Everyday antisemitism: a 1936 letter from Germany to America

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/09/02/everyday-antisemitism-a-1936.html


@beschizza, could you link to the guys OP?

Some remarks: The database linked is a DB of victims of the NS regime. Which makes me curious about this person.

Cologne has, BTW, a Jewish community with quite a long history, and some recent excavations unearthed impressive and important objects from the middle ages (before and after the infamous pogromes of the time).

I recently came across a play called Die Rassen (The Races), written and first given in 1933 (!) which was very clear on the path the Nazis were taking during the very first months after the Machtergreifung by someone who, early on, fled to Zurich (not Paris, at first, as his Wikipedia entry claims.) It was an eye opening experience to see the play. The letter, therefore, doesn’t surprise me at all. The Nazis started right away with their programme to get rid of the Jewish part of the German population, and everyone opposed to them as well.


This is the OP: he sent them to me.


Oh. Ok. I was expecting more context, and also more detail why he found the letter interesting enough to blog about it. So he has probably no idea why Ernst Ries turns up in a Nazi victim list, and what happened in between, I presume. Pity.

(My family is from Cologne, hence my stronger interest in the matter.)

[Edit to say that I assume the idiosyncrasies in spelling and grammar are probably, at least in part, due to the dialect spoken in the area. Content: terrible. Spelling: hilarious.]


I’m not sure that all “Opfer von Krieg und Gewaltherrschaft” lists (Victims of War and Rule of Violence) are exclusively for Nazi victims. It can be people who died in the war as well. I’ve seen some debate about this terminology as some “victims” are actually the perpetrators.

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Given the tone and details of the letter, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that he was an endangered Jewish guy using flagrant bigotry to camouflage his letter.

It looks like he may be asking for documents to “prove” Aryan heritage.


The address is Maccabee Street, which makes me wonder if he lived in a Jewish Quarter of some kind. I see that street is right in the city center though, so perhaps not.


The best thing you can say to Holocaust deniers is to simply point out the common antisemitism of the era, then ask them if the Holocaust is fake, then are Mein Kampf and the Nuremberg Laws also fake? Because if Jews were commonly considered vermin, if they had their citizenship and rights taken away, if their stores and houses and temples were all vandalized on Kristallnacht, if they were forced to live in tightly-packed ghettos, and then taken in locked cattle cars to camps, then why is murder out of the question?


On a lark I started reading a book from a holocaust denier. It was interesting how they structured their arguments. They didn’t contest some of those details, they just suggested that they played out differently, backed up by direct quotes from people who don’t seem to exist, and other books and scholarly works which sometimes also don’t exist, or whose quotes were slightly edited or taken out of context. It was very deliberate, and even sounded convincing and reasonable–all based off the notion that most people don’t check sources.


Precisely. Yet another piece of evidence to join the mountain that already exists debunking the “average German didn’t know” myth. For the same reason we have to vigorously oppose the white supremacists and Nazis to this day, we can’t let that narrative be shifted to absolve participants of guilt.


I’m not sure how you would come to that conclusion. There is no documented Ernst Ries listed in the Shoah victim’s list (from Cologne) and there was a documented person by that name listed at that address and also a death record that corresponds.


Things in Germany are looking up thanks to our Führer and the cleansing of the population from the Jews (Those exploiters who are the misfortune of humanity). Since 1/1/1936, they can’t employ Germans as their service personnel, because of the desecration that those good-for-nothings did on the German girls. If one of them even dares nowadays, even if they just insult a girl, they will be put in prison straightaway --those rapists. In addition, German citizenship was revoked for all of them, they are not Germans – foreign to the German race, and should be sent to Palestine where a lot already ran off to, those bastards.

Could’ve been written by our Fuhrer tRump.


A quick Google search on the name came up with this, and I had to translate it, but he was Deported 3.3.1943 and “Ermordet in Auschwitz” translates to “Murdered in Auschwitz.” So, I’d say it’s likely he was in the concentration camp, but I don’t know how common that name is, so could be a different person. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stolperstein_Neue_Roßstr_21_(Mitte)_Ernst_Ries.jpg


I would be very careful with ideas like that. It isn’t full-blown victim blaming, and to be clear, I don’t accuse you of that. But the thought of anyone waving the flag for the Nazis to renounce their Jewish heritage for any benefit including to save their own life could be taken as offensive. I know it happened, and some outspoken anti-semites had ancestors of the Jewish faith. But the idea would fit right in with antisemitic propaganda by painting the victims of a genocide as deceiving, dishonest, honourless, and somehow “toxic” to the “Volkskörper”.

I deem it more likely that @nasha2’s reply goes into the right direction, but there could also be some other story behind that. We could try to find out, but I don’t think I’ll be able to spare much time.

If you have a look at the links I provided above, you’ll see that the Jewish quarter wasn’t far off, but I would have to look up if it extended to that street.

That said, despite the re-occurring pogromes, Jews weren’t just a very old part of the city’s cultural life, but as far as I know well integrated. Jews weren’t, again AFAIK, exclusively living in a Jewish quarter. People of other religions were living in the “Jewish” quarter, as well. The address, in 1936, would be hardly any indication of your faith, nor your “race”.


I was struck by the similarities between the rhetoric in this letter and that of our contemporary political discourse. Chilling.


Unlikely the same person as in @beschizza’s link, and also unlikely the same person writing the letter.

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That person was living in Berlin.

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Here is the city directory for 1935 for the street. You can see Ernst listed at 46 with his neighbors if that is of interest. He was a merchant and junk (scrap metals) dealer.

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Those are all good points. But I don’t agree with this:

Lying to abusive authorities to survive is none of those things, never will be, and should never be suggested that they could be. Did the Third Reich make attempts to censor private correspondence?

Even so, I will refrain from speculating on the sincerity of the antisemitism in the letter.


This is a fascinating book about Germany in the 1930’s, written from the experiences of the American ambassador and his family. The daughter in particular is initially charmed by all the handsome officers and diplomats vying for her attention, but as time goes on the family slowly realizes what kind of society they are living in.