Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation

Overview

Though many of the details of Jewish life under Hitler are familiar, historical accounts rarely afford us a real sense of what it was like for Jews and their families to live in the shadow of Nazi Germany’s oppressive racial laws and growing violence. With Jews in Nazi Berlin, those individual lives—and the constant struggle they required—come fully into focus, and the result is an unprecedented and deeply moving portrait of a people.

Drawing on a remarkably rich archive that ...

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Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation

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Overview

Though many of the details of Jewish life under Hitler are familiar, historical accounts rarely afford us a real sense of what it was like for Jews and their families to live in the shadow of Nazi Germany’s oppressive racial laws and growing violence. With Jews in Nazi Berlin, those individual lives—and the constant struggle they required—come fully into focus, and the result is an unprecedented and deeply moving portrait of a people.

Drawing on a remarkably rich archive that includes photographs, objects, official documents, and personal papers, the editors of Jews in Nazi Berlin have assembled a multifaceted picture of Jewish daily life in the Nazi capital during the height of the regime’s power. The book’s essays and images are divided into thematic sections, each representing a different aspect of the experience of Jews in Berlin, covering such topics as emigration, the yellow star, Zionism, deportation, betrayal, survival, and more. To supplement—and, importantly, to humanize—the comprehensive documentary evidence, the editors draw on an extensive series of interviews with survivors of the Nazi persecution, who present gripping first-person accounts of the innovation, subterfuge, resilience, and luck required to negotiate the increasing brutality of the regime.

A stunning reconstruction of a storied community as it faced destruction, Jews in Nazi Berlin renders that loss with a startling immediacy that will make it an essential part of our continuing attempts to understand World War II and the Holocaust.

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Editorial Reviews

Canadian Jewish News
“A lavishly illustrated book of essays. . . . [A] fine and comprehensive volume.”—Canadian Jewish News
Francis R. Niscosia
“This unique and comprehensive collection of essays, available now in English, considers the Nazi destruction of Jewish life in Berlin between 1938 and 1945. Each facet in that process of destruction is described in meticulous detail, mainly by the victims themselves, and effectively conveyed by the volume’s contributing authors in concise essays. The authors rely on an extraordinarily rich historiography on the general subject of Jewish life in Nazi Germany, as well as on valuable archival sources of the Berlin Jewish community and its institutions, records that survived World War II and the turbulent postwar era in Germany. There is nothing comparable in English that so thoroughly dissects the tragic consequences of the Nazi destruction of a Jewish community that had originally constituted about one-third of the entire Jewish population in pre-Nazi Germany.”—Francis R. Nicosia, University of Vermont
Deb�rah Dwork

“Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz have envisioned and edited a remarkable book. Jews in Nazi Berlin, 1933–1945 explores Jewish life in that city during that era—while at the same time depicting patterns that held elsewhere. The editors’ deft touch reflects their keen historical imagination and utterly human approach. Focusing on individuals and families, the essays tell a multi-faceted story of both ruin and resourcefulness. Richly illustrated and ably translated, Jews in Nazi Berlin is a treasure: the book about Jewish life at the very heart of the Nazi kingdom to read and to assign to classes.”
Marion Kaplan
“Berlin, home to a third of German Jewry; Berlin, where Jews constituted a large part of the cultural, medical, legal, and business communities; Berlin, where the Nazis sought very publicly to humiliate Jews and destroy their community. Berlin and its Jews stand at the center of this erudite and moving essay collection that weaves Nazi policy, social reactions, and Jewish perceptions into a highly illuminating and deeply depressing account. The authors focus on Jewish views and voices, those Jews left in Berlin after the mass emigration, those who worked for Jewish organizations, those who hid, and those who were deported. One feels the menacing cloud of deportations as one reads extraordinarily poignant individual and family stories of courage and despair, survival and death.”<Marion Kaplan, author of Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany>
Deb rah Dwork

“Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz have envisioned and edited a remarkable book. Jews in Nazi Berlin, 1933–1945 explores Jewish life in that city during that era—while at the same time depicting patterns that held elsewhere. The editors’ deft touch reflects their keen historical imagination and utterly human approach. Focusing on individuals and families, the essays tell a multi-faceted story of both ruin and resourcefulness. Richly illustrated and ably translated, Jews in Nazi Berlin is a treasure: the book about Jewish life at the very heart of the Nazi kingdom to read and to assign to classes.”
Debórah Dwork

“Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon, and Chana Schütz have envisioned and edited a remarkable book. Jews in Nazi Berlin, 1933–1945 explores Jewish life in that city during that era—while at the same time depicting patterns that held elsewhere. The editors’ deft touch reflects their keen historical imagination and utterly human approach. Focusing on individuals and families, the essays tell a multi-faceted story of both ruin and resourcefulness. Richly illustrated and ably translated, Jews in Nazi Berlin is a treasure: the book about Jewish life at the very heart of the Nazi kingdom to read and to assign to classes.”
Jerusalem Post
"The book's team of editors, historians, and researchers succeeded with a great number of photographs to restore some features of wartime Berlin and its Jewish community in a frank and direct manner, adding another important volume to our growing Holocaust library."
Jerusalem Post

"The book's team of editors, historians, and researchers succeeded with a great number of photographs to restore some features of wartime Berlin and its Jewish community in a frank and direct manner, adding another important volume to our growing Holocaust library."—Jerusalem Post

Canadian Jewish News
"A lavishly illustrated book of essays. . . . [A] fine and comprehensive volume."--Canadian Jewish News
Library Journal
Originally published in Germany in 2000 to accompany an exhibit on this subject, this collection of essays examines Jewish life in the German capital during the height of Nazi persecution (1938–45). Meyer (Inst. for the History of German Jews, Hamburg), with Hermann Simon and Chana Schutz (director and vice director, respectively, New Jewish Synogogue, Berlin) assert that while much attention has been paid to Nazi anti-Jewish policy and its implementation, the voices and experiences of the individual Jews are often lost; as such, these essays constitute an important dimension of the historiography. Each chapter details a specific aspect of the Jewish experience by focusing on either an event, such as the "June-Aktion" (June Action) of 1938, or on a specific theme, such as the role of Zionism in daily life. VERDCT Though the assertion that the voices of individual Jews is often ignored is questionable, and though the essays do not necessarily provide any revolutionary new insights into the Jewish experience under Nazism, the authors succeed in bridging the gap between the broad issues, such as the process of illegal immigration or hiding, and the experience of individuals. The volume is, therefore, extremely useful for both teachers and students.—Frederic Krome, Univ. of Cincinnati Clermont Coll.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Beate Meyer is a researcher at the Institute for the History of German Jews in Hamburg. Hermann Simon is the director of the New Synagogue Berlin–Centrum Judaicum Foundation. Chana Schütz is research associate at and vice-director of the New Synagogue Berlin–Centrum Judaicum Foundation.

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Read an Excerpt

Jews in Nazi Berlin

From Kristallnacht to Liberation

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2009 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-52157-2


Chapter One

1938: The Year of Fate HERMANN SIMON

Kurt Jakob Ball-Kaduri, who in 1944–47 had already started to collect reports from the persecuted German Jews in Palestine and who deposited his own memoirs at the Yad Vashem Archive in Jerusalem, wrote the following about the year 1938: "From the start of 1938, one had the feeling that disaster was on the horizon, that we no longer had time for lengthy planning and preparation for emigration."

If, before 1938, many Berlin Jews thought they could work around the uncomfortable circumstances, that feeling vanished at the start of 1938. Finally, it became clear to all that they would have to leave the place they called home. Yet in many cases, those affected saw little chance of emigrating. Emigration required entrance visas to another country, and these were by no means easy to obtain. The visas required financial guarantees from relatives or friends living in the countries concerned, and not every Jew in Germany had such connections. Nazi laws, moreover, made it extremely difficult to transfer money and other assets abroad. Many Jews simply did not have the necessary amount of property and were unable to raise the travel expenses—even in the rare cases in which one could pay in German currency.

Early March 1938 saw the enactment of the Nazi "Law on the Legal Status of Jewish Religious Associations," which stripped Germany's Jewish Communities of their status as religious organizations. Berlin's Community now became an association and was registered as such. "This law," Ball-Kaduri noted, "shook up most Jews terribly. Actually it was not surprising that the law was implemented.... Remarkable, rather, was the fact that the Communities had been allowed status [as an official religious community] for so many years under the Nazi regime.... Nonetheless, the loss of this status made a terrible impression. Everyone now knew that the last hour of German Jewry had sounded, that this was the beginning of the end, and that one could no longer expect a slow development but instead a rapid sequence of events." Berlin's Jews, too, were desperate, and "a deep wave of pessimism spread among them."

Harassment

Ball-Kaduri reported on raids in areas of the city where Jews often assembled, including a trap set up on the busy shopping street, the Kurfürstendamm: "If a passer-by breached certain pedestrian codes—for example by cutting diagonally across the street instead of crossing at right angles, or starting to cross at a yellow light instead of waiting for it to turn green—he would be stopped. Aryans got off with a warning, while Jews were taken to the police station and kept there overnight, verbally abused and sometimes mistreated."

This kind of bullying became more and more frequent over the course of the year, and not only on the Kurfürstendamm. There were several pedestrian "traps" in Berlin. One of them was at the junction of Berliner Allee and Lothringenstrasse in the Weissensee district—the intersection at the approach to the Jewish cemetery. The Jewish Community put up a large enamel sign warning its visitors not to jaywalk "for their own good." The sign, which has been preserved, was mounted on a stand at the cemetery's exit. When precisely it was placed there is not known, but it must have been after August 1939—when the Community was forced to append the initials "e.V." (eingetragener Verein, "registered association") to its name. As early as September 1938, the Jewish Community's board was urgently reminding people to "observe road traffic regulations." "Members of the Community have been punished with severe fines for breaching road traffic regulations," it announced in the Berliner Gemeindeblatt that month. "If the person concerned is unable to pay, there is prison instead of a fine—a punishment that can, in any case, be imposed in all cases deemed serious. We are thus publishing the road traffic regulations for pedestrians and drawing the special attention of our Community members to the fact that they should follow the regulations to the letter. In particular, it should not be overlooked that the road may only be crossed on the green light, and that it is forbidden to cross when the light is still yellow." There followed an extract from the road traffic regulations concerning the "pedestrian code."

Hans Reichmann, the syndic of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens) described similar traps set up during the months of June and July 1938:

The smear campaign stopped. The word was now that "the Jewish question is being solved by law." How many times have we heard that already! The Berlin police ordered that special Jewish license plates be put on cars to discourage Jews from driving. Detectives stopped those violating traffic regulations at main traffic points. Traps were set up in front of the Jewish hospital on Iranische Strasse and at the crossing in front of the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee to catch Jewish pedestrians jaywalking. They were fined by the police—indeed, given the highest 150 Reichsmark penalty, while Aryan offenders had to pay one Reichsmark. We searched until 8 p.m. for an employee of the Philo publishing house who had left his apartment [for work] at 3 p.m. but had not arrived by 3.15 p.m. We sought in vain for him at hospitals, at the missing persons center, at the police stations. The notorious police station on Grolmanstrasse lied to us, saying that he wasn't there. He turned up that evening. He had been caught failing to observe a traffic light, and for this Grolmanstrasse made him sit there for five hours.... Then came prosecution. This, too, was a contribution to the legal resolution of the Jewish question.

As Ball-Kaduri relates, all aspects of Jewish life in the city were particularly tense in 1938. "Cultural life in the Jewish Cultural Union [Kulturbund], in orchestral organizations, and so forth, continued. But in a forced way. One constantly had to reckon with arrests." Reichmann recalls:

Throughout the whole summer there were raids on Jewish cafes and restaurants. ... The notorious police chief Schneider would suddenly appear and seal off these establishments with a contingent of police cars, police constables, and criminal police officers. He would then make harmless visitors show their identity papers, knock the cigarettes out of the mouths of elderly people, put handcuffs on anyone who protested, and then race off to [the police station at] Alexanderplatz with his booty of thirty, fifty, or sixty people. There the captured were held for days, even weeks—because the Jewish question is of course now being solved "legally." No Jewish establishment, not even an isolated restaurant, was safe from these lightening raids.

A range of Nazi laws and regulations passed in the course of the year made the lives of the Jews ever more difficult and contributed to considerable uncertainty about what would come next. Two striking examples were the law requiring the registration of Jewish assets (passed April 26) and the requirement that all Jewish-owned firms to be marked as Jewish (passed June 14).

Certainly, many saw the second supplementary decree on the Implementation of the Law on the Amendment of Family and First Names enacted on August 17, 1938, as particularly humiliating. The law stipulated that as of January 1, 1939, the names Sara (for women) and Israel (for men) be affixed by default to any Jew whose first name was not included on an official list of allegedly "Jewish" first names. This appended list had been issued by the Ministry of the Interior on August 18, 1938, and comprised 185 male and 91 female names. The fact that Jews had to register the name change in person with the authorities was yet another form of harassment.

Interestingly, the list contained very few Biblical names. In a May 1986 lecture given at the Jewish Museum in Eisenstadt, Austria, Marie Simon pointed out that in this compilation of names "one can see the discriminatory intention ... to brand the Jews with names that were displeasing, even repulsive." Yet "this intention was not thoroughly realized." The list reveals "a chaotic variety of forms, which not only suggests that heterogeneous sources were probably used but also that various people contributed to the lists of names, from which the index was then compiled—a selection of the strangest names." Marie Simon recalled her reaction to the regulation as a pupil at the Jewish school on Wilsnacker Strasse: "When the supplementary names ... were imposed on all Jews in 1938, this measure, although despicable, provoked laughter among us. The Jewish women had been elevated to nobility—Sara means 'princess.' The men were honored as 'fighters for God.'"

Dress Rehearsals

In the next chapter of this volume, Christian Dirks examines in detail the so-called Juni-Aktion, the Nazi roundup of "asocials" that took place in the spring and summer of 1938 and included the arrest of about 1,500 Berlin Jews. In the course of the campaign Jewish shops were vandalized and smeared with slogans. Suffice to say here that all Jews with previous offenses—and this included those who had been punished by the police for breaching road traffic regulations— were considered "asocial."

Reproduced in Dirks's article is a series of photographs acquired by the Centrum Judaicum in the 1980s depicting some of the vandalism that took place during the Juni-Aktion. My maternal grandfather, Hermann Jalowicz, a lawyer whose practice was at Prenzlauer Strasse 19a, noted the following in his unpublished diary entries for June 22 and 27, 1938: "Outside children are smearing slogans on the doors and windows of Jewish shops. Later, other Jewish signs were also painted—the nameplates of the Jacobis, Egers, and Michelsohns, for example—and mine as well. After a few days, the policeman from our station came and demanded that we clean the signs. A long discussion with the Berlin authorities. The result: the Jews cleaned up what others had defaced."

This comment by Reichmann was surely on the mark: "Since June, the Jews have had no peace. Over the summer they have lost their sense of feeling for nature. We no longer notice that the sun is shining; it no longer warms us. We have no sense of summery ease; the harmony of nature disturbs us. We are wounded, but our wounds are invisible. We are bleeding internally."

To a certain extent, the so-called Polen-Aktion orchestrated by the Nazis on October 27 and 28 served as another dress rehearsal for the pogrom that would take place on November 9, 1938, and for the later deportations as well. Some 17,000 Jews of Polish nationality all across Germany were affected. Many had been living there for decades. Others were born in Germany and had no links with Poland whatsoever. In the words of Trude Mauer, all "were put on remand pending deportation, to be transferred literally at the last minute to the country where they were still nationals but which was no home for them, and which indeed had sought to exclude them forever." It is difficult to say how many Berlin Jews were affected by this deportation. The number was probably around six thousand. The first expellees were allowed to enter Poland; the rest were detained in the border areas, above all in Zbaszyn (Bentschen), under un bearable conditions.

"Disaster was in the air," Ball-Kaduri recalls of the situation as it unfolded in the days that followed. "In early November came the news that the Jew Grünspan [Herschel Grynszpan] had shot the German diplomatic official von Rath [Ernst vom Rath] in Paris. A few days later came the news of his death ... and the corresponding commentary in the German press. We now knew that terrible things would happen in the days ahead, but no one knew what. No one could conceive of what was to take place."

The Terminology of Kristallnacht

Since 1987, I have again and again asked eyewitnesses what term they use to refer to the events that unfolded on the night of November 9–10, 1938. When did certain names take hold? No one can really remember. Some call it the "pogrom," others "the night of the burning synagogues," others Kristallnacht or "the night of broken glass." Increasingly frequent in Germany today is the linguistic hybrid Reichskristallnacht.

We still do not know when the terms Kristallnacht or Reichskristallnacht first came into use. At Berlin's Centrum Judaicum, Christian Dirks recently raised the question in an Internet discussion forum for historians, eliciting a range of responses. It was suggested, for example, that the term Reichskristallnacht was a joke invented by the famous comedian Werner Finck similar to an epithet then circulating in reference to a popular starlet—Reichswasserleiche (Water-Corpse of the Reich)—who had twice "drowned" on the Nazi screen. But this theory has little credibility. Nor was the term Kristallnacht first used, as Michael Cullen suggests, by the Nazi economics minister Walther Funk in a notorious meeting held on November 12 at the Reich Ministry of Aviation.

As Erika Ising wrote in 1989, "the reconstruction of the origin and occurrence of Kristallnacht [and] Reichskristallnacht is, as before, difficult. The written sources prove Kristallnacht to be the original term." The author continues that this evidence has, "however, only been available since around 1950."

In fact, as early as November 1945 the newspaper Berliner Zeitung used the term "Kristallnacht" in scare quotes. On November 8, 1945, another Berlin paper, the Tagesspiegel, reminded its readers that the days of the pogrom and "the subsequent days were commonly known as "Kristallwoche." That Kristallnacht was already used in November 1945 suggests at least that the term was in use during the Nazi period. Up to now, there has been no firm evidence that the term was created by the Berlin vernacular of the time, and it is uncertain whether such evidence will ever come to light.

In a 1978 letter to the editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a Berlin reader who had worked near the New Synagogue in Mitte referred to the events of November 9–10 as "Kristallnacht, which we in Berlin called the Tag der Deutschen Scherbe"—the Day of the German Shard. This unique designation is especially interesting for its apparent irony.

The November Pogrom

What is certain is that the night from November 9 to 10 utterly changed the lives of Berlin's Jews. At first it was only the synagogues, shops, and property that fell prey to an orgy of burning, looting, and destruction! Soon it would be people themselves. It must have been dreadful for the Jews to see their synagogues burn. Josef Goebbels personally gave the order to destroy the Fasanenstrasse synagogue in the western part of Berlin, as he notes in his diary. Many eyewitnesses can still picture this burning synagogue, which smoldered for days. Over sixty years later, Ernst Günter Fontheim, a schoolboy at the time, recalled:

The place of worship was one of the most beautiful synagogues that I had ever seen, both from the outside and the inside.... On the morning of November 10, I went to school as usual. My neighborhood, Westend, had no Jewish shops. Nor did I pass any synagogues on my way to school. So I had no idea that a pogrom was underway. It was only when I arrived at school that I heard terrible accounts from my classmates, most of whom lived in Jewish neighborhoods—horror stories of smashed shop windows, plundered Jewish shops, burning synagogues and prayer rooms, and so forth. When the bell rang at 8 a.m., not a single teacher appeared, neither in our class nor in the classroom across the hall. That was unheard of. We just sat, dejected, in our classroom waiting.

Later ... the door to the teachers' room opened, and they all came into the classrooms with worried faces. Our teacher, Dr. Wollheim, entered our classroom, closed the door behind him, and said that the safety of the school could no longer be guaranteed and that the school would therefore be closed, effective immediately. We were all to go home. He gave us the following instructions: not to loiter anywhere; to go straight home so that our parents would know that we were safe; also not to go in large groups, which could attract the attention of Nazi gangs, but instead in groups of two or, at most, three.... (Continues...)



Excerpted from Jews in Nazi Berlin Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Hermann Simon
Editors’ Preface

PART ONE: 1938

1 1938: The Year of Fate
Hermann Simon
2 The Juni-Aktion (June Operation) in Berlin
Christian Dirks

PART TWO: Emigration
3 The Flight and Expulsion of German Jews
Michael Schäbitz

PART THREE: Aryanization
4 “Aryanized” and Financially Ruined: The Garbáty Family
Beate Meyer

PART FOUR: The Yellow Star
5 Berlin Jews: Deprived of Rights, Impoverished, and Branded
Albert Meirer
6 The Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt, 1938–43
Clemens Maier

PART FIVE: Zionists
7 אף על פי כן (In Spite of Everything):   Zionists in Berlin
Chana Schütz

PART SIX: Forced Labor
8 Forced Labor
Diana Schulle
9 The Rosenstrasse Protest
Diana Schulle

PART SEVEN: Deportation
10 The Deportations
Beate Meyer
11 Every Person Has a Name
Rita Meyhöfer
12 The Opera Singer Therese Rothauser
Alexandra von Pfuhlstein
13 Sad Experiences in the Hell of Nazi Germany: The Scheurenberg Family
Christian Dirks
14 Ruth Schwersenz’s Poesiealbum
Karin Wieckhorst

PART EIGHT: Betrayal
15 Snatchers: The Berlin Gestapo’s Jewish Informants
Christian Dirks

PART NINE: Survival
16 How the Frankenstein Family Survived Underground, 1943–45
Barbara Schieb
17. Banished from the Fatherland: How Hans Rosenthal Survived the Nazi Regime
Michael Schäbitz

PART TEN: Jewish Organizations
18 The Fine Line between Responsible Action and Collaboration: The Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland and the Jewish Community in Berlin, 1938–45
Beate Meyer
19 Oranienburger Strasse 28–31
Diana Schulle

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Glossary
Contributors Name Index

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