The annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938 had brought an abrupt end to 1,000 years of Jewish life in the Burgenland region, Austria’s easternmost state. The expulsion of the small Jewish population, carried out by the SS, local Nazi officials, and civilian collaborators, commenced immediately. This article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports on the League of Nations’ intervention on behalf of 56 expellees who had ended up in “no man’s land” in the border area between Austria and Yugoslavia. The League’s High Commissioner for German Refugees requested the temporary accommodation of the displaced persons by Yugoslavia, to be followed by permanent resettlement elsewhere.
According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, on April 21, the Propaganda Ministry of Nazi Germany authorized the creation of a Jewish Cinema Institute. The name was misleading. It was not intended to serve the cultural enrichment of the Jewish community. The main purpose of the Institute was supposed to be the production of movies showing life in Palestine and urging German Jews to emigrate. In other words, the plan was just another part of the Nazi scheme to rid Germany of its Jews. At the same time, Der Stürmer, one of the most viciously antisemitic newspapers in Nazi Germany, declared that Jews should not be allowed inside cinemas and theaters.
Little more than a month after the Nazi takeover of Austria, a cascade of new regulations and actions taken by the new regime leaves little room for optimism. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports for April 14 from Vienna that Jews within 50 kilometers of the Czechoslovak border are to be expelled. Nazi commissars will be put in charge of Austrian businesses at the latter’s expense. According to the JTA, in the case of hundreds of Jewish-owned businesses, this provision has already been enforced. Finally, a law has been introduced establishing new procedures for determining the racial status of illegitimate children. The one positive item in this substantial dispatch is the prospect that all Jews currently interned at the Dachau concentration camp will not only be released but will also receive permits to enter Palestine.
In Austria’s new reality, opinions could change very quickly. In a news item from April 8, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Catholic clergyman, Pastor Breckle of Trinity Church in Vienna, wrote an article in “Catholic Action,” that referred to the Jews as “uninvited guests” in Europe. Breckle accused the Jews of “pushing themselves to the forefront” and praised Hitler’s approach as “free and humane.” Breckle had until recently been considered friendly toward the Jewish community.
According to this JTA notice, April 3, 1938, marked an additional milestone in the curtailment of the professional freedom of Austrian Jews. From this day on, the Ministry of Justice could revoke at will the licenses of Jewish lawyers, with the exception of those who had been admitted to the bar before 1914 or were war veterans or the direct descendents of war veterans. Between 800 and 900 lawyers were estimated to be affected by the new provision. Another professional group that was impacted by the effects of Nazi policy was market vendors. Jews operating mobile as well as permanent stands were no longer entitled to make a living this way. Moreover, in the short period since the Nazi takeover, the first “Aryanizations” of Jewish-owned factories had already taken place.
In the wake of Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany, the Polish parliament (“Sejm”), fearing the return of up to 20,000 Polish citizens from Austria, passed a bill according to which Poles who had lived abroad for more than five years were to lose their citizenship. The situation of the Jews had improved somewhat under the Piłsudski government (1926–1935), but after the marshal’s death, especially in the atmosphere created by the “Camp of National Unity” (from 1937 onward), antisemitism was resurgent. Universities applied quotas to Jewish students and introduced “ghetto benches” for them, Jews were held responsible for the Great Depression, Jewish business were boycotted and looted, and hundreds of Jews were physically harmed, some killed.
More than two weeks had passed since the Nazi takeover in Austria. The initial shock and disbelief among Jews had given way to despair and panic. Many reacted by seeking information about visa requirements for countries like the United States, Great Britain and Australia, which promised a safe haven and sufficient distance from the dramatic new situation in Austria. Between March 24 and 28, the Australian consulate alone received 6,000 applications for immigration—a number which considerably exceeded the country’s official immigration quota.
In another dramatic report from Vienna, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency describes panicked Jews flocking to the US Consulate hoping in vain to receive some kind of support. Especially prominent Jewish citizens faced harassment and arrest by the secret police. Austrian Jewish leaders were forced to inform the police about their activities, while their German counterparts were unable to come to their support due to border restrictions. The situation of thousands of Jewish actors had become so desperate that even the Nazi representative of the Austrian Theater Guild acknowledged it and permitted a campaign in their support.
After their triumphant entry into Austria, the Nazis lost no time in intimidating the country’s Jews and forcing them out of positions of influence and out of society at large. Prominent bankers and businessmen were arrested, other Jews—especially those employed in fields that were considered “Jewish,” such as the theater and the press—removed from office and replaced by “Aryans.” At the same time that the atmosphere in Austria became unbearably hostile towards Jews, organizations aiming to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine were raided and it was announced that the passports of “certain people” would be voided. It bears mentioning that the number of Jews in Austria in March 1938 was about 206,000—no more than 3% of the total population.
The newspaper Die Stimme was considered the official mouthpiece of the National Zionist Committee in Austria. In its March 9 issue, it quotes a JTA report on the conference of the World Zionist Executive in London. Although tensions in Austria were running high, the conference had other pressing matters on its agenda, such as immigration to Palestine and changes in the British attitude towards it. Among the proposals discussed were lowering the price of the shekel in a number of Eastern European countries and establishing coordinating councils for Zionist activities.
In 1933, the “Fatherland Front” had been established as the sole representative body of Austrian citizenry and as a replacement for parliamentary democracy. It had strong ties to the Catholic Church and was deeply antisemitic. Nevertheless, there were Jews among its ranks, and it saw itself as opposed to the (Protestant-dominated) Nazis. When Nazi groups, clearly emboldened by their recently improved status, took to the streets, proudly parading with swastikas, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on an antisemitic demonstration at the University of Vienna, an institution where anti-Jewish sentiment had been rampant for centuries. On the same day, the news agency informed its readership about counter demonstrations organized by the Vaterländische Front.
At the end of February 1938, there still seemed to be at least a few rays of hope for Austrian Jewry. In a sermon at the Vienna Central Synagogue, Chief Rabbi Israel Taglicht expressed the confidence of Austrian Jewry in Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg. A few days earlier, the Chancellor had asserted that Austria would hold fast to the principles of the Constitution of May 1934, which granted Jews equality before the law and religious freedom. About the same time, the pro-Nazi mayor of Graz had been dismissed for raising a swastika flag over City Hall. To prevent Nazi demonstrations, the University of Graz and the Technical College had been temporarily closed.
In mid-February 1938, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, for years an attentive observer of the situation of German Jews, reports once again on the precarious position of Jews in Germany and the struggle of the Jewish Winter Relief to do justice to the acute needs of the community’s poorest. While the new, obligatory contribution addressed ongoing needs and made it easier to survive the winter, the numerous laws imposed by the Nazis since 1933 that banned Jews from various professions lead to an irreversible deterioration of their material situation.
In early 1938, a variety of assumptions regarding the future of the Jews circulated. The official SS organ Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps), for example, surmises that after the exclusion of Jews from “the spiritual and political life of the nation,” the physical separation from the majority of Jews within about twenty years will be no chimera. According to this notice disseminated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Das Schwarze Korps, claims that the Jews are not willing to leave Germany and that the “small number” of Jewish emigrants should not be ascribed to “foreign exchange and other problems” but rather to the unwillingness of Jews in other countries to “lift a finger to give the emigrants or would-be emigrants a home.” In fact, by 1937, as many as 130,000 (out of a total of 600,000) Jews had left the country.
Already under the short-lived Goga-Cuza government, half of the Jews living in Romania had been condemned to statelessness by having their citizenship revoked. The city of Iași, where in 1855 Romania’s first Yiddish newspaper had been printed and in which Yiddish theater saw its beginnings with the opening of Goldfaden’s theater in 1876, had an especially high percentage of Jewish inhabitants. In February 1938, George Gedye, a reporter dispatched by the New York Times, reports on excesses against Jewish citizens by “a brutal and unscrupulous minority.”
The C.V.-Zeitung, Paper for German and Jewish Culture was the organ of the “Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith.” The Central Association’s political bent was liberal-conservative and it strove to represent the interests of all Jews, regardless of religious affiliation. The newspaper aimed to raise the self-confidence of German Jews as well as to deepen their love of “both German and Jewish culture.” (Jüdisches Lexikon 1927). January 30, 1938 was the last day of ordinary operations for the C.V.-Zeitung. On the 31st, the Nazis ordered its temporary suspension until February 24 with no reason given.
After the Nazis’ rise to power, the economic historian and journalist Kurt Zielenziger fled to Amsterdam with his wife and son. There he co-founded the “Jewish Central Information Office,” the goal of which was to document the persecution of Jews by the Nazis and to spread the information. In this release, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes his computation of Jewish emigrants from Germany according to destination countries. According to Zielenziger, by the end of 1937, a total of 135,000 Jews had left the country.
The “Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden” (Reich Representation of German Jews) was established in Berlin in September 1933 as an advocacy group. After the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, it had to change its name to “Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland” (Reich Representation of Jews in Germany). Its president was Rabbi Leo Baeck. As a result of the increasing pauperization of the Jewish population, whose possibilities to earn a living were systematically taken away, the Reichsvertretung appealed to the government in January 1938 to desist from additional limitations depriving Jewish professionals of their jobs. The Reichsvertretung argued that not only was the increasing unemployment a burden on the welfare system, but it also made emigration impossible.
While the Methodists constituted a minority in Germany, they were a major denomination in the English-speaking world. The Nazis began wooing Methodist leaders in Germany as early as 1933, hoping to use them to propagandize fellow Methodists in the United States. German Methodist leaders became willing tools of the Nazis; not only did Methodist bishops avoid criticizing the regime, they explicitly praised what they saw as its successes. Against this background, it is all the more remarkable that the US National Methodist Students Conference adopted a resolution in which it condemned the antisemitic policies of Nazi Germany.