Life and Death in the Third Reich
There must have been enough disconcerting opposition to the anti-Jewish actions for security forces to falsify reports, as they did in Bielefeld, where they turned the population's 'apprehension' into 'appreciation.' But other reports indicated that applause greeted columns of Jews on the way to train stations. Children heckled—Klemperer reported that Hitler Youths were his worst tormentors—but adults also sent Jews off with horrible adieus: 'Just look at those cheeky Jews!' 'Now they're marching into the ghetto'; 'Just a bunch of useless eaters!' These dirty phrases complemented the ice-cold cynicism of German authorities who had rounded up 'you Saras and Israels,' laughed at the fate of the 'chosen people,' and sent them off as human cargo. Frank Bajohr argues that the deportations were extraordinary events in locally bound histories, something that allowed residents to transgress normal rules of social inceracrion. But antisemitic feelings ran deeper than that; race baiting had always drawn a crowd in the Thirds to the punishments meted out to German women accused of sleeping with Poles and other alleged racial inferiors during the war, to the heckling of deportees. Even after the war, when the extent of the Holocaust was well known, many Germans interviewed by the Americans stuck to their old positions. Although the murder of Jews was a Kulturschande, a scandal, one medical student from Munich explained, 'I do think that during the war it would have been all right to have German Jews interned—otherwise, from the treatment they received before the war, they would naturally have hindered the war effort.' In other words, the persecution of Jews before 1941 justified their deportation after 1941. 'Most Jews, as you know,' insisted a former Red Cross nurse in Kempten, 'fought against National Socialism, and in time of war that cannot be tolerated.'
Germans were not merely spectators. As Christopher Browning notes, 'at the highest level the Finance Ministry, Foreign Office, and Transportation Ministry had all been eager participants. At the local level, small-town mayors ensured that their handful of Jews were included, cleaning ladies collected overtime pay to conduct strip searches of the female deportees,' and the German Red Cross provided food and hot drinks for the SS guards who accompanied the transports. The Gestapo, their secretaries, and the cleaning ladies gathered together for a party after successfully deporting the first 1,000 Nuremberg Jews on 29 November 1941. While a local tavernkeeper served drinks, the group snacked on food pilfered from the evacuated Jews, raffled off items found in their stolen bags, and danced the polka to accordion music. Eleven Jews from this transport survived the Holocaust. In Detmold, civil servants updated files by recording the forwarding addresses of former Jewish residents: 'departed to an unknown location,' 'departed to the East.' The file of one debtor was closed in July 1942 because rhe case worker assumed 'that Steinweg will never return to Detmold.'
Even more astonishing were the public auctions that distributed the expropriated property of Germany's Jews. Knowledge about these auctions was so completely suppressed in the postwar years that historians have only in the last ten years or so become aware of their extent. Since the property of Jews who crossed the German border belonged to the state, according to timely legislation promulgated in November 1941, local and federal officials wrote back and forth about which goods of deported residents to requisition for their purposes. Civil servants in Wurttemberg, for example, contemplated the rich booty suddenly available in the town of Baisingen: 'Dr. Schmal's easy chair is probably not right for the major's office; I suggest Instead that we take Wolff's plush chair as well as Ebert's chaise longue, since it is particularly nice.' After the first-rate furniture belonging to Schmal, Wolff, and Ebert had been stolen, ordinary Germans received an opportunity to plunder what remained. Some residents even attempted to reserve in advance desirable property before deportations took place. German Jews still lived in Baisingen when on 11 May 1942 finance officials held a public auction directly outside one of the large shuttered houses to offer up all sorts of household goods for cash. Since the property of Jews was generally regarded to be of high quality, and Germans had money but not much to spend it on, there were many interested parties about town. Other Baisingers were appalled by the proceedings. Many years later one woman remembered asking her mother to take a look at the fine bed linens for sale: 'No, no, she couldn't use none of it," the daughter recalled forty years later; 'she couldn't sleep in them, she'd not get her rest anymore.'
Still crowds gathered around the stuff. 'We have to keep our rooms locked,' reported Victor Klemperer at Christmastime 1942, 'because the place is crowded with people inspecting the goods.' These were the possessions of the Jacobys, who had just been deported from the 'Jew house' in which the Klemperers also lived. The art and antiques of the Jacobys in Dresden were just a fraction of the goods that German officials stole. It took 30,000 freight cars to haul into Germany the requisitioned goods of west European Jews. Most of this was destined for cities that had been bombed. A notice in the Oldenburger Staatszeitung advertised a sale at Strangmann's tavern on Sunday, 25 July 1943: 'Porcelain, enamel goods, beds, and linens for sale.' Bombed-out residents had first pick at four in the afternoon, followed by 'large families and newlyweds' at half-past four, and everybody else at five. Since much of the loot came from Holland, Oldenburgers referred to the goods as 'Dutch furniture.' How many people participated in the auctions? Frank Bajohr estimates that 30,000 Jewish households in Germany and western Europe were broken up into 100,000 Aryan siderable numbers relaxed in chairs and slept in sheets that had once belonged to their Jewish neighbors.
The terrible destruction wreaked by Allied bombings made it easier to justify disposing of Jewish property, since the Jews were held partially responsible for the attacks. Auctions offered an unexpected opportunity to acquire hard-to-get high-quality items in an increasingly Spartan war economy, but they also expressed the sense of entitlement that Germans came to feel vis-a-vis Jews, who, they half believed, had just bombed them out. However, even as Germans spun out these fantasies and reduced Jews to the crude racial stereotype of international conspirators, they indicated that they knew about the deportations and the killings for which the Jews, in this convoluted scenario, were now seeking revenge.
The association between Jews and Allied air raids needs to be unpacked. The relatively light destruction of the first British bomber runs in 1941 had in some west German cities served as a premise for demands to deport Jews. By the middle of 1942, when more than half of Germany's Jews had already been deported and when the first major air raids against Hamburg and Cologne had taken place, the argument was reversed, and Jews were blamed for the bombing, which then served as an argument or justification for their dispossession and deportation. What is interesting, however is that while regime propaganda simply put the blame on international Jewry, talk on the street went further and blamed the Jews who, from their powerful positions abroad, were taking revenge on Germany for the cruel treatment they had suffered. Or else, the Allies were punishing Germany, or Germany was being punished in some sort of divine reckoning, for persecuting the Jews. With this idea of retaliation, public opinion established a link between what had happened to Jews and what was happening to Germans. Rumors even circulated that cities such as Wurzburg had nor been bombed because the synagogue there had been spared in 1938 (which was not true: all seven had been destroyed or damaged in the pogrom) or that the city had suddenly become vulnerable once it had deported its last Jew, who was said to have told the towns-people as much upon his departure.