Holocaust German History

Holocaust German History

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  • Jews in Germany
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Nuremberg Laws
  • Waffen SS
  • Gestapo
  • Jewish Ghettos
  • Wannsee Conference
  • Mein Kampf
  • Schutzstaffel (SS)
  • Crystal Night
  • Death's Head Units
  • Final Solution
  • Warsaw Uprising
  • Nuremberg War Trials
  • Concentration Camps
  • Auschwitz
  • Belsen
  • Buchenwald
  • Extermination Camps
  • Dachau
  • Mauthausen
  • Theresienstadt
  • Kurt Daluege
  • Sepp Dietrich
  • Adolf Eichmann
  • Theodor Eicke
  • Hans Frank
  • Wilhelm Frick
  • Joseph Goebbels
  • Hermann Goering
  • Reinhard Heydrich
  • Heinrich Himmler
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Rudolf W. Hess
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner
  • Josef Kramer
  • Heinrich Muller
  • Alfred Rosenberg
  • Walter Schellenberg
  • Baldur von Schirach
  • Franz Stangl
  • Julius Streicher
  • Moshe Flinker
  • Anne Frank
  • Hugo Gryn
  • Eva Heyman
  • Victor Klemperer
  • Hermann Langbein
  • Primo Levi
  • Harry Naujoks
  • Gisella Perl
  • Janine Phillips
  • Macha Rolnikas
  • Yitskhok Rudashevsk
  • Walter Stoecker
  • Rudolf Vrba
  • Mordechai Anielewicz
  • Masha Bruskina
  • Justyna Draenger
  • Shimshon Draenger
  • Haika Grosman
  • Mendel Grossman
  • Josef Kaplan
  • Adolf Liebeskind
  • Gole Mire
  • Witold Pilecki
  • Rozo Robota
  • Hannah Senesh
  • Rudolf Vrba
  • Yitzhak Zuckerman

Introduction to the Holocaust

The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators. The Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933. They believed that the Germans belonged to a race that was "superior" to all others. They claimed that the Jews belonged to a race that was "inferior" and a threat to the so-called German racial community.

Key Facts

By 1945, the Germans and their allies and collaborators had killed nearly two out of every three European Jews as part of the "Final Solution." The "Final Solution" was the Nazi policy to murder the Jews of Europe.

During the Nazi era, German authorities also persecuted other groups because of their perceived racial and biological inferiority. These included Roma ("Gypsies"), people with disabilities, some of the Slavic peoples (Poles, Russians, and others), Soviet prisoners of war, and Black people.

German authorities persecuted other groups on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds. Among them were Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and homosexuals.

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Why German Soldiers Don’t Have to Obey Orders

Consider, if you will, a fraught military standoff. A soldier from the German army receives an order from a superior to fire his gun, but he puts it down and walks away. In the United States, he would have just committed the unforgivable and illegal act of insubordination, even if the superior officer weren’t from the same service branch.

But in this scenario, the German soldier didn’t break the rules—he followed them. Military disobedience is actually baked into the German Bundeswehr, or armed forces. And the reasons why can be found in the country’s sinister past.

American military law states that an order can only be disobeyed if it is unlawful. However, the German military manual states that a military order is not binding if it is not “of any use for service,” or cannot reasonably be executed. In fact, if the order denies human dignity to the armed forces member or the order’s target, it must not be obeyed.

In practice, that means that a soldier or armed forces administrator can ignore a superior officer’s order𠅎ven if it’s in the midst of combat or is given by a high-ranking official.

That’s not how it used to be. Unconditional obedience to military orders was once a norm going back to the kingdoms that preceded Germany before it became a nation state in 1871. During World War I, Germany executed 48 soldiers for insubordination, and its basic training regimen�signed around unconditional submission to higher officers—was known as one of Europe’s most brutal.

After World War I, this discipline softened thanks to the Allied forces, which blamed the country’s strict military hierarchy for the ruthlessness of World War I. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to admit guilt for the war and to restrict its military’s numbers and weapons. The country’s military was effectively dismantled, with officer schools shut down and the number of troops reduced to just 100,000.

Hans von Seeckt watching as troops march by, 1936. (Credit: Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

However, Germany had no intention of following the treaty’s military provisions. Soon after the treaty was signed, German general Hans von Seeckt began to reorganize and secretly rebuild the military with the help of Russia. German companies began producing forbidden arms on Russian soil and German troops trained with Russian soldiers𠅊ll in secret.

By the time Adolf Hitler came into power in 1933 with promises to revive the country’s former might, the German public was ready for it. Hitler immediately began to openly flout the treaty. As he brought Germany’s secretive postwar military into the open, they began pledging their loyalty directly to him. From 1934 on, the German military oath was sworn to Hitler himself𠅊nd it contained a clause that promised “unconditional obedience.”

That rule was taken seriously during the lead up to World War II and the conflict itself. At least 15,000 German soldiers were executed for desertion alone, and up to 50,000 were killed for often minor acts of insubordination. An unknown number were summarily executed, often in the moment, by their officers or comrades when they refused to follow commands.

This wasn’t always the case. Historian David H. Kitterman’s research on a group of 135 German soldiers who refused orders to kill Jews, POWs or hostages shows they suffered beatings and death threats for defying their superiors, but none were executed. Although insubordination was taken seriously, excuses that soldiers had “just been obeying orders” when they participated in Holocaust atrocities weren’t entirely true.

German Nazi Chancellor and dictator Adolf Hitler consulting a geographical survey map with his general staff including Heinrich Himmler and Martin Bormann duringWorld War II, 1939. (Credit: France Presse Voir/AFP/Getty Images)

When the war ended, the Allies assumed control of Germany and decommissioned its entire military. It took a decade for Germany—now split in two—to regain a military, and in 1955 a new Bundeswehr was created.

The new German armed forces were a different beast than their predecessors. German law forbids the use of its military to do anything other than defend Germany itself, though the military does participate in some humanitarian and NATO coalition missions. Instead of blind obedience, the military emphasizes Innere Führung, a hard-to-translate concept that centers the military experience around the inner conscience of each individual.

As a result, many German soldiers refuse combat assignments or disobey orders—with no consequence. Their ability to do so has been repeatedly held up in civil courts (Germany has no military courts) and in the federal government. In 2007, the German federal government even went so far as to state that German law means unconditional authority or loyalty to superiors can’t exist. Soldiers must not obey unconditionally, the government wrote, but carry out 𠇊n obedience which is thinking.” However, the policy statement added, soldiers can’t disobey an order merely because their personal views conflict with those of their superior.

Nowhere is that conception of conscientious military service more apparent than at the Benderblock, a Berlin building where participants of a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler were executed in 1944. Today, the building is a museum to German resistance𠅊nd every year, it’s the place where new German soldiers are traditionally sworn to their duties.

It’s intentional that their oaths to defend Germany are sworn in a place not of military obedience, but of military resistance. The brutal legacy of two world wars and the Holocaust explains Germany’s reticence to make its soldiers obey orders no matter what.

This story is part of Heroes Week, a weeklong celebration of our heroes in the armed forces. Read more veterans stories here. 

The Wannsee Conference House

Fifteen high-ranking Nazi officials met in this villa on the Wannsee Lake on January 20, 1942 to discuss the systematic murder of European Jews, which they termed the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". Today the house is a memorial that informs visitors about the unimaginable dimension of the genocide that was decided here.

Jewish memorials in Berlin

Following the United States declaration of war on Japan, Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.

Fifteen members of the German Civil Service and Nazi Party met at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. They discssed and agreed the measures needed to implement the ‘Final Solution’ – the complete annihilation of the European Jews. Image courtesy of David Allthorpe.


Jewish migration from Roman Italy is considered the most likely source of the first Jews on German territory. While the date of the first settlement of Jews in the regions which the Romans called Germania Superior, Germania Inferior, and Magna Germania is not known, the first authentic document relating to a large and well-organized Jewish community in these regions dates from 321 [13] [14] [15] [16] and refers to Cologne on the Rhine [17] [18] [19] (Jewish immigrants began settling in Rome itself as early as 139 BC [20] ). It indicates that the legal status of the Jews there was the same as elsewhere in the Roman Empire. They enjoyed some civil liberties, but were restricted regarding the dissemination of their culture, the keeping of non-Jewish slaves, and the holding of office under the government.

Jews were otherwise free to follow any occupation open to indigenous Germans and were engaged in agriculture, trade, industry, and gradually money-lending. These conditions at first continued in the subsequently established Germanic kingdoms under the Burgundians and Franks, for ecclesiasticism took root slowly. The Merovingian rulers who succeeded to the Burgundian empire were devoid of fanaticism and gave scant support to the efforts of the Church to restrict the civic and social status of the Jews.

Charlemagne (800–814) readily made use of the Church for the purpose of infusing coherence into the loosely joined parts of his extensive empire, but was not by any means a blind tool of the canonical law. He employed Jews for diplomatic purposes, sending, for instance, a Jew as interpreter and guide with his embassy to Harun al-Rashid. Yet, even then, a gradual change occurred in the lives of the Jews. The Church forbade Christians to be usurers, so the Jews secured the remunerative monopoly of money-lending. This decree caused a mixed reaction of people in general in the Frankish empire (including Germany) to the Jews: Jewish people were sought everywhere, as well as avoided. This ambivalence about Jews occurred because their capital was indispensable, while their business was viewed as disreputable. This curious combination of circumstances increased Jewish influence and Jews went about the country freely, settling also in the eastern portions (Old Saxony and Duchy of Thuringia). Aside from Cologne, the earliest communities were established in Mainz, Worms, Speyer, and Regensburg. [21]

The status of the German Jews remained unchanged under Charlemagne's successor, Louis the Pious. Jews were unrestricted in their commerce however, they paid somewhat higher taxes into the state treasury than did the non-Jews. A special officer, the Judenmeister, was appointed by the government to protect Jewish privileges. The later Carolingians, however, followed the demands of the Church more and more. The bishops continually argued at the synods for including and enforcing decrees of the canonical law, with the consequence that the majority Christian populace mistrusted the Jewish unbelievers. This feeling, among both princes and people, was further stimulated by the attacks on the civic equality of the Jews. Beginning with the 10th century, Holy Week became more and more a period of antisemitic activities, yet the Saxon emperors did not treat the Jews badly, exacting from them merely the taxes levied upon all other merchants. Although the Jews in Germany were as ignorant as their contemporaries in secular studies, they could read and understand the Hebrew prayers and the Bible in the original text. Halakhic studies began to flourish about 1000.

At that time, Rav Gershom ben Judah was teaching at Metz and Mainz, gathering about him pupils from far and near. He is described in Jewish historiography as a model of wisdom, humility, and piety, and became known to succeeding generations as the "Light of the Exile". [22] In highlighting his role in the religious development of Jews in the German lands, The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906) draws a direct connection to the great spiritual fortitude later shown by the Jewish communities in the era of the Crusades:

He first stimulated the German Jews to study the treasures of their religious literature. This continuous study of the Torah and the Talmud produced such a devotion to Judaism that the Jews considered life without their religion not worth living but they did not realize this clearly until the time of the Crusades, when they were often compelled to choose between life and faith. [23]

Cultural and religious centre of European Jewry Edit

The Jewish communities of the cities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz formed the league of cities which became the center of Jewish life during Medieval times. These are referred to as the ShUM cities, after the first letters of the Hebrew names: Shin for Speyer (Shpira), Waw for Worms (Varmaisa) and Mem for Mainz (Magentza). The Takkanot Shum (Hebrew: תקנות שו"ם ‎ "Enactments of ShUM") were a set of decrees formulated and agreed upon over a period of decades by their Jewish community leaders. The official website for the city of Mainz states:

One of the most glorious epochs in Mainz's long history was the period from the beginning of the 900s and evidently much earlier. Following the barbaric Dark Ages, a relatively safe and enlightened Carolingian period brought peace and prosperity to Mainz and much of central–western Europe. For the next 400 years, Mainz attracted many Jews as trade flourished. The greatest Jewish teachers and rabbis flocked to the Rhine. Their teachings, dialogues, decisions, and influence propelled Mainz and neighboring towns along the Rhine into world-wide prominence. Their fame spread, rivaling that of other post-Diaspora cities such as Baghdad. Western European – Ashkenazic or Germanic – Judaism became centered in Mainz, breaking free of the Babylonian traditions. A Yeshiva was founded in the 10th century by Gershom ben Judah. [5]

Historian John Man describes Mainz as "the capital of European Jewry", noting that Gershom ben Judah "was the first to bring copies of the Talmud to Western Europe" and that his directives "helped Jews adapt to European practices." [24] : 27–28 Gershom's school attracted Jews from all over Europe, including the famous biblical scholar Rashi [25] and "in the mid-14th century, it had the largest Jewish community in Europe: some 6,000." [26] "In essence," states the City of Mainz web site, "this was a golden age as area bishops protected the Jews resulting in increased trade and prosperity." [5]

The First Crusade began an era of persecution of Jews in Germany, especially in the Rhineland. [6] The communities of Trier, Worms, Mainz, and Cologne, were attacked. The Jewish community of Speyer was saved by the bishop, but 800 were slain in Worms. About 12,000 Jews are said to have perished in the Rhenish cities alone between May and July 1096. Alleged crimes, like desecration of the host, ritual murder, poisoning of wells, and treason, brought hundreds to the stake and drove thousands into exile.

Jews were alleged [ citation needed ] to have caused the inroads of the Mongols, though they suffered equally with the Christians. Jews suffered intense persecution during the Rintfleisch massacres of 1298. In 1336 Jews from Alsace were subjected to massacres by the outlaws of Arnold von Uissigheim.

When the Black Death swept over Europe in 1348–49, some Christian communities accused Jews of poisoning wells. In the Erfurt Massacre of 1349, the members of the entire Jewish community were murdered or expelled from the city, due to superstitions about the Black Death. Royal policy and public ambivalence towards Jews helped the persecuted Jews fleeing the German-speaking lands to form the foundations of what would become the largest Jewish community in Europe in what is now Poland/Ukraine/Romania/Belarus/Lithuania.

The legal and civic status of the Jews underwent a transformation under the Holy Roman Empire. Jewish people found a certain degree of protection with the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who claimed the right of possession and protection of all the Jews of the empire. A justification for this claim was that the Holy Roman Emperor was the successor of the emperor Titus, who was said to have acquired the Jews as his private property. The German emperors apparently claimed this right of possession more for the sake of taxing the Jews than of protecting them.

A variety of such taxes existed. Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor, was a prolific creator of new taxes. In 1342, he instituted the "golden sacrificial penny" and decreed that every year all the Jews should pay the emperor one kreutzer out of every gulden of their property in addition to the taxes they were already paying to both the state and municipal authorities. The emperors of the house of Luxembourg devised other means of taxation. They turned their prerogatives in regard to the Jews to further account by selling at a high price to the princes and free towns of the empire the valuable privilege of taxing and fining the Jews. Charles IV, via the Golden Bull of 1356, granted this privilege to the seven electors of the empire when the empire was reorganized in 1356.

From this time onward, for reasons that also apparently concerned taxes, the Jews of Germany gradually passed in increasing numbers from the authority of the emperor to that of both the lesser sovereigns and the cities. For the sake of sorely needed revenue, the Jews were now invited, with the promise of full protection, to return to those districts and cities from which they had shortly before been expelled. However, as soon as Jewish people acquired some property, they were again plundered and driven away. These episodes thenceforth constituted a large portion of the medieval history of the German Jews. Emperor Wenceslaus was most expert in transferring to his own coffers gold from the pockets of rich Jews. He made compacts with many cities, estates, and princes whereby he annulled all outstanding debts to the Jews in return for a certain sum paid to him. Emperor Wenceslaus declared that anyone helping Jews with the collection of their debts, in spite of this annulment, would be dealt with as a robber and peacebreaker, and be forced to make restitution. This decree, which for years allegedly injured the public credit, is said to have impoverished thousands of Jewish families during the close of the 14th century.

The 15th century did not bring any amelioration. What happened in the time of the Crusades happened again. The war upon the Hussites became the signal for renewed persecution of Jews. The Jews of Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia passed through all the terrors of death, forced baptism, or voluntary self-immolation for the sake of their faith. When the Hussites made peace with the Church, the Pope sent the Franciscan friar John of Capistrano to win the renegades back into the fold and inspire them with loathing for heresy and unbelief 41 martyrs were burned in Wrocław alone, and all Jews were forever banished from Silesia. The Franciscan friar Bernardine of Feltre brought a similar fate upon the communities in southern and western Germany. As a consequence of the fictitious confessions extracted under torture from the Jews of Trent, the populace of many cities, especially of Regensburg, fell upon the Jews and massacred them.

The end of the 15th century, which brought a new epoch for the Christian world, brought no relief to the Jews. Jews in Germany remained the victims of a religious hatred that ascribed to them all possible evils. When the established Church, threatened in its spiritual power in Germany and elsewhere, prepared for its conflict with the culture of the Renaissance, one of its most convenient points of attack was rabbinic literature. At this time, as once before in France, Jewish converts spread false reports in regard to the Talmud, but an advocate of the book arose in the person of Johann Reuchlin, the German humanist, who was the first one in Germany to include the Hebrew language among the humanities. His opinion, though strongly opposed by the Dominicans and their followers, finally prevailed when the humanistic Pope Leo X permitted the Talmud to be printed in Italy.

Moses Mendelssohn Edit

Though reading German books was forbidden in the 1700s by Jewish inspectors who had a measure of police power in Germany, Moses Mendelson found his first German book, an edition of Protestant theology, at a well-organized system of Jewish charity for needy Talmud students. Mendelssohn read this book and found proof of the existence of God – his first meeting with a sample of European letters. This was only the beginning to Mendelssohn's inquiries about the knowledge of life. Mendelssohn learned many new languages, and with his whole education consisting of Talmud lessons, he thought in Hebrew and translated for himself every new piece of work he met into this language. The divide between the Jews and the rest of society was caused by a lack of translation between these two languages, and Mendelssohn translated the Torah into German, bridging the gap between the two this book allowed Jews to speak and write in German, preparing them for participation in German culture and secular science. In 1750, Mendelssohn began to serve as a teacher in the house of Isaac Bernhard, the owner of a silk factory, after beginning his publications of philosophical essays in German. Mendelssohn conceived of God as a perfect Being and had faith in "God's wisdom, righteousness, mercy, and goodness." He argued, "the world results from a creative act through which the divine will seeks to realize the highest good," and accepted the existence of miracles and revelation as long as belief in God did not depend on them. He also believed that revelation could not contradict reason. Like the deists, Mendelssohn claimed that reason could discover the reality of God, divine providence, and immortality of the soul. He was the first to speak out against the use of excommunication as a religious threat. At the height of his career, in 1769, Mendelssohn was publicly challenged by a Christian apologist, a Zurich pastor named John Lavater, to defend the superiority of Judaism over Christianity. From then on, he was involved in defending Judaism in print. In 1783, he published Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism. Speculating that no religious institution should use coercion and emphasized that Judaism does not coerce the mind through dogma, he argued that through reason, all people could discover religious philosophical truths, but what made Judaism unique was its revealed code of legal, ritual, and moral law. He said that Jews must live in civil society, but only in a way that their right to observe religious laws is granted, while also recognizing the needs for respect, and multiplicity of religions. He campaigned for emancipation and instructed Jews to form bonds with the gentile governments, attempting to improve the relationship between Jews and Christians while arguing for tolerance and humanity. He became the symbol of the Jewish Enlightenment, the Haskalah. [27]

In the late 18th century, a youthful enthusiasm for new ideals of religious equality began to take hold in the western world. Austrian Emperor Joseph II was foremost in espousing these new ideals. As early as 1782, he issued the Patent of Toleration for the Jews of Lower Austria, thereby establishing civic equality for his Jewish subjects.

Before 1806, when general citizenship was largely nonexistent in the Holy Roman Empire, its inhabitants were subject to varying estate regulations. In different ways from one territory of the empire to another, these regulations classified inhabitants into different groups, such as dynasts, members of the court entourage, other aristocrats, city dwellers (burghers), Jews, Huguenots (in Prussia a special estate until 1810), free peasants, serfs, peddlers and Gypsies, with different privileges and burdens attached to each classification. Legal inequality was the principle.

The concept of citizenship was mostly restricted to cities, especially free imperial cities. No general franchise existed, which remained a privilege for the few, who had inherited the status or acquired it when they reached a certain level of taxed income or could afford the expense of the citizen's fee (Bürgergeld). Citizenship was often further restricted to city dwellers affiliated to the locally dominant Christian denomination (Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, or Lutheranism). City dwellers of other denominations or religions and those who lacked the necessary wealth to qualify as citizens were considered to be mere inhabitants who lacked political rights, and were sometimes subject to revocable residence permits.

Most Jews then living in those parts of Germany that allowed them to settle were automatically defined as mere indigenous inhabitants, depending on permits that were typically less generous than those granted to gentile indigenous inhabitants (Einwohner, as opposed to Bürger, or citizen). In the 18th century, some Jews and their families (such as Daniel Itzig in Berlin) gained equal status with their Christian fellow city dwellers, but had a different status from noblemen, Huguenots, or serfs. They often did not enjoy the right to freedom of movement across territorial or even municipal boundaries, let alone the same status in any new place as in their previous location.

With the abolition of differences in legal status during the Napoleonic era and its aftermath, citizenship was established as a new franchise generally applying to all former subjects of the monarchs. Prussia conferred citizenship on the Prussian Jews in 1812, though this by no means resulted in full equality with other citizens. Jewish emancipation did not eliminate all forms of discrimination against Jews, who often remained barred from holding official state positions. The German federal edicts of 1815 merely held out the prospect of full equality, but it was not genuinely implemented at that time, and even the promises which had been made were modified. However, such forms of discrimination were no longer the guiding principle for ordering society, but a violation of it. In Austria, many laws restricting the trade and traffic of Jewish subjects remained in force until the middle of the 19th century in spite of the patent of toleration. Some of the crown lands, such as Styria and Upper Austria, forbade any Jews to settle within their territory in Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia many cities were closed to them. The Jews were also burdened with heavy taxes and imposts.

In the German kingdom of Prussia, the government materially modified the promises made in the disastrous year of 1813. The promised uniform regulation of Jewish affairs was time and again postponed. In the period between 1815 and 1847, no less than 21 territorial laws affecting Jews in the older eight provinces of the Prussian state were in effect, each having to be observed by part of the Jewish community. At that time, no official was authorized to speak in the name of all Prussian Jews, or Jewry in most of the other 41 German states, let alone for all German Jews.

Nevertheless, a few men came forward to promote their cause, foremost among them being Gabriel Riesser (d. 1863), a Jewish lawyer from Hamburg, who demanded full civic equality for his people. He won over public opinion to such an extent that this equality was granted in Prussia on April 6, 1848, in Hanover and Nassau on September 5 and on December 12, respectively, and also in his home state of Hamburg, then home to the second-largest Jewish community in Germany. [28] In Württemberg, equality was conceded on December 3, 1861 in Baden on October 4, 1862 in Holstein on July 14, 1863 and in Saxony on December 3, 1868. After the establishment of the North German Confederation by the law of July 3, 1869, all remaining statutory restrictions imposed on the followers of different religions were abolished this decree was extended to all the states of the German empire after the events of 1870.

The Jewish Enlightenment Edit

During the General Enlightenment (the 1600s to late 1700s), many Jewish women began to frequently visit non-Jewish salons and to campaign for emancipation. In Western Europe and the German states, observance of Jewish law, Halacha, started to be neglected. In the 18th century, some traditional German scholars and leaders, such as the doctor and author of Ma'aseh Tuviyyah, Tobias b. Moses Cohn, appreciated the secular culture. The most important feature during this time was the German Aufklärung, which was able to boast of native figures who competed with the finest Western European writers, scholars, and intellectuals. Aside from the externalities of language and dress, the Jews internalized the cultural and intellectual norms of German society. The movement, becoming known as the German or Berlin Haskalah offered many effects to the challenges of German society. As early as the 1740s, many German Jews and some individual Polish and Lithuanian Jews had a desire for secular education. The German-Jewish Enlightenment of the late 18th century, the Haskalah, marks the political, social, and intellectual transition of European Jewry to modernity. Some of the elite members of Jewish society knew European languages. Absolutist governments in Germany, Austria, and Russia deprived the Jewish community's leadership of its authority and many Jews became 'Court Jews'. Using their connections with Jewish businessmen to serve as military contractors, managers of mints, founders of new industries and providers to the court of precious stones and clothing, they gave economic assistance to the local rulers. Court Jews were protected by the rulers and acted as did everyone else in society in their speech, manners, and awareness of European literature and ideas. Isaac Euchel, for example, represented a new generation of Jews. He maintained a leading role in the German Haskalah, is one of the founding editors of Ha-Me/assef. Euchel was exposed to European languages and culture while living in Prussian centers: Berlin and Koenigsberg. His interests turned towards promoting the educational interests of the Enlightenment with other Jews. Moses Mendelssohn as another enlightenment thinker was the first Jew to bring secular culture to those living an Orthodox Jewish life. He valued reason and felt that anyone could arrive logically at religious truths while arguing that what makes Judaism unique is its divine revelation of a code of law. Mendelssohn's commitment to Judaism leads to tensions even with some of those who subscribed to Enlightenment philosophy. Faithful Christians who were less opposed to his rationalistic ideas than to his adherence to Judaism found it difficult to accept this Juif de Berlin. In most of Western Europe, the Haskalah ended with large numbers of Jews assimilating. Many Jews stopped adhering to Jewish law, and the struggle for emancipation in Germany awakened some doubts about the future of Jews in Europe and eventually led to both immigrations to America and Zionism. In Russia, antisemitism ended the Haskalah. Some Jews responded to this antisemitism by campaigning for emancipation, while others joined revolutionary movements and assimilated, and some turned to Jewish nationalism in the form of the Zionist Hibbat Zion movement. [29]

Reorganization of the German Jewish Community Edit

The empowerment of the Jews and the rebirth of Jewish science led to a transfer of ancient traditions to the newer generations. Geiger and Holdeim were two founders of the conservative movement in modern Judaism accepted the modern spirit of liberalism. Samson Raphael Hirsch defended traditional customs: denying the modern "spirit". Neither of these beliefs was followed by the faithful Jews Zachary Frankel created a moderate reform movement in assurance with German communities, public worships were reorganized, reduction of medieval additions to the prayer, congregational singing was introduced, and regular sermons required scientifically trained rabbis. Religious schools were enforced by the state due to a want for the addition of religious structure to secular education of Jewish children. Pulpit oratory started to thrive mainly due to German preachers, such as M. Sachs and M. Joel. Synagogal music was accepted with the help of Louis Lewandowski. Part of the evolution of the Jewish community was the cultivation of Jewish literature and associations created with teachers, rabbis, and leaders of congregations.

Another vital part of the reorganization of the Jewish-German community was the heavy involvement of Jewish women in the community and their new tendencies to assimilate their families into a different lifestyle. Jewish women were contradicting their view points in the sense that they were modernizing, but they also tried to keep some traditions alive. German Jewish mothers were shifting the way they raised their children in ways such as moving their families out of Jewish neighborhoods, thus changing who Jewish children grew up around and conversed with, all in all shifting the dynamic of the then close-knit Jewish community. Additionally, Jewish mothers wished to integrate themselves and their families into German society in other ways. [30] Because of their mothers, Jewish children participated in walks around the neighborhood, sporting events, and other activities that would mold them into becoming more like their other German peers. In order for mothers to assimilate into German culture, they took pleasure in reading newspapers and magazines that focused on the fashion styles, as well as other trends that were up and coming for the time and that the Protestant, bourgeois Germans were exhibiting. Similar to this, German-Jewish mothers also urged their children to partake in music lessons, mainly because it was a popular activity among other Germans. Another effort German-Jewish mothers put into assimilating their families was enforcing the importance of manners on their children. It was noted that non-Jewish Germans saw Jews as disrespectful and unable to grasp the concept of time and place. [30] Because of this, Jewish mothers tried to raise their kids having even better manners than the Protestant children in an effort to combat the pre-existing stereotype put on their children. In addition, Jewish mothers put a large emphasis on proper education for their children in hopes that this would help them grow up to be more respected by their communities and eventually lead to prosperous careers. While Jewish mothers worked tirelessly on ensuring the assimilation of their families, they also attempted to keep the familial aspect of Jewish traditions. They began to look at Shabbat and holidays as less of culturally Jewish days, but more as family reunions of sorts. What was once viewed as a more religious event became more of a social gathering of relatives. [30]

Birth of the Reform Movement Edit

The beginning of the Reform Movement in Judaism was emphasized by David Philipson, who was the rabbi at the largest Reform congregation. The increasing political centralization of the late 18th and early 19th centuries undermined the societal structure that perpetuated traditional Jewish life. Enlightenment ideas began to influence many intellectuals, and the resulting political, economic, and social changes were overpowering. Many Jews felt a tension between Jewish tradition and the way they were now leading their lives-religiously- resulting in less tradition. As the insular religious society that reinforced such observance disintegrated, falling away from vigilant observance without deliberately breaking with Judaism was easy. Some tried to reconcile their religious heritage with their new social surroundings they reformed traditional Judaism to meet their new needs and to express their spiritual desires. A movement was formed with a set of religious beliefs, and practices that were considered expected and tradition. Reform Judaism was the first modern response to the Jew's emancipation, though reform Judaism differing in all countries caused stresses of autonomy on both the congregation and individual. Some of the reforms were in the practices: circumcisions were abandoned, rabbis wore vests after Protestant ministers, and instrumental accompaniment was used: pipe organs. In addition, the traditional Hebrew prayer book was replaced by German text, and reform synagogues began being called temples which were previously considered the Temple of Jerusalem. Reform communities composed of similar beliefs and Judaism changed at the same pace as the rest of society had. The Jewish people have adapted to religious beliefs and practices to the meet the needs of the Jewish people throughout the generation. [31]

Napoleon I emancipated the Jews across Europe, but with Napoleon's fall in 1815, growing nationalism resulted in increasing repression. From August to October 1819, pogroms that came to be known as the Hep-Hep riots took place throughout Germany. Jewish property was destroyed, and many Jews were killed.

During this time, many German states stripped Jews of their civil rights. In the Free City of Frankfurt, only 12 Jewish couples were allowed to marry each year, and the 400,000 gulden the city's Jewish community had paid in 1811 for its emancipation was forfeited. After the Rhineland reverted to Prussian control, Jews lost the rights Napoleon had granted them, were banned from certain professions, and the few who had been appointed to public office before the Napoleonic Wars were dismissed. [33] Throughout numerous German states, Jews had their rights to work, settle, and marry restricted. Without special letters of protection, Jews were banned from many different professions, and often had to resort to jobs considered unrespectable, such as peddling or cattle dealing, to survive. A Jewish man who wanted to marry had to purchase a registration certificate, known as a Matrikel, proving he was in a "respectable" trade or profession. A Matrikel, which could cost up to 1,000 gulden, was usually restricted to firstborn sons. [34] As a result, most Jewish men were unable to legally marry. Throughout Germany, Jews were heavily taxed, and were sometimes discriminated against by gentile craftsmen.

As a result, many German Jews began to emigrate. The emigration was encouraged by German-Jewish newspapers. [34] At first, most emigrants were young, single men from small towns and villages. A smaller number of single women also emigrated. Individual family members would emigrate alone, and then send for family members once they had earned enough money. Emigration eventually swelled, with some German Jewish communities losing up to 70% of their members. At one point, a German-Jewish newspaper reported that all the young Jewish males in the Franconian towns of Hagenbach, Ottingen, and Warnbach had emigrated or were about to emigrate. [34] The United States was the primary destination for emigrating German Jews.

The Revolutions of 1848 swung the pendulum back towards freedom for the Jews. A noted reform rabbi of that time was Leopold Zunz, a contemporary and friend of Heinrich Heine. In 1871, with the unification of Germany by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, came their emancipation, but the growing mood of despair among assimilated Jews was reinforced by the antisemitic penetrations of politics. In the 1870s, antisemitism was fueled by the financial crisis and scandals in the 1880s by the arrival of masses of Ostjuden, fleeing from Russian territories by the 1890s it was a parliamentary presence, threatening anti-Jewish laws. In 1879 the Hamburg anarchist pamphleteer Wilhelm Marr introduced the term 'antisemitism' into the political vocabulary by founding the Antisemitic League. [35] Antisemites of the völkisch movement were the first to describe themselves as such, because they viewed Jews as part of a Semitic race that could never be properly assimilated into German society. Such was the ferocity of the anti-Jewish feeling of the völkisch movement that by 1900, antisemitic had entered German to describe anyone who had anti-Jewish feelings. However, despite massive protests and petitions, the völkisch movement failed to persuade the government to revoke Jewish emancipation, and in the 1912 Reichstag elections, the parties with völkisch-movement sympathies suffered a temporary defeat.

Jews experienced a period of legal equality after 1848. Baden and Württemberg passed the legislation that gave the Jews complete equality before the law in 1861–64. The newly formed German Empire did the same in 1871. [36] Historian Fritz Stern concludes that by 1900, what had emerged was a Jewish-German symbiosis, where German Jews had merged elements of German and Jewish culture into a unique new one. Marriages between Jews and non-Jews became somewhat common from the 19th century for example, the wife of German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was Jewish. However, opportunity for high appointments in the military, the diplomatic service, judiciary or senior bureaucracy was very small. [37] Some historians believe that with emancipation the Jewish people lost their roots in their culture and began only using German culture. However, other historians including Marion A. Kaplan, argue that it was the opposite and Jewish women were the initiators of balancing both Jewish and German culture during Imperial Germany. [38] Jewish women played a key role in keeping the Jewish communities in tune with the changing society that was evoked by the Jews being emancipation. Jewish women were the catalyst of modernization within the Jewish community. The years 1870-1918 marked the shift in the women's role in society. Their job in the past had been housekeeping and raising children. Now, however, they began to contribute to the home financially. Jewish mothers were the only tool families had to linking Judaism with German culture. They felt it was their job to raise children that would fit in with bourgeois Germany. Women had to balance enforcing German traditions while also preserving Jewish traditions. Women were in charge of keeping kosher and the Sabbath as well as, teaching their children German speech and dressing them in German clothing. Jewish women attempted to create an exterior presence of German while maintaining the Jewish lifestyle inside their homes. [38]

During the history of the German Empire, there were various divisions within the German Jewish community over its future in religious terms, Orthodox Jews sought to keep to Jewish religious tradition, while liberal Jews sought to "modernise" their communities by shifting from liturgical traditions to organ music and German-language prayers.

The Jewish population grew from 512,000 in 1871 to 615,000 in 1910, including 79,000 recent immigrants from Russia, just under one percent of the total. About 15,000 Jews converted to Christianity between 1871 and 1909. [39] The typical attitude of German liberals towards Jews was that they were in Germany to stay and were capable of being assimilated anthropologist and politician Rudolf Virchow summarised this position, saying "The Jews are simply here. You cannot strike them dead." This position, however, did not tolerate cultural differences between Jews and non-Jews, advocating instead eliminating this difference. [40]

World War I Edit

A higher percentage of German Jews fought in World War I than of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany some 12,000 died for their country. [41] [42]

Many German Jews supported the war out of patriotism like many Germans, they viewed Germany's actions as defensive in nature and even left-liberal Jews believed Germany was responding to the actions of other countries, particularly Russia. For many Jews it was never a question as to whether or not they would stand behind Germany, it was simply a given that they would. The fact that the enemy was Russia also gave an additional reason for German Jews to support the war Tsarist Russia was regarded as the oppressor in the eyes of German Jews for its pogroms and for many German Jews, the war against Russia would become a sort of holy war. While there was partially a desire for vengeance, for many Jews ensuring Russia's Jewish population was saved from a life of servitude was equally important – one German-Jewish publication stated "We are fighting to protect our holy fatherland, to rescue European culture and to liberate our brothers in the east." [43] [44] War fervour was as common amongst Jewish communities as it was amongst ethnic Germans ones. The main Jewish organisation in Germany, the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith, declared unconditional support for the war and when 5 August was declared by the Kaiser to be a day of patriotic prayer, synagogues across Germany surged with visitors and filled with patriotic prayers and nationalistic speeches. [45]

While going to war brought the unsavoury prospect fighting fellow Jews in Russia, France and Britain, for the majority of Jews this severing of ties with Jewish communities in the Entente was accepted part of their spiritual mobilisation for war. After all, the conflict also pitted German Catholics and Protestants against their fellow believers in the east and west. Indeed, for some Jews the fact that Jews were going to war with one another was proof of the normality of German-Jewish life they could no longer be considered a minority with transnational loyalties but loyal German citizens. German Jews often broke ties with Jews of other countries the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a French organisation that was dedicated to protecting Jewish rights, saw a German Jewish member quit once the war started, declaring that he could not, as a German, belong to a society that was under French leadership. [46] German Jews supported German colonial ambitions in Africa and Eastern Europe, out of the desire to increase German power and to rescue Eastern European Jews from Tsarist rule. The eastern advance became important for German Jews because it combined German military superiority with rescuing Eastern Jews from Russian brutality Russian antisemitism and pogroms had only worsened as the war dragged on. [47] [48] However, German Jews did not always feel a personal kinship with Russian Jews. Many were repelled by Eastern Jews, who dressed and behaved differently, as well as being much more religiously devout. Victor Klemperer, a German Jew working for military censors, stated "No, I did not belong to these people, even if one proved my blood relation to them a hundred times over. I belonged to Europe, to Germany, and I thanked my creator that I was German." This was a common attitude amongst ethnic Germans however during the invasion of Russia the territories the Germans overran seemed backwards and primitive, thus for many Germans their experiences in Russia simply reinforced their national self-concept. [49]

Prominent Jewish industrialists and bankers, such as Walter Rathenau and Max Warburg played major roles in supervising the German war economy.

In October 1916, the German Military High Command administered the Judenzählung (census of Jews). Designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews, the census disproved the charges, but its results were not made public. [50] Denounced as a "statistical monstrosity", [51] the census was a catalyst to intensified antisemitism and social myths such as the "stab-in-the-back myth" (Dolchstoßlegende). [52] [53] For many Jews, the fact the census was carried out at all caused a sense of betrayal, as German Jews had taken part in the violence, food shortages, nationalist sentiment and misery of attrition alongside their fellow Germans, however most German-Jewish soldiers carried on dutifully to the bitter end. [47]

When strikes broke out in Germany towards the end of the war, some Jews supported them. However, the majority of Jews had little sympathy for the strikers and one Jewish newspaper accused the strikers of "stabbing the frontline army in the back." Like many Germans, German Jews would lament the Treaty of Versailles. [47]

Under the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933, German Jews played a major role in politics and diplomacy for the first time in their history, and they strengthened their position in financial, economic, and cultural affairs. [54] [55] Hugo Preuß was Interior Minister under the first post-imperial regime and wrote the first draft of the liberal Weimar Constitution. [56] Walther Rathenau, the chairman of General Electric (AEG) and head of the German Democratic Party (DDP), served as foreign minister in 1922, when he negotiated the important Treaty of Rapallo. He was assassinated two months later. [57]

Already by 1914, the Jews were well represented among the wealthy, including 24 percent of the richest men in Prussia, and eight percent of the university students. [58]

Antisemitism Edit

There was sporadic antisemitism based on the false allegation that wartime Germany had been betrayed by an enemy within. There was some violence against German Jews in the early years of the Weimar Republic, and it was led by the paramilitary Freikorps. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1920), a forgery which claimed that Jews were taking over the world, was widely circulated. The second half of the 1920s were prosperous, and antisemitism was much less noticeable. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, it surged again as Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party promoted a virulent strain.

Author Jay Howard Geller says that four possible responses were available to the German Jewish community. The majority of German Jews were only nominally religious and they saw their Jewish identity as only one of several identities they opted for bourgeois liberalism and assimilation into all phases of German culture. A second group (especially recent migrants from eastern Europe) embraced Judaism and Zionism. A third group of left-wing elements endorsed the universalism of Marxism, which downplayed ethnicity and antisemitism. A fourth group contained some who embraced hardcore German nationalism and minimized or hid their Jewish heritage. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, a fifth option was seized upon by hundreds of thousands: escape into exile, typically at the cost of leaving all wealth behind. [59]

The German legal system generally treated Jews fairly throughout the period. [60] The Centralverein, the major organization of German Jewry, used the court system to vigorously defend Jewry against antisemitic attacks across Germany it proved generally successful. [61]

Intellectuals Edit

Jewish intellectuals and creative professionals were among the leading figures in many areas of Weimar culture. German university faculties became universally open to Jewish scholars in 1918. Leading Jewish intellectuals on university faculties included physicist Albert Einstein sociologists Karl Mannheim, Erich Fromm, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse philosophers Ernst Cassirer and Edmund Husserl communist political theorist Arthur Rosenberg sexologist and pioneering LGBT advocate Magnus Hirschfeld, and many others. Seventeen German citizens were awarded Nobel prizes during the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), five of whom were Jewish scientists. The German-Jewish literary magazine, Der Morgen, was established in 1925. It published essays and stories by prominent Jewish writers such as Franz Kafka and Leo Hirsch until its liquidation by the Nazi government in 1938. [62] [63]

In Germany, according to historian Hans Mommsen, there were three types of antisemitism. In a 1997 interview, Mommsen was quoted as saying:

One should differentiate between the cultural antisemitism symptomatic of the German conservatives—found especially in the German officer corps and the high civil administration—and mainly directed against the Eastern Jews on the one hand, and völkisch antisemitism on the other. The conservative variety functions, as Shulamit Volkov has pointed out, as something of a "cultural code." This variety of German antisemitism later on played a significant role insofar as it prevented the functional elite from distancing itself from the repercussions of racial antisemitism. Thus, there was almost no relevant protest against the Jewish persecution on the part of the generals or the leading groups within the Reich government. This is especially true with respect to Hitler's proclamation of the "racial annihilation war" against the Soviet Union. Besides conservative antisemitism, there existed in Germany a rather silent anti-Judaism within the Catholic Church, which had a certain impact on immunizing the Catholic population against the escalating persecution. The famous protest of the Catholic Church against the euthanasia program was, therefore, not accompanied by any protest against the Holocaust.

The third and most vitriolic variety of antisemitism in Germany (and elsewhere) is the so-called völkisch antisemitism or racism, and this is the foremost advocate of using violence. [64]

In 1933, persecution of the Jews became an active Nazi policy, but at first laws were not as rigorously obeyed or as devastating as in later years. Such clauses, known as Aryan paragraphs, had been postulated previously by antisemitism and enacted in many private organizations.

The continuing and exacerbating abuse of Jews in Germany triggered calls throughout March 1933 by Jewish leaders around world for a boycott of German products. The Nazis responded with further bans and boycotts against Jewish doctors, shops, lawyers and stores. Only six days later, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, banning Jews from being employed in government. This law meant that Jews were now indirectly and directly dissuaded or banned from privileged and upper-level positions reserved for "Aryan" Germans. From then on, Jews were forced to work at more menial positions, beneath non-Jews, pushing them to more labored positions.

The Civil Service Law reached immediately into the education system because university professors, for example, were civil servants. While the majority of the German intellectual classes were not thoroughgoing National Socialists, [65] academia had been suffused with a "cultured antisemitism" since imperial times, even more so during Weimar. [66] With the majority of non-Jewish professors holding such feelings about Jews, coupled with how the Nazis' outwardly appeared in the period during and after the seizure of power, there was little motivation to oppose the anti-Jewish measures being enacted—few did, and many were actively in favor. [67] According to a German professor of the history of mathematics, "There is no doubt that most of the German mathematicians who were members of the professional organization collaborated with the Nazis, and did nothing to save or help their Jewish colleagues." [68] "German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in terms of party membership," observed Raul Hilberg [69] and some even carried out experiments on human beings at places like Auschwitz. [70]

On August 2, 1934, President Paul von Hindenburg died. No new president was appointed with Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany, he took control of the office of Führer. This, and a tame government with no opposition parties, allowed Adolf Hitler totalitarian control of law-making. The army also swore an oath of loyalty personally to Hitler, giving him power over the military this position allowed him to enforce his beliefs further by creating more pressure on the Jews than ever before.

In 1935 and 1936, the pace of persecution of the Jews increased. In May 1935, Jews were forbidden to join the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces), and that year, anti-Jewish propaganda appeared in Nazi German shops and restaurants. The Nuremberg Racial Purity Laws were passed around the time of the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg on September 15, 1935, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor was passed, preventing sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews. At the same time the Reich Citizenship Law was passed and was reinforced in November by a decree, stating that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens (Reichsbürger) of their own country. Their official status became Reichsangehöriger, "subject of the state". This meant that they had no basic civil rights, such as that to vote, but at this time the right to vote for the non-Jewish Germans only meant the obligation to vote for the Nazi party. This removal of basic citizens' rights preceded harsher laws to be passed in the future against Jews. The drafting of the Nuremberg Laws is often attributed to Hans Globke.

In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them from exerting any influence in education, politics, higher education and industry. Because of this, there was nothing to stop the anti-Jewish actions which spread across the Nazi-German economy.

After the Night of the Long Knives, the Schutzstaffel (SS) became the dominant policing power in Germany. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was eager to please Hitler and so willingly obeyed his orders. Since the SS had been Hitler's personal bodyguard, its members were far more loyal and skilled than those of the Sturmabteilung (SA) had been. Because of this, they were also supported, though distrusted, by the army, which was now more willing to agree with Hitler's decisions than when the SA was dominant. [ citation needed ] All of this allowed Hitler more direct control over government and political attitude towards Jews in Nazi Germany. In 1937 and 1938, new laws were implemented, and the segregation of Jews from the true "Aryan" German population was started. In particular, Jews were penalized financially for their perceived racial status.

On June 4, 1937, two young German Jews, Helmut Hirsch and Isaac Utting, were both executed for being involved in a plot to bomb the Nazi party headquarters in Nuremberg.

As of March 1, 1938, government contracts could no longer be awarded to Jewish businesses. On September 30, "Aryan" doctors could only treat "Aryan" patients. Provision of medical care to Jews was already hampered by the fact that Jews were banned from being doctors or having any professional jobs.

Beginning August 17, 1938, Jews with first names of non-Jewish origin had to add Israel (males) or Sarah (females) to their names, and a large J was to be imprinted on their passports beginning October 5. On November 15 Jewish children were banned from going to normal schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been forced to sell out to the Nazi German government. This further reduced Jews' rights as human beings. They were in many ways officially separated from the German populace.

The increasingly totalitarian, militaristic regime which was being imposed on Germany by Hitler allowed him to control the actions of the SS and the military. On November 7, 1938, a young Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, attacked and shot two German officials in the Nazi German embassy in Paris. (Grynszpan was angry about the treatment of his parents by the Nazi Germans.) On November 9 the German Attache, Ernst vom Rath, died. Goebbels issued instructions that demonstrations against Jews were to be organized and undertaken in retaliation throughout Germany. The SS ordered the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) to be carried out that night, November 9–10, 1938. The storefronts of Jewish shops and offices were smashed and vandalized, and many synagogues were destroyed by fire. Approximately 91 Jews were killed, and another 30,000 arrested, mostly able bodied males, all of whom were sent to the newly formed concentration camps. In the following 3 months some 2,000–2,500 of them died in the concentration camps, the rest were released under the condition that they leave Germany. Many Germans were disgusted by this action when the full extent of the damage was discovered, so Hitler ordered that it be blamed on the Jews. Collectively, the Jews were made to pay back one billion Reichsmark (equivalent to 4 billion 2017 euros) in damages, the fine being raised by confiscating 20 per cent of every Jewish property. The Jews also had to repair all damages at their own cost.

Increasing antisemitism prompted a wave of Jewish mass emigration from Germany throughout the 1930s. Among the first wave were intellectuals, politically active individuals, and Zionists. However, as Nazi legislation worsened the Jews' situation, more Jews wished to leave Germany, with a panicked rush in the months after Kristallnacht in 1938.

Palestine was a popular destination for German Jewish emigration. Soon after the Nazis' rise to power in 1933, they negotiated the Haavara Agreement with Zionist authorities in Palestine, which was signed on August 25, 1933. Under its terms, 60,000 German Jews were to be allowed to emigrate to Palestine and take $100 million in assets with them. [71] During the Fifth Aliyah, between 1929 and 1939, a total of 250,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine—more than 55,000 of them from Germany, Austria, or Bohemia. Many of them were doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, and other professionals, who contributed greatly to the development of the Yishuv.

The United States was another destination for German Jews seeking to leave the country, though the number allowed to immigrate was restricted due to the Immigration Act of 1924. Between 1933 and 1939, more than 300,000 Germans, of whom about 90% were Jews, applied for immigration visas to the United States. By 1940, only 90,000 German Jews had been granted visas and allowed to settle in the United States. Some 100,000 German Jews also moved to Western European countries, especially France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. However, these countries would later be occupied by Germany, and most of them would still fall victim to the Holocaust. Another 48,000 emigrated to the United Kingdom and other European countries. [72] [73]

Overall, of the 522,000 Jews living in Germany in January 1933, approximately 304,000 emigrated during the first six years of Nazi rule and about 214,000 were left on the eve of World War II. Of these, 160,000-180,000 were killed as a part of the Holocaust. Those that remained in Germany went into hiding and did everything they could to survive. Commonly referred to as “dashers and divers,” the Jews lived a submerged life and experienced the struggle to find food, a relatively secure hiding space or shelter, and false identity papers while constantly evading Nazi police and strategically avoiding checkpoints. Non-Jews offered support by allowing the Jews to hide in their homes but when this proved to be too dangerous for both parties, the Jews were forced to seek shelter in more exposed locations including the street. Some Jews were able to attain false papers, despite the risks and sacrifice of resources doing so required. A reliable false ID would cost between 2,000RM and 6,000RM depending on where it came from. Some Jews in Berlin looked to the Black Market to get false papers as this was a most sought-after product following food, tobacco, and clothing. Certain forms of ID were soon deemed unacceptable, leaving the Jews with depleted resources and vulnerable to being arrested. Avoiding arrest was particularly challenging in 1943 as the Nazi police increased their personnel and inspection checkpoints, leading to 65 percent of all submerged Jews being detained and likely deported. [74] On May 19, 1943, only about 20,000 Jews remained and Germany was declared judenrein (clean of Jews also judenfrei: free of Jews). [8]

During the medieval period antisemitism flourished in Germany. Especially during the time of the Black Death from 1348 to 1350 hatred and violence against Jews increased. Approximately 72% of towns with a Jewish settlement suffered from violent attacks against the Jewish population.

After World War I, antisemitism grew again, during the time of the Weimar Republic and later on during the Nazi reign. Various studies have been done to try and explain the reasons for the growth of anti-Semitism during the Weimar Republic and particularly during the Nazi regime. Nico Voigtländera and Hans-Joachim Voth analyze and discuss a combination of studies done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, and the Center for Economic Policy Research, London on German Anti-Semitic teachings during the Nazi era. These studies explored how brainwashing methods have left residue in German culture to this day. Voigtländera and Voth also provide clear evidence that there are still individuals around today who lived through the Hitler era and who believed in his hatred mindset. Their research notes that attitudes forged during the Nazi regime are still influencing younger generations.

Regions that suffered from the Black Death pogroms were 6 times more likely to engage in antisemitic violence during the 1920s, racist and fascist parties like the DNVP, NSDAP and DVFP gained a 1.5 times higher voting share in the 1928 election, their inhabitants wrote more letters to antisemitic newspapers like “Der Stürmer”, and they deported more Jews during the Nazi reign. This is due to cultural transmission. [75]

A simple model of cultural transmission and Persistence of attitudes comes from Bisin and Verdier who state, that children acquire their preference scheme through imitating their parents, who in turn attempt to socialize their children to their own preferences, without taking into consideration if these traits are useful or not. [76]

Economic factors had the potential to undermine this persistence throughout the centuries. Hatred against outsiders was more costly in trade open cities, like the members of the Hanseatic League. Faster growing cities saw less persistence in antisemitic attitudes, this may be due to the fact that trade-openness was associated with more economic success and therefore higher migration rates into these regions. [77]

The persistence of anti-Semitism really stemmed from the Nazi regime. A lot of Germans grew up under it and were exposed to a wide range of indoctrination methods. The significance that came from the findings is that Germans that grew up under the Nazi regime are much more anti-Semitic today than those born before or after that period.

Voth also provides a study done in Germany in this article about the current views of the population. “Two waves of the General Social Survey for Germany (ALLBUS 1996 and 2006) asked a set of seven questions about attitudes toward Jews. For each of these questions, respondents answered on a numerical scale ranging from 1 to 7 we recoded the scale so that 7 is always the most anti-Semitic response. For example, 17% of German respondents felt that Jews should blame themselves for their own persecution, 25.7% were uncomfortable with the idea of a Jew marrying into their family, and 21.5% felt that Jews should not have equal rights (scores of 5 or higher on a scale from 1 to 7).” [78]

When the Soviet army took over Berlin in late April 1945, only 8,000 Jews remained in the city, all of them either in hiding or married to non-Jews. [79] [80] Most German Jews who survived the war in exile decided to remain abroad however, a small number returned to Germany. Additionally, approximately 15,000 German Jews survived the concentration camps or survived by going into hiding. These German Jews were joined by approximately 200,000 displaced persons (DPs), Eastern European Jewish Holocaust survivors. They came to Allied-occupied western Germany after finding no homes left for them in eastern Europe or after having been liberated on German soil. The overwhelming majority of the DPs wished to emigrate to Palestine and lived in Allied- and U.N.-administered refugee camps, remaining isolated from German society. When Israel became independent in 1948, most European-Jewish DPs left for the new state however, 10,000 to 15,000 Jews decided to resettle in Germany. Despite hesitations and a long history of antagonism between German Jews (Yekkes) and East European Jews (Ostjuden), the two disparate groups united to form the basis of a new Jewish community. In 1950 they founded their unitary representative organization, the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Jews of West Germany Edit

The Jewish community in West Germany from the 1950s to the 1970s was characterized by its social conservatism and generally private nature. Although there were Jewish elementary schools in West Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich, the community had a very high average age. Few young adults chose to remain in Germany, and many of those who did married non-Jews. Many critics [ who? ] of the community and its leadership accused it of ossification. In the 1980s, a college for Jewish studies was established in Heidelberg however, a disproportionate number of its students were not Jewish. By 1990, the community numbered between 30,000 and 40,000. Although the Jewish community of Germany did not have the same impact as the pre-1933 community, some Jews were prominent in German public life, including Hamburg mayor Herbert Weichmann Schleswig-Holstein Minister of Justice (and Deputy Chief Justice of the Federal Constitutional Court) Rudolf Katz Hesse Attorney General Fritz Bauer former Hesse Minister of Economics Heinz-Herbert Karry West Berlin politician Jeanette Wolff television personalities Hugo Egon Balder, Hans Rosenthal, Ilja Richter, Inge Meysel, and Michel Friedman Jewish communal leaders Heinz Galinski, Ignatz Bubis, Paul Spiegel, and Charlotte Knobloch (see: Central Council of Jews in Germany), and Germany's most influential literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki.

Jews of East Germany Edit

The Jewish community of communist East Germany numbered only a few hundred active members. Most Jews who settled in East Germany did so either because their pre-1933 homes had been there or because they had been politically leftist before the Nazi seizure of power and, after 1945, wished to build an antifascist, socialist Germany. Most such politically engaged Jews were not religious or active in the official Jewish community. They included writers such as Anna Seghers, Stefan Heym, Stephan Hermlin, Jurek Becker, Stasi Colonel General Markus Wolf, singer Lin Jaldati, composer Hanns Eisler, and politician Gregor Gysi. Many East German Jews emigrated to Israel in the 1970s.

The end of the Cold War contributed to a growth of the Jewish community of Germany. An important step for the renaissance of Jewish life in Germany occurred in 1990 when Helmut Kohl convened with Heinz Galinski, to allow Jewish people from the former Soviet Union to emigrate to Germany, which led to a large Jewish emigration. [85] Germany is home to a nominal Jewish population of more than 200,000 (although this number reflects non-Jewish spouses or children who also immigrated under the Quota Refugee Law) 104,024 are officially registered with Jewish religious communities. [86] The size of the Jewish community in Berlin is estimated at 120,000 people, or 60% of Germany's total Jewish population. [87] Today, between 80 and 90 percent of the Jews in Germany are Russian speaking immigrants from the former Soviet Union. [88] [89] Many Israelis also move to Germany, particularly Berlin, for its relaxed atmosphere and low cost of living. Olim L'Berlin, a Facebook snowclone asking Israelis to emigrate to Berlin, gained notoriety in 2014. [90] Some eventually return to Israel after a period of residence in Germany. [91] There are also a handful of Jewish families from Muslim countries, including Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and Afghanistan. Germany has the third-largest Jewish population in Western Europe after France (600,000) and Britain (300,000) [92] and the fastest-growing Jewish population in Europe in recent years. The influx of immigrants, many of them seeking renewed contact with their Ashkenazi heritage, has led to a renaissance of Jewish life in Germany. In 1996, Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin opened a center. In 2003, Chabad-Lubavitch of Berlin ordained 10 rabbis, the first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since World War II. [93] In 2002 a Reform rabbinical seminary, Abraham Geiger College, was established in Potsdam. In 2006, the college announced that it would be ordaining three new rabbis, the first Reform rabbis to be ordained in Germany since 1942. [94]

Partly owing to the deep similarities between Yiddish and German, [ citation needed ] Jewish studies have become a popular academic study, and many German universities have departments or institutes of Jewish studies, culture, or history. Active Jewish religious communities have sprung up across Germany, including in many cities where the previous communities were no longer extant or were moribund. Several cities in Germany have Jewish day schools, kosher facilities, and other Jewish institutions beyond synagogues. Additionally, many of the Russian Jews were alienated from their Jewish heritage and unfamiliar or uncomfortable with religion. American-style Reform Judaism (which originated in Germany), has re-emerged in Germany, led by the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany, even though the Central Council of Jews in Germany and most local Jewish communities officially adhere to Orthodoxy.

On January 27, 2003, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder signed the first-ever agreement on a federal level with the Central Council, so that Judaism was granted the same elevated, semi-established legal status in Germany as the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany, at least since the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany of 1949.

In Germany it is a criminal act to deny the Holocaust or that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust (§ 130 StGB) violations can be punished with up to five years of prison. [11] In 2007, the Interior Minister of Germany, Wolfgang Schäuble, pointed out the official policy of Germany: "We will not tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or antisemitism." [12] Although the number of right-wing groups and organisations grew from 141 (2001) [95] to 182 (2006), [96] especially in the formerly communist East Germany, [12] [97] [98] Germany's measures against right-wing groups and antisemitism are effective: according to the annual reports of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution the overall number of far-right extremists in Germany has dropped in recent years from 49,700 (2001), [95] 45,000 (2002), [95] 41,500 (2003), [95] 40,700 (2004), [96] 39,000 (2005), [96] to 38,600 in 2006. [96] Germany provided several million euros to fund "nationwide programs aimed at fighting far-right extremism, including teams of traveling consultants, and victims' groups". [99] Despite these facts, Israeli Ambassador Shimon Stein warned in October 2006 that Jews in Germany feel increasingly unsafe, stating that they "are not able to live a normal Jewish life" and that heavy security surrounds most synagogues or Jewish community centers. [99] Yosef Havlin, Rabbi at the Chabad Lubavitch in Frankfurt, does not agree with the Israeli Ambassador and states in an interview with Der Spiegel in September 2007 that the German public does not support far-right groups instead, he has personally experienced the support of Germans, and as a Jew and rabbi he "feels welcome in his (hometown) Frankfurt, he is not afraid, the city is not a no-go-area". [100]

A flagship moment for the burgeoning Jewish community in modern Germany occurred on November 9, 2006 (the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht), when the newly constructed Ohel Jakob synagogue was dedicated in Munich, Germany. [101] [102] This is particularly crucial given the fact that Munich was once at the ideological heart of Nazi Germany. Jewish life in the capital Berlin is prospering, the Jewish community is growing, the Centrum Judaicum and several synagogues—including the largest in Germany [103] —have been renovated and opened, and Berlin's annual week of Jewish culture and the Jewish Cultural Festival in Berlin, held for the 21st time, featuring concerts, exhibitions, public readings and discussions [104] [105] can only partially explain why Rabbi Yitzhak Ehrenberg of the orthodox Jewish community in Berlin states: "Orthodox Jewish life is alive in Berlin again. [. ] Germany is the only European country with a growing Jewish community." [9]

In spite of Germany's measures against right-wing groups and antisemites, a number of incidents have occurred in recent years. On August 29, 2012 in Berlin, Daniel Alter, a rabbi in visible Jewish garb, was physically attacked by a group of Arab youths, causing a head wound that required hospitalization. The rabbi was walking with his six-year-old daughter in downtown Berlin when the group asked if he was a Jew, and then proceeded to assault him. They also threatened to kill the rabbi's young daughter. [106] [107] [108] On November 9, 2012, the 74th Kristallnacht anniversary, neo-Nazis in Greifswald vandalized the city's Holocaust memorial. Additionally, a group of Jewish children was taunted by unidentified young people on the basis of their religion. [109]

On June 2, 2013, a rabbi was physically assaulted by a group of six to eight "southern-looking" youths, presumably Arabs, in a shopping mall in Offenbach. The rabbi took pictures of the attackers on his cellphone, but mall security and local police instructed him to delete the photos. The rabbi exited the mall, pursued by his attackers, and was driven away by an acquaintance. [110] In Salzwedel, also in 2013, vandals painted swastikas and the words "Hitler now" on the exteriors of local houses. [111]

Over the last few years, Germany has witnessed a sizable migration of young, educated Israeli Jews seeking academic and employment opportunities, with Berlin being their favorite destination. [112]

TV series ‘Holocaust,’ which changed how Germans saw their history, airs again

BERLIN (JTA) — For Sigmount Koenigsberg, the most searing scene in the US-made “Holocaust” miniseries broadcast here in Germany 40 years ago was when a German child throws photos of a Jewish family into a fireplace. The pictures curl up and melt in the flames.

The moment “somehow burned into me,” recalls Koenigsberg, 58, a Jew who lives in Berlin.

In fact, the four-part series starring a young Meryl Streep and James Woods – first shown in the United States in 1978 – burned itself into the consciences of many Germans at the time, helping bring about a shift in the country’s approach to its history.

This month, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, WDR (West German Broadcasting) marked the 40th anniversary of that groundbreaking broadcast by bringing Streep, Woods, Tovah Feldshuh, Michael Moriarty and the program’s other stars back into German living rooms.

Journalist Jorg Schonenborn, the head of TV programming for WDR, said the rebroadcast was triggered by a new documentary by writer Alice Agneskircher about the 1979 screening.

“I realized right away that this would not be enough,” he recently told the educational Gerda Henkel Foundation. “We have to show the entire series again,” even if reactions today might not be the same.

“After all, ‘Holocaust’ is not only contemporary history, but an important part of German television history,” said Schönenborn, who saw the series as a youngster. “And unfortunately, anti-Semitism is not only a historical phenomenon but very much present today.”

Directed by Marvin Chomsky and written by Gerald Green, “Holocaust” recounts the Nazi genocide of European Jewry through two fictional families in Berlin: the Weisses, who are Jewish, and the Dorfs, who are Christian. In the end, both the victims and perpetrators are nearly destroyed.

The series, which aired on NBC over four nights in April 1978, won several Emmy and Golden Globe awards and a large audience, although many critics were underwhelmed. Elie Wiesel famously objected to the series, saying it “trivialized” the Shoah and worrying that “the Holocaust will be measured and judged in part by the TV production bearing its name.”

In particular, the film seems to buy the cliché of Jews “going like lambs to the slaughter” in depictions of mass shootings or the herding of Jews into gas chambers. And many felt the the kick-your-heels happy ending should have ended up on the cutting-room floor.

But the film also portrayed Jewish resistance, and the agonizing position of Jews who collaborated in hopes of saving themselves. It shows how the murder of the disabled paved the way for the genocide of European Jewry, step by step, from mass shootings to gassings. It also portrayed the descent of average non-Jewish Germans into murderous criminality and the determination of many to deny what had happened, even to themselves.

In 1979, an estimated 36 percent of West Germans with TVs – some 20 million people, according to a contemporary article in Der Spiegel magazine – viewed at least one part of the series, which was dubbed into German. The effect was immediate. Later that year, the West German parliament expunged the statute of limitations on war crimes. The term “Holocaust” entered the lexicon (somewhat replaced by “Shoah” after the release of Claude Lanzmann’s documentary in 1985).

Within a few years, tens of thousands of German youth were looking into what had happened in their own hometowns and their own families under the Nazis as part of a nationwide grassroots history movement.

Almost reluctantly, Der Spiegel admired this “trivial” American series, saying it had “managed to do what hundreds of books, plays, films and TV broadcasts, thousands of documents and all concentration camp trials in three decades of postwar history had failed to do: to “inform Germans about the crimes committed against the Jews in their name in such a way that millions were shaken.”

In a 2005 interview with this reporter, Chomsky recalled the immediate impact of the German broadcast.

“There were all kinds of [news] stories and people started asking, ‘Daddy, what did you do during the war?’ It was quite a revelation for the generation,” said Chomsky, now 89.

The dropping of the statute of limitations on war crimes was likely the first time “where a nation has … enacted a law directly affected by the viewing and the response to a television show,” he said.

But it also helped change the focus from those who pulled the strings, like the Nazi leaders convicted at Nuremberg and in other high-profile trials, to the perpetrators who could be one’s next-door neighbors.

“The point I wanted to show with all of this … was that people who seem perfectly normal are … capable of [committing] hideous atrocities,” said Chomsky, who also co-directed the 1977 “Roots” miniseries, whose impact on American historical consciousnesses was similarly profound.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said there is no question that the “Holocaust” story had the most powerful impact in West Germany. Zuroff has pushed Germany to investigate and prosecute Nazi war criminals.

“The story of the Weiss family personalized the Shoah in a way that touched the average viewer,” he said, “and helped Germans internalize the scope and horror of the tragedy that took place in their country, launched by a movement elected democratically.”

Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee, agreed.

“This one TV series opened the virtual Pandora’s box on confronting the Holocaust,” she said. “Sometimes a fictional account that opens people’s hearts can have more impact than a library of books.”

So much has changed in the interim: East and West Germany united in 1990, and Germany’s postwar Jewish community has grown nearly tenfold with the influx of former Soviet Jews. Holocaust education here has evolved: The generation of survivors, perpetrators and eyewitnesses is dying out, and the historical record has been refined through additional facts and interpretations.

But the impact of this series on German non-Jews and Jews, however dated and sanitized some parts of the film may appear today, is beyond a doubt. Historian Edith Raim, born in 1965, recalls watching the series with her family in Landsberg, a town outside Munich. It was one of the first programs they saw together because her parents, both teachers, thought TV had “no pedagogic value.”

“We were glued to the film, even my reluctant father,” said Raim, who is not Jewish. Later that year, “the youth organization of the trade unions started commemorations on the [local] concentration camp cemeteries.”

Raim soon joined with high school classmates to research the history of those camps.

“In the case of Landsberg, in fact, the series helped locals to confront the Nazi past,” she said.

In West Germany, teachers incorporated the series into their classes. It also sparked public discussions.

But on the other side of the so-called Iron Curtain, in East Germany, discussions were more private, Jalda Rebling says.

Rebling, today a cantor with the Jewish Renewal movement, watched the program with her parents in their home near East Berlin. She recalls that her mother, the singer Lin Jaldati, a Dutch survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, “was very angry about this kitschy story,” saying that “Nobody looked that nice in the camps.”

“She didn’t like the Hollywood part of it,” Rebling said. “But today I would say if it hadn’t been for that, people wouldn’t have watched.”

The focus of East German education and memorials was on anti-Nazi resistance. They did not officially hold up any mirrors to themselves, instead shoving the perpetrator legacy to West Germany.

But there were ways to learn about this history, says Rebling, who recalled her anger when a friend said it was “so wonderful we have now this film, we never knew about this entire Holocaust.” Rebling “took him into a bookshop and put him in front of Holocaust-related books that were published in East Germany. I said, ‘You just didn’t look for it earlier.’”

Like Rebling, Koenigsberg knew the history from his own parents, survivors from Poland. Sigi was an 18-year-old high school student in Saarbrucken, former West Germany, when the family watched the series.

“Especially the episodes that take place in Poland or in the concentration camps, my parents said, ‘That is only part of what happened. It can’t be reproduced,’” he recalled.

But the program had an important impact, Koenigsberg said. In school, “before they always talked about 6 million Jews. And Jewish narratives were not presented in history classes. But now they had the story of one family. And they could feel with them.”

“Textbooks were changed and adjusted, and it was a big event for Germany,” recalled actor Tovah Feldshuh, who played the role of Helena Slomova, a Jewish resistance fighter from then-Czechoslovakia. “I was wearing fatigues in the woods. It was my first death on film,” she said in a telephone interview from New York.

Feldshuh said she felt privileged to play the role of “a freedom fighter, to be brave, rather than” someone who appeared to give up. She “went through the Holocaust miniseries angry, not upset.

“[I] didn’t shed a tear,” she said. “But for the [actors] who were newly exposed to the Holocaust, who were not Jewish, they were beside themselves: Rosemary Harris and Meryl Streep were beside themselves.” Harris played Mrs. Weiss, and Streep played her Christian daughter-in-law.

After the premiere in 1978, Wiesel confronted Feldshuh.

“Tovah, how could you, how could you, how could you! Reduce the Holocaust to a soap opera?” he demanded.

“I told him, ‘Elie, I understand that the experience of the Holocaust is unspeakable. I understand there is no language for what you went through. We did not make the Holocaust series for you. We did it for people … who think Holocaust means ‘hora.’ For people who think the Holocaust did not happen.”

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The Holocaust Began Not With Concentration Camps, But With Hateful Rhetoric. That Part of the Story Cannot Be Forgotten

A s people around the world pause this Thursday to observe the solemn occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, it is worth asking what exactly is being remembered. In recent years, surveys released by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany with the participation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have found some alarming gaps in public knowledge about the Holocaust. In 2018, for example, 45% of adult U.S. respondents couldn&rsquot name a single camp or ghetto.

There is no question that the world needs better and more Holocaust education. As we think about how best to do this in the 21st century, we need to ensure that future generations learn not only what happened during the Holocaust but also how and why.

Nazism did not emerge from nowhere. The Holocaust did not begin with concentration camps, ghettos or deportations. People didn&rsquot wake up one day and decide to participate in mass murder. In fact, the Nazis had been in power in Germany for eight long years before the systematic murder of the Jews began.

Centuries before that, religious antisemitism had flourished in Europe. Then, in the 19th century, a new racial form emerged. The influential German ethno-nationalist and journalist Wilhelm Marr argued that Jews and Germans were separate biological &ldquoraces&rdquo locked in an eternal struggle with each other for survival and that &ldquomixing&rdquo of the &ldquoraces&rdquo was harmful to Germans. He advocated for the forcible removal of all Jews from the country&mdasheven those who had converted to Christianity. He did so 18 years before Hitler was even born.

Hitler would build on that deep-seated antisemitism. Exploiting Germans&rsquo fears and resentments he offered hope and unity as well as hatred and used the power of propaganda to advance his agenda in a democratic system.

In order to win mass support, Nazi propaganda&mdashboth its positive, aspirational messages and its demonization of Jews and others&mdashwas skillfully targeted to particular audiences depending on their attitudes, which were measured in an early version of opinion polling.

One of the common messages was designed to make Germans feel that if they were hurting economically it was the fault of the Jews. Sidney Zoltak, a survivor born in Poland, remembers when he was only 4 years old, in 1935, visiting his grandparents&rsquo store. In an interview, Zoltak explained, &ldquoIn front of their store there were young people with signs: Don&rsquot Buy From a Jew. Don&rsquot Buy From a Jew. I didn&rsquot know what antisemitism was, but that was the first act of antisemitism that I witnessed. Antisemitism in Poland at that time was not only tolerated, but it was encouraged.&rdquo

The Nazi regime restricted the marketplace of ideas and used propaganda to focus on trying to convince all Germans that indeed there was a “Jewish Question” that needed to be solved.

The goal was to emphasize that your Jewish neighbors were not German, but a different race, that they did not belong to the “national community,” and had no place in Germany. The purpose of these efforts was to stoke hate if possible, but at the very least to ensure acquiescence to growing anti-Jewish measures and, eventually, removal and destruction. With the help of Nazi propaganda, Germans became increasingly indifferent to the plight of their Jewish neighbors. What ended in killing fields and gas chambers thus started long before&mdashwith ideas and words.

Holocaust survivor Aron Krell, born in Lódź, Poland, put it this way: &ldquoWe heard the words&hellip the Jews were cursed, the Jews are traitors and all of the problems in the world starts with the Jews, therefore what we have to do is get rid of the Jews.&rdquo

Hateful rhetoric built a case for Hitler&rsquos Nazi regime to separate, isolate, dehumanize and ultimately exterminate an entire group solely for who they were. Plain and simple&mdashit&rsquos easy to kill those who are defined as less than human.

Survivor Irene Weiss has recalled riding the train with her father when she was 12 years old, when a group of &ldquoNazi hoodlums&rdquo approached, easily identifying him as Jewish due to his beard. &ldquoWhat should they do with this Jew?&rdquo she recalled. &ldquoThey said, it would be great to throw him off the train. The only reason he wasn&rsquot thrown off the train was because they arrived at their destination.&rdquo He never rode the train again, and he was later murdered at Auschwitz.

These recollections from survivors are part of a new digital campaign launched by the Claims Conference, #ItStartedWithWords, which aims to remind the world that the Holocaust didn&rsquot start with killing it started with words. The campaign will post weekly videos of survivors from across the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust&mdasha period of time when they could not have predicted the ease with which their long-time neighbors, teachers, classmates and colleagues would turn on them, transitioning from words of hate to acts of persecution and violence, and eventually to genocide.

Without understanding the causes of the Holocaust and without thinking about how it might have been prevented, we are not honoring the victims. Nor are we serving the past&mdashor the future.

Sara J. Bloomfield is director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Greg Schneider is executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Holocaust German History - History

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On January 19, 1942, Szlama Ber Winer made his escape. During transport from the Nazis' Chełmno extermination camp to the Rzuchów subcamp, the 30-year-old Polish prisoner slipped out of the lorry and into the forest.

From there, Winer made his way to the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, where he rendezvoused with the underground Oneg Shabbat group, which had made it their clandestine mission to chronicle the horrors that the Nazis had recently begun perpetrating upon the fellow Jewish residents of their city.

At the time, of course, the group had no idea of the full extent of what they were actually chronicling.

Before Winer escaped and contacted Oneg Shabbat, the Jewish underground in Nazi-occupied Poland, let alone the outside world, had received only scattered bits of information about what was now happening inside the newly completed camps in the forests outside Warsaw — not to mention Krakow, Lublin, and much of eastern Poland.

But in his reports to Oneg Shabbat, Winer began to fill in the gaps. He spoke of Jewish deportees, including his own family, arriving at Chełmno en masse, enduring beatings at the hands of Nazi officers, then dying in gas chambers before being dumped in mass graves — step by step, like clockwork.

Under the pseudonym Yakov Grojanowski and with the help of Oneg Shabbat, Winer documented this revelatory testimony in what would become known as the Grojanowski Report, likely the first eyewitness account of the Nazis' extermination programs to make it beyond the walls of the camps and into the halls of power in Europe.

The report never traveled far enough.

While Oneg Shabbat placed one copy in the hands of the Polish government-in-exile in London and published another batch for the German people (in hopes that it would inspire in them some sympathy for the Jews), Winer's findings never seemed to have made it onto the desks of decision-makers in either Britain or the U.S.

Those two governments, on behalf of the Allied Powers, wouldn't release their first official report on Nazi extermination efforts in Europe until the very end of 1942. By that time, Winer had been dead for six months, recaptured by the Gestapo in Warsaw then shipped to Bełżec extermination camp sometime just after his last communique on April 10.

In the two and a half years that followed, some 6 million Jews and at least 5 million ethnic Poles, Soviet prisoners, Romani, homosexuals, disabled people, and others would join Winer as the casualties of the largest genocide in human history. It would be another two to three decades before most of the Western world would more or less agree to refer to that genocide as the Holocaust.

And today, thanks in large part to the pioneering efforts of people like Szlama Ber Winer and groups like Oneg Shabbat (responsible for one of the world's richest archives of firsthand Holocaust photos and documentation), we can at least attempt to make sense of what likely remains the most tragically surreal episode in history.

Aided as well by countless Holocaust photos culled from government, military, and civilian sources (see gallery above), the world can now bear witness to an event that can never be forgotten. Thankfully, these photos and others like them can be seen by far more people than Winer's pivotal yet under-read report ever could.

After viewing the Holocaust photos above, read up on Stanislawa Leszczyńskac, the woman who delivered 3,000 babies inside Auschwitzbb, and Ilse Koch, "The Bitch of Buchenwald." Then, take a look at the forgotten holocaust with these Armenian Genocide photos and see some of the most stirring World War 2 photos.

Holocaust German History - History

Joshua Rubenstein, associate at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies, describes the gradual evolution of Hitler's master plan for the "Jews of Europe" and how this unfolded within German-occupied Soviet territory.



School Subject

Scope and Sequence

Transcript (Text)

The Nazi Holocaust against the Jews of Europe didn't start at Auschwitz.

It didn't start at any of the now-infamous industrialized death camps of Poland.

Hitler and his high command didn't wake up one day in the early 1930s and announce that they were going to exterminate six million people all by themselves. The process was gradual. Nazi armies invaded and occupied territory after territory, country after country. Methods for killing evolved over time. And intentions for murder on a massive scale were revealed only after almost all of Europe was occupied, and the German army invaded the Soviet Union.

Historians will always debate when the Germans, when the Nazis, made a definitive decision to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Certainly there was a concerted antisemitic policy toward German Jews from the moment that Hitler came to power in January of 1933. They systematically were excluded from civil society. They were deprived of their civil rights, of their equal standing under law. There were boycotts. There were restrictions on Jews marrying non-Jews. And then, of course, there was the terrible violence of Kristallnacht, when Jewish community centers, synagogues, were attacked throughout Germany and Austria. And this got world headlines, including in the Soviet press.

There was even some discussion in Nazi circles to send the Jews of Europe to Madagascar, which was a French island colony off the eastern coast of Africa. There was talk of creating a kind of reservation in southeastern Poland in the Lublin area, where the Jews of Europe could be sent and restricted. Nothing came of that.

From 1933 to 1939, the Nazis slowly took steps to take control of Europe. They rebuilt the German economy, bolstered German national identity, seized Austria and Czechoslovakia, and carried out a massive propaganda campaign against the Jews. All to prepare the ground for an all out war.

Between 1939 and 1941, the Nazis pushed eastward. In 1939, they invaded and captured western Poland, taking control of over two million Jews. In 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, capturing several million more Jews.

In many cities, the Nazis corralled the Jews into closed urban areas, or ghettos. These were places where Jews were forced to live apart from the rest of society in deplorable conditions.

But even after the invasion of Poland and the establishment of the large ghettos in Warsaw and in Lodz, this was still not the start of systematic mass killings. We do believe that between '39 and '41 as many as 50,000 Jews died in Poland, from starvation, from exposure, from random shootings. But this was not systematic killing.

Systematic killing would come with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

The invasion, called Operation Barbarossa, was the largest German military operation of World War II and a defining moment for the surprised and unprepared Red Army.

Within weeks, the Germans overran Soviet defenses and captured major Soviet cities. This was the beginning of the mass murder of the Jews, as well, on the Eastern Front.

In the months leading up to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler began to explain to the German high command that the war on the Eastern Front would be totally different from the war in the west, the war on France and the Netherlands, on Belgium, even fighting England. This would be total war. The Geneva Conventions would not apply. Anybody seen as resisting the Germans, civilians included, would be immediately killed. And Jews would be rounded up and killed. These were their instructions.

And at the same time, by the spring of 1941, the Germans organized four shooting units called the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units that would follow the Wehrmacht, the German army, into Soviet territory with the express, explicit goal of rounding up Jewish men, women, and children and systematically killing them in open-air massacres. So this was really the beginning of mass murder.

Keep in mind, Treblinka was not operating. Auschwitz was just being constructed. Between June of 1941 and the end of December 1941, in those initial six or seven months of the war in German-occupied Soviet territory, the Einsatzgruppen killed about a million Jews. So this is the true beginning of the murderous dimension of the Holocaust.

Now, to get a sense of the scale, at the end of September 1941, 10 days after the capture of Kiev, the Germans killed 33,771 Jews by their count in two days of continuous shooting. All of us have been in a stadium. We've seen a baseball game. We've seen a football game. We've been in a place where there are 40,000 or 50,000 people.

Imagine what it would take to kill all of those people without using a bomb. That's what the Germans did day in and day out throughout the occupation of the Soviet Union until the Red Army drove them out in 1944.

The Red Army finally halted the German advance on the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941. The Soviet capital was never captured. But the German army continued to advance deeper into Soviet territory before it was stopped at Stalingrad in February 1943. Wherever the Wehrmacht captured cities and towns, mobile shooting units rounded up and murdered the Jews.

In January of 1942, the German high command and the leaders of the Nazi party had a daylong conference at a villa outside of Berlin, in Wannsee, to discuss their plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe, and how they would carry out the systematic killing by bringing the Jews to killing centers at Auschwitz and later Treblinka. So for many people who have a superficial understanding of the Holocaust, this is seen as the first step in the outright plan of mass murder. But in fact, they had already killed nearly a million Jews in German-occupied Soviet territory in these open-air massacres.

So what changed is that the Germans understood they could not carry out such massacres in the West, in Germany. They wanted to confine that killing to Poland.

Which, first, had three million Jews also, already there, physically there. And so it would be easier to bring the victims from Germany, from France, from Belgium, from Holland, Czechoslovakia, to these killing centers in Poland. And that's what the Wannsee Conference was about.

There's a famous map that one of the Einsatzgruppen commanders supplied to the conference at Wannsee, a map of the Baltic states, of Belorussia, that says, how many we've already killed, and that Estonia is already Judenfrei. Estonia was officially the first place that the Germans declared was Judenfrei—free of Jews. We've killed them all.

So it's yet one more piece of evidence of this step-by-step expansion of their planning and of their killing.

And so this aspect of the Holocaust is especially important for those of us in the West who are oblivious to the brutality on the Eastern Front. That, for most people, when they think of the Holocaust, they think of Jewish families like Anne Frank's, who were captured, put on trains, taken to Poland, and killed there. And that's only one part of what happened.

How Do German Children Learn About the Holocaust?

I will make this one a little more personal because I understood the question to be aimed in that way. I was born in 1985, so it was the generation of my grandparents and great-grandparents who were alive during World War II. I think for me, there were roughly three stages of realization.

Knowing there was some war in the not too distant past: I knew that my grandfather had been involved in a war, but that was something very distant for me. He only told the story how he had to ride a horse but was afraid of horses. The whole idea of war was not something I could understand at that time. But it was also clear from movies and stuff that Germany lost the war and that something horrible happened back then.

Learning about World War II and the Holocaust at school: Overall, I think we learned about this time period at least three times. The first time the Holocaust came up in detail was in grade three or four, at the age of 9 or 10. The whole topic had a weird fascination for me because it made sense of a lot of small things in German culture, and finally we learned all about it. At the same time, I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine how people could believe these screwed-up ideas and do such horrible things in the name of these ideas. But it was a horror like I have for the witch trials and stuff like that. I didn’t make the connection between the war my grandfather fought and World War II. Later, we went to the Dachau Concentration Camp (as most schools around Munich do), and it was interesting and informative but not really disturbing. In Germany, the whole idea of “your own people” is not encouraged, and there is not a big feeling of unity (except if it’s about football/soccer). This anonymous answer tells you more about that.

Visiting Auschwitz: When I was 16, I participated in a student exchange with a Polish school, and we went to Poland for two weeks. In general, we had a great time, and the people were lovely. But of course, as a German when you are in Poland, you have to visit Auschwitz. This name stands for everything that happened, and the gate with its infamous writing is known everywhere. We came there as a mixed German-Polish group, and were separated so everybody could have a tour in their native language. So we were only 15 German teenagers, and that made it pretty intense. For me, it was the first time that I really understood the full monstrosity of the Holocaust, not only intellectually but also emotionally—and made the connection to my own family. If you have never been to Auschwitz, this is what you see there.*

And when I saw these things that were taken from the prisoners (there is also one room just filled with hair), all the pieces came together in my mind, and I realized the first time on an emotional basis the whole horror. And I think I was not the only one. I found the toughest guy in our group, who would normally never show feelings, standing in front of a display cabinet with baby shoes crying. When the tour ended, we didn’t know how to look our Polish friends in the eyes again, because I think most of us felt unbelievably guilty as it was “our” grandparents who did that to “their” grandparents (together with many, many other innocent people). I remember us even talking about the fact that we were insecure on how to deal with that. Luckily, our Polish friends were pretty cool: When they saw us again after their tour and saw that we were all shocked and some still crying, they came up to us and told us that we shouldn’t be ashamed at all and that we are not responsible for the deeds of our ancestors. It took me a few years to get to the point where I could really feel that way, but I got there.

And that is how I feel today about it. The Holocaust was horrible, and I think as a country, we have the responsibility not to forget about it and also to do what we can to let something like that never happen again.

But personally I think I am not different from any other person on this planet: able to do the best and the worst. And it is my own responsibility what I make of that for that, it doesn’t matter what my grandfather has or has not done. Of course it would be nice to have ancestors I could be simply proud of, but in the end, who can? Every country has dark spots in history ours just happen to be huge and pretty recent.

Correction, Feb. 6, 2014: This post originally contained two images from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum that were attributed to the author. The photos were not taken by the author and have been removed.

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