(Continued from last week)
On July 1941, Heydrich received the order to commence the “ Entlösung der Judenfrage” (Resolution of the Jew Question). Since September 1, Jews had to wear the yellow star, and without written permission they were not permitted to leave their local community, emigration was further restricted, use of public transportation was forbidden and the purchase of necessities restricted. On October 14 came the order for the deportation of the Jews from the Reich.
We need to once and for all destroy the idea that the majority of the German people had no idea what was going on. They saw the closing of Jewish stores and doctors’, dentists’ and lawyers’ practices. They saw the long lines of Jews at the beginning of the war handing in their forbidden radios, and furthermore the collection and transport to the concentration camps was not done quietly.
The shadows fell ever more on the Jews and darkened their lives. Many withdrew from the deportation through suicide. The scenes at the deportation points came to indescribable horror.
Helmut Schmidt, the chancellor, in 1977 in connection with his visit to Auschwitz pronounced strongly that today’s Germans have to bear the political inheritance of the responsible, and that therein lies their accountability. The Germans can only have justice if they accept this political inheritance on their shoulders. It is certainly to be completely rejected that the victors of 1918 and 1945 are responsible for the war, but oh, never the Germans.
After the total war in 1945 came the total defeat, and the destruction of the political system including all central institutions and organizations. The one exception was the Protestant churches that had withstood the National-Socialist powers, which survived with relatively intact organization. They had special responsibilities immediately after the war and were the first to establish contact with the outside world. The question of how it could have happened that in a country that consisted 90% of baptized Christians, Hitler could have come to power and conducted a 12-year reign of terror and six years of war was suppressed. Instead of accepting responsibility they strived to blame others. They complained about having suffered under the air raids, the removal of the Germans from the eastern countries, actions by the occupying powers, bad provisions for the people, confiscation of apartments for the benefit of survivors from the concentration camps and much more, conveniently forgetting that they were originally the cause of all their present problems.
The church did its utmost to give assistance to war prisoners, and those who had been pushed out of their homes, with the purpose in mind to try to retain those on behalf of the church, or to win them back to the church. Also, the National-Socialist bureaucrats who had lost their positions were catered to.
But contrary to what should have been expected, no participation was given to survivors of concentration camps, the guilty by court decree and the physically handicapped. A well-known and respected priest of the church recorded in his diary: “As regarding the Jewish Journalists, we should awaken a quiet agreement of the German people, to completely reject them, as in general all the Jews.”
This opinion was shared broadly since there was the fear that rescued Jews could return in order to obtain justice or to take revenge.
A total change in attitude came in 1961 with the publication of a book by Fritz Fischers with the title “Grasp After World Power.” Fischers showed that National-Socialism was no exception to a process, but that it carried out what was in process for a long time. He proved that not those without traditions, but just those with traditional knowledge in and of the people made the road smooth for the Third Reich. After the appearance of the book, the history of the parties, unions and institutions, as well as the churches, was worked up critically. With many examples it was proven that humanistic education alone was no guarantee against inhumanity and that under the doers of the NS Regime were many successful graduates of the Hoch Schulen and other educational institutions.
The past was still not accepted by many. When in 1986 Parliament refused to discuss problems of new anti-Semitism or remains of Judenfeindschaft in Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, on February 28 declared in a lead article, “The excitement over anti-Semitic pronouncement and happenings is not called for, since there has been anti-Semitism for hundreds of years. Moreover, it must be considered that the destruction of the Jews in the Third Reich was “carried out in secret, the Germans had no way of having any forewarning what the ‘sick anti-Semitic Hitler’ in secret had arranged.”
(To be continued next week)
By Norbert Strauss
Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and Englewood Hospital volunteer. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.