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Echoes of the Past
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Germany Special Report

Germany: The Lessons Not Learned, by Linda Simmons Hight

Long before gas was turned on in a concentration camp, a climate of hatred against Jews had been methodically and relentlessly established.

ome in Germany today object to hearing comparisons drawn between discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities in the 1990s and that which occurred in the 1930s. After all, they point out, there are no ghettos, concentration camps or gas chambers. So, to hear them tell it, there is nothing happening.

     But those pointing out the harsh and real parallels have never sought to extend them to the Holocaust itself. This is a smokescreen thrown up to obscure the actual point: that the Holocaust was only possible because of the long and vitriolic propaganda campaign of deadly disinformation that led up to it. The “final solution” was the culmination of a campaign so thorough in its viciousness that it became possible to round up millions of citizens from the midst of civilized nations and murder them. It was an operation that turned the Jews into “socially dead beings” (see Book Review). And it evolved over time. Focusing on this part of the Nazi era places Germany 1997 in context.

     In 1920, just one year after formation of the Weimar Republic, Hitler first publicly articulated his anti-Semitic position. From that time forward, the propaganda machine was in full roar on its mission to “solve” the “Jewish problem.” The means were to manipulate public opinion so utterly that Jews would be universally viewed as no more than expendable animals.

     Hitler’s mouthpiece Julius Streicher, publisher of the vicious anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, led the sustained media assault. For a decade he pumped out denigrating and demonizing images of Jews, juxtaposed with idealized images of “Aryan” Germans.

      The campaign was successful: Jews became despised and demonized non-persons, depicted time and time again as monsters, animals, insects, demons, as the source of all evil and all of Germany’s ills, until eventually it became acceptable to slaughter them.

     Steps to cause the “social death” of Jews were pursued relentlessly and on a calculated schedule of increasing severity. In 1933, within weeks of Hitler’s ascension to the office of German Chancellor, the barrage opened full bore. A slate of laws was passed over a period of several years to squeeze the Jews out of every aspect of German life—government, the arts, education, the economy.

     On March 26, 1933, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels launched a nationwide assault on Jewish businesses and Jewish public life. Shops were not only boycotted but broken into and openly vandalized while police and other non-Jewish Germans watched and jeered. Otherwise rational Germans saw no crime in this, for Jews had no rights and were responsible for all manner of imagined “crimes.”

     The Law for Restoration of Professional Civil Service (April 7, 1933) excluded all non-Aryans from the civil service and from teaching positions. On the same day, The Law Regarding Admission to the Legal Profession excluded all “non-Aryans” from the practice of law, and on April 22, Jewish physicians were banned from the practice of medicine.

     The campaign included destruction of literature by Jews and other “non-German” authors. In May 1933, anti-Semitic students from Berlin University stormed the school’s libraries and seized 20,000 literary works by Jews and others and burned them in the public square.

     For the next 10 days, the same scene was repeated at other universities throughout the country. By May 20, more than 500 tons of books had been destroyed.

     At this same time, signs sprang up at entrances to towns, restaurants, hotels: “Jews Not Wanted Here,” “Entry Forbidden to Jews.” In May 1933, Munich posted signs outside of town proclaiming “Jews Not Wanted.”

     The beards of Jewish men were forcibly cut off in public. Beatings of Jews became the norm.

     On September 22, 1933, the Law Regarding Establishment of a Reich Chamber of Culture began the process of officially purging Jews from the arts. Goebbels stripped works of art by Jews from German museums and placed them in exhibitions of so-called “degenerate art”—“art influenced by Jews and Negroes.”

     Playwrights, painters, composers and jazz artists were blacklisted and their works destroyed. Among this group were pre-eminent artists including painter Paul Klee; pioneer German expressionist sculptor and writer Ernst Barlach; and novelist Thomas Mann.

     In 1935, Hitler enacted the infamous Nuremberg Laws, which robbed Jews of their citizenship, civil rights and all other protections properly extended to citizens by the state.

     In 1936 came the Decree Denying Jews the Right to Vote.

     In April 1938 was the Decree Against Aiding in Concealment of Ownership of Jewish Enterprises, requiring businesses to affirm that there was no “Jewish influence” in the company.

     November 9-10, 1938, was the turning point into nationwide violence—Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), orchestrated by Goebbels and named for the ankle-deep shattered glass from the 7,500 Jewish stores and businesses that were destroyed and the 264 synagogues that were burned across Germany. More than 100 Jews were killed and 30,000 banished to concentration camps in this night of violence that sent the unmistakable message to Jews that there was no place for them in Germany.

     From that point forward, the onslaught was swift and merciless:

     March 4, 1939: The Decree Regarding Employment of Jews. (Introduction of forced labor.)

     April 30, 1939: Law Regarding Leases with Jews. (Exclusion of Jews from non-Jewish dwellings and establishment of Jewish districts—“ghettoization.”)

     September 1, 1941: Police Decree Regarding Identification Badges for Jews. (All Jews over six years of age compelled to wear yellow arm bands with the Star of David. )

     April 17, 1942: Ordinance Regarding Identification of Jewish Apartments. (Compulsory marking of Jewish apartments with the Star of David. )

     April 17, 1942: Jews banned from using public transportation.

     May 15, 1942: Jews banned from keeping pets.

     May 29, 1942: Jews banned from using non-Jewish hairdressers.

     June 19, 1942: Confiscation of electric appliances, typewriters and bicycles owned by Jews.

     October 9, 1942: Jews forbidden to buy books.

     July 1, 1943: Jews denied protection of courts and put under police jurisprudence.

     And then the final entry in this catalog of laws:

     “After 1943: No further legal material available.” Of course, laws were no longer an issue.

     Long before gas was turned on in a concentration camp, a climate of hatred against Jews had been methodically and relentlessly established. The years of this systematic dehumanizing process paved the way for Kristallnacht, confiscation of property, suppression of individual liberty, and ultimately for extermination camps. Through manipulation of popular opinion by all available avenues, the architects of National Socialism set off sparks which ultimately lit the fires of the Holocaust.

     When an atmosphere of hate has been established against any one religion, religious and civil liberty for all is endangered. It is thus a responsibility shared by all people of good will to refuse to allow Germany to travel that road again.

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