Generation Exodus

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Generation Exodus

is the name of a new book by the prolific Jewish author, Walter Laqueur. This book deals with that small group of German born Jews who survived the Nazi terror and reached the United States and other countries while they were less than 20 years old.

These were very few. Consider that there were never more than 600,000 Jews in all of Germany before Hitler. Since Europe had 11 million Jews at that time, the German Jews were a tiny minority even among the European Jewish population. Among the non-Jewish Germans, who numbered about 65 million at that time, they were less than 1 percent.

Unlike the Yiddish speaking Jews of Eastern Europe, the German Jews did not know Yiddish. Also, unlike the Eastern European Jews, the German Jews did not live in all-Jewish shtetls, or small towns. The German Jews lived scattered among the German population and, despite anti-Jewish attitudes, were Germans in the same sense that we are Americans. German Jews lived the German culture and exhibited personality traits that reflected that culture.

The anthropologist Clyde Klockhohn and the linguist Samuel Whorf have shown how personality is closely allied with culture and language, so that someone who is native to America and speaks English will be quite a different person than someone who is native to Israel and speaks Hebrew. That was also true of the 60,000 German Jews, that 10% who migrated all over the world as teenagers in the 1930’s.

A few of those 60,000 came to the United States. Severely damaged by the horrors of Nazi brutality which for them began in January of 1933, these teens often came alone. Yet even those who came with their families had been victimized for years before getting to the United States. Here, however, they faced another nightmare, i.e. the unwillingness of the American Jewish community to give their Jewish “brethren” so much as a friendly word, let alone real aid.

No doubt there were exceptions to the rule then as there always are exceptions to every rule. However, Laqueur shows that the American Jewish community, and particularly the professional Jews located in the various social service agencies, belittled the suffering of the German Jews and even denied that the German Jews had reason to come here at all.

Therefore, the German Jews who arrived here were doubly demeaned, first in their native land and then here.

In Germany, beginning with 1933, six years before the invasion of Poland, innumerable laws were decreed which made the life of the German Jews unbearable even before the mass murders began. At once, in 1933, all professional Jews were deprived of their licenses to practice. Hence all lawyers, doctors, accountants, professors, architects, etc. became unemployed. All Jewish civil servants were fired immediately. Since Jews were not allowed to work for non-Jews these laws meant total destitution.

Since Jewish physicians could no longer have non-Jewish patients, while Jewish patients could no longer visit non-Jewish doctors, Jewish doctors and patients were forced to rely on one another. Jews were also no longer admitted to German hospitals.

Of course, no Jew was allowed to sit on a jury or to attend a German school. This last decree meant that Jewish students could only attend a Jewish school if there was one, otherwise they could not attend any school. The consequences of this became most severe even after immigration to the United States since the German Jewish adolescents arrived here at age 10 or thirteen or fifteen without any schooling or with very little schooling.

Beginning in 1933, German Jews were no longer allowed to butcher animals in a kosher manner.

At once, all Jews were deprived of German citizenship no matter how long their ancestors had lived in Germany. This decree included Jews who had fought for the “fatherland” in the first World War. This also meant that Jews no longer had police protection from any criminals wishing to steal, assault or otherwise attack them.

All bank accounts of German Jews were seized by the state, leaving Jews penniless. Jewish stores were boycotted as Nazi troopers stood in front of Jewish stores and told arriving customers not to buy from Jews. The patents of Jewish inventors were held null and void.

In 1934, all Jews were forced to adopt the names Israel or Sarah as their middle name.

German Jews could not sit on a park bench unless they were willing to sit on a few yellow benches reserved for them. Every street exhibited streamers with the legend “The Jews are our Misfortune” even as all newspapers contained daily hate tirades against Jews, underscored by gross cartoons of ugly Jews raping “aryan” women and stealing “aryan” property. Jews were not allowed to enter a library or theater or other public buildings.

The list of cruelties could go on and on. Most of these horrors are not known in this country to this day, although the burning of all synagogues on the night of November 9-10, 1938 is recognized.

When the victims of all these nightmares came here they faced yet more hostility, this time from their fellow Jews. With few exceptions the American Jewish community did nothing for the newcomers. Instead, the German Jews were now accused of refusing to speak Yiddish because of arrogance. German behavior was not interpreted as the result of culture and personality but as gross and overbearing. It was part of the American-Jewish mythology that all German Jews were guilty of mistreating the Eastern European Jews of the 19th century, so that now in 1933-1939 the time had come to get even. German Jews were insulted in synagogues and ridiculed in recreational settings because of their accents, their mannerisms and their poverty.

The fact is that the antagonism of the American Jewish community towards the German Jewish immigrants added to the psychic burden of those who had lost everything but their lives. Of course no one will deny that it was better to come to America under any circumstances than to die in the European gas overs. That observation, however, cannot excuse the conduct to which the subjects of Laqueur’s latest book were treated here.

It is therefore surprising that so many of the younger German Jews became so successful in this country. Laqueur mentions a number of such German Jews who changed their names and were not known as immigrants at all. Those who read the book may be astonished to find that some prominent Americans with Anglo-Saxon names are in fact German Jewish immigrants.

To this day, these experiences have left a deep psychological scar on the minds of the German Jewish teens who came here then. These folks are now in their ‘70s. Even now, they display the German origins which are so rejected by the American Jewish community at this late date. Sixty years after that migration, there are Jews, particularly among Jewish professionals, who display that same hostility to these erstwhile immigrants that greeted them on first arrival.

The erstwhile immigrants appear to have largely gained behavioral assimilation. That means they act like Americans, speak good English and sometimes exceed even natives in their knowledge of the language and the history of their adopted country. However, few, if any, have ever attained structural assimilation. That means that hardly any of these immigrants ever feel at home anywhere. Instead they feel they belong nowhere and are always on the outside.

That is the story of Generation Exodus, a story never told before but a story that finally fills a gap in the history of the Jewish people.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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