Friday, July 15, 2011

The Berlin Anti-Jewish Riots of 1935 (1st of 3)

The next three posts will present some of my research on the 1935 anti-Jewish riots in Berlin. These events represent only one of the countless episodes in the unspeakable history of the Nazi regime. I say "unspeakable." And yet we must speak. Otherwise we fail to chronicle what fascist politics can do. If silent, we also run the risk of cooperating with those who, to this day and with increasing sophistication, deny the monumental atrocity of the Holocaust and downplay its horror.

I plan to eventually extend my study of this specific topic. And I want to improve the piece that follows here. So I welcome your comments, and am especially interested in hearing from those who are familiar with Holocaust studies. I thank you in advance for any feedback.

Abstract of the Entire Piece: My paper provides an overview of the atmosphere and activities of the anti-Jewish riots in Berlin in the summer of 1935. These incidents represent the pinnacle of the second major wave of disturbances following the Nazi takeover in early 1933. They were also significant because these events did not take place in a village in a remote part of Germany. Instead, they were perpetrated in the capital city, mostly along the Kurfuerstendamm, an elegant boulevard of Berlin. A major question—one that is difficult if not impossible to answer—is the degree to which Hitler and the Nazi high command were responsible for the Berlin riots. Had the regime simply set the tone? Or did they permit, or even commission, these atrocities? If the riots were permitted or even ordered, why did the leadership of the Third Reich disregard the possibility of losing the 1936 Olympic Games? Why would they come so close to an economic boycott? At any rate, what does seem certain is that in early-to-mid 1935, the regime decided to use the anti-Jewish disturbances throughout Germany, and especially the riots in Berlin, as a pretext for the promulgation of the notorious Nuremberg Laws. In fact, before he commended this legislation to the Reichstag, Hitler specifically mentioned the riots in Berlin as an example of why the races had to be separated. In that sense, then, we should understand the Berlin riots as a milestone in the road from persecution to extermination.

Conventions: I place short quotations within quotation marks. Block quotes appear as paragraphs in italics. In addition to the endnotes, where appropriate and when possible I provide links to pertinent Internet sources.

Sometime after 8 o’clock on the evening of Monday, July 15, 1935, anti-Semitic terror broke out along the Kurfuerstendamm, a well-known thoroughfare in Berlin. It was an unlikely scene for an outbreak of terrible violence. Known to many as Berlin’s "Great White Way,” the Kurfuerstendamm was brightly-lit and one of the most-fashionable places in the city’s West End. The area was also home to many of Berlin’s Jews who at that time still numbered as many as 150,000. [1]

According to that morning’s issue of the Voelkischer Beobachter, the official newspaper of the Nazi Party, a large number of Jews had booed at a recent showing of “Petterson and Bendel,” a Swedish anti-Semitic film. The newspaper account concluded with the words, “such insolence is not to be endured.” That afternoon’s edition of Der Angriff, founded by the notorious Joseph Goebbels, included a fiery editorial on the alleged Jewish response to the film. Not surprisingly, the riots that night began in front of the theater where the movie was showing. As they exited, those who appeared to be Jewish were seized, beaten, and chased. Victims were seen running down the street with blood streaming down their faces. Several area businesses owned by Jews were completely wrecked. Within hours, the Reich’s news bureau issued a statement: an attempt by Jews to disturb a presentation in a photoplay house on Kurfuerstendamm had resulted in spontaneous protests from “the public.”

The report went on to mention “minor accidents” and that “a window was broken” before police arrived and prevented further clashes. But according to a front-page story that appeared in the next day’s New York Times, the official statement had misreported the source, the extent, and the true nature of the events. In fact, an all-out riot, “which gave every evidence of careful planning,” was undertaken “by well-organized groups of young men who evidently had specific instructions.” Although these “rowdies,” around 200 in number, were dressed in civilian shirts, many of them were also wearing “Storm Troop boots and trousers.” At one point, “three men in Storm Troop uniform motored up and down the avenue giving orders to the rioters.” The growing crowds reduced the boulevard to a narrow lane, slowing traffic.

Every car that appeared to be driven by a Jew was greeted with shouts of ‘Out, Jew! Get out, Jew! Destruction to the Jews!’ Windshields were freely smashed.” The truckloads of police who eventually arrived seemed reluctant to intervene, unwilling to do much to restore order. To top it off, agents selling Julius Streicher’s notorious anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stuermer went from one café to the next wearing “placards that reached from their shoulders to their feet bearing the customary scurrilous caricatures." [2]

The Wednesday edition of the Times contained a story from the Associated Press that was almost entirely a first-person account provided by Varian Fry, the newly appointed editor of an American journal called The Living Age. Fry, a young, Harvard-educated journalist, had been in Germany on study tour for about a month. His account corroborated several details from the earlier story, including the time that the riots broke out on Monday night as well as how the crowd lined up on both sides of the street “forcing each car which came by to run the gauntlet.” He must have been jarred by the sheer ugliness of what he witnessed:

I saw one man brutally kicked and spat upon as he lay on the sidewalk, a woman bleeding, a man whose head was covered with blood, hysterical women crying, men losing their temper at the police or the Storm Troopers and being kicked or dragged off, women begging their men to keep out of the fight and crying and pleading.

Fry also remarked on the variety that he noticed among the perpetrators and enthusiastic onlookers:

Old men and young men, boys, Storm Troops, police, young girls of the domestic servant type, well-bred women, some even in the forties and over—all seemed to be having a good time. One youth told him, This is a holiday for us.

Yet another AP article that appeared in the Times told the story of a U.S. Navy midshipman, E. W. Wood Jr., who got into a fistfight with a man who had brutalized two women along the Kurfuerstendamm Monday night. [4]

The events of Tuesday, July 16, made it apparent that the Nazi regime was alarmed by what the Times called “the foreign and notably the British reaction” to what had happened the previous night. Reportedly, on Tuesday morning the commander of the Berlin Storm Troopers ordered members of the SA to avoid all questionable public demonstrations. For an indefinite period of time Troopers were to regularly wear their uniforms, except when at work in an office or factory. These precautions, it was said, would “deprive opponents of any opportunity to vilify or slander the party.” Also that morning, an official communiqué was released saying that “the beatings and destruction of property” the night before “were the work of ‘agents provocateurs’.” The story in the Times registered a strong doubt: “It should be noted that on previous occasions when similarly embarrassing events occurred, it has been, officially speaking on the morning after, the work of agents provocateurs.”

The local press in Germany did what it could to blame the victims. Tuesday’s edition of the Zwoelf Uhr Blatt remarked that the Jews considered themselves “again at home” and had assumed “the right to reject by whistling and whispering mocking remarks in a German photoplay house a film that had been declared ‘valuable for the interests of the State’.” It was the Jews “through their provoking behavior” who were responsible for “spontaneous demonstrations by German citizens.” Likewise, the Nachtausgabe said,

Certain Jewish groups began to regard themselves again as the masters of the situation. When ill feeling expressed itself yesterday on the Kurfuerstendamm, then that was simply evidence of how unendurable Jewish provocations had become. The responsibility lies with those who will not realize that the German people has no desire to return to Jewish rule.

Tuesday afternoon witnessed several aftershocks from the previous night’s earthquake. Customers at some of the ice cream parlors along the Kurfuerstendamm were harassed, and “a dozen young anti-Semites” chased one young man up the street yelling, “Traitor! Down with him!” That evening, supporters of Julius Streicher again came out in full force, wearing armbands that advertised Der Stuermer. Up and down the boulevard on windows and posts they placed stickers that bore the ominous slogan of the paper: “The Jew is the cause of all our troubles.” On certain shops they placed stickers that read, “I am a Jew. Aryans enter my establishment at their own risk.” [5] It was later reported that on Tuesday night, Adolf Hitler himself “patrolled the Kurfuerstendamm,” really or ostensibly, “to see that there was no new outbreak of anti-Semitic rioting.”

The Fuhrer twice rode up and down the fashionable thoroughfare in an automobile. He was dressed in a white raincoat and white traveling cap, and was accompanied by adjutants and Secret Service men. He made the personal survey, it was said, to assure himself that firm steps were being taken to prevent a repetition of the disturbances. [6]

The same piece also reported that the Nazi regime was pushing its sterilization program “despite Catholic protests,” and that the state-controlled press in Germany was devoting “entire columns to violent attacks on foreign reports of anti-Semitic disorders.” It went on to tell how the National Sozialistische Partie Korrespondenz, the Nazi party’s syndicate service, was now demanding that Jews, “on pain of death if necessary,” were thereby forbidden to rent an apartment to “Aryans.” Furthermore, no Jew was to engage Aryan domestic help, attend an Aryan physician, or accept an Aryan as a client.

Nonetheless, the article included the hopeful note that “a recurrence of Monday’s riots seemed unlikely.” [7] At the same time, it was noticed that in some towns and villages in Germany, the old signs reading “Jews are not wanted here,” had been replaced by new ones that said, “Jews enter at their own risk.” [8] Meanwhile, an official Nazi party bulletin insinuated that the press and the shapers of popular culture outside of Germany were guilty of communicating misinformation about life in the Third Reich. The bulletin asked why more attention had not been given to the plea issued by Reichsfuehrer Hitler in a recent foreign policy speech in which he had said:

The German Government is of the opinion that all attempts to achieve an effective lessening of the tension between individual States by means of international agreements or agreements between several States are doomed to failure unless suitable measures are taken to prevent the poisoning of public opinion in the nations on the part of irresponsible individuals in speech, in writing, in films and in theatre. [9]

By Thursday night of the same week, anti-Jewish rioting had broken out again in Berlin. Judging from the reports, though, these events were not nearly as severe as those of Monday night. [10] Nevertheless, the Times published many more stories over the next few days and weeks that indicated a relentless anti-Semitic drive in Germany. [11] They reveal something that Saul Friedlander has pointed out: though better-known than many of the other atrocities of 1935, the Berlin riots were only part of a much larger set of incidents. Most notably, as early as March of that year, Germany’s Ministry of the Interior announced that the new Wehrmacht would exclude Jews and that anti-Jewish legislation was in the offing. By the end of April, the city of Munich had witnessed several weeks of well-organized disturbances:

Jewish stores were sprayed nightly with acid or smeared with such inscriptions as JEW, STINKING JEW, OUT WITH THE JEWS, and so on. According to the report, the perpetrators knew the police patrol schedule exactly, and could therefore act with complete freedom. In May the smashing of window panes of Jewish shops began. The police report indicates involvement by Hitler Youth groups in one of these early incidents. By mid-May the perpetrators were not only attacking Jewish stores in broad daylight but also assaulting their owners, their customers, and sometimes even their Aryan employees. [12]

By Saturday, May 25 the attacks in Munich “had spread to every identifiable Jewish business in the city.” [13] Smaller cities and towns were also the scenes of attacks and locally-initiated measures against Jews. [14]

Yet another related article, published in the Times dated July 26, 1935, bolsters the idea that the wave of anti-Jewish incidents of that year were both planned and purposeful. By then, the aforementioned Virgil Fry had returned from Germany. Now he had a new twist to the story of the recent Berlin riots. While still in Berlin, he had spoken with Dr. Ernst Franz Sedgwick Hanfstaengl, press advisor to Reichsfuehrer Hitler. In their interview, Hanfstaengl admitted to Fry that it wasn’t Jewish patrons who had hissed during the showing of the Swedish film “Petterson and Bendel.” A different group was responsible for the instigation. As Fry reported:

Dr. Hanfstaengle told me many things and asked me not to mention some of them, but he did not give me this information in confidence, and I see no reason why I should not tell you. . . . The original hissing took place on Friday, three days before the Monday rioting, which I witnessed. Dr. Hanfstaengle said he had reliable information that those who did the hissing were Storm Troopers. [15]

Not only that, on Tuesday, July 16, the day after the outbreak of the anti-Jewish riots along the Kurfuerstendamm, Fry had taken a walk down the boulevard to see some of the aftermath. Allowing himself to be seen as a foreigner who was nonetheless sympathetic to the events of the previous night, he asked two Berlin policemen if they thought that the rioting had been sponsored by the Nazi party. “The policemen,” said Fry, “replied in the affirmative.” [16]

[1] The population number comes from “Berlin,” an unsigned article in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s online encyclopedia. The piece reports that the census of June 16, 1933 indicated that 160,000 Jews lived in Berlin. Some German Jews moved into the city during the pre-War years of the Nazi regime. Yet, by 1939, the total Jewish population of Berlin had dropped to 80,000.

[2] “Jews are beaten by Berlin rioters; cafes are raided,” New York Times, July 16, 1935. Evidently, something of this had already broken out as early as the previous Saturday, July 13. In his dairy on that date, Jochen Klepper, a Protestant author who had married a Jewish widow, wrote: “Anti-Semitic excesses on the Kurfuerstendamm. . . . The cleansing of Berlin of Jews threateningly announced.” Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 138 who cites Klepper, Unter dem Schatten deiner Fluegel: Aus den Tagebuechern der Jahre 1932-1942, (Stuttgart, 1983), 269.

[3] “Editor describes rioting in Berlin,” New York Times, July 17, 1935. Varian Fry’s experiences in Berlin revealed to him the true Nazi spirit. In June 1940, he became one of the founders of the independent Emergency Rescue Committee. In August of that year, living in Marseilles, he created a clandestine network whose goal it was to smuggle refugees out of Nazi-occupied France. By August 1941, when Fry was expelled from the country, he and his associates had saved approximately 2,000 people from certain death. In 1976, nearly a decade after his demise, the United States awarded him the Eisenhower Liberation Medal. In 1993, he was honored by an exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. And in a 1996 ceremony attended by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem declared him “Righteous Among the Nations.” Justus Rosenberg, “Fry, Varian,” in American National Biography, Supplement 2, ed. Mark C. Carnes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 183-85.

[4] “Midshipman tells of fight in Berlin,” New York Times, July 17, 1935.

[5] “Reaction to riots alarm Germans; baiting continues” New York Times, July 17, 1935.

[6] “Nazis tighten law on sterilization; answer Catholics,” New York Times, July 18, 1935.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Signs of the new drive in Munich,” New York Times, July 18, 1935. See also an earlier piece, “Ban on Jews increased,” July 12, 1935, which reports how a German health resort had recently replaced signs that read, “Jews are not wanted” with different signs reading, “Jews are forbidden to enter the gardens.”

[9] “Boycott is pushed,” New York Times, July 19, 1935.

[10] “Anti-Jewish riots renewed in Berlin,” New York Times, July 19, 1935.

[11] See, for example, “Anti-Semite police chief named to ‘purge’ Berlin of Jews and Communists,” New York Times, July 20, 1935; “Nazi reich in throes of new ‘purification,” July 21; “New Nazi drives on ‘reactionaries’ spread to nation,” July 23; “Anti-Semites firm in the saddle as persecution spreads in reich,” July 24.

[12] Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I, 137.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 138-39.

[15] “Editor holds riots inspired by Nazis,” New York Times, July 26, 1935.

[16] Ibid.

1 comment:

philip lewis said...

Hi Frank,
London 2011 - PSC close Ahava.
Berlin 1935 - Nazi police close Jewish shops and they too were preparing for the Olympics.
What a horrible parallel.
Philip Lewis