Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Part 2 - The Search for Refuge (1937-1939)

"Everyone understood what they ought to be emigrating, but it was only when the wtershed of Kristallnacht occurred in November 1938 that my parents, in common with 90% of other German Jews, thought it's no good staying, they're going to kill us. Survival in the life-threatening sense was the only thing that mattered."


After 1938, the campaign to create a Judenrein - Jewish-cleansed - economy started in earnest; further laws and decrees published between 1937-1939 led to an ever-increasing spiral of of anti-Semitic violence, suffering and desperation among all sections of the Jewish community, destroying the very foundation of Jewish life in Germany. As a result of the strident anti-Semitic rhetoric spilling over the German borders, Jews in Germany's borderlands were growing increasingly uneasy. The Nazi takeover (Anschluss) of Austria on 13 March 1938 intensified these fears. Whereas the process of discrimination and violence against the German Jews had been relatively gradual, the persecution of the Austrian Jews was immediate and devastating; overnight, they were deprived of civil rights and subjected to extreme violence and humiliation, especially in Vienna.

In the autumn of 1938, thousands of Polish Jews were forcibly expelled from Germany to the border ares between Germany and Poland. On 28 October of that year, for instance, some 17,000 German-Jewish citizens of Polish origin were stripped of their citizenship and dumped in no-man's land on the border near the town of Zbaszyn. This outrage provoked Herschel Grynspan, the son of one of the displaced, to assassinate Ernst vom Rath, the first secretary of the German embassy in Paris, which resulted in wave of Nazi anti-Semitic attacks throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. This is known as Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass - when more than 7,500 Jewish shops were wrecked and many synagogues and precious religious artefacts desecrated or destroyed.

Following Kristallnacht 30,000 German Jews rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps. As the camp population changed from 'undesirables' and 'criminals' to Jews, living conditions deteriorated to sub-human levels. Kristallnacht had enormous international repercussions and helped swing public opinion against the policy of appeasement. The violation of the Munich Agreement in March 1939 spurred Britain and France to react with their guarantees to Poland, Hitler's next likely target.

As war approached, Jews desperately sought refuge from what was now a very obvious threat. Jewish parents were particularly anxious to find safe refuge for their children. This is when, in late 1938 after Kristallnacht, Britain greed to take 10,000 Jewish children. In the event just over 9,000 arrived under the Kindertransport plan, the last group coming on the eve of war.

Despite the stringent immigration policies of potential host nations, emigration from the Grossdeutsches Reich (greater Germany) increased dramatically throughout the autumn and winter of 1938/39. Adolf Eichmann's Central Office for Jewish Emigration, based at first in Vienna and later in Berlin, began to drop its previous policy of persuasion for a new policy of intimidation, with Jews being subjected to humiliations, beatings, confinement in concentration camps and even death. These tough methods, along with the anti-Jewish laws, were extended to Czechoslovakia after the occupation of March 1939. By September 1939 about half of Germany's 500,000 Jews had left the country, along with 125,000 from Austria and 20,000 from the newly occupied Czech lands. Many thousands more were trapped.

No comments: