Fear and Misery in the Third Reich
Yad Vashem Studies, Volume XXVII
Fear and Misery in the Third Reich: From the Files of the Collective Guardianship Office of the Berlin Jewish Community
This article is based on the more than one hundred individual case files of the Collective Guardianship Office of the Berlin Jewish Community. The analysis of this recently discovered material sheds new light on two different albeit often related phenomena: poverty in the Jewish community in the 1920s and 1930s and the social situation of illegitimate children and their mothers. With regard to the first aspect, the case documentation found in the files clearly shows that in the context of forced pauperization of German Jewry after 1933, those who had always occupied the bottom of the social scale were the first to be stripped of all prospects for existence. Moreover, it does so by illustrating the effects that a given legislative or administrative measure had on the life of a tangible individual or family - a microperspective rarely to be found in the abstract statistical discussions of “poverty.” The destructive power of racial persecution becomes still more palpable in the second aspect highlighted by the files, namely the situation of children born out of wedlock. Their numbers were artificially augmented after 1933 due to diverse measures in racial legislation, such as deprivation of citizenship, prohibitions of marriage and the like. It is shown that when it came to deportations, the legal status of illegitimacy was a factor that could prove crucial in determining the life or death of those children classified as “half-Jews.” By focusing on a section of the Jewish community that from the beginning had almost no chance to escape, only in rare instances left any written record, and thus appears solely as numbers in deportation statistics, the present study adds to our knowledge of the persecution’s specific effects in the German capital.