During the year of hyperinflation, Germans looked for someone to blame for the crisis. There was a widespread feeling that a few people were growing rich while honest workers were starving. Who was responsible? To many people in Germany, the answer was the Jews, even though they suffered from the hyperinflation along with everyone else. After studying German census data, historian Donald L. Niewyk found that even though a few Jews were highly successful and wealthy in Germany at this time, the vast majority were not. He noted that “by the end of 1923, the Berlin Jewish Community had established nineteen soup kitchens, seven shelters, and an employment information and placement office for the destitute Jews of the city. Other big-city communities did the same.”
Niewyk pointed out that the people who suffered most were Jewish refugees from Russia and countries in eastern and central Europe who had come to Germany after the war to escape persecution and upheavals in the countries of their birth. These Jews provided a convenient target for heightened antisemitism, and they were subject to “chronic unemployment, sporadic official harassment, and the resentment of both Jewish and non-Jewish Germans.”
That growing resentment toward Jews turned violent on November 5, 1923, at a time when the German mark was almost worthless. For two days, an angry mob attacked a Berlin neighborhood that was home to many Jewish refugees and ransacked their homes and shops, as a newspaper reporter observed:
Everywhere in the side-streets a howling mob. Looting takes place under cover of darkness. A shoe-shop at the corner of Dragoon Street is ransacked, the shards of the window-panes are lying around on the street. Suddenly a whistle sounds. In a long human chain, covering the entire width of the street, a police cordon advances. “Clear the street!” an officer cries. “Go into your houses!” The crowd slowly moves on. Everywhere with the same shouts: “Beat the Jews to death!” . . . it is inflamed racial hatred, not hunger, that is driving them to loot. Young lads immediately follow every passer-by with a Jewish appearance, in order to fall upon him when the moment is right.
1. A scapegoat is a person or a group who is wrongly blamed for bad things that happen. How and why were Jews made into scapegoats for Germany’s economic crisis?
2. Why were Jewish refugees initially more vulnerable than German Jews? What does this suggest about the society’s universe of obligation at the time