Empire of Hatred: The Third Reich

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German storm troopers put up signs on Jewish establishments for the boycott. In 1933, nearly 600,000 Jews called Germany home. By 1950, that number would be reduced to 37,000 thanks to the further atrocities the boycott set in motion. CHRONICLE/ALAMY

The following is an excerpt from the Newsweek archive, from Newsweek's April 8, 1933 issue and is featured in our Special Edition, Hitler: Can His Evil Legacy Ever Be Defeated?, by Issue Editor James Ellis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although Hitler’s destructive obsession with purging Europe of its Jewish people was obvious from his first forays in public life, most of the world either underestimated or paid scant attention to the dictator laying the foundations of one of the worst atrocities in human history. While media outlets, such as Newsweek, covered the rampant discrimination and persecution Jews faced in the Reich, these early reports barely scratched the surface of the horror Hitler and his henchmen would later devise.

Outraged by charges that they had been persecuting some Jews physically, Germany’s National Socialists last week decided to persecute all Jews economically. News of Nazis’ anti-Semitic acts had loosed torrents of protests in foreign countries, notably Britain and America. In many nations there were boycotts and threats of boycotts against German goods. The Nazis responded defiantly. German Jews, they insisted, were responsible for this foreign agitation. Therefore they must be punished. A crushing nationwide Nazi boycott was to be clamped on Jewish businesses. The Hitler Government was to tolerate it as long as foreign governments tolerated protests against the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. 

It was to start last Saturday at 10 a.m. and to continue indefinitely. It did start last Saturday at 10 a.m., but nine hours later it stopped. If it had not, the Jews would have been quickly reduced to wretchedness. The plans were savagely thorough. In every local Nazi group, action committees were to supervise a boycott against Jewish physicians, lawyers, goods and business establishments. Storm troopers were to picket all Jewish stores. The American-owned Woolworth stores were specifically exempted. Nazis had apparently confused them previously with the Jewish-owned Wohlwert stores.

Jewish establishments were to be plastered with posters showing a yellow spot on a black ground, an age-old sign of disease. Patrons were to be photographed, their names published in newspapers and their pictures flashed on movie screens. All this to the end explained in the boycott proclamation: “No German shall buy any longer from a Jew or let any wares be offered to him by a Jew or his subordinates.” 

BBKW66 A Nazi stands by a poster warning Germans against patronizing Jewish-owned businesses, April 1933. Soon after the boycott, the Nazis announced Jews would not be permitted to hold civil service jobs. PICTORIAL PRESS LTD/ALAMY

The action committees were also charged with arousing public demand that the number of Jews be restricted to 1 percent in the legal and medical professions and in secondary schools and universities. Finally, and ironically, they were to see that individuals and newspapers with connections abroad disseminated “the truth... that quiet and order reign in Germany.” A central committee, coordinating the local committees, was to meet in the Munich Brown House, national Nazi headquarters. Its chairman was to be Julius Streicher, former school teacher, Nazi Reichstag Deputy and veteran of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. 

Nazis were instructed that “the boycott is not to be launched scatteringly but at one blow.” As a matter of fact, it was launched scatteringly. In several cities, long before the official zero hour, husky Brown Shirts, shoulders squared, feet apart, planted themselves before Jewish stores, shouting and shooing off customers. There were many anti-Semitic moves not directly connected with the boycott. Jewish professors were barred from university classrooms. Crowds, in Berlin and other cities, stormed courthouses, ejecting Jewish judges and attorneys. Other Jewish judges were officially “persuaded” to take leaves of absence. It was announced that hereafter only 35 Jewish lawyers in Berlin will be admitted to the bar. At present there are 2,000. Show windows crashed and tinkled as anti-Semites hurled bricks through them, bringing cries of pain from German insurance companies. German Jews shivered with fear, humiliation and despair. A representative group of them appealed to President von Hindenburg to stop the boycott. Pitifully they pointed out that 12,000 Jews died for Germany in the World War; that Germany’s Jewish organizations had tried to counteract the atrocity and boycott propaganda abroad, and German Jews “with all their heart feel themselves bound up with the Fatherland.” 

Whatever the reason, the boycott was eventually curtailed to a 10-to-7 o’clock demonstration on April Fool’s Day. The night before, Propaganda Minister Goebbels declared that, because the Nazi boycott threat had decreased foreign propaganda, a three-day halt would be called until Wednesday, April 5.  The world could “recant its anti-German agitation,” or else, Herr Goebbels said, the boycott would be resumed “until Germany Jewry has been annihilated.” 

Cover-4-8-33-EmpireofHatredt Newsweek April 8,1933

Next day the Nazis had their nine naughty hours. Bands of them tramped from shop to shop. Dipping brushes into buckets of paint, they slapped slogans across storefronts: “Perish Jews!” “Danger—Jew Store!” “Attention—Beware the Jew!” with a red skull and crossbones. The yellow spot was also stuck on storefronts. Pasted strips were put over Jewish doctors’ and lawyers’ nameplates. The public took the affair in a holi­day spirit. The swastika and the imperial flag decorated buses and street cars. Nazi bands played military music in public squares. Grinning crowds followed the Nazi sign painters along the sidewalks, making comments on their work. That evening, when the tumult died, it was announced that the boycott probably would not be resumed. 

This article was excerpted from Newsweek's Special Edition—Hitler, Can His Evil Legacy Ever Be Defeated?, by Issue Editor James Ellis. For more about the the rise and fall of the world's most infamous dictator, pick up a copy today.

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