Berlin Ghet­to: Her­bert Baum and the Anti-Fas­cist Resistance

Eric Broth­ers; Elie Wiesel, fwd.
  • Review
By – February 26, 2013

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.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions