This flyer is addressed to those who strive “for the glory of the German people and their homeland” and among those explicitly to those who had been perverted by antisemites. In the run-up to Hamburg’s city assembly elections of April 24, 1932, and possibly remembering the NSDAP’s previous election success in Hamburg, the authors of this flyer seek to alert their readers to the dishonesty and injustice of its anti-Jewish propaganda. The flyer is signed by the Hamburg chapter of the Centralverein (CV). The authors address common antisemitic claims and systematically disprove them. Moreover, they emphasize the violent acts committed by National Socialists – without naming them, however – as well as the threat they pose to Germany as a whole.
The CV was the largest and most important political organization of Jews in Germany. In 1926, it numbered more than 60,000 individual members, who were organized in 21 local associations and 555 chapters and thus were distributed all over the country. As organized opposition to antisemitism, it initially was able to embrace the various spiritual and religious movements within the Jewish faith. Later on, particularly during the era of the Weimar Republic, it developed into an “association of conviction” [Gesinnungsverein] opposing both Christian baptism and Zionism within Jewish congregations. However, during all phases of its ideological development, combating antisemitism invariably remained its main priority.
The early protocols of the CV The originals are kept at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem. reflect the nature of its struggle in Imperial Germany very vividly. The association’s volunteer board members, most of whom were in the legal profession, all read a share of the leading newspapers in order to discover antisemitic attacks. The legal department, then the CV’s most active branch under the leadership of its mastermind, Eugen Fuchs, examined these cases as well as reports from the provinces in order to take legal measures. However, the CV soon had to realize the futility of their efforts. In most cases, the Public Prosecutor’s Office refused to bring charges. If charges were brought, the defendants were either acquitted or received absurdly minor sentences. Moreover, they often used their trial as a podium for spreading antisemitic propaganda, so that the association’s leadership eventually decided to only press charges in rare cases.
This decision ran contrary to the CV’s repeatedly declared intention to conduct its fight against antisemitism “in the public spotlight.” Since Jews had been granted equal rights as “German citizens” in 1869 (and 1871, respectively), they had considered the justice system particularly important to their fight. Another strategy pursued were public “apologetics,” which later came to be called “education.” It consisted in the broad distribution of printed material and, to a smaller extent, in public assemblies aimed at disproving antisemitic propaganda and “educating” the public about the true character and values of Judaism. The flyer presented here belongs among that category of the CV’s opposition work. However, it was written at a time when the CV leadership had already recognized the futility of this kind of propaganda and sought other means of influencing mass society voters. While this flyer was anachronistic even at the time of its printing, it can still provide insight into the CV’s ideological basis – the avowal of “Germanness” – and the style of its argumentation.
The flyer appeals to feelings of national solidarity among “German men and women” and highlights the achievements of Jews in business and science as outstanding services to enhance “German culture and Germany’s reputation in the world.” It recalls the memory of the joint war experience, when “100,000 Jewish people stood with their German fellow soldiers at the frontline during the Great War. 12,000 of them fell for their homeland.” It closes with the assertion that “the German Jews want to work with all Germans for employment and rebuilding, for liberty and justice, and for harmony among the entire German people.” emphasis by the author
In the Weimar period, the CV carried out its opposition work mainly on the political level. Although the influence of Jewish voters was quite small based on their 0.7% share in the total population, the CV was able to exert considerable influence in the big cities and regarding the selection of candidates by means of financial contributions to political parties. While it had declared itself politically neutral, behind closed doors the CV supported the liberal parties and increasingly the Social Democrats, depending on political developments.
Liberal and socialist party leaders usually were immune to the antisemitic propaganda spread by National Socialists and other right-wing extremists. Due to the radical parties’ growing influence on ever larger segments of the voting population however, they feared being branded as “Jewish parties.” In the final years of the Weimar Republic, they included fewer and fewer Jewish candidates on their lists while bashfully addressing antisemitism with little more than set phrases. Even within the liberal Deutsche Demokratische Partei, which received a considerable number of Jewish votes, there were complaints that their loss of votes in the final phase of the Republic was a result of their image as a “Jewish party.” Members of the CV realized that opposing antisemitism was part of their fight against National Socialism – yet they also realized that any kind of public participation of Jews in this fight would be counterproductive.
Thus the CV preferred to quietly support organizations fighting the NSDAP, such as “Eiserne Front,” “Reichsbanner,” et al. with money and propaganda material. In addition to that, it distributed up-to-date propaganda brochures and flyers without mentioning its own name and using pseudonyms. This flyer by the Hamburg chapter is an exception though: by relying on the rebuttal of antisemitic positions through arguments and factual education about the Jews and Judaism, it follows the old patterns of so-called apologetics. Moreover, the text candidly argues from a Jewish position. This makes the flyer an atypical and therefore interesting document for its time since it shows that the positions and practices adopted by the association’s leadership did not always apply to its local chapters and thus helps us understand how the CV functioned as a whole. Additionally, this document is important because it only survived due to its wide distribution as a flyer, and it belongs among the rare sources providing information on the CV’s Hamburg chapter about which very little is known.
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Avraham Barkai, Dr. phil., born 1921, was research fellow at the Leo Baeck Insitute Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and the Research Centre of the Memorial Yad Vashem. In 2003, he was awarded a honoris causa of the Free University of Berlin. His focus of research is: history of Nazism, economic and social history.
Pavel Golubev, born in 1982 in Riga, studied history for teaching at University Hamburg. For his dissertation, he researches on the Weimar debate about jewish ritual butchering. Among his research interests are German-Jewish history of the Weimar Republic, political cultural history of the 20th century and historical research on antisemitism.
Avraham Barkai, Pavel Golubev, The Centralverein’s Opposition to National Socialism (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-6.en.v1> [February 22, 2020].