Reading

Bertha Pappenheim, Letter on Antisemitism (1923)

In a letter Bertha Pappenheim wrote in 1923, she recounts the story of a trip she took in Germany to inspect some foster homes. In this excerpt, she talks about an incident which occured on one of her train rides:

I waited for remarks about Jews, which did not come—the women were too preoccupied with themselves and their own burning problems—they seemed to have no strength left to think about anti-Semitism. Change from Eberstadt to Pfungstadt. The “parlor” car, fourth class, was crowded; a laborer gave me his seat. I noticed a red-haired Galician Jew involved in a loud exchange in the middle of the car, with seats only around its walls. Two packages were on the floor next to him, his yardstick pushed into his high boot. He was being battered by violently hostile words as by a hailstorm; his answers in Yiddish evoked furious laughter.

“What did we pay for potatoes in peacetime?” asked the main haranguer.

“Three marks for a hundred pounds,” yelled the chorus.

“What did we pay for apron fabric!”

“80 pfennige.”

“And this dirty Jew here’s asking today hundred pounds of potatoes for one meter of apron fabric!”

A roaring belched out. A woman cried, “Junghans ask just as much!”

“He’s even worse than a Jew,” screamed another woman, “You should be strung up.”

“All of them should be hung. A stone round their neck, dumped into a river, all of the mishpocheh!” Laughter. A certain humor was at the bottom of this terrible scene—a kind of coarse joke, which could have become an ugly, bitter outbreak through something in the atmosphere—maybe a drop of alcohol. We got off at Pfungstadt, where Mr. Bergen, the teacher, was to meet me with a car....1

  1. Melinda Given Guttman, The Enigma of Anna O.: A Biography of Bertha Pappenheim (Moyer Bell, 2001).

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Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.