Document 8 A Soviet offcial notes a German demand to deport Jews from Germany to the USSR, February 1940

This short memorandum from 9 February 1940, discovered in a long-closed Soviet archive after the breakup of the USSR in 1991, was addressed to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov by Yevgeny Chekmeniev, a foreign ministry official negotiating with the German government over population transfers from Poland, whose territory Germany and the USSR had together conquered and divided in September 1939. It notes an apparent disagreement between the sides over the fate of Poland’s Jews: Germany expected to deport large numbers of them to western Ukraine (a former part of Poland taken over by the Soviets) and to Birobidzhan (the so-called Jewish Autonomous Region in south-eastern Siberia proclaimed by the Soviet government in 1928). The two letters mentioned in the document have not yet been found.

Two letters from the [German] bureaus in Berlin and Vienna dealing with population transfers have been received by the Population Transfer Administration of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The letters concern the question of how to organize the transfer of the Jewish population from Germany to the USSR -specifically to Birobidzhan and to Western Ukraine. According to the agreement between the governments of the USSR and Germany regarding population evacuations, only Ukrainians, Belorusians, Ruthenians, and Russians are to be evacuated to the territory of the USSR. Our view is that these proposals from the [German] transfer bureaus cannot be accepted.

(Kostyrchenko, 2003:189)

Document 9 A German Jewish editor assesses the impact of the Nuremberg Laws

Der Morgen was a bimonthly Jewish intellectual journal. Founded in 1925 by the philosopher Julius Goldstein, it featured articles by leading Jewish scholars, thinkers, and public figures representing a range of religious and political attitudes. Following Goldstein’s death in 1929, editorship passed to Hans Bach, who held a position in the German interior ministry until he was dismissed following the Nazi takeover. Bach wrote the following commentary as a preface to the first issue of Der Morgen to appear following promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935. The journal continued to appear regularly until 1938.

The new laws promulgated at the Nuremberg party conference set the entire life of the Jews living in Germany not only before new tasks but also on a new plane altogether. If [in promulgating these laws] the German government was acting according to the intention of the Fiihrer and Chancellor ‘ ... to create a plane ... upon which the German people could find a tolerable relationship with the Jewish people’, these laws govern mainly the areas in which the German people does not wish to maintain relations. The fundamental positive constitutional idea [embodied in the laws] is to be found not in the legislation itself but in a commentary [on them] by the editor of the German News Agency. [It is] defined by the concept ‘minority’ ...

[T]he national majority, which holds state power, cannot permanently remain unconcerned with whether the minority is respected or defamed from without or whether it is unified or splintered from within. In an authoritarian state the minority is also not able to allow the will of the individual free play. Thus the Reichsvertretung ... has properly placed the demand for state recognition of an autonomous Jewish leadership ... at the top of a grand programme for Jewish self-determination, along with the hope for the possibility of [continued] moral and economic existence.

(Der Morgen 11: 8, November 1935: 329-30)

Document 10 A German Jewish woman describes her experience in the early Nazi years

The author of the following memoir, Marta Appel, was the wife of Rabbi Ernst Appel from Dortmund, an industrial town in north-western Germany, whose 1933 population of 500,000 included some 4,000 Jews. The two left Germany in 1937. She wrote her memoir in 1940, after arriving in the United States as a refugee.

Our gentile friends and neighbors, even people whom we had scarcely known before, came to assure us of their friendship and to tell us that these horrors could not last very long. But after some months of a regime of terror, fidelity and friendship had lost their meaning and fear and treachery had replaced them. For the sake of our gentile friends, we turned our heads so as not to greet them in the streets, for we did not want to bring upon them the danger of imprisonment for being considered a friend of Jews.

With each day of the Nazi regime, the abyss between us and our fellow citizens grew larger. Friends whom we had loved for years did not know us anymore ... [W]e were hunted like deer. Through the prominent position of my husband [a rabbi] we were in constant danger. Often we were warned to stay away from home. We were no longer safe, wherever we went.

How much our life changed in those days! Often it seemed to me I could not bear it any longer, but thinking of my children, I knew we had to be strong to make it easier for them. From then on I hated to go out, since on every corner I saw signs that the Jews were the misfortune of the people ... Never did anything unpleasant happen to me on the street, but I was expecting it at every moment, and it was always bothering me ...

Almost every lesson began to be a torture for Jewish children. There was not one subject anymore which was not used to bring up the Jewish question. And in the presence of Jewish children the teachers denounced all the Jews, without exception, as scoundrels and as the most destructive force in every country where they were living ...

The only hope we had was that this terror would not last very long. The day could not be far off when this nightmare would cease to hound the German people. How could anybody be happy in a land where ‘freedom’

Documents 135 was an extinct word, where nobody knew that the next day he would not be taken to jail, possibly tortured to death ...

[In 1935 a Jewish doctor fled the country, leaving all that he owned behind.] A few days after the doctor had left with his family, we were invited to a friend’s house. Of course the main subject of the evening was the doctor’s flight. The discussion became heated. ‘He was wrong’, most of the men were arguing. ‘It indicates a lack of courage to leave the country just now when we should stay together, firm against all hatred’. ‘It takes more courage to leave’, the ladies protested vigorously. ‘What good is it to stay and to wait for the slowly coming ruin? Is it not far better to go and to build up a new existence somewhere else in the world, before our strength is crippled by the everlasting strain on our nerves, on our souls? Is not the children’s future more important than a fruitless holding out against Nazi cruelties and prejudices?’ ...

On our way home I still argued with my husband. He, like all the other men, could not imagine how it was possible to leave our beloved homeland, to leave all the duties which constitute a man's life. ‘Could you really leave all this behind you to enter nothingness?’ ... ‘I could’, I said again, ‘since I would go into a new life’. And I really meant it.

(Richarz, 1991: 352-354, 356)

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >