Berlin Ghetto: Herbert Baum and the Anti-Fascist Resistance

The History Press  2012


Berlin Ghetto is Eric Brothers’s first book, although he has written more than two hundred published articles and essays on different aspects of history. His riveting account of Herbert Baum and the anti-fascist resistance in Berlin is based on Nazi trial records, interviews with survivors of the Baum circle, and extensive reading in the major secondary works on the subject. Baum and his wife Marianne (nếe Cohn) were communists whose Judaism was almost non-existent as they formed a resistance group to oppose fascism in general and Nazism in particular. The Baums and their group owed their primary loyalty to the Soviet Union and were minimally concerned with the deteriorating circumstance of Germany’s Jewish community. The Baum resistance group, composed mostly of Jews who opposed the Nazis both during the Weimar Republic and the Hitler years, resisted the Nazis by circulating anti-Nazi leaflets. Led by Baum, their anti-Nazi activity culminated in 1942 with their failure to disrupt Goebbels’s anti-Soviet and anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda exhibition, “Soviet Paradise,” by setting off several explosive devices.

Ultimately betrayed by a member of the group, Herbert Baum, his wife, and members of his circle were hunted down by the Gestapo, placed on trial and many of them, including the Baums, were sentenced to death (Brothers includes a harrowing description of executions by guillotine). Those not sentenced to death were sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

There is a plaque in the Weissensee cemetery in Berlin commemorating the Herbert Baum Group; there is also a street by the cemetery named after him called Herbert-Baum-Straße. In the Berliner Lustgarten, a monument was erected in 1981 which commemorates the 1942 attack. While the East German government, which established these memorials, emphasized Baum's allegiance to Communism, other historians (as well as veterans of the groups) have noted his group’s multiple political and cultural influences, and the significance of the Baum group as an example of Jewish resistance to Nazism. In Brothers’s retelling of the resistance, it is evident that although many in the Baum group were Jews, they were alienated from Judaism, let alone their ethnicity. They fought the Nazis because they were Communists who followed the Moscow line of the moment, not because they were defending the Jewish community, although they were aware of their Jewish ancestry. This is an important work which, better than many books on the subject, illuminates the division and complexity by which German Jews responded to Nazism.

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