The Entrapment


Crusade and Card Index


In early 1937, during a meeting on church affairs, Hitler once more gave free rein to his world-historical vision: “The Führer,” Goebbels wrote in his diary, “explains Christianity and Christ. He [Christ] also wanted to act against the Jewish world domination. Jewry had him crucified. But Paul falsified his doctrine and undermined ancient Rome. The Jew in Christianity. Marx did the same with the German community spirit, with socialism.”1 On November 30 of the same year, the remarks Goebbels inscribed in his diary were much more ominous: “Long discussion [with Hitler] over the Jewish question…. The Jews must get out of Germany, in fact out of the whole of Europe. It will still take some time but it must happen, and it will happen. The Führer is absolutely determined about it.”2 Like his September 1935 declaration to Walter Gross, Hitler’s prophecy of 1937 meant the possibility of war: It could be fulfilled only in a situation of war.

On March 7, 1936, the Wehrmacht had marched into the Rhineland, and a new phase in European history had begun. It would unfold under the sign of successive German treaty breaches and aggressions and, in three years, lead to the outbreak of a new conflagration.

The demilitarization of the left bank of the Rhine had been guaranteed by the Versailles and Locarno Treaties. The guarantors of the status quo were Great Britain and Italy, whereas France was the country directly threatened by the German move. Now Italy positioned itself at Germany’s side, because the democracies had attempted to impose sanctions on it during the Abyssinian war. In principle, however, France still had the strongest army in Europe. It is now known that a French military reaction would have forced the German units to retreat behind the Rhine—a setback with unforeseeable consequences for the Hitler regime. But although the French government, led by the Radical Socialist Prime Minister Albert Sarrault, threatened to act, it did nothing. As for the British, they did not even threaten; after all, Hitler was merely taking possession of his own “backyard,” as the saying went. The French and British policy of appeasement was gaining momentum.

In France the 1936 elections brought the center-left Popular Front to power, and for a large segment of French society the threat of revolution and a Communist takeover became an obsessive nightmare. A few months earlier the Spanish electorate had brought a left-wing government to power. That was a short-lived victory. In July 1936 units of the Spanish army in North Africa, led by Gen. Francisco Franco, rebelled against the new Republican government and crossed over into Spain. The Spanish Civil War—which was to become a murderous struggle of two political mystiques, backed on both sides by a massive supply of foreign weapons and regular troops as well as volunteers—had started. Between the summer of 1936 and the spring of 1939, the battle lines drawn in Spain were the explicit and tacit points of reference for the ideological confrontations of the time.

On the global scene the anti-Comintern pact signed between Germany and Japan on November 25, 1936, and joined by Italy a year later, became, at least symbolically, an expression of the struggle that was to unfold between the anti-Communist regimes and Bolshevism. In the countries of East Central Europe (with the exception of Czechoslovakia) and the Balkans, right-wing governments had come to power. Their ideological commitments included three basic tenets: authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, and extreme anti-Communism. From the Atlantic to the Soviet border, they generally had one more element in common: anti-Semitism. For the European Right, anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism were often identical.

The year 1936 also clearly marks the beginning of a new phase on the internal German scene. During the previous period (1933–36), the need to stabilize the regime, to ward off preemptive foreign initiatives, and to sustain economic growth and the return to full employment had demanded relative moderation in some domains. By 1936 full employment had been achieved and the weakness of the anti-German front sized up. Further political radicalization and the mobilization of internal resources were now possible: Himmler was named chief of all German police forces and Göring overlord of a new four-year economic plan, whose secret objective was to prepare the country for war. The impetus for and the timing of both external and internal radicalization also may have been linked to yet unresolved tensions within German society itself, or may have resulted from the fundamental needs of a regime that could only thrive on ever more hectic action and ever more spectacular success.

It was in this atmosphere of accelerated mobilization that the Jewish issue took on a new dimension and fulfilled a new function in Nazi eyes. Now Jewry was again being presented as a worldwide threat, and anti-Jewish action could be used as justification for the confrontation that necessarily was about to come. In the regime’s terms, in a time of crisis the Jews had to be expelled, their assets impounded for the benefit of German rearmament, and—as long as some of them remained in German hands—their fate could be used to influence the attitude toward Nazi Germany of world Jewry and of the foreign powers under its control. Most immediately three main lines of action dominated the new phase of the anti-Jewish drive: accelerated Aryanization, increasingly coordinated efforts to compel the Jews to leave Germany, and furious propaganda activity to project on a world scale the theme of Jewish conspiracy and threat.

Accelerated Aryanization resulted in part at least from the new economic situation and the spreading confidence in German business and industrial circles that the risks of Jewish retaliation or its effects no longer had to be taken into account. Economic growth led to gradual coordination of the contradictory measures that, of necessity, had earlier hindered the course of anti-Jewish policy: By 1936 ideology and policy could increasingly progress along a single track. Himmler and Göring’s appointments to their new positions created two power bases essential for the effective implementation of the new anti-Jewish drive. And yet, although the framework of the new phase was clearly perceptible, the economic expropriation of the Jews of Germany could not be radically enforced before the beginning of 1938, after the conservative ministers had been expelled from the government in February 1938 and mainly after Schacht had been compelled to leave the Ministry of the Economy in late 1937. During 1938 worse than total expropriation was to follow: Economic harassment and even violence would henceforward be used to force the Jews to flee the Reich or the newly annexed Austria. Within the second phase, 1938 was the fateful turning point.

The anti-Jewish rhetoric expressed in Hitler’s speeches and statements from 1936 on took several forms. Foremost, and most massively, was its relation to the general ideological confrontation with Bolshevism. But the world peril as presented by Hitler was not Bolshevism as such, with the Jews acting as its instruments. The Jews were the ultimate threat behind Bolshevism: The Bolshevik peril was being manipulated by the Jews.3 In his 1937 party congress speech, Hitler made sure, as will be seen, that there was no misunderstanding on this point. But Hitler’s anti-Jewish harangues were not only ideological (anti-Bolshevik) in a concrete sense; often the Jew was described as the world enemy per se, as the peril that had to be destroyed lest Germany (or Aryan humanity) be exterminated by it. In its most extreme form this apocalyptic vision appeared in the January 1939 speech to the Reichstag, but its main theme was already outlined in the summer of 1936, in the guidelines establishing the Four-Year Plan. The “redemptive” anti-Semitism that had dominated Hitler’s early ideological statements now resurfaced. With the conservative agenda crumbling, a new atmosphere of murderous brutality was spreading.

It is at the start of this darkening path that the Nazis achieved one of their greatest propaganda victories: the successful unfolding of the 1936 Olympic Games. Visitors to Germany for the Olympics discovered a Reich that looked powerful, orderly, and content. As the American liberal periodical The Nation expressed it on August 1, 1936: “[One] sees no Jewish heads being chopped off, or even roundly cudgeled…. The people smile, are polite and sing with gusto in beer gardens. Board and lodging are good, cheap, and abundant, and no one is swindled by grasping hotel and shop proprietors. Everything is terrifyingly clean and the visitor likes it all.”4 Even the president of the United States was deceived. In October of that year, a month before the presidential election, Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress, was invited to meet with Roosevelt at Hyde Park, When the conversation turned to Germany, the president cited two people who had recently “toured” Germany and reported to him that “the synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation at present.” Wise tried to explain to his host the impact of the Olympic Games on Nazi behavior, but left feeling that Roosevelt still regarded accounts of persecution of the Jews as exaggerated.5

Signs forbidding access to Jews were removed from Olympic areas and from other sites likely to be visited by tourists, but only very minor ideological concessions were made. The Jewish high-jump finalist Gretel Bergmann, from Stuttgart, was excluded from the German team on a technical pretext; the fencing champion Helene Mayer was included because she was a Mischling and thus a German citizen according to the Nuremberg Laws.6 Only one German full Jew, the hockey player Rudi Ball, was allowed to compete for Germany. But the Winter Games in those days were far less visible than the summer ones.7

The negotiations that had preceded the Olympics showed that Hitler’s tactical moderation emanated only from the immense propaganda asset they represented for Nazi Germany. When, on August 24, 1935, the Führer received Gen. Charles Sherrill, an American member of the International Olympic Committee, he was still adamant: The Jews were perfectly entitled to their separate life in Germany, but they could not be members of the national team. As for the foreign teams, they were free to include whomever they wanted.8 Finally, because of the threat of an American boycott of the Olympics, very minor concessions were adopted, as has been seen, which allowed Germany to reap all the expected advantages, the recent passage of the Nuremberg Laws notwithstanding.

The limits of Nazi Olympic goodwill were clearly revealed in the privacy of diaries. On June 20, just before the Olympics opened, Goebbels waxed ecstatic about Max Schmeling’s victory over Joe Louis for the world heavyweight boxing championship: “Schmeling fought and won for Germany. The white defeated the black and the white was a German.”9 His entry on the first day of the Olympics was less enthusiastic: “We Germans win a gold medal, the Americans win three, of which two by Negroes. White humanity should be ashamed. But what does that mean down there in that land without culture.”10

The Winter Games had opened on February 6 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The day before, Wilhelm Gustloff, the Nazi Party representative in Switzerland, had been assassinated by the Jewish medical student David Frankfurter. Within a few hours a strict order was issued: Because of the Olympic Games, all anti-Jewish actions were prohibited.11 And indeed no outbursts of “popular anger” occurred.

Hitler spoke at Gustloffs funeral in Schwerin, on February 12. He recalled the days of defeat when, according to him, Germany had been “delivered a lethal stab at home.” During those November days of 1918, the national Germans attempted “to convert [the working masses,] those who, at that time, were the tools of a gruesome supranational power…. At every turn we see the same power…the hate-filled power of our Jewish foe.”12 A few months later the exiled Jewish writer Emil Ludwig published a pamphlet entitled “Murder in Davos.” Goebbels reacted immediately in his diary entry of November 6, 1936: “A nasty, typically Jewish work of incitement to glorify…Frankfurter, who shot Gustloff…. This Jewish pestilence must be eradicated. Totally. None of it should remain.”13

The struggle between the new Germany and that gruesome supranational power, the Jewish foe, was now redefined as the total confrontation on the widest international scale with Bolshevism, “the tool of the Jews.” At the 1935 party congress the anti-Judeo-Bolshevik declarations had been left to Goebbels and Rosenberg. Soon Himmler joined the fray. In November 1935, at the National Peasants Day (Reichsbauerntag) in Goslar, the ReichsFührer SS described the threat represented by the Jews in bloodcurdling terms: “We know him, the Jew,” Himmler exclaimed, “this people composed of the waste products of all the people and nations of this planet on which it has imprinted the features of its Jewish blood, the people whose goal is the domination of the world, whose breath is destruction, whose will is extermination, whose religion is atheism, whose idea is Bolshevism.”14

Hitler had personally intervened in the new anti-Jewish campaign in his speech at Gustloff’s funeral. A no less threatening tone appeared in his secret memorandum of the summer of that same year outlining the goals of the Four-Year Plan. The introductory paragraph addressed the issue of ideology as such: “Politics is the conduct and process of the historical struggle for the life of nations. The aim of these struggles is survival. Idealistic struggles over world views also have their ultimate causes, and draw their deepest motivating power from purposes and aims in life that derive from national sources. But religions and worldviews can give such struggles an especial sharpness and by this means endow them with a great historic effectiveness. They can put their mark on the character of centuries….” In a series of quick associations, this theoretical prologue led to the foreseeable ideological illustration: “Since the beginning of the French Revolution, the world has been drifting with increasing speed towards a new conflict, whose most extreme solution is named Bolshevism, but whose content and aim is only the removal of those strata of society which gave the leadership to humanity up to the present, and their replacement by international Jewry…”15

On Hitler’s instructions Goebbels and Rosenberg intensified even further the pitch of their verbal onslaught at the 1936 Congress.16 For Goebbels “the idea of Bolshevism, that is, the unscrupulous savaging and dissolution of all norms and culture with the diabolical intention of a total destruction of all nations, could only have been born in the brain of Jews. The Bolshevik practice in its terrifying cruelty is imaginable only as perpetrated by the hands of Jews.”17

In his two programmatic speeches at the congress, Hitler also dealt with the Judeo-Bolshevik danger. In his opening proclamation of September 9, he briefly attacked the worldwide subversive activities of the Jewish revolutionary center in Moscow.18 But it was in his closing speech, on September 14, that he lashed out at length: “This Bolshevism that the Jewish-Soviet terrorists from Moscow, Lewin, Axelrod, Neumann, Béla Kun, etc., tried to introduce into Germany, we attacked, defeated, and extirpated…. And now, because we know and experience daily that the attempt of the Jewish Soviet leaders to interfere in our internal German affairs continues, we are also compelled to consider Bolshevism beyond our borders as our mortal enemy and to recognize no less a danger in its advance.”19

What Hitler meant was clear enough: The Luftwaffe was now increasingly intervening against the “Bolshevik” forces in Spain. And who was in charge of the Moscow terrorist center that directed subversive activities all over the world? The Jews.

That Hitler rehashed these themes in private conversations is not astonishing; that the approving interlocutor in one such conversation was Munich’s Cardinal Faulhaber is somewhat more of a surprise. On November 4, 1936, he met for three hours with Hitler at the Obersalzberg, Hitler’s residence in the Bavarian Alps. According to Faulhaber’s own notes, Hitler spoke “openly, confidentially, emotionally, at times in a spirited way; he lashed out at Bolshevism and at the Jews: ‘How the subhumans, incited by the Jews, created havoc in Spain like beasts,’ on this he was well informed…. He would not miss the historical moment.” The cardinal seemed to agree: “All of this,” he noted, “was expressed by Hitler in a moving way in his great speech at the Nuremberg Party rally (Bolshevism could only destroy, was led by the Jews).”20

It was at the Party Congress of Labor, in September 1937, that the anti-Judeo-Bolshevik campaign reached its full scope. During the preceding weeks the jockeying for congress preeminence among Hitler’s lieutenants had taken a particularly acerbic form. Rosenberg informed Goebbels that, according to Hitler’s decision, he (Rosenberg) was to be the first of the two to speak and that, given the time constraints, Goebbels’s speech was to be drastically cut down. This must have been a sweet moment for the master of ideology, especially as in the ongoing feud between him and Goebbels, the propaganda minister usually had the upper hand.

On September 11 Goebbels set the tone. In a speech devoted to the situation in Spain, the propaganda minister launched into a hysterical attack against the Jews, whom he held responsible for Bolshevist terror. In his rhetorical fury Goebbels undoubtedly succeeded in outdoing his previous performances. His speech may well be the most vicious public anti-Jewish outpouring of those years. “Who are those responsible for this catastrophe?” Goebbels asked. His answer: “Without fear, we want to point the finger at the Jew as the inspirer, the author, and the beneficiary of this terrible catastrophe: look, this is the enemy of the world, the destroyer of cultures, the parasite among the nations, the son of chaos, the incarnation of evil, the ferment of decomposition, the visible demon of the decay of humanity.”21


On the evening of September 13 Hitler spoke again. All restraint was now gone. For the first time since his accession to the chancellorship, he used the platform of a party congress, with the global attention it commanded, to launch a general historical and political attack on world Jewry as the wire puller behind Bolshevism and the enemy of humanity from the time of early Christianity on. The themes of the 1923 dialogue with Dietrich Eckart were being broadcast to the world.

Never since the fall of the ancient world order, Hitler declared, never since the rise of Christianity, the spread of Islam, and the Reformation had the world been in such turmoil. This was no ordinary war but a fight for the very essence of human culture and civilization. “What others profess not to see because they simply do not want to see it, is something we must unfortunately state as a bitter truth: the world is presently in the midst of an increasing upheaval, whose spiritual and factual preparation and whose leadership undoubtedly proceed from the rulers of Jewish Bolshevism in Moscow. “When I quite intentionally present this problem as Jewish, then you, my Party Comrades, know that this is not an unverified assumption, but a fact proven by irrefutable evidence.”22

Hitler did not simply leave the concrete aspects of this struggle of world historical significance to his audience’s imagination:

“While one part of the ‘Jewish fellow citizens’ demobilizes democracy via the influence of the press or even infects it with its poison by linking up with revolutionary manifestations in the form of popular fronts, the other part of Jewry has already carried the torch of the Bolshevist revolution into the midst of the bourgeois-democratic world without even having to fear any substantial resistance. The final goal is then the ultimate Bolshevist revolution, i.e., not, for example, consisting of the establishment of a leadership of the proletariat, but of the subjugation of the proletariat to the leadership of its new and alien master….23

“In the past year, we have shown in a series of alarming statistical proofs that, in the present Soviet Russia of the proletariat, more than eighty percent of the leading positions are held by Jews. This means that not the proletariat is the dictator, but that very race whose Star of David has finally also become the symbol of the so-called proletarian state.”24

Hitler usually repeated his main themes in an ever-changing variety of formulas all bearing the same message. The September 13, 1937, speech hammered home the menace represented by Jewish Bolshevism to the “community of Europe’s civilized nations.”25What had been achieved in Germany itself was presented as the example to be followed by all:

“National Socialism has banished the Bolshevist world menace from within Germany. It has ensured that the scum of Jewish literati alien to the Volk does not lord it over the proletariat, that is, the German worker…. It has, moreover, made our Volk and the Reich immune to Bolshevist contamination.”26 A few months earlier Rudolf Hess had conveyed Hitler’s thinking to all party organizations: Germany yearned for relations of friendship and respect with all nations; it was “no enemy of the Slavs, but the implacable and irreconcilable enemy of the Jew and of the Communism he brought to the world.”27

In private Hitler had expressed puzzlement about the meaning of the events then occurring in the Soviet Union. “Again a show trial in Moscow,” Goebbels noted in his diary on January 25, 1937. “This time again exclusively against Jews. Radek, etc. The Führer still in doubt whether there isn’t after all a hidden anti-Semitic tendency. Maybe Stalin does want to smoke the Jews out. The military is also supposedly strongly anti-Semitic. So, let us keep an eye on things.”28

Although in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the army efforts were made to maintain a somewhat more realistic assessment of Soviet affairs, the equation of Jewry and Bolshevism remained the fundamental guideline for most party and state agencies. Thus, in 1937 Heydrich circulated a secret memorandum, “The Present Status of Research on the East,” which opened with the argument that the importance of the East, mainly of the Soviet Union, for Germany derived from the fact that “this territory had been conquered by Jewish Bolshevism and turned into the main basis of its struggle against National Socialist Germany; all non-Bolshevist forces that are also enemies of National Socialism consider the Soviet Union the most active weapon against National Socialism.”29

Apart from the axiom that Bolshevism was an instrument of Jewry, Nazi research aimed at proving the link between Jews and Communism in sociopolitical terms. This was shown, for example, in a June 1937 lecture by the head of the Königsberg Institute for the Economy of Eastern Germany, Theodor Oberländer (who was to be a minister in Konrad Adenauer’s postwar government), on Polish Jewry: “The east European Jews are, in so far as they are not orthodox but assimilated Jews, the most active carriers of communist ideas. Since Poland alone has 3.5 million Jews, of which over 1.5 million can be regarded as assimilated Jews, and since the Jews live in scarcely credible adverse social conditions in the urban ghetto, so that they are proletarians in the truest sense, they have little to lose but much to gain. They are the ones who are peddling the most militant and succesful propaganda for communism in the countryside.”30

The link between the Jews and Bolshevism in the Soviet Union could also be proven by erudite, “in-depth” reasoning. “It is not only the numerical importance of the Jews in the higher reaches of the Party and state system or the power exercised by individual Jews that should be simply interpreted as a ‘domination’ of Bolshevik Russia by the Jews,” wrote Peter-Heinz Seraphim, the specialist on East European Jewry at the University of Königsberg. “The question that ultimately needs to be asked is whether there is an ideological linkage and reciprocal influence between Leninist and Stalinist Bolshevism and the Jewish mentality.”31 Published in 1938, Seraphim’s massive study, Das Judentum im osteuropäischen Raum (Jewry in Eastern Europe), was to become the vade mecum of many Nazi practitioners in the East.

Seraphim started from the postulate that the Jews held a “hegemonical position” within the Bolshevik system.32 As the argument from sheer numbers and individual influence did not suffice, the question of mental affinity indeed became of central importance. Seraphim had not the least doubt, it seems, about the Jewish features underlying this affinity: “this-worldliness, a materialistic and intellectualistic attitude to the surrounding world, the purposiveness and ruthlessness of the Jewish nature.”33

Hitler’s most threatening anti-Jewish outburst before his Reichstag speech of 1939 was triggered by the apparently minor issue (in Nazi terms) of the identification of Jewish-owned retail stores.

A debate on this issue had been in progress for several years. An April 1935 report prepared by SS main region Rhine tells of the initiative taken by the Frankfurt Nazi trade organization to have its members put up signs marking their own shops German Store, which was one way of solving the problem. According to the report, 80 to 90 percent of the German-owned stores there displayed the sign.34 This must have been a rather isolated project, as a similar demand put forward by Nazi activists after the passage of the Nuremberg Laws was deemed unmanageable and the marking of Jewish stores advanced as the only possible course of action.

Grass-roots agitation for such marking reached such a pitch that Hitler decided to address the situation at a meeting of district party leaders at the School for Elite Party Youth at (Ordensburg) Vogelsang, on April 29, 1937. Hitler began with a stern warning to party members who wanted to accelerate the anti-Jewish measures in the economic domain. No one should try to dictate the pace of such measures to him, Hitler threatened darkly. He would have a word with “the fellow” who had written in a local party newspaper: “We demand that Jewish shops be marked.” Hitler thundered: “What does it mean, ‘we demand?’ I am asking you from whom does one demand? Who can give the order? Only I! Thus this gentleman, the editor [of that party paper], demands of me, in the name of his readers, that I do this. I would first like to say the following: much before this editor had the least idea about the Jewish question, I had already studied it very thoroughly; second, this problem of a special identification of Jewish businesses has already been considered for two years, three years, and one day will naturally be solved one way or the other.” Hitler then inserted a cryptic remark: “And let me add this: the final aim of our policy is obviously clear to us all.” Did this mean the total expulsion of the Jews from German territory? Did it hint at other goals? Was it a formula used to cover the uncertainty of the plans? The comments on strategy that followed could accommodate any interpretation: “For me what matters constantly is not to take any step forward that I would have to retract, and not to take any step that could cause us harm. You know that I always move to the most extreme limit of what may be risked, but I never go beyond this limit. One has to have a nose sensitive enough to feel: What can I do more of? What can I not do? [Laughter and applause]”

The finale that followed did not point to any specific measures, but the tone, the words, the images contained a yet unheard ferocity, the intimation of a deadly threat. Without any doubt Hitler was thereby creating an atmosphere in which his listeners could imagine the most radical outcomes:

“I do not immediately want to force an enemy into a fight,” Hitler exclaimed. “I do not say ‘struggle’ because I want to fight, but I do say: ‘I want to annihilate you!’ And now may cleverness help me to maneuver you into a corner in such a way that you will not manage one single blow; it is then that you get the stab in the heart!”35 The recording of this secret speech survived the war. By this stage Hitler is shouting at the top of his voice. Then, in an orgiastic spasm, the three last words literally explode: “Das ist es!” (That’s it!) The audience’s applause is frenetic.

After a period of relative rhetorical prudence, the Nazi leaders were returning to the basic themes of the Jewish world conspiracy in their most extreme form. But how were these themes internalized at lower party levels? How were they translated into the language of the party bureaucracy, and of the police bureaucracy in particular?

On October 28, 1935, the Gestapo chief of the Hildesheim district informed the district presidents and mayors under his authority that butchers were complaining about sharp practice on the part of Jewish cattle dealers. The butchers accused the Jews of charging inflated sums for the cattle earmarked for slaughter, thereby driving up the price of meat and sausages: “The suspicion exists,” the Gestapo chief wrote, “that these machinations represent a planned attack by Jewry, with the aim of fostering unrest and dissatisfaction among the population.”36 A few days earlier the same Gestapo station had informed its usual addressees that Jewish shoe stores were refusing to buy from Aryan manufacturers. According to the police chief, given the considerable importance of the Jewish shoe business, some Aryan producers were trying to sell their wares to the Jews by declaring that they were not members of the Nazi Party or of any related organization. The Hildesheim Gestapo assumed that the same boycotting was taking place in other parts of the Reich and that it must therefore derive from centrally issued instructions; a report on each local situation was therefore required by November 10.37

In each case the existence of a Jewish conspiracy is revealed by the “discovery” of some perfectly mundane event that might be real enough—the price of food did indeed rise in 1935, though this was caused by entirely other factors—or that might be a purely imaginary construct inspired by general economic difficulties. The police turned such random events into elements of a deliberate plot, thus creating a paranoid notion of centrally planned Jewish initiatives aimed at spreading an atmosphere of subversion among the population or intimidating party stalwarts in the business community. The ultimate goal of these “dangerous” Jewish initiatives was obvious: the downfall of the Nazi regime. There is a striking similarity of structure between Hitler’s all-encompassing vision of Jewish subversion on a world scale and the dark suspicions of a Gestapo chief in a small German town.


In July 1936 a memorandum was submitted to Hitler by the Provisional Directorate of the Confessing Church. It was a forceful document mentioning the concentration camps, the Gestapo’s methods, and even the misuse of religious terms and images in worship of the Führer. In an unusually bold departure from previous practice, the memorandum prophesied disaster for Germany if “there were persistence in totalitarian presumption and might contrary to the will of God.” The document was leaked and received extraordinary coverage abroad. Such a courageous statement, one could assume, must have given pride of place to the Jewish issue—that is, to the persecution of the Jews. “Yet,” in the words of historian Richard Gutteridge, “all that was devoted to this subject was the rather awkward observation that, when in the framework of the National Socialist Weltanschauung a form of anti-Semitism was forced upon the Christian which imposed an obligation of hatred towards the Jews, he had to counter it by the Christian command of love towards one’s neighbor. Here was no disavowal of anti-Semitism as such, including the Christian type, but merely of the militant Nazi version without even an oblique reference to the plight of the Jews themselves. The emphasis was upon the severe conflict of conscience experienced by the devout German Church people.”38 When a declaration of the Confessing Church referring indirectly to the memorandum was read in church by many pastors on August 23, not a single word was directed toward anti-Semitism or hatred of the Jews.39 A few months later, in March 1937, Pius XI’s sharp critique of the Nazi regime, the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, was read from all Catholic pulpits in Germany. Nazi pseudoreligion and the regime’s racial theories were strongly condemned in general terms, but no direct reference was made to the fate of the Jews.

For the converted “full Jew” Friedrich Weissler, the memorandum of the Confessing Church was to have fateful consequences. A lawyer by profession, Weissler was employed by the Confessing Church as a legal adviser and was secretly in charge of informing the outside world about its activities. It was probably he who leaked the memorandum to the foreign press. Pretending outrage, the leadership of the Confessing Church asked the Gestapo to find the culprit. Weissler and two Aryan assistants were arrested. Whereas the Aryans were ultimately released, Weissler, for whom the church did not intervene, succumbed in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on February 19, 1937. Thus a “full Jew” became “the first martyr of the Confessing Church.”40

Friedrich Meinecke, possibly the most prestigious German historian of his time, had been replaced in 1935 at the editorial helm of the Historische Zeitschrift, the leading German historical journal. No doubts could be raised about the ideological orthodoxy of his successor, Karl Alexander von Müller. But from January 1933 on, the HZ had not been immune to the new trends, especially since, as has been seen, the academic world found no great difficulty in adapting to the new regime.41 Contributors were examined as to Jewish origin, and at least one Jewish member of the editorial board, Hedwig Hintze, was ousted.42

As could be expected, Müller’s initial editorial was a clarion call. The new editor in chief described the fundamental changes the world was undergoing as a mighty context that demanded a renewal of historical insight. Müller’s closing words are memorable:

“We are buffeted like few other races by the stormy breath of a great historical epoch. Like few other races, we are granted an insight into the original demonic forces, both stupendous and terrible, that produce such turbulent times. Like few other races, we are filled with the consciousness that in the decisions of the present we shall determine the long-term future of our whole people. Out of what is becoming we seek and relive what has been, and we revive its shades with our blood; out of what is truly past, we recognize and reinforce the power of the living present.”43

The bombastic hollowness of these lines is in itself revealing. The ideological message of Nazism mobilized an apparently senseless set of images that nonetheless constantly evoked a longing for the sacred, the demonic, the primeval—in short, for the forces of myth. The intellectual and political content of the program was borne by the “stormy breath” of historical events of world-historical significance. Not even the readers of the Historische Zeitschrift could be entirely indifferent to the revival of an atmosphere rooted in a German romantic and necromantic tradition of which many of them partook.

Under the new stewardship the changes went beyond the editorial invocation of “demonic forces.” The periodical’s remaining Jewish board members, Gerhard Masur, for example, were replaced by Aryans; and, most important, a new permanent section, under the editorial supervision of Wilhelm Grau, was added to deal with the “History of the Jewish Question.”44 In his opening article, “The Jewish Question as the Task of Historical Research,” Grau explained that, since hitherto all books dealing with Jewish issues had been reviewed by Jews only, which had naturally led to uncritical praise, his new section would take a somewhat different approach.45 The first title discussed was a dissertation by a Lithuanian Jew, Abraham Heller (of whom more will be heard), entitled “The Situation of the Jews in Russia from the Revolution of March 1917 to the Present.” Grau’s immediate contribution to greater objectivity was to add a subtitle that, in his view, conveyed the book’s content more accurately: “The Jewish Contribution to Bolshevism.”46

Young Grau (barely twenty-seven in 1936) had already—in a way—been making a name for himself, having become director of the Jewish Section, the most important research section of the Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany. Inaugurated on October 19, 1935, the institute was headed by Walter Frank, a protégé of Rudolf Hess and a. historian of modern German anti-Semitism, mainly of Adolf Stöcker’s “Berlin movement.” Grau seemed to be a worthy disciple: In 1935 he had already contributed a slim study on Humboldt and the Jews, berating the most famous nineteenth-century German humanist and liberal intellectual for his subservience to Jewish influence. Writing from beyond the borders of the Reich, the Jewish philosopher Herbert Marcuse could afford to be direct: He made mincemeat of Grau’s book and showed him as the fool and charlatan that he was. For Walter Frank and his institute, Grau was nonetheless a rising star who would establish a research empire on the Jewish question.47

The festive opening, on November 19, 1936, of the Jewish Section took place in Munich, where it was to be located, in the presence of a wide array of national and local celebrities from the party, the government, the army, and the academic world. The Munich chamber orchestra played a Bach suite, and Karl Alexander von Müller, formally Grau’s superior, spoke, followed by Walter Frank. According to the summary in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank explained that research on the Jewish question was like “an expedition into an unknown country whose darkness is shrouded in a great silence. Until now, only the Jews had worked on the Jewish problem.”48 Tension soon built up between Frank and the ambitious Grau, and within two years the latter was out, though well on his way to establishing a competing research institute on the Jewish question in Frankfurt, this time under Alfred Rosenberg’s aegis.49

While Frank and Grau were launching their enterprise, Carl Schmitt was making his own display of anti-Semitic fervor. This luminary of German legal and political theory, whose enthusiastic adherence to National Socialism in 1933 has already been mentioned, apparently deemed it necessary to fortify his newly acquired ideological trustworthiness against the accusations both of exiled intellectuals, such as Waldemar Gurian, and of colleagues who were also members of the SS (such as Otto Köllreuter, Karl August Eckhardt, and Reinhard Höhn), who did not hesitate to allude to his many Jewish friends before 1933 and to his rather sudden political conversion that year.50

It was in this atmosphere that Schmitt organized his notorious academic conference, “Judaism in Legal Science,” held in Berlin on October 3 and 4, 1936. Schmitt opened and closed the proceedings with two major anti-Jewish speeches. He started his first speech and ended his closing address with Hitlers famous dictum from Mein Kampf. “In defending myself against the Jew…I am doing the work of the Lord.”51

In the concrete resolutions Schmitt drafted for the conference, he demanded the establishment of a legal bibliography that would distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish authors, and the “cleansing” of Jewish authors from the libraries.52 In the event a Jewish author had to be quoted, he or she was to be identified as such. As Schmitt himself put it on that occasion: “By the very mention of the word ‘Jewish,’ a healthy exorcism would be effected.”53 Within a few months the implementation of Schmitt’s recommendations began.

All this was of little avail to Carl Schmitt himself. Das Schwarze Korps attacked him in December 1936, reiterating once again the charges of his prior Jewish contacts. Despite such powerful protectors as Göring and Hans Frank, Schmitt could not withstand the SS pressure: His official/political functions and ambitions were over. His ideological production, however, went on. In his 1938 work on Thomas Hobbes (Der Leviathan in der Staatslehre des Thomas Hobbes), Schmitt described the deadly struggle between Leviathan, the great sea powers, and Behemoth, the great land powers; then, turning a Jewish legend about messianic times into an account of bloodshed and cannibalism, he added: “The Jews stand apart and watch as the peoples of the world kill one another; for them this mutual ‘slaughter and carnage’ (Schlächten und Schlachten) is lawful and ‘Kosher.’ Thus they eat flesh of the slaughtered people and live upon it.”54

While Schmitt was cleansing legal studies and political science of any remnants of the Jewish spirit, Philipp Lenard, Johannes Stark, and Bruno Thüring, among others, were waging the same purifying campaign in physics.55 In various ways similar purges were spreading throughout all other domains of intellectual life. Sometimes the thin line between belief and mere compliance was not clear as, for example, in the case of Mathias Göring, Hermann’s cousin, who, as director of the Institute for Psychotherapy in Berlin, banished any explicit reference to psychoanalysis and its theories, its Jewish founder, and its mainly Jewish theoreticians and practitioners, while apparently accepting the systematic use of therapeutic methods directly inspired by psychoanalysis.56

In some instances the party leadership itself intervened to curtail the initiatives of an ideological orthodoxy that could have significantly negative consequences. Thus, on June 15, 1937, Stark published a full-blown attack in Das Schwarze Korps on the famous physicist Werner Heisenberg, then teaching at Leipzig, accusing him of being a “white Jew” and the “Ossietzky of physics,”* because the young theoretician of quantum physics had adopted various modern theories, in particular Einstein’s theory of relativity. At first Heisenberg’s protests were of no avail, especially as he had not signed the declaration of support for the new regime circulated by Stark in 1933. However, a highly regarded Göttingen aeronautical engineer, Ludwig Prandtl, intervened with Himmler on Heisenberg’s behalf. It took but a few months for Himmler to decide that Heisenberg should be protected from further attacks, on condition that he agreed to restrict himself to purely scientific issues. Orders to that effect were given to Heydrich, and, after the annexation of Austria, Heisenberg was named to the prestigious chair of theoretical physics at the University of Vienna. Heisenberg now acquiesced in all demands without further ado. Thus, although Stark and Lenard represented the most orthodox anti-Semitic line in science, and although Heisenberg had adopted “the Jewish dimension” of physics, Himmler understood the harm that Heisenberg’s marginalization or emigration could inflict on Germany’s scientific development and decided to shield him.57 But there were limits to this sort of compromise. Despite receiving the appointment in Vienna, the chair Heisenberg had initially wanted, at Munich, was refused him. Moreover—and this is the main point—Himmler would never have intervened to protect and keep any of the Jewish scientists who were being forced to leave Germany. In Heisenberg’s case the basic principle of racial purification had not been infringed.


Heinrich Himmler was appointed head of all German police forces on June 17, 1936, thus becoming Reichsführer SS and chief of the German police.58 The German police was being withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the state. This decisive reorganization accorded with the new atmosphere of general ideological confrontation, which demanded an effective concentration of the entire surveillance and detention apparatus of the regime. In more concrete terms, it signaled an unmistakable step toward the ever increasing intervention of the party in the state’s sphere of competence and a shift of power from the traditional state structure to the party.

On June 26, 1936, Himmler divided the police forces into two separate commands: the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei), under Kurt Daluege, was to comprise all uniformed police units; whereas the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei, or Sipo), under Heydrich’s command, integrated the Criminal Police and the Gestapo into a single organization. Heydrich now had control of both the new Sipo and the Security Service of the SS, the SD. Within the Sipo itself, the new trend was clear from the outset: “Instead of the criminal police reabsorbing the political police and returning them to subordination under the State administration as Himmler’s opponents [Frick] had desired, the criminal police assumed more of the extraordinary status of the political police.”59 Although in principle the police forces belonged to the Ministry of the Interior and thus, theoretically, as police chief Himmler was subordinate to Frick, in reality, the Sipo was not submitted to any ordinary administrative or judicial rules; like the Gestapo from its beginnings, its only law was the Führer’s will: “It did not need any other legitimation.”60 When he received sole control of Germany’s entire repression and terror system, Himmler was thirty-six years old; his right-hand man, Heydrich, was thirty-two.

SS-UntersturmFührer Rudolf aus den Ruthen, one of the three young editors of Das Schwarze Korps, decided to marry Marga Feldtmann. The future bride’s appearance was perfectly Aryan, but her genealogical tree showed an Austrian ancestor named Fried, which, in the Austrian province where he had lived, was most often a Jewish name; Ruthen broke the engagement. In early 1937 he found another prospective wife, Isolina Böving-Burmeister. Born in Mexico of a Cuban mother and a Volksdeutsch father, Isolina was a naturalized German. Her appearance did not inspire the investigators’ full confidence, and the matter was referred to Himmler. The Reichsführer was soon made aware of a Philadelphia ancestor of Isolina’s called Sarah Warner, who might have been Jewish. Finally, there was also a suspicion of some Negro blood on the Cuban mother’s side. Himmler first demanded a “full solution” of the problem. When total clarification proved impossible, he at last gave a favorable answer.”61

Himmler was a stickler for racial purity within his SS. As he explained in a May 22, 1936, speech delivered on the Brockenberg in the Harz Mountains: “Until October 1 of this year, the goal [for the family tree] is set at 1850; by next April 1, it will be set at 1750, until we achieve, within the next three years, for the whole SS and for each new recruit, the goal of 1650.” Himmler explained why he did not plan to reach back further in time: Most of the church registers did not exist for the period prior to 1648, the end of the Thirty Years’ War.62 Finally, though, such ideal goals had to be abandoned, and 1800 became the accepted cutoff date for SS members.

The Reichsführer was not above dealing personally with any aspect of ancestry searches. On May 7, 1936, he wrote to Minister of Agriculture Walter Darré, who was also head of the Main Office for Race and Settlement of the SS, to inquire into the ancestry of General Ludendorff’s wife, Mathilde von Kemnitz. Himmler strongly suspected her of being of Jewish origin: Otherwise, her troublemaking, as well as her “totally abnormal personal and sexual life would be inexplicable.”63 Two years later Darré was asked by Himmler to deal with the suspected Jewish ancestry of an SS officer on Darré’s own staff.64

Needless to say, candidates for the SS, or SS members wishing to marry, as we saw in aus den Ruthen’s case, made extraordinary efforts to obtain a clean ancestral record, capable of withstanding investigation, for their prospective spouses regarding any Jewish parentage at least as far back as 1800. Thus, to give one more example, on April 27, 1937, SS Master Sgt. (Hauptscharführer) Friedrich Mennecke, a physician who was to become a notorious figure in the euthanasia program, asked for authorization to marry. To his letter he appended forty-one original certificates about his fiancée’s ancestors. As the set of necessary documents was not absolutely complete, Mennecke affirmed “with a degree of probability close to certainty that up to 1800 all her ancestors were pure Aryans.”65

Jewish ancestry was not Himmler’s only ideological worry. In March 1938 he wrote a formal letter of protest to Göring about a Luftwaffe court’s dismissal of the case against an officer who had sexual relations with a woman identified as Jewish. To Himmler’s outrage the case had been dismissed because the officer declared that the woman was not Jewish but a mixed breed of “Negroid” origin.66

At lower levels of the SS, racial dogma was set in precise and concrete terms. The educational bulletin (SS-Leitheff) of April 22, 1936, posed the question: “Why do we teach about the Jews?” The answer: “In the SS we teach about the Jews because the Jew is the most dangerous enemy of the German people.” The explanation insisted on the parasitic aspect of the Jew, who lived off the vital forces of the host people, destroying its racial potential, its thought, its feelings, its morals, its culture. In even more precise terms, the Leitheft presented the three symbolic figures of the Jew: “Ahasuerus, the rootless one, who—defiling the race and destroying peoples—driven by unsteady blood, wanders restlessly through the world; Shylock, devoid of soul, who enslaves the peoples economically and as money lender holds them by the throat; Judas Iscariot, the traitor.”67

The same Leitheft had even more lurid details, for those who did not react adequately to Ahasuerus, Shylock, and Judas Iscariot: “The Jew systematically defiles the maidens and women of Aryan peoples. He is equally driven by cold calculation and uninhibited animal lust. The Jew is known to prefer blond women. He knows that the women and maidens whom he has defiled are forever lost to their people. Not because their blood has thereby deteriorated, but because the defiled maiden is spiritually destroyed. She is entrapped by the lust of the Jew and loses all sense of what is noble and pure.”68

The defiled Aryan maidens could eventually pursue a normal life if their ambitions weren’t set too high. But this could not be the case if they aspired to marry an SS officer. Anneliese Hüttemann was interrogated by the SD in August 1935 because of her relation with the Jew Kurt Stern. Both admitted to having had intercourse on several occasions (they were neighbors and had known each other since childhood). What happened to Kurt Stern we can only surmise. For Anneliese Hüttemann, the sin against the blood led to nerve-racking suspense when, nine years later, in May 1944, she was about to marry SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Liebehenschel. The 1935 files were brought up by the SD. After a painstaking investigation and endless petitions, Himmler, because a child was expected, assented to the marriage. At this time Liebehenschel was the commandant of Auschwitz.69

At first sight there is an apparent contradiction between the ideological importance of the Jewish issue in Nazi Germany in the mid-thirties—and its even greater importance within the SS—and the seemingly subordinate status of the office dealing with Jewish matters within the SD, the SS security service. The SD itself was, in fact, just coming into its own in the years 1935–1936. Elevated as one of the three main offices of the SS at the beginning of 1935, under Heydrich’s command from its inception as the party’s intelligence arm in August 1931, the SD underwent a major reorganization in January 1936.70 Three bureaus were established. Amt I, Administration, was headed by Wilhelm Albert, and Amt III, Foreign Intelligence, was under Heinz Jost. Amt II, Internal Intelligence, under Hermann Behrends and later Franz Albert Six, was subdivided into two main sections: II 1, dealing with ideological evaluations (Erich Ehrlinger and later Six), and II 2, with the evaluation of social conditions/attitudes (Reinhard Höhn and later Otto Ohlendorf). Within II 1, under Dieter Wisliceny, subsection II 11 dealt with ideological opponents; it comprised subsubsections II 111 (Freemasons, also Wisliceny), II 113 (political churches [that is, their political activity], Albert Hartl), and II 112 (Jews). According to Wisliceny, it was only in June 1935 that systematic work regarding the “opponent Jewry” started: Previously surveillance of Jewish organizations had been part of the activities of a section dealing mainly with Freemasonry. Subsection II 112 was successively under the authority of Mildenstein, Kurt Schröder, Wisliceny, and finally, from the end of 1937, Herbert Hagen. It comprised the following “desks”: II 1121 (assimilationist Jewry), II 1122 (Orthodox Jewry), and II 1123 (Zionists), the latter headed by Adolf Eichmann.71

The Gestapo was organized along roughly the same lines. Its equivalent of the SD’s Amt II was Abteilung II, under Heinrich Muller; that of the SD’s II 11 was II/1B, under Karl Hasselbacher.72 The unification of these separate but coordinated lines of command into the Main Office for the Security of the Reich (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or RSHA), which was to be established under Heydrich’s command in September 1939, aimed, in principle at least, at the creation of an entirely integrated system of surveillance, reporting, and arrests.

Heydrich’s men were young: In 1936–37 most of the top SD operatives were under thirty. They belonged to the cohort that came of age immediately after World War I. Most of them had been deeply influenced by the war atmosphere, the hardships, and the defeat. They were ruthless, practical, and strongly motivated by the ideological tenets of the extreme-right-wing organizations of the early twenties, in which many of them were active. Intense anti-Semitism (of the rational, not the emotional, kind—according to them) lay at the basis of their worldview.73

Although Heydrich’s own anti-Jewish initiatives and proposals had been increasingly influential, and while the Gestapo already played a central role in the implementation of anti-Jewish decisions, until 1938 the activities of subsection II 112 of the SD were mainly limited to three domains: gathering information on Jews, Jewish organizations, and on other Jewish activities; drafting policy recommendations; and increasingly active participation in surveillance operations and interrogations of Jews in coordination with the Gestapo. Moreover II 112 unabashedly considered itself the top group of “Jew experts” in Germany and, after March 1936, it systematically organized conferences in which, several times a year, the most updated information was imparted to delegates of other SD sections from the main office and from various parts of Germany. The largest of such conferences, convened on November 1, 1937, brought together sixty-six mostly middle-ranking members of the SD.74

One of II 112’s pet projects was the compilation of a card index of Jews (Judenkartei), intended to identify every Jew living in the Reich. Franz Six, moreover, ordered II 112 to start compiling another card index of the most important Jews in foreign countries and their mutual connections. As examples Six gave U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and the managements of the formerly German banking house Arnhold and the Dutch Unilever Trust.75

The Judenkartei was one of the topics on the agenda of the November 1 conference: As SS-Hauptsturmführer Ehrlinger summed up the matter, “for a successful internal struggle against Jewry, a listing in a card index of all Jews and people of Jewish origin living today in Germany is necessary. The aim of this listing is the following: (1) to establish the number of Jews and of people of Jewish origin according to the Nuremberg Laws living today in the Reich; (2) to establish the direct influence of Jewry and eventually the influence it exercises through its connections on the cultural life, the community life, and the material life of the German people.”76

The general population census of May 1939 was to provide the opportunity for the complete registration of all the Jews in Germany (including half- and quarter-Jews): In each town or village the local police made sure that the census cards of Jews and Mischlinge carried the letter “J” as a distinctive mark; copies of all local census registration lists were to be sent to the SD and passed on to II 112.77 The census took place as planned. The Jews were registered, as planned, and the card files fulfilled their function when the deportations began. (These files were kept in the building that now houses the department of philosophy of the Free University of Berlin.)78

A second information-gathering effort was aimed at every Jewish organization in Germany and throughout the world, from the ORT (an organization for vocational training and guidance) to the Agudath Yisrael (ultra-Orthodox Jewry). For the men of II 112 and the SD in general, no detail was too minute, no Jewish organization too insignificant. As the organized enemy they were fighting was nonexistent as such, their own enterprise had to create it ex nihilo. Jewish organizations were identified, analyzed, and studied as parts of an ever more complex system; the anti-German activities of that system had to be discovered, its internal workings decoded, its very essence unveiled.

The most astonishing aspect of this system was its concreteness. Very precise—and totally imaginary—Jewish plots were uncovered, names and addresses provided, countermeasures taken. Thus, in his lecture, “World Jewry,” at the November 1 conference, Eichmann listed a whole series of sinister Jewish endeavors. An attempt on the life of the Sudeten German Nazi leader Konrad Henlein had been planned at the Paris Asyle de Jour et de Nuit (a shelter for destitute Jews). It had failed only because Henlein had been warned and the murderer’s weapon had not functioned. Worse still, Nathan Landsmann, the president of the Paris-based Alliance Israelite Universelle (a Jewish educational organization), was in charge of planning attempts on the Fiihrer’s life—and also on Julius Streicher’s. To that effect, Landsmann was in touch with a Dutch Jewish organization, the Komitee voor Bizondere Joodsche Belange in Amsterdam, which in turn worked in close cooperation with the Dutch (Jewish) Unilever Trust, including its branches in Germany.79 This is a mere sample of Eichmann’s revelations.

For Heydrich and his men, it was probably inconceivable that connections among Jewish institutions were very loose and of very little importance in Jewish life.80 As described by him in a pamphlet published at the end of 1935, Wandlungen unseres Kampfes(The transformations of our struggle), the network of Jewish organizations acting against the Reich was a deadly threat.81 It appeared as such on the fictional charts growing apace in the SD offices at 102 Wilhelmstrasse, in Berlin. This was the police face of redemptive anti-Semitism.

In its policy recommendations, II 112 backed any action to accelerate Jewish emigration, including the potentially positive effects of instigated violence.82 As early as May 1934, an SD memorandum addressed to Heydrich had opened with the unambiguous statement that “the aim of the Jewish policy must be the complete emigration of the Jews.” In the context of 1934 the lines that followed were unusual: “The life opportunities of the Jews have to be restricted, not only in economic terms. To them Germany must become a country without a future, in which the old generation may die off with what still remains for it, but in which the young generation should find it impossible to live, so that the incentive to emigrate is constantly in force. Violent mob anti-Semitism must be avoided. One does not fight rats with guns but with poison and gas….”83 Yet, as has been seen, in September 1935 Heydrich did not set emigration at the center of his policy proposals. It was within the overall shifting of Nazi goals in 1936 that the policy of the SD became an active element in a general drive of all Nazi agencies involved in Jewish matters: For all of them, emigration was the first priority.

Palestine was considered one of the more promising outlets for Jewish emigration, as it had been since 1933. Like the Foreign Ministry and the Rosenberg office (which was mainly in charge of ideological matters, including contacts with foreign Nazi sympathizers), the SD was confronted with the dilemma entailed by the need to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine on the one hand, and, on the other, the danger that such emigration could lead to the creation of a strategic center for the machinations of world Jewry: a Jewish state. It is in relation to such policy considerations that Heydrich allowed Hagen and Eichmann to visit Palestine in the fall of 1937 and to meet with their Haganah “contact,” Feivel Polkes.

For Eichmann at least the mission appears to have raised great expectations: “As during the trip negotiations with Arab princes are foreseen, among other things,” the ex-traveling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company in Upper Austria wrote to the head of II 1, Albert Six, “I will need one light and one dark suit as well as a light overcoat.” Eichmann’s dreams of Oriental elegance remained unfulfilled; instead both travelers were repeatedly warned about strict secrecy measures: no use of terms like “SS,” “SD,” “Gestapo”; no sending of postcards to friends in the service, and so on.84 The mission failed miserably: The British did not allow the two SD men to stay in Palestine more than a day, and their conversations with Polkes—who came to meet them in Cairo—produced no valuable information whatsoever. But the favorable SD view of Palestine as a destination for German Jews did not change. Later on it was with the SD that Zionist emissaries organized the departure of convoys of emigrants to Yugoslav and Romanian ports, from which they attempted to sail for Palestine in defiance of the British blockade.

Finally the SD Jewish subsubsection participated with increasing energy in the surveillance activities of the Gestapo, and in this domain its share of the common work grew throughout 1937. On September 18, for example, the SD main region Rhine submitted a report on a Jewish student named Ilse Hanoch. According to the report, Hanoch (“who supposedly is studying in London”) was traveling on the 6:25 train from Trier to Luxembourg, when, “shortly before arriving at the border-control station, Hanoch looked very uncertain and started tearing pieces of paper from her notebook, crumpled them, and threw them into the ashtray.” She underwent a thorough search at the border station, but without any result. The SD report assumed, on the basis of Hanoch’s travel schedule to and from Germany (as indicated on her passport) and, from the names of various Jewish families that were found on the pieces of paper she had torn and thrown away, that the so-called student was a messenger between Jews who had emigrated and those still living in Germany. Instructions were issued to all border control stations that she “be most thoroughly searched when reentering the country and that she be put under the strictest surveillance during her travels in Germany.”85 It is unknown whether Ilse Hanoch ever returned to Germany.

Strangely enough, however, when no clear instructions were given or when the framework for violence was not preestablished, the anti-Jewish actions of the SS had their built-in limitations, at least in the mid-thirties. Consider the case of SS-Sturmmann (SS Private) Anton Beckmann, of the headquarters staff of the Columbia SS detention center in Berlin. On January 25, 1936, he went into a shop on the Friesenstrasse and bought a pair of suspenders. As he left the shop, a passerby told Beckmann, who was wearing his SS uniform, that he had just been patronizing a Jewish store. He immediately tried to return the suspenders but to no avail: “The Jewess Joel [the store owner] insolently told him that she wouldn’t even think of taking back purchased goods, and furthermore, that she had a lot of SS customers, even some high-ranking ones.” SS-Obersturmführer Kern, summoned by Beckmann to help him return the suspenders, had no greater success. The commandant of the Columbia detention center sent a report on the matter demanding the arrest of “the Jewess Joel” for spreading false rumors about SS members, adding that “it would be a welcome step in the interest of all National Socialists, if finally, as in other regions, the Jewish shops in Berlin were to be marked.”86

On receipt of the commandant’s letter, the Inspector of concentration camps, Gruppenführer Eicke, had to admit that he felt “powerless in this matter” and transmitted the request to the chief of the SS Personnel Office, Gruppenführer Heissmeyer,87 who passed it on to the Berlin area SS commander with a comment of his own: “In Berlin, of all places, everyone is in danger of unwittingly buying in Jewish stores, whereas in other cities, Frankfurt, for example, this danger is avoided by the use of a standard sign reading GERMAN ESTABLISHMENT.”88 The evolution of the shop-marking issue has already been noted, but what of the “Jewess Joel”? An absence of orders regarding her and the imminence of the Olympic Games suggest that, despite her “insolence,” she might not have been imprisoned.

The Joel incident, as minute as it was, points to an issue that was of central significance for the prewar anti-Jewish Nazi policy. Among the main obstacles faced by the regime in its attempt to eliminate the Jews from Germany was the fact that the victims had been part and parcel of every field of activity in German society. In consequence, if direct violence was not (yet) possible, the system had to elaborate ever new administrative or legal measures in order to undo, stage by stage and step by step, the existing ties between that society and the Jews. And, as we have seen, at each stage, any number of unforeseen exceptions demanded additional administrative solutions. In other words it was not yet easy merely to arrest the “Jewess Joel,” who was legally selling her wares and was still protected by the general instructions regarding the economic activity of the Jews: Marking Jewish shops, for example, entailed possible internal and external consequences the regime was not yet ready to face.


Although the total number of concentration camp inmates in 1936–37 (about 7,500) was at its lowest point89, compared to the first two years of the regime and mainly to what happened later, the categories of targeted prisoners were increasing considerably. Apart from political opponents, the inmates were mainly members of religious sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses; homosexuals; and “habitual criminals” or “asocials,” a group the Ministry of the Interior defined as follows:

“Persons who through minor, but repeated, infractions of the law demonstrate that they will not adapt themselves to the natural discipline of the National Socialist state, e.g., beggars; tramps (Gypsies); alcoholics; whores with contagious diseases, particularly sexually transmitted diseases, who evade the measures taken by the health authorities.”

A further category of asocials was the “work-shy”: “Persons against whom it can be proven that on two occasions they have, without reasonable grounds, turned down jobs offered to them, or who, having taken a job, have given it up after a short while without a valid reason.” During the following years, asocials of these various kinds were increasingly picked up by the Gestapo and sent to concentration camps.90

The entirely arbitrary nature of the arrests and incarcerations in camps, even by the Third Reich’s standards of justice, can be illustrated by two police orders. In September 1935 the Bavarian Political Police demanded that the release date of all prisoners “who had been sentenced by a People’s Court be communicated well in advance so that, upon their release, they could immediately be transferred to a concentration camp. In other words, the police were “correcting” the courts’ sentences.91 And on February 23, 1937, Himmler ordered the Criminal Police to rearrest about two thousand habitual criminal offenders and to incarcerate them in concentration camps.92 These were individuals who had not been sentenced anew; choosing the victims was entirely up to the Criminal Police’s judgment—whereby “the overall number of arrests ordered could only encourage the arbitrariness of the choice.”93

In the thirties the Nazi regime used two different but complementary methods to achieve the complete exclusion of racially dangerous groups from the Volksgemeinschaft. segregation and expulsion on the one hand, sterilization on the other. The first method was used in its various aspects against the Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals; the second method was applied to the carriers of hereditary diseases (physical or mental) and to persons showing dangerous characteristics deemed hereditary, as well as to “racially contaminated individuals” who could not be expelled or put into camps. As for the struggle against the Jew as the world enemy, it took additional and different forms, both on the ideological level and in terms of its all-encompassing nature.

Besides the asocials the main groups designated for segregation and diverse forms of imprisonment in existing camps or newly established camplike areas were the Gypsies and the homosexuals. Like the Jews the Gypsies dwelt in the phantasmic recess of the European mind, and like them they were branded as strangers on European soil. As was seen, the applicability of the Nuremberg Laws to the Gypsies was announced soon after their proclamation. As “carriers of alien blood,” the Gypsies were barred from marrying or having sexual contact with members of the German race.94 But although the decision was applied on the basis of general criteria of appearance and behavior, the task of actually defining the racial nature of “Gypsies” still lay ahead. From 1936 on it became the project of the University of Tübingen’s Robert Ritter.

With financing from the state-funded German Research Society (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, or DFG), the SS, and the Reich Health Ministry, Ritter took upon himself the classification of the thirty thousand Gypsies living in Germany. (Today identified as Sinti and Roma, these ethnic groups were generally called Gypsies [Zigeuner in German] long before and during the Third Reich, and most often to this day.) According to the Tübingen specialist, the Gypsies came from northern India and were originally Aryan, but in their migrations they had mingled with lesser races and were now nearly 90 percent racially impure.95 Ritter’s conclusions were to become the basis for the next step on the road to segregation, deportation, and extermination: Himmler’s order of December 8, 1938, regarding the measures to be taken against the Sinti and Roma.

The police were not passive while racial laws barring marriage and sexual intercourse between Gypsies and Germans were being promulagated and Ritter and his assistants were researching photographs and measurements. The Sinti and Roma had traditionally been subjected to harassment, mainly in Bavaria; after 1933, however, direct harassment became systematic, with the expulsion from the country of foreign Gypsies, and with others incarcerated as vagrants, habitual criminals, and various other kinds of asocials. Taking the Olympic Games as a pretext, the Berlin police in May 1936 arrested hundreds of Gypsies and transferred whole families, with their wagons, horses, and other belongings to the so-called Marzahn “rest place,” next to a garbage dump on one side and a cemetery on the other. Soon the rest place was enclosed with barbed wire. A de facto Gypsy concentration camp had been established in a suburb of Berlin. It was from Marzahn, and from other similar rest places soon set up near other German cities, that a few years later thousands of Sinti and Roma would be sent to the extermination sites in the East.96

The Leopold Obermayer case has already given some indication of the system’s particular hatred of homosexuals. A measure of liberalization of anti-homosexual laws and regulations had been achieved during the Weimar years, but once the Nazis came to power the prohibitions became harsher, especially after the liquidation of SA leadership in June 1934 (Ernst Röhm and some of the main SA leaders were notorious homosexuals). Homophobia was unusually shrill within the SS. A 1935 article in Das Schwarze Korps demanded the death penalty for homosexual activities, and the following year Himmler created a Reich Central Office for Combatting Homosexuality and Abortion.97 During the Nazi period, some ten to fifteen thousand homosexuals were incarcerated.98How many died in the camps is unknown, but according to one Dachau inmate, “the prisoners with the pink triangle did not live very long; they were quickly and systematically exterminated by the SS.”99

In many ways Obermayer’s story remains exemplary.

By mid-October 1935, it will be remembered, Leopold Obermayer was back in Dachau. This time, however, using both the most diverse legal and moral arguments and his status as a Swiss citizen, Obermayer fought back. Most of his letters and petitions were seized by the Dachau censors and passed on to his chief tormentor, the Würzburg Gestapo head Josef Gerum; his defense strategy was undermined by his new lawyer, a run-of-the-mill Nazi; the hopes he set on a decisive intervention by the Swiss authorities never materialized (as Broszat and Fröhlich have put it, the Swiss probably did not consider that the case of a Jewish homosexual was worth an entanglement with Germany).100 Nonetheless Obermayer’s relentless complaints, and the uncertainty of the Bavarian Political Police and the Justice Ministry in Berlin as to just how ready the Swiss would be to turn Obermayer’s case into an international scandal, profoundly unsettled Gerum and even some of his superiors in Munich and Berlin.101 Thus, throughout 1936, the determined resistance of a Jewish homosexual, albeit one benefiting from foreign citizenship, could still induce a measure of uncertainty in the operations of the system. Be that as it may, Obermayer’s trial could not be delayed indefinitely. The case was referred to the Würzburg Criminal Court; the trial was scheduled for December 9, 1936. The prosecution intended to concentrate on the accused’s homosexual activities, mainly his perversion of German youth (Obermayer himself never denied his homosexuality but steadfastly argued that the relations he had with younger men had never gone beyond the limits set by the law).102

In November it dawned on the Würzburg Gestapo and the state prosecution that, given his personality and defiance, Obermayer would be able to use the courtroom to argue that Hitler himself knew of the homosexual relations within the SA leadership and had accepted them until June 30, 1934.103 Thus the trial had to take place behind closed doors, and whereas Obermayer lost his last chance of embarrassing his persecutors, the propaganda machinery of the party and the Gestapo also lost the opportunity of staging a show trial. (As will be seen, a similar situation was to arise years later with regard to the planned show trial of Herschel Grynszpan, the Jewish youth who in November 1938 shot the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath.)

Little is known about the trial itself, but even the reports in the local Nazi press indicate that Obermayer defended himself astutely. The sentence was a foregone conclusion: life imprisonment. Obermayer was kept in a regular prison until 1942, when he was transferred into the hands of the SS and sent to Mauthausen; there he died on February 22, 1943. After presenting his own version of the events to a de-Nazification court in 1948, Josef Gerum was set free.104

Throughout the thirties the sterilization drive inaugurated in July 1933 went steadily forward. When the health argument could not easily be used for racial purposes, other methods were found. Thus the new regime had barely been established when the attention of the authorities was directed to a group probably numbering no more than five to seven hundred, the young offspring of German women and colonial African soldiers serving in the French military occupation of the Rhineland during the early postwar years. In Nazi jargon these were the “Rhineland bastards.”105 Hitler had already described this “black pollution of German blood” in Mein Kampf as one more method used by the Jews to undermine the racial fiber of the Volk.

As early as April 1933, Göring as Prussian minister of the interior requested the registration of these “bastards,” and a few weeks later the ministry ordered that they undergo a racial-anthropological evaluation.106 In July a study of thirty-eight of these schoolchildren was undertaken by a certain Abel, one of racial anthropologist Eugen Fischer’s assistants at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. As could be expected, Abel found that his subjects, all of them living in the Rhineland, showed various defects in intellectual ability and behavior. The Prussian ministry reported the findings on March 28, 1934, warning of dire racial consequences if, despite their very small number, these “bastards” were allowed to reproduce. The upshot of the argument was that, since the presence in France of half a million mixed breeds would lead within four or five generations to the bastardization of half the French population, the similar presence of mixed breeds on the German side of the border would lead to local miscegenation and the consequent disappearance of any racial difference between the French and the population of the adjacent western parts of the Reich.107

That the matter was not taken lightly is shown by a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Population and Racial Policy of the Ministry of the Interior, which on March 11, 1935, convened representatives of the ministries of the Interior, Health, Justice, Labor, and Foreign affairs as well as eugenicists from the academic world. Walter Gross did not hide the difficulties in handling the problem of what he called the “Negro bastards” (Negerbastarde). Their rapid expulsion was impossible; thus, Gross left no doubt about the need for sterilization. But sterilization of a healthy population, if carried out openly, could cause serious internal and external reactions. As the reliability of ordinary practitioners was not to be depended on, Gross saw no other way but to demand the secret intervention of physicians who were also seasoned party members and would understand the imperatives of the higher good of the Volk.108 In the course of 1937, these hundreds of boys and girls were identified, picked up by the Gestapo, and sterilized.109

The convolutions of Nazi thinking remain, however, inscrutable. As the party agencies were plotting the sterilization of the “Negro bastards,” Bormann sent confidential instructions to all Gauleiters regarding “German colonial Negroes”: the fifty or so blacks from the former German colonies living in Germany could not find any employment, according to the Reichsleiter, “because when they found some work their employer encountered hostile reactions and had to dismiss the Negroes.” Bormann was ready to have employment authorizations issued to them in order to help them find steady work; any individual action against them was prohibited.110 The Reichsleiter did not even mention the question of progeny. Were these blacks married to German women? Did they have racially mixed children? Were these children to be sterilized? It seems that none of these questions even crossed the mind of the prime racial fanatic Martin Bormann.

The decision to sterilize carriers of hereditary diseases and the so-called feeble-minded was based on medical examinations and specially devised intelligence tests. The results were submitted to hereditary health courts, whose decisions were in turn forwarded for review to heredity health appellate courts; only their final verdicts were mandatory. Some three-quarters of the total of approximately four hundred thousand individuals sterilized in Nazi Germany underwent the operation before the beginning of the war.111But only part of the sterilized population ultimately survived. For mental patients sterilization was often but a first stage: During the late thirties they were the group most at risk in Nazi Germany.

As early as the last years of the republic, patients at mental institutions were increasingly considered to be a burden on the community, “superfluous beings,” people whose lives were “unworthy of living.” The Nazi regime spared no effort to disseminate the right attitudes toward asylum inmates. Organized tours of mental institutions were meant to demonstrate both the freakish appearance of mental patients and the unnecessary costs that their upkeep entailed. Thus, for example, in 1936 the Munich asylum Eglfing-Haar was toured by members of the SA’s Reich Leadership School, by local SS race experts, by instructors of the SS regiment “Julius Schreck,” and by several groups from the Labor Front.”112 A crop of propaganda films aimed at indoctrinating the wider public were produced and shown during the same years,”113 and in schools, appropriate exercises in arithmetic demonstrated the financial toll such inmates imposed on the nation’s economy.114

Whether these educational measures indicated a systematic preparation of public opinion for the extermination of the inmates is unclear, but in this domain—more so than in many others—one can follow the direct impact of ideology on the regime’s policies from 1933 on. According to Lammers, Hitler had already mentioned the possibility of euthanasia in 1933, and according to his physician, Karl Brandt, Hitler had discussed the subject with the Reich physicians’ leader Wagner in 1935, indicating that such a project would be easier to carry out in wartime.115 Nonetheless, starting in 1936, mental patients were gradually being concentrated in large state-run institutions, and reliable SS personnel was placed on the staffs of some private institutions. Given this trend, it is not surprising that, in March 1937, Das Schwarze Korps had no compunction in praising a father who had killed his handicapped son.116

The privately run institutions were well aware of the ominous aspect of these developments. In fact, what is chilling about the documentation of the years 1936–38 is that “the associations established for the care of the handicapped [Protestant religious groups such as the Inner Mission] often…denounced those left to their care and thereby helped to bring about their persecution and extermination.”117 Many of the religious institutions that were losing some of their inmates as a result of the regrouping of patients into state institutions did complain—but only about the economic difficulties such transfers were causing them.118

The first concrete step toward a euthanasia policy was taken in the fall of 1938. The father of an infant born blind, retarded, and with no arms and legs petitioned Hitler for the right to a “mercy death” for his son. Karl Brandt, was sent to Leipzig, where the Knauer baby was hospitalized, to consult with the doctors in charge and perform the euthanasia, which he did.119

As will be seen further on, the planning of euthanasia was accelerated during the first months of 1939. Nonetheless Hitler acted with prudence. He was aware that the killing of mentally ill adults or of infants with grave defects could encounter staunch opposition from the churches, the Catholic Church in particular. This potential obstacle was all the more significant as the largely Catholic population and the ecclesiastical hierarchy of Austria had just given their enthusiastic endorsement to the Anschluss. Thus, in late 1938, Hartl, head of SD desk II 113 (political churches), received (via Heydrich) an order from Viktor Brack, the deputy of Philipp Bouhler (head of the Führer’s Chancellery), to prepare an “opinion” about the church’s attitude toward euthanasia.120 Hartl did not feel competent to produce such an evaluation, but he contacted Father Joseph Mayer, professor of moral theology at the Philosophical-Theological Academy in Paderborn, who in 1927 had already written favorably about sterilization of the mentally ill. In the early fall of 1939, Hard received Mayer’s detailed memorandum, which summed up the pros and cons in Catholic pronouncements on the subject. The memorandum has not been found, and we do not know whether the Paderborn cleric expressed his own view on euthanasia, but it seems that even if his conclusion was indeterminate, it left the door open for exceptions.121

Through indirect channels Brack’s office submitted Mayer’s memorandum to Bishop Berning and to the papal nuncio, Monsignor Cesare Orsenigo. On the Protestant side, it was submitted to Pastors Paul Braune and Friedrich von Bodelschwingh. It seems that no opposition was voiced by any of the German clerics—Catholic or Protestant—contacted by Hider’s Chancellery. The pope’s delegate, too, remained silent.122

*Carl von Ossietzky was a left-wing German journalist and passionate pacifist. He as awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935, while imprionsed in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

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