- Tödliche Gratwanderung. Die Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland zwischen Hoffnung, Zwang, Selbstbehauptung und Verstrickung (1939–1945) by Beate Meyer
From specialized studies to broader syntheses, the struggle of German Jewry in the Nazi state has continued to be a major subject of scholarly analysis. Yet, noticeable gaps have remained, including the absence of comprehensive studies about the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland)—the compulsory organization for so-called “racial Jews” (1939–1943)—and its successor [End Page 223] organization for Jews in “mixed marriages,” the Rest-Reichsvereinigung (1943–1945). Though Esriel Hildesheimer’s Jüdische Selbstverwaltung unter dem NS-Regime (Tübingen, 1994) already made an important contribution, Beate Meyer has now significantly helped to broaden our understanding of the Reichsvereinigung.
Meyer’s study focuses on the Reich Association’s German-Jewish functionaries, from the Berlin-based leadership that included Paul Eppstein and Leo Baeck to the heads of the district offices and “intermediaries” (Vertrauensmänner) across the Reich such as Max Plaut and Ernst Neumark. Meyer, a senior researcher at the Hamburg Institute for the History of German Jews, examines these men’s—and, in a few cases, women’s—motivations, as well as their interactions with the Association’s membership and institutions of the Nazi state, particularly the Reich Security Main Office, the Association’s formal “supervisory authority” (15). Meyer also seeks to determine these functionaries’ strategies for confronting Nazi officials, their room for maneuver, and the nature and duration of their “successes” (243).
Using the metaphor of a “tightrope walk” (Gratwanderung), the author presents the practices of the functionaries as a balancing act between support of an increasingly sick, older remnant of German Jewry, on the one hand, and, on the other, the “moral dilemma” of a forced “cooperation” (241) that aided the Gestapo in locating, robbing, and deporting those Jews in the Association’s care. Meyer’s work consequently dismisses interpretations by scholars such as H. G. Adler [Theresienstadt 1941–1945: Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft (Tübingen, 1955)], who characterized executive committee member Paul Eppstein as weak and ready to execute any SS order. Instead, in the context of escalating anti-Jewish violence at the onset of the fall 1941 deportations, upper-level functionaries like Eppstein chose a “strategy of cooperation” (426). They hoped to secure information about deportation measures in an attempt to slow them down and alleviate widespread suffering. Most of these officials soon recognized the “genocidal content” (120) of the regime’s policies. Motivated by “concerns” (162) for fellow Jews in need of protection, and accustomed to public leadership roles, they nevertheless remained in their posts.
Especially illuminating in its assessment of the Reichsvereinigung’s work in the provinces, Meyer’s study detects three distinct “behavioral patterns” (Verhaltensweisen) on the part of regional officials: compliance with all orders, the offering of “solutions” (337) to Gestapo officials to various problems in order to achieve exemptions for local members, and, though rare, the violation of instructions. Under specific circumstances—such as situations involving infighting among Nazi agencies (e.g., in Nuremberg) or in which Jewish functionaries could establish “reliable” relations (279) with the local Gestapo (e.g., in Hamburg), theses behavioral patterns yielded some successes, including the release of arrested Jews. Still, in the end, “all delays proved futile” (188). The Reich Security Main Office did not, Meyer stresses, follow [End Page 224] traditional rules or honor agreements. By mid 1943, the Gestapo had dissolved the Reichsvereinigung and deported all of its members who were not married to a Gentile, including almost the entire national and regional leadership.
The author divides her study into four parts that highlight the Reichsvereinigung’s establishment and role in the forced emigration of German Jews, the cooperation of the Association’s Berlin leadership during the 1941–1943 deportations, the work of Reichsvereinigung leaders in the provinces, and the final struggles of the Rest-Reichsvereinigung. In contrast to earlier works by scholars like Otto D. Kulka...