Modern history



Jews in particular emigrated from Germany if they were young enough to start a new life abroad and wealthy enough to finance it. This was not voluntary or free emigration, of course; it was flight into exile to escape conditions that for many were becoming wholly intolerable. We do not really know how many Jews left Germany during these years. The official statistics, which continued to classify Jews by religion alone, are all we have to go on. Given the very high rates of conversion to Christianity over the decades before 1933, the official figures might have underrepresented by 10 per cent or more the number of people who fled the country because the Nazi regime classified them as Jewish whatever their religion. According to the official statistics, there were 437,000 Germans of Jewish faith in Germany in 1933. By the end of 1937, the figure had dropped to around 350,000. Thirty-seven thousand members of the Jewish faith left Germany in 1933, under the impact of the boycott of 1 April and the Law of 7 April; a fall in the number of emigrants to 23,000 the following year reflected the absence of any similar nationwide actions or laws in 1934. The number stayed relatively low in the following years too - 21,000 in 1935, 25,000 in 1936 and 23,000 in 1937. As Europeans, most of them preferred to stay in another country on the same continent - 73 per cent of 1933’s Jewish emigrants remained within Europe - while only 8 per cent travelled overseas, to destinations such as the United States. In 1933, despite the relative weakness of Zionism in Germany, no fewer than 19 per cent settled in Palestine. Altogether, 52,000 German Jews went there between 1933 and 1939. A significant reason for this surprisingly high number lay in the fact that representatives of the Zionist movement in Germany and Palestine had signed a pact with the Nazi government on 27 August 1933. Known as the Haavara Transfer Agreement, it was personally endorsed by Hitler and committed the German Ministry of Economics to allowing Jews who left for Palestine to transfer a significant portion of their assets there - about 140 million Reichsmarks all told - while those who left for other countries had to leave much of what they owned behind.98

Map 13. Jewish Overseas Emigration, 1933-8

The reasons for the Nazis’ favoured treatment of emigrants to Palestine were complex. On the one hand, they regarded the Zionist movement as a significant part of the world Jewish conspiracy they had dedicated their lives to destroying. On the other, helping Jewish emigration to Palestine might mitigate international criticism of antisemitic measures at home. Moreover, and crucially, the principal aim of the Nazis in these years was to drive the Jews out of Germany and preferably out of Europe too; for all the murderous violence they meted out to them, they did not at this stage intend, still less plan, to exterminate all Germany’s Jews. A Germany free of Jews would, in Nazi eyes, be a stronger Germany, fit to take on the rest of Europe and then the world. Only when that happened would the Nazis turn to solving what they thought of as the Jewish problem on a world scale. The Zionists were prepared to do a deal with the Nazis if the result was a strengthening of the Jewish presence in Palestine. German Jews would bring much-needed skills and experience with them; they would also, many leading Zionists thought, bring money and capital for investment. In return, the Haavara Transfer Agreement, which formalized these arrangements, provided for the export of much-needed goods such as citrus fruit from Palestine to Germany as part of the exchange. On both sides, therefore, this was above all a marriage of convenience. But it was increasingly disputed within the Nazi regime itself. This was not least the consequence of the establishment of the Jewish Affairs Division of the SS Security Service in 1935. One of the principal sections of the organization, it was led by an increasingly radical group of young officers, including Dieter Wisliceny, Theodor Dannecker and Adolf Eichmann. These men became progressively more anxious that encouraging Jews to go to Palestine would accelerate the formation of a Jewish state there, with dangerous consequences for Germany in the long run, or so they thought.99

For Zionists, the cloud of persecution and discrimination, above all in the shape of the boycott of 1 April 1933 and the subsequent civil service law, had a certain silver lining, for it brought Germany’s deeply divided Jews closer together. Already in 1932, in the light of mounting antisemitic attacks, regional Jewish associations had decided to establish a national organization, which was set up on 12 February 1933. It did little apart from protesting that it had nothing to do with what the Nazis described as the international campaign for the boycott of German goods. It was not until September 1933 that this organization, together with others, including the German Zionists, set up an umbrella organization in the shape of the Reich Representation of German Jews under the chairmanship of the Berlin rabbi Leo Baeck. Its purpose was to regroup and defend Jewish life in the new Germany. Its leaders urged a dialogue with the Nazis, perhaps with a view to reaching a Concordat like the one the Third Reich had concluded with the Catholics. They emphasized the patriotic service many Jews had rendered the Reich at the front during the First World War. Jews were not the only Germans to believe that the violence that accompanied the seizure of power would soon dissipate, leaving a more stable, ordered polity. Leo Baeck even encouraged the preparation of a large dossier illustrating the Jewish contribution to German life.

Map 14. Jewish Emigration within Europe, 1933-8

But the dossier was banned before it could be published.100 The financial penalties imposed on German Jews, the Aryanization of Jewish businesses and the tightening of restrictions on the export of currency and chattels ensured that German Jews found it increasingly difficult to obtain refuge in countries whose governments did not want immigrants if they were going to be a burden on the welfare system. Even finding the money to pay for a passage out of Germany had become a problem. The fact that an increasing proportion of German Jews was now near or over retirement age made things worse. Jewish immigrants of working age were often resented because unemployment remained high in many countries as a result of the Depression. Jewish organizations in receiving countries did their best to help by providing funds and opportunities for work, organizing visas and the like, but the extent to which they were able to influence government policy was very restricted, and they were hampered in addition by their own fear of arousing antisemitism at home.101

On 6 July 1938, a conference of thirty-two nations met at Evian, on the French shore of Lake Geneva, to discuss the growing international phenomenon of migration. The conference made an attempt to impose generally agreed guidelines, especially in the light of the possible expulsion of hundreds of thousands of destitute Jews from Poland and Romania. But it was careful not to upset German sensibilities at a time when international relations were becoming increasingly fraught. The German government did not take part, declaring Jewish emigrants to be an internal matter. One delegation after another at the conference made it clear that it would not liberalize its policy towards refugees; if anything, it would tighten things up. Britain and the European states saw themselves mainly as countries of transit, from which Jewish migrants would quickly disperse overseas. Anti-immigrant sentiment in many countries, complete with rhetoric about being ‘swamped’ by people of ‘alien’ culture, contributed further to this growing reluctance.102

At the same time, of course, the situation offered new opportunities for corrupt German officials, who frequently demanded money or goods in return for their agreement to apply the all-important rubber stamp to the papers of would-be emigrants. The temptation to enrich oneself was all the greater since the emigrants had to leave virtually everything behind. One Jew who applied for emigration papers was told by an official after preliminary formalities had been completed:

‘Well, give me a thought when you emigrate, won’t you?’ I told him to say what he wanted, and I’d see what I could do. A few hours later, as I was having supper at home, the doorbell rang, and there was the official himself (in his uniform with a coat over it), and as I opened the door and was obviously surprised to see him there, he said he only wanted to tell me that he would very much like to have a round table and a rug about 2 metres by 3. And indeed our emigration permits were issued in an amazingly short time. 103

To get round currency and other problems the Gestapo eventually organized illegal transports of Jewish emigrants, chartering boats to Palestine down the Danube via the Black Sea, and charging, as might be expected, hugely inflated prices for tickets.104


For those who stayed in Germany, the leaders of the Jewish community organized new institutional structures to try and alleviate the situation. A central Committee for Aid and Reconstruction was founded on 13 April 1933, following on a similar Central Institution for Jewish Economic Aid the previous month. These organizations raised loans for Jews who found themselves in economic difficulties, tried to find employment for Jews who had lost their jobs and ran retraining courses for Jews who wanted to go into agriculture or handicrafts (many of these subsequently emigrated). Increasingly, Jewish organizations rendered logistical, bureaucratic and sometimes financial assistance to those who wanted to emigrate. Until 1938 Jews were still entitled to public welfare benefits, so Jewish charities acted more in the way of a supplement than a substitution when it came to aiding the really destitute; however, as the Jewish community grew steadily more impoverished, so the work of the charities became increasingly important.105

The process of segregation had a particularly stark impact on Jewish children. In 1933 there were about 60,000 Jewish children aged from seven, the starting age for formal schooling, to fourteen, the age at which it ceased to be compulsory, in Germany, and a substantial further number who were enrolled in secondary schools. Emigration, particularly amongst Jews of child-bearing and child-rearing age, reduced the number of young Jewish people between six and twenty-five years of age from 117,000 in 1933 to 60,000 in 1938. The children had to face a concerted effort by the Nazis to drive them out of German schools. The Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities, promulgated on 25 April 1933, together with its implementation orders, set a maximum for new admissions to all schools above the primary level of 1.5 per cent of non-Aryan children. At the same time, the rabid hostility of the Nazi Students’ League drove most Jewish students out of the universities within a short space of time, so that only 590 were left in the autumn semester of 1933 compared to 3,950 in the summer semester of the previous year. In a similar way, the hostility of fanatical Nazi teachers and, increasingly, Hitler Youth activists in the schools had a powerful effect in driving Jewish children out. In Württemberg, for instance, while 11 per cent of Jewish pupils were forced to abandon their secondary education because of the Law, some 58 per cent broke it off as a result of the hostility of some teachers and children at their schools. So fierce was the pressure that even Education Minister Rust complained about it in May 1933, and repeated his strictures in July.

In some schools, Jewish children were made to sit on a special ‘Jewish bench’ in the classroom, and they were banned from German lessons. They had to listen to their teachers describing Jews as criminals and traitors. And they were not allowed to take part in ceremonies and festivals, concerts and plays. Teachers deliberately humiliated them and gave them bad marks for their work. Of course, the atmosphere varied strongly from school to school; in some working-class areas, the other children showed considerable solidarity with their Jewish classmates, while in small-town Germany, local bullies made their life a misery and caused them to live in permanent fear of being beaten up. The result of such pressure was that in Prussia the number of Jewish children in state secondary schools fell from 15,000 in May 1932 to 7,000 in May 1935 and just over 4,000 the following year; figures that almost certainly underestimate the scale of the decline, since they only include the children of parents of Jewish faith, not children classified as Jewish on racial grounds by the regime. By 1938, a mere 1 per cent of state secondary school pupils in Prussia was Jewish, and from January that year these young people were in any case officially excluded from sitting the common university entrance examination. The remaining Jewish school pupils were all summarily expelled at the end of the year.106

The expulsion of Jewish children from German state schools urgently demanded the provision of replacement educational facilities by the Jewish community. Parents from the acculturated Jewish middle class looked down on Germany’s Jewish schools in 1933; many considered their standards low and did not share their religious stance. This applied particularly, of course, to the many parents of Christian faith who now suddenly found themselves classified by the regime as Jewish by race and thrown together with a community they had up to now studiously avoided. Many local Jewish communities had no educational facilities at all. Concerned parents, appalled at the isolation into which their children were being driven by the hostility they encountered in state schools, often took the lead in providing them. By 1935 over half of the 30,000 Jewish children of primary-school age were attending Jewish community schools, funded mostly by Jewish organizations. Finding trained teachers was difficult, and classes were often very large, with up to 50 children each, in cramped and inadequate accommodation. Especially in the secondary schools, children from widely varying backgrounds, abilities and educational experience were suddenly thrown together. Transport and travel were major problems for many parents and children. There were bitter quarrels between different ideological factions, Orthodox, liberal and secular, right and left, about the curriculum, which only died down as increasing discrimination and repression made them seem less important. By early 1937 there were 167 Jewish schools in Germany, attended by nearly 24,000 pupils out of a total of 39,000 in all. Emigration soon reduced their number; by October 1939 there were fewer than 10,000 Jewish schoolchildren left in Germany, and a number of Jewish schools had closed down. Their achievement was above all, perhaps, to provide an educational environment free from the ethos of race hatred, militarism and brute physical prowess that had come to dominate the vast majority of German schools by this time.107

Jewish self-help played a role in other areas too. Jewish sportsmen and women set up their own organization after Jews were expelled from mainstream sports clubs in 1933; in 1934 its members numbered no fewer than 35,000. An even more notable achievement was the Jewish Culture League, set up by the Jewish ex-deputy director of the Berlin City Opera, Kurt Singer. Eight thousand Jewish artists, musicians, performers and writers belonged to the Jewish Culture League, which catered exclusively for the Jewish community; 180,000 Jews eventually joined to take advantage of its offerings. Its foundation was officially approved by Hermann Goring. From the Nazi point of view, it was welcome because it marked the complete separation of Jewish cultural life from that of the nation as a whole, and at the same time reassured other Germans that Jews were not banned from writing, painting or performing. Singer was quickly elbowed aside, however, and the Culture League was run by a Nazi, Hans Hinkel, for most of its existence. Hinkel, working under the aegis of Goring, was responsible for the elimination of Jews from cultural institutions in Prussia, so it seemed to Goring obvious that he should run the Culture League as well. Hinkel soon began to ban the Culture League and its members from performing German works, starting with medieval and romantic German plays and moving on to Schiller (1934) and Goethe (1936). Jewish musicians were not allowed to perform music by Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss; Beethoven was added to the list in 1937 and Mozart in 1938.108

In 1933-4 alone, however, the League put on sixty-nine opera performances and 117 concerts. But although some leading members saw such activities as an opportunity to show the contribution that Jewish artists and performers could make to German cultural life, many more must have been aware that they were evidence of a creeping ghettoization of Jewish culture in Germany. By gradually restricting what the Culture League could do, the Nazis were pushing it inexorably towards a situation where it provided nothing but ‘Jewish’ culture to audiences consisting of Jews alone. The cultural ghettoization of Germany’s Jews was completed after 10 November 1938, when Jews were banned from attending German theatres, cinemas, concerts, lectures, circuses, cabarets, dances, shows, exhibitions and all other cultural events. Following this, all Jewish cultural institutions of whatever kind were merged into the centralized Jewish Culture League on 1 January 1939, including the remaining Jewish publishing houses. There were plenty of works to perform for Jewish audiences, including those of Jewish writers and composers banned by the Nazis on racial grounds. There were exhibitions of Jewish painters and readings from Jewish writers. Non-Jewish Germans, of course, were not allowed to go to these functions. Whether there really was a Jewish-German culture independent and separate from non-Jewish-German culture many, if not most, doubted; most Jewish writers, artists and composers had not really considered the possibility, but had regarded themselves simply as Germans.109

Paradoxically, perhaps, many Jews found the process of cultural ghettoization rather reassuring as they came to terms with the new restrictions on their life. As one of them remarked critically later: ‘The Jews were left more or less undisturbed within the bounds that had been drawn for them. In the Jewish Culture League, in the Jewish school, in the synagogues, they could live as they pleased. It was only interference in the Aryans’ sphere that was a taboo and a danger.’110 This attitude was in many cases a psychological necessity for those who remained. Increasingly, these were the old and the poor. In 1933, 20 per cent of German citizens of the Jewish faith who had been born in Germany were aged 50 or over; by 1938, the proportion of the Jewish community in Germany aged 50 and above had risen to over 48 per cent; a year later, it was over half.111 Many Jews were German patriots, their families deeply linked to their home towns and communities by decades, indeed centuries, of residence, work, culture and tradition. Breaking with all this was too hard for some to bear. Many left Germany in tears, vowing to come back when things got better. It was not surprising that many German Jews refused to emigrate, or indeed saw no need to do so. ‘Why should I emigrate?’ one middle-aged German Jew answered the entreaties of his anxious son in 1937. ‘Not everything will be eaten as hot as it’s cooked. After all, we live under the rule of law. What can happen to me? - I’m an old soldier, I fought for four years for my Fatherland on the Western Front, I was an NCO and was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class.’112


One particular group of Jews who stayed were those who were married to partners classified by the regime as Aryan. There were 35,000 couples living in mixed marriages in 1933 - that is, in marriages where the partners had come respectively from the Jewish and Christian faiths. Most such marriages were between Jewish men and Christian women. The Nuremberg Laws, of course, redefined the mixed marriage in racial terms. Mostly, by this time, both partners were Christian in religion. Non-Jewish spouses came under increasing pressure from the Gestapo to bring divorce proceedings. The courts had quickly begun to allow divorce petitions brought by non-Jewish spouses on the grounds, for instance, that only since National Socialism had come to power had they realized the dangers of race defilement. Because of the removal of Jews from virtually every area of public and social life by this time, Jewish husbands in mixed marriages had been forced to cede power over their children, their financial affairs, their assets, their businesses, their property and almost everything else to their non-Jewish wives. Increasingly, as economic opportunities were closed off to the husband, the wife became the principal breadwinner in the family. On 28 December 1938, acting on orders from Hitler, Goring issued new regulations governing the status of mixed marriages. In order to assuage the potential wrath of Aryan relatives, he declared that mixed marriages where the husband was Jewish and the children had been brought up as Christians, or where the wife was Jewish but there were no children, should be classified as ‘privileged’ and exempted, in a piecemeal way, from some of the discriminatory acts of the regime in the following years.113

In mixed marriages where the husband was Jewish and there were no children, or where the wife had converted to Judaism or the children had been brought up in the Jewish faith, then, there were no privileges. The pressure on non-Jewish wives caught in this situation to bring divorce proceedings was considerable and mounted steadily. Nazi marriage laws, enshrined above all in the Marriage Law of 6 July 1938, defined marriage as a union between two people of healthy blood, the same race and opposite sexes, concluded for the common good and the purpose of procreating children of healthy blood and raising them to be good German racial comrades. Mixed marriages clearly did not fall under this definition, and indeed new ones had been banned since September 1935. The new Law codified recent court decisions on existing mixed marriages and pushed them further. German-blooded people, as the Law put it, who were married to a Jewish spouse could now apply to have the marriage annulled purely on racial grounds. In addition, a Jewish man who had lost his livelihood could be sued for divorce by a non-Jewish wife on the grounds that he was failing in his duty to support his family. Separation for three years was now also a ground for divorce, so that if a Jewish husband had been in a concentration camp, or in exile abroad, for this period, his non-Jewish wife could divorce him without any problem. Increasing economic and other difficulties inevitably placed a huge strain on such marriages, and even without direct pressure being brought to bear by the Gestapo or various Party agencies, as it often was, breakdown was frequently the result. It took a good deal of courage, loyalty and love to maintain a mixed marriage in such circumstances.114

By 1938, however, people were becoming aware of the fact that divorce would mean not just additional hardship for a Jewish spouse, but also quite possibly violence, imprisonment, and death. When a non-Jewish spouse died, the Gestapo now customarily appeared within a day of the death being reported to the authorities and arrested the surviving Jewish husband or wife. The Gestapo, indeed, began a regular campaign of inviting Aryan women married to Jewish men into police headquarters for a friendly chat. Why would a good-looking blonde German woman want to carry on being married to a Jew in present circumstances? Surely life would be better divorced? She only had to say that National Socialism had dispelled her previous ignorance about the Jewish threat for the divorce to go through. Promises were mingled with threats. Divorce would bring glittering careers for her children, who would be reclassified as German, and economic improvement for her family, which would now be rid of the dependent spouse. Refusal would condemn the children to a shadowy existence, deprived because of their mixed race of many of the benefits and privileges that went with being purely German. If she did not divorce, the state would confiscate her property. Driven to desperation, a few German women in mixed marriages without children divorced in order to cling to their material assets and continued seeing their husbands in secret even after they had moved out of the family home. Many, however, resisted such pressure and reacted with outrage at the suggestion that they should divorce out of base pecuniary motives: what, they asked, did that imply about the reasons they had got married for in the first place? 115

One such woman was Eva, wife of Victor Klemperer, who stood by him through all the vicissitudes of the 1930s. As a war veteran and the husband of an Aryan, he was still entitled to keep his job as a professor of French literature at Dresden’s Technical University, but he was removed from examining, he was unable to find a publisher for his latest book, and his teaching was so severely restricted that attendance at his lectures fell to single figures and he felt in danger of being made redundant. He was dismayed still further by some of his Jewish friends’ continuing illusions about the regime; all around him, Jewish colleagues were being dismissed and young Jewish families he knew were emigrating to Palestine. As a German nationalist, he was shocked by the extent to which other Jewish friends were taking on a more Jewish identity and losing their Germanness. He considered Zionism little better than Nazism. He saw his Jewish friends emigrating to Palestine, but had no thought of going there himself - ‘anyone who goes there is exchanging nationalism and narrowness for nationalism and narrowness’ - and in any case he felt that he could not adapt to another life at his age. He was, he wrote, a ‘useless creation of excessive culture’.116

At the beginning of October 1934, he and his wife moved into the house they had long been having built for themselves at Dölzschen, a quiet suburb of Dresden.117 They had scarcely put the house in order when Klemperer’s situation began seriously to deteriorate further. In March 1935 the non-Nazi Saxon Minister of Education was dismissed and his duties taken over by the Nazi Party Regional Leader Martin Mutschmann. ‘In all aspects of the destruction of culture, Jew-baiting, internal tyranny’, Klemperer confided to his diary, ‘Hitler rules with ever worse creatures.’118 On 30 April 1935 he received his dismissal notice through the post, signed by Mutschmann. None of his colleagues did anything to help him; the only sympathy came from a secretary. Klemperer wrote to a number of colleagues abroad in search of a new job, but nothing materialized, and in any case he did not feel that his wife Eva, who was frequently ill, was strong enough to withstand the rigours of exile. Now in his mid-fifties, he had to live off a pension fixed at just over half his previous salary. He was saved by his older brother Georg, a successful surgeon, aged seventy and now retired, who had left Germany and made Victor a loan of 6,000 Reichsmarks, not the last such help he rendered to his distressed relatives. Meanwhile, however, antisemitic outrages became more frequent and more noticeable. In the middle of Dresden, Klemperer noticed a man shouting repeatedly, ‘Anyone who buys from a Jew is a traitor to the nation!’ On 17 September 1935 he noted the passage of the Nuremberg Laws. ‘Disgust makes one ill.’119 Deprived of his teaching, Klemperer doggedly continued to write his history of French literature in the eighteenth century, though the prospects of publishing it were minimal. In the meantime he spent a good deal of time going on expeditions in his new car and discussing with his friends the possibility - remote, he concluded - of the Third Reich collapsing. Everybody grumbled, he said, but nobody was prepared to do anything, and many saw the Third Reich as a necessary bulwark against Communism. Klemperer began to feel his views changing. ‘No one can take my Germanness away from me,’ he wrote, ‘but my nationalism and patriotism are gone for ever.’120

Yet some found it easier to separate their enthusiasm for the Third Reich’s nationalistic policies from their dismay at its antisemitism. When retired Major Friedrich Solmitz took on the position of Air Raid Protection League Block Warden soon after the Nazis came to power, he and his wife seemed all set to move comfortably into the Third Reich. Early in 1934, however, he had to write to Peter Schönau, the local Nazi Party Leader, resigning as Block Warden because of the latter’s persistent hostility towards him. In all his dealings, Solmitz protested, he had followed the Party’s orders, including the implementation of the Aryan Paragraph, meaning the exclusion of all Jews from positions of responsibility in preparing for air raids. He could not comprehend why he was being singled out for criticism. Yet, amazingly, the reason why Solmitz was coming under pressure was because he himself was Jewish.121

As far as their religion was concerned, the family were Christians and had no contact with the Jewish community, which no doubt explains why his wife, Luise Solmitz, in the privacy of her diary, noted in 1933 that in Hamburg ‘no brownshirt is doing anything to the Jews, no curses fly after them, everyday life in Hamburg is just the same, everyone is going about his own business as always’.122 Luise Solmitz had no Jewish ancestry. Yet even she found the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops carried out on 1 April 1933 a cause for concern, ‘a bitter April Fool’s joke’. ‘Our entire soul’, she complained, ‘was oriented towards the rise of Germany, not towards this.’ Nevertheless, she reflected, at least the Eastern European Jews were no longer in evidence (‘the underworld creatures from East Galicia really do seem to have disappeared for the moment’).123 A year later she was becoming bitter about the discrimination from which her Jewish husband and half-Jewish daughter had to suffer. She was depressed to see how Fr[iedrich] is at the mercy of every dishonourable rogue, how he is excluded from the SA and Steel Helmets, the National Socialist War Officers’ Association, and the Academic Association. To know how every avenue of happiness, whether it is in professional or married life, will also be closed off for Gis[ela]! To tremble at every chance word, at every visit, every letter: what do people want of us?124

In 1935 Solmitz lost his citizenship rights as a consequence of the Nuremberg Laws, although he and his non-Jewish wife were subsequently classified as living in a privileged mixed marriage because they were bringing up their daughter in the Christian religion. The Nuremberg Laws, she wrote on 15 September 1935, were ‘our civil death sentence’. They meant that as in 1918 the family would now be banned from flying the Imperial flag (now adorned with the swastika), and much more:

Our black-white-red flag is lowered for the second time. - Any man who marries my daughter will land up in the penitentiary, and she with him. - The serving-maid has to be sacked . . . Our child is cast out, excluded, despised, worthless. Who is really aware of the isolation from the people, the rootlessness, of the ‘Jewish-related’ woman, insofar as she does not draw on her own resources with a defiant ‘despite everything I’m always with you’, my people, my Fatherland? Most people, or many, will still reject Jewry, like I do; they have no relation to that side, and they don’t want any. Have never had any, don’t know any Jewish people. - And when we’re together with our own racial comrades, every chance word terrifies us, every one shows the gulf.125

Outraged at their treatment, the Solmitzes wrote a personal letter to Hitler. It was referred to the local police and the Interior Ministry, who informed the couple that they could under no circumstances be exempted from the provisions of the Law.126 Despite this, Luise Solmitz remained optimistic. The growing isolation of her daughter, and her bitterness at not being able to join the League of German Girls, continued to give her concern, but the family was comfortably off, and the family’s national pride in Germany’s achievements under the Third Reich more than compensated for any minor worries, which she dismissed in 1937 as ‘biting midges on the summer lakes’.127


And indeed, beginning late in 1935, the situation of the Jews in Germany eased a little for a while. The reason for this was unexpected, and in one sense at least, beyond the control of the Nazi regime. For in 1936 Germany was scheduled to hold the Olympic Games, a decision that had been taken by the International Olympic Committee well before the Nazis had come to power. The Winter Games were due to be held at the ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Summer Games in Berlin. Hitler was initially sceptical. Sport for its own sake had no appeal to Nazi ideology, and he found the internationalism of the event highly suspect. But when a boycott campaign was mounted, particularly in the United States, over the Third Reich’s treatment of the Jews, he realized that the transfer of the Games elsewhere would be extremely damaging, and that the staging of the Games in Germany would provide an unmissable opportunity to influence world opinion in favour of the Third Reich. Preparations duly got under way. The German team contained no Jews: under pressure to avoid a US boycott, the German team managers had attempted to recruit Jewish athletes, but the denial of top-class training facilities to Jews in Germany since 1933 meant that none made the grade. Three half-Jews were called into the team, all of them living outside Germany, including the blonde fencer Helene Mayer. This seemed to be enough, along with the Germans’ assurances that they would abide by the Olympic spirit, to ward off the threat of an international boycott.128

Elaborate preparations were made to show Germany’s best face to the world. Goebbels’s Berlin paper, The Attack, told Berliners: ‘We must be more charming than the Parisians, more easygoing than the Viennese, more vivacious than the Romans, more cosmopolitan than London, and more practical than New York.’129 Just to ensure the right impression, people with criminal records were arrested and expelled or imprisoned for the duration. A massive new stadium was constructed, with seats for 110,000 spectators, at the centre of a vast sporting complex on the north-western side of Berlin. The Games were broadcast across the world on radio and, for the first time, they were also televised, although only on an experimental basis, since hardly anyone possessed a set. Leni Riefenstahl, employing the saturation camera coverage that had been so effective in filming the 1934 Nuremberg Rally for Triumph of the Will, directed what is still the classic Olympic film, a celebration of human physical prowess that sat easily with both the Olympic ideal and Nazi ideology. Nazi and Olympic flags were hung out everywhere in the capital city, and at the opening ceremony a choir of 3,000 was directed by Richard Strauss in a performance of his newly written Olympic Hymn, following a rendition of the Horst Wessel Song. The Olympic flame was lit, Hitler declared the Games open and 5,000 athletes began the competitions.130

Hitler was only a guest at the Games, of course, which were staged by the International Olympic Committee, and when he began calling victorious German athletes to his box to receive his personal congratulations, he was sternly reminded by the Committee that he should not offend against the international spirit of the Games by discriminating between victors from different countries. Either he should congratulate them all without exception, or he should desist from congratulating anybody at all. Not surprisingly, he chose the latter course, though he continued to offer his felicitations to German victors in private; but this incident, and the fact that he left the stadium during the high-jump competition when the last German competitor had been eliminated, gave rise to the later legend that Hitler had snubbed the undoubted star of the Games, four-times gold medal winner Jesse Owens, by refusing to shake his hand because he was black, and walking out of the stadium when he came first in a race. Even Hitler, however, knew better than to ruin the impression the Games were making on international opinion by engaging in a petulant demonstration of this kind. As Albert Speer later reported, Hitler was indeed none too happy about Owens’s victories, which he put down to the superior physical strength of primitive man: in future, he said in private, such unfair competition should be eliminated, and non-whites barred from taking part. Taken with the success of the Games, Hitler ordered Speer to design a new stadium many times larger than the existing one. In 1940 the Games would take place in Japan as planned, he conceded, but after that they would be permanently located in Berlin. 131

‘I’m afraid the Nazis have succeeded with their propaganda,’ William L. Shirer wrote on 16 August 1936, as the Games ended. ‘First, they have run the games on a lavish scale never before experienced, and this has appealed to the athletes. Second, they have put up a very good front for the general visitors, especially the big businessmen,’ some of whom told the American correspondent that they had been ‘favourably impressed by the Nazi “set-up” ’. The story had been the same at the Winter Olympics earlier in the year, though Shirer had got into trouble with the Propaganda Ministry for filing a report that ‘Nazi officials had taken all the good hotels for themselves, and had put the press in inconvenient bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which was true’. Shirer had also reported to his American readers that the Nazis at Garmisch had ‘pulled down all the signs saying that Jews were unwanted (they’re all over Germany) and that the Olympic visitors would thus be spared any signs of the kind of treatment meted out to Jews in this country’.132This was also true. Hitler explicitly distanced himself from The Stormer in June 1936 as a sop to international opinion, and copies of the paper were withdrawn from display in the Reich capital while the Games were on.133 His major speeches in 1936 barely mentioned the Jews at all.134 On 13 August 1936 Victor Klemperer noted that for the Nazi regime, the Olympics were a through-and-through political undertaking. ‘German Renaissance through Hitler’, I read recently. People at home and abroad are constantly being told that they are here witnessing the revival, the blossoming, the new mind, the unity, the steadfastness and glory, of course also the peacefulness of the spirit of the Third Reich, that lovingly embraces the entire world. The slogan-chanting mobs are banned (for the duration of the Olympics), campaigns against the Jews, warlike speeches, everything disreputable has vanished from the newspapers until 16 August, and still, day and night, the swastika flags are flying everywhere.135

Nevertheless, despite all this, Hess’s deputy Martin Bormann had reminded Party officials in February 1936 that ‘the aim of the NSDAP, to shut out Jewry bit by bit from every sphere of life of the German people, remains irremoveably fixed’. That this aim had in no way been modified or abandoned became clear almost as soon as the Summer Olympics were over.136


Meanwhile, several thousand Jews who had left the country in 1933 had actually returned in the following years as the situation on the streets seemed to calm down in comparison to the mass violence of the seizure of power and the leading figures in the regime seemed to soft-pedal their antisemitic rhetoric. Restrictions placed by the French government on the employment of foreign workers as the Depression began to hit France severely in 1934 drove many German-Jewish exiles there back to their homeland. Noting the arrival of such ‘elements who are to be looked upon as undesirable’ in the early months of 1935, the Bavarian political police decreed:

It can basically be taken that non-Aryans have emigrated for political reasons, even if they have said that they went abroad to start a new life for themselves. Returning male emigrants will be sent to the Dachau concentration camp; returning women will go to the concentration camp at Moringen.137

Much worse was to come.138 Moreover, whatever the cosmetic adjustments the Nazis made to their antisemitic policies in the course of 1936, the Aryanization of Jewish businesses continued unabated throughout the year, and indeed the promulgation of the Four-Year Plan in the autumn, as we have seen, brought with it a sharp acceleration of the programme’s pace. It was accompanied by a fresh wave of intimidatory boycotts in many parts of the country, a fact that suggested strongly that many German shoppers were still patronizing Jewish businesses and that the Nazi leadership at every level was becoming increasingly frustrated at this situation. The Gestapo launched a concerted action to break the long-established custom of peasants in many parts of Germany using Jewish cattle-dealers to buy and sell their livestock. Peasant farmers who stubbornly kept up their links were threatened with the withdrawal of their hunting licences, the denial of Winter Aid and other measures, while Jewish cattle-dealers were arrested or physically expelled from markets and slaughterhouses, and their record-books confiscated and handed over to non-Jewish rivals. By the end of 1937, they had largely been driven out of business as a result. 139

It was not until 1938, however, that violent action began again on a really large scale. Once again, the leadership of the Third Reich drove it on, Hitler to the fore. As the regime went over to a more aggressive military and foreign policy, it felt less need than previously to worry about possible foreign reactions to antisemitic violence. Carried out in a piecemeal way, the Aryanization of the economy was now within sight of its goal, and no economic disaster had occurred as a result of the removal of Jews from economic life. War was now looming, and it was essential from the regime’s point of view to reduce the number of Jews in Germany faster so as to minimize the possibility of a replay of the ‘stab-in-the-back’ that had cost Germany the First World War - not the last time this fantasy was to play a key role in guiding the policies of Hitler and his leading associates. In the shadow of the coming war, portraying Germany’s Jews once more as the enemy within would provide a significant means of preparing public opinion for the conflict. This new phase of antisemitic violence, the third following those of 1933 and 1935, was inaugurated by Hitler himself at the Party Rally on 13 September 1937, when he devoted a large part of his speech to attacking the Jews as ‘inferior through and through’, unscrupulous, subversive, bent upon undermining society from within, exterminating those cleverer than themselves and establishing a Bolshevik reign of terror. The speech was followed by antisemitic disturbances in Danzig, and then by a fresh wave of intimidatory boycotts of Jewish shops during the Christmas season. Recording a long private conversation with Hitler on 29 November 1937, Goebbels noted in his diary: ‘The Jews must get out of Germany, indeed out of Europe altogether. That will take some time yet, but it will and must happen. The Leader is firmly resolved on it.’140

The new phase of persecution brought with it a whole new raft of laws and decrees that together significantly worsened the position of Germany’s Jews. On 25 July 1938 all but 709 of the remaining 3,152 Jewish doctors lost their licence to practise; the 709 were denied the right to call themselves doctors but could continue treating Jewish patients, who would otherwise be deprived of medical care altogether. A decree of 27 September applied the same principle to Jewish lawyers; 172 out of 1,753 were allowed to continue working, only with Jewish clients; Jewish dentists, vets and apothecaries followed on 17 January 1939. On 28 March 1938 a new law on Jewish cultural associations deprived them of their previous status as public corporations with effect from the previous first of January, thus removing an important legal protection and opening them up to increased taxation. Other measures accelerated the Aryanization of the economy by banning Jews from further professions, removing tax concessions for Jews with children, forcing the registration of Jewish assets and more besides. The Interior Ministry began working out a new law, promulgated on 17 August, which made it compulsory for all Jews to bear a Jewish name, or if they did not, to add the name ‘Israel’ or ‘Sara’ to their existing names from 1 January 1939. Thus Jews could now be automatically identified from the personal identity papers which every German, by long custom, had been obliged to carry on his or her person and show to the authorities on demand. To many Jews, this law also made it humiliatingly clear that they were now in every respect inferior, marked out as a race apart. Faced with the unavoidable prospect of seeing her Jewish husband Friedrich carry the name Israel, Luise Solmitz worried about his depressed state of mind, which must have been typical for many in his position: ‘The shame that is unavoidably coming with the 1. 1. 39 is gnawing at him, the dishonouring, depressing additional name.’141

Total separation from the rest of society, indeed, was what Berlin’s Regional Party Leader, Joseph Goebbels, had in mind in the summer of 1938, as he reacted to complaints by visiting Regional Leaders from other parts of Germany about what they saw as the large number of Jews visible on the streets of the Third Reich’s capital city. Goebbels commissioned a report from the Berlin police chief, Count Helldorf, which recommended a special identifying mark for Jews and for their shops, a special identity card for Jews, their removal from a whole range of professions, special compartments for them in trains, their confinement in a special quarter of the city and more. These ideas were now clearly becoming common currency. Heydrich’s Security Service pointed out that it would be inadvisable for Berlin to go ahead on its own, even though fully a third of Germany’s Jewish population now lived there; and in any case these measures were not linked to any coherent scheme of Jewish emigration. So they was not acted upon. Nevertheless, these proposals did not go away, and in the meantime the Berlin police raided a large, well-known café on the Kurfürstendamm and arrested 300 Jewish customers, including numerous foreigners. They included, the police announced, many criminal elements. This did not go nearly far enough for Goebbels, who called Helldorf in for a discussion. ‘Aim - drive the Jews out of Berlin’, he wrote in his diary on 4 June 1938, ‘. . . and without any sentimentality’ - a purpose he also revealed to an audience of 300 senior police officers from Berlin on 10 June 1938. Goebbels was not acting on his own in this matter. A few days later, over 1,500 Jews were arrested on Hitler’s personal orders in the course of a large-scale police action against ‘asocials’, beggars, down-and-outs and the like. These Jews - who were known to the police because of their previous criminal convictions, including of course contraventions of the race laws - were not intended, as the much greater numbers of ‘asocials’ arrested in this action were, for conscription as labourers. Their arrest was meant, rather, to put pressure on them to emigrate. Indeed, they were only released when arrangements had been made, through Jewish agencies, for their emigration. Beyond this, the action was also intended to equate Jews with criminality in the mind of the general public, an impression sedulously reinforced by reports in the daily press.142

All these speeches, laws, decrees and police raids signalled clearly to the Nazi Party rank and file that it was time to take violent action on the streets once more. The example of the mass scenes of violence in Vienna following the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938 was a further incentive.143 Berlin’s Nazis were encouraged by Goebbels and police chief Helldorf; they daubed the star of David on Jewish shops, doctors’ surgeries and lawyers’ chambers all over the city, looted a good number of them, and demolished three synagogues. The violence spread to other cities, including Frankfurt and Magdeburg. Hitler reined in this violence on 22 June, not least because it had affected many foreign Jews caught in the city at the time and relations with other countries were at a delicate point. This action was purely tactical, however. On 25 July 1938, Goebbels recorded a conversation in which Hitler had given his general approval to his actions in Berlin. ‘The main thing is that the Jews are driven out. In 10 years they must be out of Germany.’ How this was to be done was a matter of secondary importance. Foreign policy considerations currently forbade open violence, but it was not ruled out in principle.144 Changing their tactics, the Berlin police issued a confidential 76-point list of ways in which Jews could be harassed without the law being broken in the process - by summoning them to police stations on the Sabbath, by pedantically applying health and safety regulations to Jewish premises, by delaying the processing of legal documents (unless they concerned emigration), and so on. Nevertheless, violence continued, sometimes with a legal pretext, sometimes without. After the local authorities in Nuremberg and Munich ordered the demolition of the main synagogues in their respective cities, Nazis trashed synagogues in at least a dozen other towns. In parts of Württemberg there were renewed attacks on Jewish premises, and Jewish inhabitants were pulled out of their homes, beaten and spat upon, and driven out of the towns in which they lived. Thanks to the officially sponsored actions of the previous few months, all Jewish shops and premises had been clearly marked, Jewish men, women and children issued with special identity papers and their domiciles specially registered with the police. They were all easy enough, therefore, to locate.145 In the SS Security Service, plans began to be discussed for the arrest of all remaining Jews in the event of war breaking out. Finally, under ever-increasing pressure from Hitler to finance and deliver more armaments, the Four-Year Plan organization, with Hermann Goring in the lead, eyed the remaining Jewish property and assets in Germany with an increasing sense of urgency.146

The situation was building up to a pogrom-like atmosphere once more, as in the summer of 1935. Meanwhile, the regime began to take steps to expel all non-German Jews from the Reich. Aryan employers were ordered to dismiss all such employees in the autumn of 1937, following which up to a thousand Russian Jews were expelled from the country, although the process took longer than planned because of the uncooperative attitude of the Soviet authorities.147 The following year, the SS Security Service turned its attention to the 50,000 Polish Jews resident in Germany. Forty per cent had actually been born in Germany, but from Heydrich’s point of view they were all an irritation, since none of them was subject to German anti-Jewish laws. Worried that they might be returned, the antisemitic military dictatorship that ruled Poland passed a new law on 31 March 1938 that allowed it to remove Polish citizenship from these unfortunate people, who would then became stateless. Negotiations between the Gestapo and the Polish Embassy in Berlin got nowhere, and on 27 October the German police began arresting Polish workers, sometimes together with their entire families, putting them on sealed trains under close guard and taking them to the Polish border. Eighteen thousand people were transported in this way, without any proper notice, without anything but the most minimal and basic luggage, and often without food or drink on the journey. Arriving at the border, they were driven out of the trains by the accompanying police and forced, often under blows, to the other side. Very quickly the Polish authorities sealed their side of the border so that the expellees were left to wander about aimlessly in no-man’s land until the Polish government eventually relented and set up refugee camps for them just inside the border. When the Polish authorities ordered the expulsion of German citizens across the border in the other direction, the German police brought the action to a close, on 29 October 1938. Negotiations between the two governments finally led to the deportees being allowed back to Germany to collect their belongings before returning to Poland for good.148

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