Jew­ish Life in Nazi Ger­many: Dilem­mas and Responses

Fran­cis R. Nicosia and David Scrase, eds.

  • Review
By – September 1, 2011

Each of the sev­en essays in this per­ti­nent vol­ume looks at a dif­fer­ent aspect of how Ger­man Jews coped with the Nazis’ state­spon­sored per­se­cu­tion. They range from moral issues of col­lab­o­ra­tion to the resource­ful­ness of indi­vid­u­als in impos­si­ble circumstances.

Fran­cis Nicosia, one of the co-edi­tors, looks at how Zion­ist agen­cies at first eclipsed the oth­er Ger­man Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions in the 1930’s because of Nazi pres­sures for emi­gra­tion, but ulti­mate­ly were hob­bled by the eco­nom­ic pri­va­tions result­ing from Nazi leg­is­la­tion against the Jews gen­er­al­ly. Avra­ham Barkai’s arti­cle address­es accu­sa­tions that a 1933 pact between the Zion­ist move­ment and the Ger­man gov­ern­ment, the Haavara (Trans­fer) Agree­ment, amount­ed to col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nazi regime. It allowed Jews who left Ger­many to reclaim their per­son­al goods as imports” if they moved to Pales­tine. Those who claimed it was col­lab­o­ra­tionist argued that a boy­cott of Ger­man goods could help top­ple the Nazi gov­ern­ment, while imple­ment­ing the trans­fer arrange­ments would help keep the Nazis in pow­er. Barkai assem­bles sta­tis­tics show­ing that notion to be far-fetched and unsupportable.

Fifty years ago the Holo­caust schol­ar Raul Hilberg accused the lead­ers of the Reichsvere­ini­gung der Juden in Deutsch­land, the com­pul­so­ry asso­ci­a­tion of Ger­man Jews, of being func­tion­al­ly col­lab­o­ra­tors with the Nazis (much as he saw the Juden­räte of East­ern Europe). Barkai, who him­self worked on a Zion­ist farm in Ger­many in 1936 – 37 in prepa­ra­tion for emi­gra­tion, firm­ly rejects that con­clu­sion. In a sep­a­rate arti­cle Beate Mey­er dif­fer­en­ti­ates between the organization’s ear­ly years, when it over­saw wel­fare ser­vices for Jews and mit­i­gat­ed depor­ta­tions, and its last years — after its lead­er­ship was deport­ed to There­sien­stadt in 1943 — when it was reduced to being an arm of the Gestapo. The Reichsvereinigung’s last func­tionary, Wal­ter Lustig, was in fact shot by the Sovi­et occu­pa­tion forces in 1945 as a Nazi collaborator.

Oth­er essays deal with issues on a more inti­mate scale. Jür­gen Matthäus tells how 700 Berlin Jews tried to use the legal sys­tem to get them­selves reclas­si­fied as part-Aryan, often by claim­ing that their bio­log­i­cal father was not their mother’s hus­band (very few suc­ceed­ed). As Jew­ish men lost their pro­fes­sions and often their self-esteem because of anti-Jew­ish laws, Mar­i­on Kaplan reveals, women stepped up to take unprece­dent­ed roles in mak­ing arrange­ments for emi­gra­tion and some­times bar­gain­ing with the Gestapo to have their hus­bands released from impris­on­ment. The Juden­häuser, or Jew hous­es,” are the sub­ject of Kon­rad Kwiet’s chron­i­cle of apart­ment seizures, seg­re­ga­tion in ghet­to-like build­ings, dispossession,and depor­ta­tion. Amaz­ing­ly, some 800 Jews, gen­er­al­ly Mis­chlinge (“half-Jews”) or Mis­chehen (those mar­ried to Aryans), were still liv­ing under Gestapo con­trol in a hos­pi­tal in Berlin at the end of the war.

Michael Bren­ner finds sig­nal instances of impor­tant Jew­ish schol­ar­ship in Ger­many in the 1930’s, includ­ing three land­mark works of his­to­ry, as well as dis­ser­ta­tions from a his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive about then-press­ing issues of Jew­ish sta­tus and auton­o­my in Ger­many. Those works tried to address ques­tions that per­sist in our own time — par­tic­u­lar­ly how assim­i­la­tion and eman­ci­pa­tion, the great hopes of the Ger­man Jews, in the end failed them. Appen­dices, bib­li­og­ra­phy, index

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