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A Fatal Balancing Act: The Dilemma of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, 1939-1945.

A Fatal Balancing Act: The Dilemma of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, 1939-1945, by Beate Meyer. New York, Berghahn Books, 2013. vii, 441 pp. $100.00 US (cloth).

Beate Meyer has chosen to research a serious subject that is by any standard difficult and painful to confront in an honest way. The system of Jewish self-destruction set up and continually orchestrated by the Nazi regime is key to our understanding of the uniquely sinister aspects of The Final Solution to the Jewish Question. In what other genocide were the victims forced to finance and organize their own dispossession, deportation, and eventual extermination?

The book is a careful, detailed study of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (the Association), which every Jew was forced to join and fund by decree in 1939. This organization executed all anti-Jewish orders and policies of the Nazi state, including emigration and deportation. It provided social welfare, policy information, kept community statistics, but also evacuated apartments, collected valuables, moved Jews to Judenhauser (designated residential areas), and prepared confiscations of property. In five chapters, Meyer attempts to document and explain the activities of the Jewish functionaries tasked with operating this Association.

The first chapter examines the years from 1939 to 1941 during which the new Association was first established and charged with the arduous task of helping increase the number of Jews leaving Germany. At the same time, the Nazis were planning to deport the remaining German Jews to the furthest eastern border of the new Reich, and had two other Jewish reservations in mind: Lublin and Madagascar. The Association was provided with vague information about these deportation plans; however, it was not privy to the precise goals and locations. Illustrating a growing desperation among Jewish leaders in Germany, Meyer discusses ideas such as moving Jews to Palestine, as the Nazi victories gobbled up more of Europe, as well as a strange initiative asking the Pope to help move Jews to southern Alaska. Most of the Jews who left Germany between 1933 and 1939 were well-established financially. The Jews cared for by the Association from late 1939 onward were largely the elderly, ill, disabled, and those without family support. The levels of dispossession and destitution increased dramatically with the imposition of "Aryanization" policies (confiscation of businesses, wealth, and property), which also reduced the budget of the Association.

Chapters two and three detail the participation of the Berlin and district branches of the Association and its leadership in the deportations of German Jewry to the East, beginning in October 1941. The Gestapo ordered the Association and its offices to assist the state in organizing and implementing the "resettlement" of Jews to Poland. One month earlier, the Association was charged with providing yellow stars to the Jewish population to affix to their clothing, to provide the yellow cloth and instructions for use, and to pay for the stars at ten pfennigs each.

The Jewish leadership in Berlin was sworn to secrecy about the deportations with the threat of being sent to a concentration camp if discussed with third parties. If the Association did not cooperate, the deportations would happen regardless and promised to be violent and disruptive under the charge of the sa and ss. The Association chose the Jews to be deported, created the lists for the Gestapo, and explained the process to Jews as a kind of housing eviction. Jewish Abholer (Collectors) were used by the Gestapo to search residences and round up Jews on the community deportation lists. If these men failed to meet their daily quota of captures they were threatened with incarceration in a concentration camp.

What exactly was known about the likely fate of these people is unclear, according to Meyer, although the Association staff realized that these Jews were not going to return to Germany. Here, she is unfortunately too generous in her assessment of the Association and its level of knowledge about ghetto conditions in the East, and later about the killing camps.

On June 16, 1943 the last German Jews without any "Aryan" relatives were deported from Germany and the Association was disbanded. The main Jewish functionaries were deported to Theresienstadt, while Jews in mixed marriages (approximately 13,000 by July 1944) were controlled under a new Residual Association. Chapter four explains how new "mixed-race" functionaries were appointed, now called intermediaries, who monitored the mischlinge (mixed-race) population for the Gestapo, distributed ordinances, and eventually arranged for their deportations.

The final chapter of the book examines the acrid period of accusation and recrimination between Jewish survivors and former Jewish functionaries in Germany under the Allied occupation and through the early post-war decades. The Reich Association of Jews in Germany was formally disbanded by the Berlin Police on July 12,1945 and condemned as a Nazi organization, as it had been established under the Reich Citizenship Law.

Meyer is convinced that the Association functionaries operated out of real concern for German Jews and that they cooperated with the Gestapo in the hope of trying to reduce hardship and suffering, and possibly influence events and conditions. It is impossible for scholars to know the actual motivations of individual members of the Association; however, the less altruistic impulses of self-preservation and the protection of one's own family and friends (who were no doubt excluded from the deportation lists for as long as possible) must have been a factor. Regardless of stated or imagined intentions, Meyer's evidence and analysis clearly proves that the Jewish functionaries and intermediaries of the Association helped organize and execute the dispossession and deportation of their own people for the Nazi regime.

doi: 10.3138/CJH.ACH.50.1.008

Catherine D. Chatterley,

Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism

University of Manitoba
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Author:Chatterley, Catherine D.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2015
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