopher Alfred Baumler).74 Winter, however, was not an old-time party member for nothing: On March 30 he thanked Rosenberg for the authorization and asked whether he could allude to it in the advertisement he was planning to place in the Bulletin of the German Book Trade: “I attach importance to it,” he added, “in order to protect myself from unjustified attacks.” The reaction to Winter’s request left immediate traces in the letter’s margin: two bold question marks and a “Nein” underlined four times.75 Winter was told the same in no uncertain terms a few days later. To make sure that Winter would not attempt any foul play, the Amt Wissenschaft letter was sent by registered mail.76

Sometimes no amount of formal identification helped, and some highly annoying situations arose. Thus, on August 20, 1938, in answer to an inquiry by the political division of the Hesse-Nassau Gauleitung, the woman principal (Rektorin) of the Fürstenberger Gymnasium for Girls in Frankfurt had to send a somewhat embarrassed explanation. What had happened could not be denied: A few days before, the two Jewish girls still enrolled at the school had attended the daily flag-raising. Rektorin Öchler tried to explain away the incident by arguing that there had been many changes among the teachers and that the girls had taken advantage of the situation with “a certain Jewish pushiness.” Adequate instructions had been given to the teachers and the principal wanted to use the occasion to expel the girls from the school.77 But the matter did not rest at that. On August 27 the Gauleitung forwarded the file to the Kreisleitung of Greater Frankfurt. Four days later, the Kreisleiter wrote to Mayor Kremmer that what had happened was incomprehensible and inexcusable, despite the principal’s explanations: “I ask you to follow up the matter,” the Kreisleiter concluded, “and to make sure that the Frankfurt schools are immediately cleansed of Jewish pupils.”78 On September 8 the mayor’s office transmitted the case to the city’s School Department with an urgent request to clarify the issue, to consider the possibility of cleansing the city schools of their Jewish students, and to prepare a draft answer to the Kreisleiter. The material had to be in by September 18. The School Department reacted to the emergency with calm: Its answer was sent to the mayor on September 26. Basically, it said, the incident had occurred because there had been many changes and replacements among the teachers. Moreover, the presence of Jewish schoolchildren in the city schools was subject to the law of April 25, 1933, against the overcrowding of German schools (that is, Jewish students could be registered up to the limit of 1.5 percent of the overall number, with exemption from the numerus clausus for children of front-line veterans and of Mischling couples of the first and second degrees).79


The anti-Jewish economic campaign started at full throttle in early 1938; laws and decrees followed one another throughout the year, shattering all remaining Jewish economic existence in Germany. As the year began, some 360,000 Jews still lived in the Altreich, most of them in several large cities, mainly in Berlin. Jewish assets, estimated at some ten to twelve billion Reichsmarks in 1933, had been reduced to half that sum by the spring of 1938. This in itself indicates, as Barkai has pointed out, that Aryanization was a gradual process leading to the measures that were to descend on the Jews of Germany throughout 1938.80

On April 26 all Jews were ordered to register their property.81 On June 14 the problem that had defeated the boycott committee on April 1, 1933, was solved. According to the third supplementary decree to the Reich Citizenship Law, “a business was Jewish if the proprietor was a Jew, if a partner was a Jew, or if, on January 1, 1938, a member of the board of directors was a Jew. Also considered Jewish was a business in which Jews owned more than one quarter of the shares or more than one half of the votes, or which was factually under predominantly Jewish influence. A branch of a Jewish business was considered Jewish if the manager of the branch was a Jew.”82

On July 6, 1938, a law established a detailed list of commercial services henceforth forbidden to Jews, including credit information, real estate brokerage, and so on.83 On July 25, the fourth supplementary decree to the Reich Citizenship Law put an end to Jewish medical practice in Germany: The licenses of Jewish physicians were withdrawn as of September 30, 1938.84 As Raul Hilberg indicates, “That was no more than a re-enactment of canon law, but the modern innovation was the provision that leases for apartments rented by Jewish physicians were terminable at the option of either landlord or tenant.”85 The last line of the decree related neither to canon law nor to modern innovations, but was entirely in the spirit of the new Germany: “Those [physicians] who receive an authorization [to give medical services to Jewish patients] are not authorized to use the appellation ‘physician,’ but only the appellation ‘caretakers of the sick.’”86 Incidentally, the decree was signed and promulgated in Bayreuth: Hitler was attending the festival.

On September 27, 1938, on the eve of the Munich conference, Hitler signed the fifth supplementary decree, forbidding Jews to practice law.87 The decree was not immediately made public because of the international tension. Finally, on October 13, he allowed the announcement to be made the next day.88 The decree was to take effect in the Altreich on November 30 and in former Austria (with a partial and temporary exception in Vienna) on December 31.

The final blow that destroyed all Jewish economic life in Germany came on November 12, when, just after the Kristallnacht pogrom, Göring issued a ban on all Jewish business activity in the Reich. Meanwhile, however, National Socialist physicians and lawyers were still not satisfied with having definitively driven the Jews out of their professions. As was usual in the world of Nazi anti-Jewish measures, concrete destruction had to find a symbolic expression as well. On October 3, 1938, the Reich Physicians’ Chamber (Reichsärztekammer) had demanded of the Minister of Education that Jewish physicians, now forbidden to practice, should also suffer further deprivation: “I am therefore requesting,” Reich physicians leader Wagner concluded his letter to Rust, “that the title ‘Doctor’ should be taken away from these Jews as soon as possible.”89 The minister of education and the minister of justice consulted on the matter: their common proposal to the Ministry of the Interior was not to cancel the title of doctor in medicine and law only, but rather to consider drafting a law that would strip Jews of all tides, academic degrees, and similar distinctions.90On the morrow of the November 9–10 pogrom, the matter was postponed.91

The atmosphere permeating German business circles as the forced Aryanization—or more precisely, confiscation of all Jewish property—became law is revealed in a letter from a Munich businessman who had been asked by the authorities to serve as a consultant in the Aryanization transactions. The author of the letter described himself as a National Socialist, a member of the SA, and an admirer of Hitler. He then added: “I was so disgusted by the brutal…and extraordinary methods employed against the Jews that, from now on, I refuse to be involved in any way with Aryanizations, although this means losing a handsome fee…. As an old, honest and upstanding businessman, I [can] no longer stand by and countenance the way many Aryan’ businessmen, entrepreneurs and the like…are shamelessly attempting to grab up Jewish shops and factories, etc. as cheaply as possible and for a ridiculous price. These people are like vultures swarming down, their eyes bleary, their tongues hanging out with greed, to feed upon the Jewish carcass.”92

The wave of forced Aryanization swept away the relatively moderate behavior that, as we have seen, major corporations had adhered to until then. The new economic incentives, the pressure from the party, the absence of any conservative ministerial countervailing forces (such as Schacht had represented) put an end to the difference between low-grade grabbing and high-level mannerliness. In some cases Hitler’s direct intervention can be traced. Thus, in mid-November 1937, “Herbert Göring and Wilhelm Keppler at Hitler’s Chancellery [now] summoned Otto Steinbrinck, [steel magnate] Friedrich Flick’s chief operative in Berlin, in order to bribe or bully Flick into leading a drive to Aryanize’ the extensive mining properties of the Julius and Ignaz Petschek families.”93

It seems that recently established enterprises were more aggressive than older ones: Flick, Otto Wolf, and Mannesmann, for example, three of the fast-growing new giants of heavy industry, were more energetically involved in the Aryanizations than were Krupp or the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steelworks). The same happened in banking, the most aggressive being the regional banks in search of fast expansion, and some of the private banks (Merck, Fink, Richard Lenz), The Dresdner Bank, in need of capital, took the lead in brokering the takeovers, whereas the Deutsche Bank showed more restraint, and the 2 percent commission it levied on the sales prices of Jewish businesses accumulated to several millions of Reichsmarks from 1937 to 1940.94

Not all these operations were as easy as the Nazis would have wished. Some of the major Aryanization initiatives kept them on tenterhooks for months and even years, without Berlin being able to claim full victory.95 The most notorious cases involved complex negotiations with the Rothschilds for control of the Witkowitz steel works in Czechoslovakia (the Viennese Rothschild, Baron Louis, was held hostage for the duration of the negotiations), and with the Weinmanns and also with Hitler s targets, the Petscheks, for control of steelworks and coal mines in the Reich. The Nazis were caught in a maze of foreign holdings and property transfers aptly initiated by their prospective victims which, during the Petschek negotiations, led Steinbrinck to write in an internal memorandum: “Eventually we will have to consider the use of violence or direct state intervention.”96

The Nazis were well aware of the dilemma exacerbated by accelerated Aryanization: The rapid pauperization of the Jewish population and the growing difficulties in the way of emigration were creating a new Jewish social and economic problem of massive proportions. At the outset men like Frick still had very traditional views of what could be done. According to a report of June 14, 1938, entitled “Jews in the Economy,” in a discussion held in April of that year, Frick had apparently summed up his views as follows: “Insofar as Jews in Germany are able to live off the proceeds of their commercial and other assets, they require strict state supervision. Insofar as they are in need of financial assistance, the question of Republic support must be solved. Greater use of the various organizations for social welfare appears to be unavoidable.”97

In the early fall of 1938, another measure, this time involving locally planned economic extortion, was initiated in Berlin. One of the largest low-rent housing companies, the Gemeimitzige Siedlungs-und Wohnungsbaugesellschaft (GSW) Berlin, ordered the registration of all its Jewish tenants and canceled most of their leases. Some of the Jewish tenants left, but others sued the GSW. Not only did the Charlottenburg district court back the housing company, it indicated that similar measures could be more generally applied. The court would probably have reached the same decision without external pressure, but it so happened that pressure was applied upon the Ministry of Justice by Albert Speer, whom, in early 1937, Hitler had appointed general inspector for the construction of Berlin. The eager general inspector was simultaneously negotiating with the capital’s mayor for the construction of 2,500 small apartments to which to transfer other Jews from their living quarters.98 These details seem to have escaped Speer’s highly selective memory.99

Anti-Jewish violence had erupted again in the Altreich in the spring and early summer of 1938. In June, on Heydrich’s orders, some ten thousand “asocials” were arrested and sent to concentration camps: Fifteen hundred Jews with prior sentences were included and shipped off to Buchenwald (which had been set up in 1937).100 A few weeks before, at the end of April, the propaganda minister (and Gauleiter of Berlin) had asked the Berlin police chief, Count Wolf Heinrich Helldorf, for a proposal for new forms of segregation and harassment of the city’s Jews. The result was a lengthy memorandum prepared by the Gestapo and handed to Helldorf on May 17. At the last moment the document was hastily reworked by the SD’s Jewish section, which was critical of the fact that the maximal segregation measures proposed by the Gestapo would make the first priority, emigration, even more difficult than it already was. The final version of the proposal was passed on to Goebbels and possibly discussed with Hitler at a meeting on July 24.101 Some of the measures envisaged were already in preparation, others were to be applied after the November pogrom, and others still after the beginning of the war.

Goebbels simultaneously moved to direct incitement. According to his diary, he addressed three hundred Berlin police officers about the Jewish issue on June 10: “Against all sentimentality. Not law is the motto but harassment. The Jews must get out of Berlin. The police will help.”102Party organizations were brought into action. Now that Jewish businesses had been defined by the decree of June 14, their marking could finally begin. “Starting late Saturday afternoon,” the American ambassador to Germany, Hugh R. Wilson, cabled Secretary of State Hull on June 22, 1938, “Civilian groups, consisting usually of two or three men, were to be observed painting on the windows of Jewish shops the word “JUDE” in large red letters, the star of David and caricatures of Jews. On the Kurfürstendamm and the Tauentzienstrasse, the fashionable shopping districts in the West, the task of the painters was made easy by the fact that Jewish shop-owners had been ordered the day before to display their names in white letters. (This step, which was evidently decreed in anticipation of a forthcoming ruling which will require Jews to display a uniform distinctive sign, disclosed that a surprisingly large number of shops in this district are still Jewish.) The painters in each case were followed by large groups of spectators who seemed to enjoy the proceedings thoroughly. The opinion in informed sections of the public was that the task was being undertaken by representatives of the Labour Front rather than as formerly has been the case by the S.A. or the S.S. It is understood that in the district around the Alexanderplatz boys of the Hitler Youth participated in the painting, making up for their lack of skill by a certain imagination and thoroughness of mutilation. Reports are received that several incidents took place in this region leading to the looting of shops and the beating up of their owners; a dozen or so broken or empty showcases and windows have been seen which lend credence to these reports.”103

Bella Fromm’s diary entry describing the Hitler Youth in action against Jewish retail shops is more graphic. “We were about to enter a tiny jewelry shop when a gang of ten youngsters in Hitler Youth uniforms smashed the shop window and stormed into the shop, brandishing butcher knives and yelling, ‘To hell with the Jewish rabble! Room for the Sudeten Germans!’” She continued: “The smallest boy of the mob climbed inside the window and started his work of destruction by flinging everything he could grab right into the streets. Inside, the other boys broke glass shelves and counters, hurling alarm clocks, cheap silverware, and trifles to accomplices outside. A tiny shrimp of a boy crouched in a corner of the window, putting dozens of rings on his fingers and stuffing his pockets with wristwatches and bracelets. His uniform bulging with loot, he turned around, spat squarely into the shopkeeper’s face, and dashed off.”104 An SD internal report also briefly described the “Jewish action” (Judenaktion) in Berlin, indicating that it had started on June 10. According to the SD, all party organizations participated with the authorization of the city Gauleitung.105

The situation soon got out of hand, however, and as the American ambassador was sending his cable, an order was emanating from Berchtesgaden: The Führer wished the Berlin action to stop.106 And so it did. Wide-scale anti-Jewish violence was not what Hitler needed as the international crisis over the fate of the Sudetenland was reaching its climax.

If Goebbels’s diary faithfully reproduced the gist of the views Hitler expressed during their July 24 meeting, then he must have been considering several options: “We discuss the Jewish question. The Führer approves my action in Berlin. What the foreign press writes is unimportant. The main thing is that the Jews be pushed out. Within ten years they must be removed from Germany. But for the time being we still want to keep the Jews here as pawns…”107 Soon, however, the Sudeten crisis would be over and an unforeseen occurrence would offer the pretext for anti-Jewish violence on a yet unseen level. The Berlin events had merely been a small-scale rehearsal.


At the beginning of 1938, Werner Best, Heydrich’s deputy as head of the Security Police Main Office, had signed an expulsion decree for approximately five hundred Jews of Soviet nationality living in the Reich.108 This was a measure requested by the Wilhelmstrasse in retaliation for the expulsion of some German citizens from the Soviet Union. As these Soviet Jews were not granted entry permits into the USSR, the expulsion order was twice prolonged—without any result. On May 28, 1938, Heydrich ordered the incarceration of the male Soviet Jews in concentration camps until they could provide proof of immediately forthcoming emigration. In May expulsion orders were also issued to Romanian Jews living in Germany. All of this was but a prologue to the new expulsion drive that was to start in the fall.

During the months immediately following the Anschluss, however, there was a development that threatened to hamper these Nazi plans for rapid forced emigration: the measures taken by Switzerland. Almost all details of the policy followed by the Swiss Confederation with regard to Jewish refugees, before and during the war, were made available in a 1957 report that had been demanded by the Swiss Federal Assembly and was prepared by Federal Councillor Carl Ludwig.109 And the 1994 publication of Swiss diplomatic documents of the prewar period has added the finishing touches to the picture.

Two weeks after the Anschluss, in its meeting of March 28, 1938, the Swiss Federal Council (the country’s executive branch) decided that all bearers of Austrian passports would be obliged to obtain visas for entry into Switzerland. According to the meeting’s minutes: “In view of the measures already taken and being prepared by other countries against the influx of Austrian refugees, we find ourselves in a difficult situation. It is clear that Switzerland can only be a transit country for the refugees from Germany and from Austria. Apart from the situation of our labor market, the present excessive degree of foreign presence imposes the strictest defense measures against a longer stay of such elements. If we do not want to create a basis for an anti-Semitic movement that would be unworthy of our country, we must defend ourselves with all our strength and, if need be, with ruthlessness against the immigration of foreign Jews, mostly those from the East. We have to think of the future and therefore we cannot allow ourselves to let in such foreigners for the sake of immediate advantages; such advantages would undoubtedly soon become the worst disadvantages.”110 This was to remain the basic position of the Swiss authorities during the coming seven years, with one additional point sometimes being added in the various internal memoranda: The Swiss Jews certainly did not want to see their own position threatened by the influx of foreign Jews into the country.

Once all Austrian passports were replaced by German ones, the visa requirement was applied to all bearers of German travel documents. The Swiss knew that their visa requirement would have to be reciprocal, that from then on Swiss citizens traveling to Germany would also have to obtain visas. On both sides the dilemma seemed insoluble. For Germany to avoid having visa requirements imposed on its Aryan nationals traveling to Switzerland would mean inserting some distinctive sign into the passports of Jews, which would automatically make their emigration far more difficult. Various technical solutions were considered throughout the summer of that year. At the end of September 1938, undeterred by the Sudeten crisis, a Swiss delegation headed by the chief of the Police Division at the Ministry of Justice, Heinrich Rothmund, traveled to Berlin for negotiations with Werner Best. According to their own report, the Swiss envoys described to their German colleagues the constant struggle of the federal police against the influx of foreign immigrants, particularly those who did not easily assimilate, primarily the Jews. As a result of the Swiss demands, the Germans finally agreed to stamp the passports of Jews with a “J,” which would allow the Swiss police “to check at the border whether the carrier of the passport was Aryan or not Aryan” (these were the terms used in the Swiss report). On October 4 the Bern government confirmed the measures agreed upon by the German and the Swiss police delegates.

The Swiss authorities had not yet solved all their problems: Jews who had received an entrance permit before the stamping of their passports might attempt to make early use of it. On October 4, therefore, all border stations were informed that if “there was uncertainty whether a person traveling with a German passport was Aryan or non-Aryan, an attestation to his being Aryan should be produced. In doubtful cases, the traveler should be sent back to the Swiss consulate of his place of origin for further ascertainment.”111 But would all precautions thereby have been taken? The Swiss thought of one more possible way of cheating. A report from their Federal Center for Printed Matter, dated November 11, 1938, announced that, at Rothmund’s request, they had tried to erase the “J” in a German passport acquired for a test. The report on the test was encouraging: “Effacing the ‘J’ stamped in red did not succeed entirely. One can recognize the remaining traces without difficulty.”112 While this was going on, the Jews of the Sudetenland had come under German control.

Austria had barely been annexed when Hitler turned to Czechoslovakia: Prague must allow the Sudetenland, its mainly German-populated province, to secede and join the German Reich. In May the Wehrmacht had received the order to invade Czechoslovakia on October 1. A general war appeared probable when, formally at least, the French declared their readiness to stand by their Czech ally. After a British mediation effort had come to naught, and after the failure of two meetings between British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Hitler, European armies were mobilized. Then, two days before the scheduled German attack, Mussolini suggested a conference of the main powers involved in the crisis (but without the presence of the Czechs—and of the Soviet Union). On September 29 Britain, France, Germany, and Italy signed an agreement in Munich: By October 10 the Sudetenland was to become part of the German Reich. Peace had been saved; Czecho-Slovakia (the newly introduced hyphen came from a Slovak demand) had been abandoned; its new borders, though, were “guaranteed.”

As soon as the Wehrmacht occupied the Sudetenland, Hitler informed Ribbentrop that, in addition to the expulsion of those Sudeten Jews who had not yet managed to flee into truncated Czecho-Slovakia, the expulsion of the 27,000 Czech Jews living in Austria should be considered. But the immediate expulsion measures mainly affected the Jews of the Sudetenland: The Germans sent them over the Czech border; the Czechs refused to take them in. Göring was to describe it with glee a month after the event: “During the night [following the entry of the German troops into the Sudetenland], the Jews were expelled to Czecho-Slovakia. In the morning, the Czechs got hold of them and sent them to Hungary. From Hungary back to Germany, then back to Czecho-Slovakia. Thus, they turned round and round. Finally, they ended up on a riverboat on the Danube. There they camped. As soon as they set foot on the river bank they were pushed back.”113 In fact several thousand of these Jews were finally forced, in freezing weather, into improvised camps of tents situated in the no-man’s land between Hungary and Czecho-Slovakia, such as Mischdorf, some twenty kilometers from Bratislava.

In early October 1938 this now commonly used method was planned against some Viennese Jews. An SD memorandum of October 5 indicated that at a meeting of leading party representatives at the local Group “Goldegg,” the head announced that, in accordance with instructions from the Gau, a stepped-up operation against the Jews was to take place through October 10, 1938: “Since many Jews have no passports, they will be sent over the Czech border to Prague without a passport. If the Jews have no cash money, they will be given RM40—by the Gau, for their departure. In this operation against the Jews, the impression is to be avoided that it is a Party matter; instead, spontaneous demonstrations by the people are to be caused. There could be use offeree where Jews resist.”114

Throughout the summer and autumn, Austrian Jews attempted to flee illegally to various neighboring countries and farther on, to England. The Gestapo had shipped some groups to Finland, to Lithuania, and to Holland or pushed them over the borders into Switzerland, Luxembourg, and France. Yet, as foreign protests grew, illegal entry or expulsion westward became increasingly difficult.115 Thus, on September 20, the chief of the Karlsruhe Gestapo informed the regional authorities that Austrian Jews were arriving in great numbers in Baden, often without passports or money. “As the emigration of Austrian Jews has for the time being become practically impossible,” the Gestapo chief went on, “due to corresponding defense measures taken by foreign countries, particularly by Switzerland, a prolonged stay of these Jews in Baden…can no longer be tolerated.” The Gestapo did not suggest that the Jews be forcibly compelled to cross any of the western borders; the order had been given for “the immediate repatriation of the Jews to their former places of residence in Vienna.”116 Within days, however, it was the Jews of Polish nationality living in Germany who became the overriding issue.117

The census of June 1933 had indicated that among the 98,747 foreign Jews still residing in Germany, 56,480 were Polish citizens. The Polish Republic showed no inclination to add any newcomers to its Jewish population of 3.1 million, and various administrative measures aimed at hindering the return of Polish Jews living in Germany were utilized between 1933 and 1938. But, as it did in other countries, in Poland too the Anschluss triggered much sharper initiatives. On March 31, 1938, the Polish parliament passed a law establishing a wide array of conditions under which Polish citizenship could be taken away from any citizen living abroad.

The Germans immediately perceived the implications of the new law for their forcible emigration plans. German-Polish negotiations led nowhere, and, in October 1938, a further Polish decree announced the cancellation of the passports of residents abroad who did not obtain a special authorization for entry into Poland before the end of the month. As more than 40 percent of the Polish Jews living in the Reich had been born in Germany, they could hardly hope to liquidate their businesses and homes within less than two weeks. Most of them would therefore lose their Polish nationality on November 1. The Nazis decided to preempt the Polish measure.

Whether or not Hitler was consulted about the expulsion of the Polish Jews is unclear. The general instructions were given by the Wilhelmstrasse, and the Gestapo was asked to take over the actual implementation of the measure. Ribbentrop, Himmler, and Heydrich must have sensed, like everyone else, that given the international circumstances after the Munich agreement—the craving for peace and its consequence, appeasement—no one would lift a finger in defense of the hapless Jews. Poland itself was ultimately dependent on German goodwill; had it not just grabbed the Teschen region of northeastern Czecho-Slovakia in the wake of Germany s annexation of the Sudetenland? The timing of the expulsion could not have been more propitious. Thus, according to Himmler’s orders, by October 29 all male Polish Jews residing in Germany were to be forcibly deported over the border to Poland.

The Reichsführer knew that the women and children, deprived of all support, would have to follow. On October 27 and 28, the police and the SS assembled and transported Jews to the vicinity of the Polish town of Zbaszyn, where they sent them over the river marking the border between the two countries. The Polish border guards dutifully sent them back. For days, in pouring rain and without food or shelter, the deportees wandered between the two lines; most of them ended up in a Polish concentration camp near Zbaszyn.118 The rest were allowed to return to Germany.119(In early January Jews who were then in Poland were allowed to return temporarily to sell their homes and businesses.)120 About 16,000 Polish Jews were thus expelled.121

The Grynszpans, a family from Hannover, were among the Jews transported to the border on October 27. Herschel, their seventeen-year-old son, was not with them; at the time he was living clandestinely in Paris, barely subsisting on odd jobs and on some help from relatives. It was to him that his sister Berta wrote on November 3: “We were permitted to return to our home to get at least a few essential things. So I left with a ‘Schupo’ [Schutzpolizei, the German gendarmerie] accompanying me and I packed a valise with the most necessary clothes. That is all I could save. We don’t have a cent. To be continued when next I write. Warm greetings and kisses from us all. Berta.”122

Young Herschel Grynszpan did not know the details of what was happening to his family near Zbaszyn, but he could well imagine it. On November 7 he wrote a note to his Paris uncle: “With God’s help [written in Hebrew]…I couldn’t do otherwise. My heart bleeds when I think of our tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I have to protest in a way that the whole world hears my protest, and this I intend to do. I beg your forgiveness. Hermann.” Grynszpan purchased a pistol, went to the German Embassy, and asked to see an official. He was sent to the office of First Secretary Ernst vom Rath; there he shot and fatally wounded the German diplomat.123

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