(Continued from last week)
Without a major change in the commercial politics, attacked from the right and the left, the Weimar Republic could not be saved. The defenders had no support and they were not unified amongst themselves.
It was the young people, the students, who knew everything better, and would not listen to any complaints or arguments. They believed not in a state, or courts, or laws, or humanity. They saw something bad, something vulgar, something wicked in everything, and their belief in people had been destroyed. There was no possibility that in 1933 the demise of the state, and delivery to the “National Sozialistmus,” could be avoided.
After the German defeat at Stalingrad the people started to question the leadership quality of Hitler, and a little story illustrates the mood at the time. In a railroad compartment sits an old, humiliated Jew and a wounded soldier. The soldier says he has been fighting on front since 1939, has been wounded five times and is now on his way home to look for his parents, wife and children from whom he has not heard since the last bomb attack on his hometown. He is depressed and dubious since from 1929 on he had been a member of the NSDAP fighting for a new Germany and now he stands before nothing. Hitler has not kept his promise to the German people on anything. The old Jew replies that the fortunes of his people have been just the opposite. Toward the Jewish people, the Führer has kept all his promises that he ever made. Every threat had been turned into reality.
Hindenburg had always fought against the very extreme measures of Hitler. Once he was gone the interior and justice ministries again took up the definitions of “who is a Jew.” Since the various factions could not come to an agreement, they finally settled on “anyone who has two Jewish grandparents.” Action against Jews and their property became more prevalent again in March 1935, directed specifically against “Mischehen,” meaning Jewish men who had married “Aryan” women. Judges who refused to issue divorces to such couples were put under heavy pressure. Since Hitler the year before had given very specific instruction through Rudolf Hess that any action against Jews can be done only upon his specific order, there was no doubt that this had been ordered by him personally.
The publication of the Nürnberger Laws showed again the lack of unity amongst Hitler’s top lieutenants. Göring as Reichstagspräsident made the announcement over radio giving reasons for each law. This so upset Hitler and Göbbels that the broadcast was stopped in the middle. In the same vein, a press conference that had been called by Interior Minister Frick, who was going to explain how the laws would be enforced, was also canceled for “further discussion with Hitler.” This all developed because the highest level could not agree on “who is a Jew.”
In September 1935, Hitler called together all high- and medium-level officials for an explanation and clarification. Henceforth men and women would be Jewish if they had three Jewish grandparents, “Mischlinge first grade,” if two, and “Mischlinge second grade,” if one. “Mischlinge first grade” also included anyone who at the time the laws were passed belonged to a Jewish community or was married to a Jewish partner. It was estimated that at the time about 200,000 so-called “Half-Jews” lived in Germany. As a result of these news definitions, even some members of the NSDAP found themselves caught when they found they had Jewish relatives.
Although extreme dissatisfaction and complaints had been expected, especially from the Catholic Church, the quiet with which the German people went ahead with their daily lives encouraged the government to speed up the persecution of the Jews in all directions. For example, the willingness of the lower-level officials to efficiently participate in the withdrawal of rights, robbery and murder of the Jews enabled the new laws to be accepted by the average person. The reaction of the German people to the Nürnberger Laws, namely the indifference toward the fate of the Jews, as well as toward the Christians who were hit with the new laws, strengthened Hitler in his decision to prepare the people with permanent propaganda against future radical measures. The old latent Christian anti-Semitism had been ever-present since the second half of the 19th century, and was now strengthened with the political anti-Semitism.
When in November each year the country has a National Memorial Day remembering the deaths of the two World Wars, few also include the victims of the national-socialist despotism. With the exception of the survivors, the nation still misses the realization that on that day they have the opportunity to remember the murdered Jews.
It was already only a few days after the November 1938 pogrom that Hitler announced that in case of another war, the Jews would be killed. Then when the war started, he held off on making this pronouncement again for some time since he was still hoping to come to some arrangement with England. But in his speech on January 30, 1939, he announced his decision that in the war the Jews would be treated as hostages with the most terrible consequences. He reverted to this in his speech on January 30, 1941—that a war would lead to the destruction of European Jewry, stating “the coming months and years will show that also here I have seen correctly.”
(To be continued next week)
By Norbert Strauss
Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.