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Antisemitism, Everyday Life, and the Devastation of Public Morals in Nazi Germany

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Noel D. Cary
College of the Holy Cross


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Review Article
Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 2002

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1. Goldhagen, , Hitler's Willing Executioners: ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York, 1996).Google Scholar

2. See, e.g., the exchanges of the late 1980s between Saul Friedländer and Martin Broszat, conveniently reprinted in Baldwin, Peter, ed., Reworking the Past: Hitler, the Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate (Boston, 1990), 77134. To summarize the controversy in a phrase from each historian: whereas Friedländer cautioned against the agnostic duality that is still implied by the study of “the intertwining of normalcy and criminality,” Broszat affirmed that he was centrally interested in this very duality, or “the side-by-side existence — to an extent without any linking connections — of (a) a relatively unpolitical normal life and (b) the dictatorial impositions … of the regime” (even though “under such conditions, everyday life in the Nazi period was probably not as normal after all as it might appear to have been on the surface”). Friedländer and Broszat, respectively, in Baldwin, ed., 94, 125.Google Scholar

3. Ulrich Herbert, quoted in Gellately, , Backing Hitler, 263.Google Scholar

4. This number, from June of 1938, approached 100 percent fifteen months later. These data are from Frank Bajohr's essay in Gellately, and Stoltzfus, , eds., Social Outsiders, 56, 58Google Scholar. See also Marion Kaplan's essay, idem, 82–83, 86.

5. As Kaplan also notes, booty-seeking officials who (for example) “‘helped themselves … to valuables’” as Jews packed to emigrate seemed to “relish their new roles” and were hardly “banal bureaucrats who were just ‘taking orders.’” Ibid., 83.

6. See also Kaplan's book, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York, 1998).Google Scholar

7. Klemperer, , Ich will Zeugnis ablegen bis zum letzten: Tagebücher 1933–1945, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1995).Google Scholar

8. By the second year of the war, mass deportations from urban centers often took place in broad daylight. As Bankier notes (Germans, 131), newspapers concurrently informed the public “that Germany would be cleared of Jews” by the spring of 1942.

9. Klemperer, 2: 8384 (11 05 1942)Google Scholar and 1:264 (10 May 1936), quoted by Heim in Bankier, , ed., Probing the Depths, 316.Google Scholar

10. As Bankier points out in his monograph, there is also a fourth possibility: the authors of the national summary reports may have imposed the silence. Augmenting the national summaries with local summaries, reports by other Nazi agencies, letters, diaries, and the accounts of foreign observers, Bankier is able to penetrate the silence somewhat: See section V below.

11. See also the detailed analysis and richly documented description of immediate postwar attitudes toward Jews in Stern, Frank, The Whitewashing of the Yellow Badge: Antisemitism and Philosemitism in Postwar Germany (Oxford, 1992).Google Scholar

12. Bankier, , Germans, 8995, 175Google Scholar; Stöver, Bernd, Volksgemeinschaft im Dritten Reich: Die Konsensbereitschaft der Deutschen aus der Sicht sozialistischer Exilberichte (Düsseldorf, 1993).Google Scholar

13. For the East German regime's continuance of this position (this time rather more disingenuously) as well as the postwar Social Democrats' reconsideration, see Herf, Jeffrey, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys (Cambridge, Mass., 1997).Google Scholar

14. See also Garbe, Detlev, Zwischen Widerstand und Martyrium: Die Zeugen Jehovahs im “Dritten Reich” (Munich, 1994).Google Scholar

15. Büttner, , Die Not der Juden teilen: Christlich-jüdische Familien im Dritten Reich (Hamburg, 1988).Google Scholar

16. Stoltzfus, , in Gellately, and Stoltzfus, , eds., Social Outsiders, 119.Google Scholar Whereas Gellately claims that the Gestapo “really had never intended” to deport the Rosenstrasse arrestees (Backing Hitler, 143), Stoltzfus is persuasive that the arrests were a test case whose results deterred further actions (Social Outsiders, 129–35). Stoltzfus estimates that there were roughly thirty thousand intermarried German Jews in 1939. By 1944, thirteen thousand Jews remained in Germany. Virtually all of them were intermarried; nearly all survived the war (Social Outsiders, 123). See also Johnson, , Nazi Terror, 422–25Google Scholar, and Stoltzfus, , Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany (New York, 1996).Google Scholar

17. Arendt, , Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York, 1963)Google Scholar; Mommsen, , “Der nationalsozialistische Polizeistaat und die Judenverfolgung vor 1938,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 10 (1962): 6887Google Scholar (cited by Fraenkel, David in Probing, 341)Google Scholar; Paucker, , “Die Abwehr des Antisemitismus in den Jahren 1893–1933,” in Antisemitismus: Von der Judenfeindschaft zum Holocaust, ed. Strauss, Herbert A. and Kampe, Norbert (Bonn, 1984), 143Google Scholar (cited by Fraenkel, in Probing, 339)Google Scholar; Stern, , “Reflections on Success — Reflections on German Jewry,” in Stern, , Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History (New York, 1987), 97118.Google Scholar

18. Kershaw, , Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich (Oxford, 1983).Google Scholar

19. According to Kaplan, three fifths eventually did leave (somewhat less than half of them prior to 1938), and many more tried but failed to navigate their way through foreign regulations and the Nazis' plunderous “bureaucratic gauntlet.” She concludes: “perceptions by Jews of their predicament … were never the crucial factors affecting emigration.” Kaplan in Geilately, and Stoltzfus, , eds., Social Outsiders, 8486, 90 (quotations).Google Scholar

20. Bankier, , Germans, 125Google Scholar; Kaplan, in Gellately, and Stoltzfus, , eds., Social Outsiders, 7074, 79 (quotation).Google Scholar

21. Johnson himself differentiates carefully here. He finds the policemen's claims truer in cases involving those he calls “ordinary Germans” than in cases involving Jews, Marxists, and religion-inspired political dissenters. He also profiles Cologne's several Gestapo officers and documents their brutal actions and methods.

22. Basing his judgment on evidence from Krefeld's Gestapo files, Johnson concludes that considerably less than 2 percent of the population could have acted as denouncers — many times fewer than the percentage of informers in the former East Germany. But Johnson's figure does not include other ultimately rancorous informants such as the petition-writers from Eisenach that Connelly studies in Accusatory Practices.

23. From local data, Johnson (46–47) calculates a ratio of one Gestapo agent per ten to fifteen thousand city dwellers, with “typically no Gestapo officers” in the countryside. Elisabeth Kohlhaas estimates that there were seven thousand Gestapo officials in 1937 and perhaps six hundred more (excluding annexed or occupied territory) by the summer of 1941. Kohlhaas, , “Die Mitarbeiter der regionalen Staatspolizeistellen: Quantitative und qualitative Befunde zur Personalausstattung der Gestapo,” in Die Gestapo — Mythos und Realität, ed. Paul, Gerhard and Mallmann, Klaus-Michael (Darmstadt, 1995), 220–35Google Scholar, cited in Fitzpatrick, and Gellately, , eds., Accusatory Practices, 187. Gellately earlier estimated thirty-two thousand persons for the expanded German territory of 1944, of whom 15,500 were the real policemen (the rest were workmen, clerks, or civil servants not involved in enforcement): Gestapo, 44. By comparison, in a land with roughly one-fifth as many people, the Stasi at any one time employed one hundred thousand full-time members and from 170,000 to 500,000 “Unofficial Co-workers.” Accusatory Practices, 208–9.Google Scholar

24. Or was the relationship symbiotic? Were denunciations sovereign acts that did not depend upon but did influence and were influenced somehow (how?) by popular enthusiasm? Did denunciations and broader public attitudes constitute independent yet interactive species? And what is the place here of the revealing hybrid phenomenon — letters and petitions to Nazi authorities from mostly nonparty members of the public — that Connelly studies? (Far from appearing simply manipulative or obsequious, the expressions of injured racial entitlement in Connelly's sample from 1939–1940 often seem keenly felt. Here, the regime and the population colluded in offering a corrective to the gap between the Nazi communitarian-egalitarian ideal and the lingering social disparities within the German “racial community.” Connelly refers to this corrective, in which self-interested petitions from below and self-interested patronage from above “arranged access to scarce and vital goods according to a crude racial-biological hierarchy,” as “Really Existing Volksgemeinschaft” (an allusion to the later East German regime's claim to “Really Existing Socialism”). And, apropos of symbiosis, he adds: “Decrees from above that allocated resources according to racial status meant nothing until a critical mass of citizenry [emphasis added] became active in enforcing them.” Accusatory Practices, 183, 182, 183.)

25. Johnson, , 153–54 and 368–69Google Scholar; also Diewald-Kerkmann, Gisela, Politische Denunziation im NS-Regime oder die kleine Macht der “Volksgenossen” (Bonn, 1995).Google Scholar

26. In his monograph on public opinion, Bankier reformulates the indifference thesis as applied to the later years of the regime. Unwilling during the war to take on the guilt or shame of admitting their participation in the injustices, a majority of the public, he argues, “consciously chose” to be “deliberately indifferent.” Bankier, , Germans, 137.Google Scholar

27. The apparent allusion to Browning, Christopher, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York, 1992)Google Scholar, evokes the contrast between the older wartime reserves who comprised the police battalions and the career policemen of the Gestapo.

28. Ibid.

29. Peukert, , Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life (New Haven, 1987).Google Scholar

30. On this point, for Catholics, see the comments of Anderson, Margaret Lavinia, “From Syllabus to Shoah?Central European History 34 (2001): 231–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar, regarding Blaschke, Olaf, Katholizismus und Antisemitismus im Deutschen Kaiserreich (Göttingen, 1997).Google Scholar