- The Greater German Reich and the Jews: Nazi Persecution in the Annexed Territories 1935−1945 ed. by Wolf Gruner and Jörg Osterloh
Published originally in German, this anthology focuses on the persecution of the Jews in the twelve regions annexed to Hitler’s Greater German Reich between 1935 and 1941. Based on meticulous archival research and a mastery of the scholarly literature, including a few footnoted references to English-language publications, the essays demonstrate that antisemitic measures varied from place to place, reflecting local contexts and grassroots initiative.
Arranged chronologically, the contributions examine the circumstances of the Jews before annexation, their plight immediately following, and their subsequent fate. The volume begins with the incorporation of the Saar in 1935. Although [End Page 534] administered by the League of Nations after World War I, the region’s inhabitants had retained German citizenship. There was little tension between Christians and Jews until Hitler’s ascent. After incorporation, the League of Nations afforded special protection to the region’s 4,600 Jews, protection Hitler countenanced until February 29, 1936. This reprieve enabled more than half of the Jewish populace to emigrate with their assets. Thereafter, remaining “non-Aryans” faced the same persecution as in the Old Reich. Prodded by Gauleiter Josef Bürckel, all but 145 Jews left the Saarland by 1940; nearly all 145 of them perished in the Holocaust.
Contrary to the claims of the editors, Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Austria has been exhaustively researched. Albert Lichtblau therefore focuses on the experience of the Jewish community prior to the Anschluss, in particular the largely unexplored topics of its failure to take the Nazi threat seriously and the dreadful shock of the terror that the Viennese population visited on them in 1938. Lichtblau recapitulates the humiliation, expulsion, and eventual murder of 65,000 Austrian Jews, tracing the confiscation of the assets of those 126,483 who managed to escape abroad. He demonstrates that Austria played a pioneering role: the experience of the Jews in the Sudetenland was similar, but although the antisemitic measures there were based on the Austrian model, they were actually imposed from Berlin.
Wolf Gruner’s study of Bohemia and Moravia stands out as most disturbing. His extensive research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reveals that Hitler’s order that “the Czechs [should] regulate the Jewish Question themselves” (p. 108) meant that in 1939 and 1940 the semi-independent Czech government under Rudolf Beran took the initiative in stripping Jews of positions in business, administration, and the professions, and in segregating public spaces. These measures did not, of course, take place in a vacuum: Reich Protector Konstantin von Neurath extended the Nuremberg laws to Bohemia and Moravia, the Security Police established a “Central Office for Jewish Emigration,” and, between October 1941 and the end of 1942, Adolf Eichmann orchestrated the deportation of Prague’s Jews, including those in interfaith marriages, to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. All in all, something like 80,000 of the 99,000 Jews (excluding refugees from elsewhere) present when Germany established the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia perished in the Holocaust. Gruner concludes that although Czech officials played a role, they were not involved in the deportations. On the other hand, the population at large did not seem to disapprove.
An entirely different situation prevailed in Memel, the last territory incorporated in peacetime. Here the small Jewish population lived largely unmolested until the German takeover on March 22, 1939. On that day Gauleiter Erich Koch ordered the Jews to leave the city within a fortnight. Over 9,000 fled to Lithuania, where they found temporary security (after being held outdoors in the border zone for some time) until Stalin’s seizure of the Baltic the following year. Forbidden to emigrate by the Soviets, they fell easy prey to the SS upon German conquest. [End Page 535]
The essays on Danzig-West Prussia and the Wartheland cover more familiar ground. It is hardly news...