Friday, November 25, 2016

This Week In Holocaust History: Theresienstadt: A Glimmer of Hope and Deception

Theresienstadt Ghetto Established

Located in the garrison town of Terezin, in the German-controlled Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Theresienstadt Ghetto existed for three and a half years. Between November 24, 1941 and May 9, 1945, the ghetto interned over 140,000  Jewish prisoners. Neither a ghetto as such nor strictly a concentration camp, Theresienstadt served as an assembly center. What had originally been a fortified military installation became a ghetto, transit camp, and in German propaganda terms, a city for Jews.

Photograph of Train Station Sign in Theresienstadt
Prisoners Entering Main Gate
Ironically, some Jews themselves were eager to assist in the construction of such a ghetto. This was due to the false hope that perhaps this ghetto would halt the transports of Jews to the East. Therefore, to organize and build this new ghetto, the Prague Gestapo solicited the administrative assistance of the Prague Jewish community and especially its leadership. Jakob Edelstein as well as Paul Epstein both served on this initial administrative board known as the Council of Elders. Both were killed by Nazi officials in return for their assistance, as a result of Nazi suspicions.

As Edith Ornstein, a surviving participant wrote in 1945,

On December 4th 1941, a small group of us headed by (Jacob) Edelstein and engineer (Otto) Zucker voluntarily entered Terezin, each convinced of the possibility of preventing such deportations, provided a ghetto in the form of a Jewish town could be established. Feverish preparations had been made in advance, plans worked out and approved by the Center for Jewish Emigration to the minutest detail. But of course, everything turned out differently from what we expected when the gates of the Terezin barracks closed behind us, we knew at once that it would be a prison, not a Jewish town.

However, a unique feature of Theresienstadt was its hierarchy of privileged status among those interned there. The organizers of the Theresienstadt ghetto enjoyed this status granted to them by the German authorities. In doing so they secured protection for themselves, their families, and to some extent their subordinates within the ample administrative, social, and technical ghetto system.  

Street Scene from a Nazi Propaganda Film
 In its function as a tool of deception, Theresienstadt was a facility that served an important propaganda function for the Germans. Geopolitical circumstances along with Nazi foreign policy eventually thrust the Ghetto into an orbit of inspections by the International Red Cross. A seemingly normal pace of life would be on display for the inspections, only to be disrupted afterwards by a transport to The East. The entire notion of the Ghetto having a privileged, exceptional status and model structure was a dualistic combination. It was part of a well-refined deception by the Nazis paired with an illusion among the Jewish inmates that their own existence was perpetuated by their  presence in Theresienstadt.

It was this illusion that was perpetuated by the 1944 Nazi propaganda film, Theresienstadt. Although the film was never screened, it was produced for the occasion of a visit from the Danish Red Cross. In the wake of the inspection, SS officials produced this film using ghetto "residents" as a demonstration of the benevolent treatment that they supposedly enjoyed. In Nazi propaganda, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a "spa town" where elderly German Jews could "retire" in safety. When the film was completed, SS officials deported most of the "cast" to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.

Photo of Film Crew Capturing Footage
                     for Nazi Propoganda Film in Theresienstadt

In reality, of the 141,184 people sent to Theresienstadt, 88,202 were deported to extermination camps and ghettos in the East; over 30,000 Jewish prisoners died in the ghetto while only 16,832 survived.  Granted, this figure is the highest of any ghetto or labor camp throughout Eastern Europe. 

[1] Vladimir Melamed, They Shall Be Counted: The Theresienstadt Ghetto Art of Erich Lichtblau-Leskly (Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust Publishing, Los Angeles, 2010) pages 1-4.
[2] Edith Ornstein, “Theresienstadt, an Illusion” in Working in a Trap: Album of Drawings by Leo Haas, Ghetto Theresienstadt 1941-1942 (Givat Haim Ihud, Israel: Beit Theresienstadt, 2009).
[3] Melamed, They Shall Be Counted, p. 3.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This Day in Holocaust History: Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht (The November Pogrom): 

Reflections in German Publications 

On the evening of November 9, 1938, now known as the November Pogrom or by the Nazi term “Kristallnacht”, the Nazis unleashed a wave of violence against Jews throughout Germany and Austria. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels instigated the violence by stating "The Führer has decided that … demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered."  During this tirade close to 100 Jews lost their lives, tens of thousands of Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and many Jewish families realized that they could not safely stay in Hitler’s Germany.  

Through LAMOTH’s archival collection of the Journal From the Last Extermination: Journal for the History of the Jewish People During the Nazi Regime, we see a reporter's frustration in an attempted cover up of official Nazi influence on the riot. Written in Yiddish, and published in a displaced person's camps after the war, the journal contains a copy of the letter in German from a local chronicler to his supervisor. The subject of the image below is the narrative of Kristallnacht in a small German town in Bavaria.   

The reporter writes,
“Vom Rath died in the night of November 9th 1938 from the consequences of a cowardly attack by the Jew Gruenspan (Herschel Grynszpan). In the same night, synagogues from Jews caught fire in whole Germany. Ernst vom Rath has been avenged. Early in the morning County Chief, Party Comrade, Walz, Party Comrade, Mayor Herzog, Party Comrade, Propaganda Chief Buettner, and Party Comrade Sturmfuehrer Brand set the Jewish temple on fire. Party member from the location group helped us a lot.

Now, the sentence has been criticized. It may not say that Walz, Herzog, Buettner and Brand set the synagogues on fire, but rather the people. - Right. But as a writer for the chronicle I should and I have to tell the truth…  I therefore ask you my "County Chief” how should I write the record?"

Letter from a German Reporter to His Supervisor
Source: LAMOTH Archive

The pretext for the pogroms was the shooting in Paris on November 7 of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Polish-Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan. News of Rath’s death on November 9 reached Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany, where he was celebrating the anniversary of the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. There, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, after conferring with Hitler, harangued a gathering of old storm troopers, urging violent reprisals staged to appear as “spontaneous demonstrations.” Telephone orders from Munich triggered pogroms throughout Germany, which then included Austria.

Photo Courtesy of Bundesarchive
Herschel Grynszpan in a French precinct after the shooting

Despite Nazi attempts at crediting average German citizens for the riot, Nazi party members in nearly every German city and town rushed out into the streets to fulfill Goebbels' directives.

Just before midnight on November 9, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them that “in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” Rather, the police were to arrest the victims. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent “Aryan” properties.

Hundreds of synagogues were torched and many more were damaged.  Thousands of Jewish store windows were broken and the shops looted.  Homes and apartments were invaded and ransacked. Ninety-one Jews were killed.  Thirty thousand Jewish men from age sixteen to sixty were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where over the next month more than a thousand died of the ensuing torture and beatings. 

1963 Memorial Stamp of Kristallnacht published by the
German Democratic Republic
Source: LAMOTH Archives

World reaction to 
Kristallnacht was strong. As Jews fled Germany and Austria,  United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt summoned home the American ambassador from Berlin, and called for increased military spending to protect North and South America from Germany. However, he stopped short of calling for increased immigration quotas for Jews fleeing the Nazis.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

60th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Hungarian Revolution, October – November 1956

In the post-war world, Europe was divided in to Soviet and Western political camps. Hungary was under full control of Moscow by the means of a local communist regime and security apparatus.

On October 23, students in Budapest staged a great procession, which was to end with the presentation of a petition asking for redress of the nation’s grievances. People flocked into the streets to join them.

The army joined the revolutionaries, and army depots and munitions factories handed out arms. Outside Budapest, local councils sprang up in every center. The peasants reoccupied their confiscated fields. The communist bureaucracy melted away. Prison doors were opened. The members of the State Security Authority fled if they could. A cheering crowd escorted Cardinal Mindszenty back to the primate’s palace.

On November 4th, Soviet forces entered Budapest and began liquidating the revolution. Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy and Cardinal Mindszenty in the U.S. legation. General Pál Maléter, the Nagy government’s minister of defense, who had been invited by the Soviet commanders to negotiate, was taken captive and eventually executed.

Meanwhile, Imre Nagy, former Prime Minister, who had left his place of refuge under safe conduct, had been abducted and taken to Romania. After a secret trial, he and Maléter and a few close associates were executed in 1958. Many lesser figures were seized and transported to the Soviet Union, some never to return, and 200,000 refugees escaped to the West (about 38,000 of whom emigrated to North America in 1956–57). Thus, a substantial proportion of Hungary’s young and educated classes was lost to the country, including several top non-communist political leaders and intellectuals, as well as Gen. Béla K. Király, the commander of the Hungarian National Guard organized during the revolution. Material damage was also very heavy, especially in Budapest.

Most Hungarians, however, were skeptical of these promises, and fighting continued. But the odds were too heavy in favor of the Soviets, and the major hostilities were over within a fortnight, although sporadic encounters continued into January 1957. The workers continued their struggle by proclaiming a general strike and other forms of peaceful resistance. It took many weeks before they were brought to heel and many more months before some semblance of normality returned to the country. The price in human lives was great. According to the calculations of historians, the Hungarians suffered about 20,000 casualties, among them some 2,500 deaths, while the Soviet losses consisted of about 1,250 wounded and more than 650 dead. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Month in Holocaust History: October

Denmark and Its Jews: A Wartime History 

On October 1st 1943 German authorities began a mandated roundup of Jews in Denmark, yet the roundup failed in its goal of a large deportation.

The officers commissioned with the round up were unaware of the countrywide rescue effort underway in Danish communities. The Danish Jewish community was forewarned through the involvement of both German and Danish officials.  

On September 8, 1943, SS General Werner Best, the German civilian administrator in Denmark, sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler to propose that the Germans make use of the martial law provisions to deport Danish Jews. Hitler approved the measure nine days later. As preparations proceeded, Best, who had second thoughts about the political consequences of the deportations, informed Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German naval attaché, of the impending deportation operation. Before the final order for deportation came to Copenhagen on September 28, Duckwitz, along with other German officials, warned non-Jewish Danes of the plan. In other words, in the case of Danish Jewry, it was perhaps the involvement of German officials that played a major role in facilitating the rescue efforts of the Danish Jewish community. 

In turn, the Danes alerted Rabbi Marcus Melchior, Chief Rabbi of Denmark, who informed the local Jewish community. Below is a letter from Rabbi Melchior to the King of Denmark explaining his appreciation to the Danish community that fires started by the Nazi party in Denmark did not damage his synagogue. This letter exemplifies how interconnected the Jewish community of Denmark was to its government and King. 
Source: LAMOTH Archival Collection
Throughout the month of October, Danish authorities, Jewish community leaders, and countless private citizens facilitated a massive operation to get Jews into hiding or into temporary sanctuaries. Resistance members and sympathizers initially helped Jews move into hiding places throughout the country and from there to the coast; fishermen then ferried them to safety. Over a period of about a month, some 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives found refuge in Sweden, which accepted the Danish refugees.

The motives behind these acts were multi fold. Some rescuers helped the cause because they were paid to do so by those needing rescue. Others felt compelled to assist due to religious and humanitarian ideals. Despite the rescue efforts, the Germans seized about 470 Jews in Denmark and deported them to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in occupied Czechoslovakia. However, the Danish authorities and the Danish Red Cross insistently demanded information on their whereabouts and living conditions. The vigor of Danish protests likely deterred the Germans from transporting these Jews to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. Despite these efforts, around one hundred Danish Jews lost their lives – either in the Nazi camps or during their escape from Denmark.

In our upcoming November exhibit, the Erich Lichtblau Leskly collection from our archives will display art from the Theresienstadt Ghetto containing a piece depicting the arrival of the Danish Jews shown below.  They are portrayed with fur coats, seemingly wealthy and well taken care of. The caption reads “Arrival of Danish Jews at “Terezin Spa”. The caption references the deception of the German authorities which informed Jews from Denmark that Theresienstadt was a resort spa and not a labor camp, which could not be further from the truth.

Below are postcards from German labor camps from our collection showing Danish Jews were deported to other camps besides Theresienstadt as well. 
"Arrival of Danish Jews at Terezin Spa"
Source: LAMOTH Archival Collection

Postcard from a German labor camp to Denmark 
Source: LAMOTH Archival Collection

Postcard from a German labor camp to Denmark 
Source: LAMOTH Archival Collection

It is remarkable to note however, that casualties among Danish Jewry during the Holocaust were among the lowest of the occupied countries of Europe. 95 percent of Danish Jews escaped Nazi persecution in that October in 1943.

Note on Sources:

Information for this article is based in the USHMM publication available through

 Hans Kirchhoff (1995). "Denmark: A Light in the Darkness of the Holocaust? A reply to Gunnar S. Paulsson". Journal of Contemporary HistoryFor exact figures of costs involved see

Thursday, October 6, 2016

This Week in Holocaust History: The Munich Agreement and German Occupation of Sudetenland

The week of October 1st 1938 marked the beginning of the German occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The signing of the Munich agreement in days prior allowed this to occur.

In modern politics, the Munich Conference, held from September 29 to September 30, 1939, by Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier, remained a remarkable example of failed geo-political intentions to keep peace for the sake of small European nations. Appeasement of Nazi-German territorial expansion resulted in dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and by no means prevented the outbreak of the Second World War, one year later.

From 1918 to 1938, after disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and until October 1938, more than 3 million ethnic Germans lived in the Czech part of the newly created state of Czechoslovakia.

Konrad Henlein, pro-Nazi leader of Sudeten Germans, founded the Nazi-oriented Front of Sudeten German Homeland (SdP) in 1933. By 1935, the SdP became the second largest political party in Czechoslovakia. Shortly after the Anschluss of Austria, Henlein met with Hitler in Berlin on 28 March 1938, where he was instructed to raise demands unacceptable to the Czechoslovak government led by President Edvard Beneš. On 24 April, the SdP issued a series of demands upon the government of Czechoslovakia that were known as the Carlsbad Program.

On September 12th 1938, Hitler denounced Czechoslovakia as being a fraudulent state that was in violation of international law's emphasis of national self-determination, claiming that it was a Czech hegemony where neither the Germans, the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Ukrainians nor the Poles of the country actually wanted to be in a union with the Czechs. Hitler accused Czechoslovakia's President Edvard Beneš of seeking to gradually exterminate the Sudeten Germans, claiming that since Czechoslovakia's creation over 600,000 Germans were allegedly intentionally forced out of their homes under the threat of starvation if they did not leave. Hitler accused the government of Czechoslovakia of being a client regime of France, claiming that the French Minister of Aviation, Pierre Cot had said "We need this state as a base from which to drop bombs with greater ease to destroy Germany's economy and its industry."

A deal was reached on September 29th at about 1:30 am on September 30th 1938 Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The agreement was officially introduced by Mussolini although in fact the so-called Italian plan had been prepared in the German Foreign Office. The German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by  October 10th 1938 and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas.

Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, reluctantly capitulated (30 September) and agreed to abide by the Agreement. The settlement gave Germany Sudetenland starting 10 October and de facto control over the rest of Czechoslovakia as long as Hitler promised to go no further.

Czechoslovakian were greatly dismayed with the Munich Settlement. With Sudetenland gone to Germany, Czechoslovakia lost its defensible, well-fortified border with Germany. Czech sovereignty became more nominal than real.

Neville Chamberlain, announced the deal at Heston Aerodrome upon arrival to Great Britain as follows:

"... the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ' ... We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again."

Historians continue to speculate whether or not the war remained inevitable had Poland succumbed to German demands and ceded the Danzig Corridor to Germany in August of 1939. 

From the events mentioned above, the following proverb fits this narrative: 
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 
Women from the City of Cheb saluting German soldiers
Hitler and Chamberlain shaking hands

Thursday, September 18, 2014

These Days In History: On September 17, 1939 the Soviet Red Army crossed the border with Poland.

By mid-September, the German army had invaded most of the Polish territories. Although Polish armed forces, encircled by the superior forces of Wehrmacht, continued combat operations all over Poland. A number of Polish counter-offences rendered a temporary success. The defenders of Warsaw fought until September 22, 1939.

The Red Army entered Poland under the pretext of the protection of the non-Polish national minorities in Eastern Poland. In reality it was a planned operation, provisioned by the Secret Protocol signed on August 23, 1939 and attached to the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. A precondition to the Soviet invasion of Poland had to be the fall of Warsaw. German government communicated to Stalin that Warsaw had fallen, although it was not true.
Poles did not expect that the Red Army would join the German suit. The Soviet marched in the Eastern Polish territories. The result was disorganization of Polish defense, which made the further resistance inconceivable. Soviet and German troops met in amicable way on the earlier provisioned demarcation lines, at the Rivers San and Buh. A number of German units had gone father, over the earlier agreed demarcation lines and approached Lviv and Brest.

In geopolitical sense, the German and Soviet invasion of Poland meant the Forth Partition of the country. Both Hitler and Stalin had settled their old scores with the independent Poland. The Soviet zone of occupation included Eastern Galicia, Western Volhynia and Polesije regions.

These ethnic Ukrainian territories also contained the large Jewish population, approximately 800,000 people. A small number of Jews returned back to the German-occupied Poland, namely to the General Government. However, the majority remained in the Soviet-controlled territories, which by the end of 1940 were officially incorporated in the USSR.
The Jews were presented with the choice of becoming Soviet citizens. This initiative of the Soviet Government became known as the Article 11. The majority of Jews agreed to the Soviet citizenship, however there were those who refused it. In 1940 – 1941, the Soviet Government commenced mass deportation of the so-called “undesirable” from the newly gained territories. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, Ukrainians and Poles were deported to the Soviet interior and placed in forced labor camps. Intelligentsia, political elites, business entrepreneurs and those who refused Soviet citizenship were to be deported first.

It has to be said that manifold more Jews survived in the Soviet interior than in German-occupied Poland. Many of them later joined the Anders Army or the First Polish Division named after Kosciuszko. This division would become a core of the pro-Soviet forces that eventually took control over the liberated Poland in 1944 – 1945.
Eastern Poland would never become the Polish territory again. The new borders had been reluctantly approved by the Allies at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The political map of Europe had been changed forever. This border changes induced bloodshed in Volhynia where in 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army massacred hundreds of thousands of Poles, perceiving that this province would remain in Polish hands.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist continued to resist against the all might of the Soviet military since 1944 and until 1956. Western Ukraine, the former Eastern Galicia, that once was a home to Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, preserved its role as a Ukrainian Piedmont until Ukraine gained independence in 1991. It is still regarded to be a Ukrainian Piedmont. Only after the Soviet Perstroika, the Secret Protocol between Nazi Germany and the USSR was made public.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

These Days In History: September 15, 1935

On 9/15/35 two measures were announced to the Reichstag at the Annual Party Rally in Nuremberg, becoming known as the Nuremberg Laws.

The first law, The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between "Jews" and "Germans" and also the employment of "German" females under forty-five in Jewish households.

The second law, The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as "Aryans" were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). In effect, this law stripped Jews of German citizenship.

Between November 1935 to July 1943, 13 implementation ordinances were issued dealing with the enforcement of Reich Citizenship Law that progressively marginalized the Jewish community in Germany.

Pictured: A table used to explain the meaning of the Nuremberg Laws