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Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)

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Chapter 1. A Time of Crisis: 1929-1932

[1.10. Kahn's expectations from a possible Hitler Germany: New Jewish refugees]

[14 Dec 1930: Kahn about the Hitler Nazism - Jewish emigration from Germany has just begun]

Bernhard Kahn was, as we have seen, a man of penetrating intelligence. It is therefore not in the least surprising that he should have commented on the rise of the Nazi movement with more than ordinary perspicacity. In a remarkable speech at the home of James N. Rosenberg on December 14, 1930, he analyzed the Nazi electoral victory of 1930, which made them the second largest party in the German Reichstag. Then he dealt with the hope of many Jews that the Hitlerian movement would not amount to much (p.54)

more than did the anti-Semitic movement in Germany in the 1890s. He warned against such a comparison: "The anti-Semitism in Germany today is more dangerous than the former outbreaks of this Jew-hatred."

This new movement fed on both the economic misery and the political unrest resulting from World War I. However, Kahn said, "there ist no possibility of disenfranchising German Jews if the Hitlerites should form part of the government. It may be that then some of the Jewish immigrants, or the foreign Jews, would suffer. There would be some expulsion of foreign Jews, of whom there are 100,000 in Germany", but even these would be "partly protected" by their governments, not because of a love of Jews but because these states had a "bone to pick with Germany".

If the anti-Semites came to power, Kahn surmised, "there may be no pogroms (although even these are possible)", but the Jews would be driven out of positions in the political and administrative apparatus. A number of Jews were already moving out of Germany, and the economic squeeze that the Jews could expect if the present trend continued would cause misery and the desire to leave. The great danger was that the Nazis might gain control of the provincial governments, especially in Prussia. Even today, Kahn said, "the atmosphere is almost intolerable. The situation of the German Jews is very critical" and JDC could soon expect calls for help from Germany. Kahn saw a clear connection between the anti-Semites in Germany and anti-Semitic outbreaks in Eastern Europe: "The teaching of anti-Semitism goes out from Germany."

[18 Nov 1931: Kahn expects from Nazi Germany discrimination - no "medieval persecution"]

As the Nazis gained in influence, Kahn became increasingly worried. In the course of an address to a group of rabbis a year after the Rosenberg meeting, he again returned to this theme.

(End note 32: File 39, 18 November 1931)

This time he expressed the fear that the danger in Germany was considerably greater than what he had feared a year previously. Nevertheless, he expected economic discrimination rather than "medieval persecutions".

The same opinion is found in his letter to Cyrus Adler and others on February 2, 1932.

(End note 33: File 70)

He assumed that if elections were held now, (p.55)

the Nazis would get 180 to 190 seats (actually, they got 230 in the July 1932 elections). They might come to power if they allied themselves with right-wing groups, such as Alfred Hugenberg's German National People's party or even the Catholic Center party, but these conservative allies would not allow Jew-baiting. "It would be a different matter if with a government of Nazis and others, the Nazis were to seize absolute power by a coup d'etat and maintain it. Then it would of course depend on who the president would be at that time" - surely an amazingly accurate description of what actually happened a year later.

[One year later discrimination was starting with concentration camp systems. Hitler eliminated other parties and by this seized the absolute power. Systematic discrimination of Jews by Nuremburg laws was coming in 1935, and systematic deportation began in 1940, and systematic mass death happened 1942-1945 when the fast victory against Russia did not come and tunnel systems were blasted into the hills and the fight of the Red Army was lasting 4 years long].

[Kahn expects the expulsion of the foreign Jews from Germany - Kahn suggests preparation for admitting foreign Jewish refugees from Germany]

There were 100,000 foreign and stateless Jews in Germany, Kahn said, 42,000 of whom were Polish and 40,000 were Austrian. The Nazis would probably turn first against these. But Kahn was no longer as sanguine as he had been previously regarding the possibility of foreign governments intervening in behalf of their Jewish citizens. Laws would be enacted, ostensibly against trades but actually directed against the Jews. There would probably be no pogroms unless the Nazis achieved power through an overthrow of the government. While "medieval persecution" was not envisaged, the Jews would nevertheless suffer a great deal. Therefore, refugees had to be expected from Germany. The point of this letter to Cyrus Adler was that quiet preparations should now be made (in April 1932!) to meet such an emergency.

The year 1932 began on this note, and this extremely discouraging situation continued throughout the year. East European Jewry was starving, unemployed, desperate. "The record of Jewish insolvency and even suicide is a tragic one", Hyman wrote.

(End note 34: Report by Bressler and Hyman on Europe, 1930, JDC Library)

German Jewry was faced with a frightening tide of rising Nazism, and American Jewry was struck by a depression that seemed to make any attempt to collect money illusory. Yet something had to be done to save European Jewry. "My big brother must be with me if his strength shall be of any use to me. His shouting from far away would not help much."

(End note 35: Executive Committee, Kahn, 11 Nov 1931)

Then in January 1933 Hitler came to power. (p.56)

[And the industrials in Germany protected Hitler, and many thought it would be only an interim government].

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