CHRISTIAN AND JEW UNDER HITLER (The Press, March 2, 1939)
A Glimpse of Shadowed Homes
Specially written for the Press by LESLIE PATERSON (pseudonym for Kae Hursthouse)
When I arrived in Berlin in early December the air was wonderfully mild. I could have thought I had stepped into spring except that the flower stalls in the streets were piled with Advent wreaths and candles and the late gold and brown chrysanthemums. I had the good fortune to be a guest in a German home. My hosts were Christians, and had suffered much for their loyalty to the Confessional Church. The coming Christmas rites were particularly precious to this family for their observance was threatened. It is true that Woolworths were doing a roaring trade in cribs, oxen and asses, wise men and shepherds, Joseph and Mary and the Holy Babe: and that other shops sold carved wooden figures from Ober-Ammergau, and hosts of adorable chubby angels of painted wood. Nor was one allowed to forget the archangel with golden wings, nor the Star in the East. But it was rumoured that this was to be the last year in which the officials of the Third Reich would permit this use of Christian symbolism, and the Schwartze Corps, the organ of the Black Shirts, had protested against it. My host’s children, too, were indignant because they had not been taught carols at school, where they were ignoring Christmas to honour the solemn festival of the Winter Solstice.
Bui at home we gathered every evening round the piano to sing carols and to hear the children recite from the Old Testament the promises of the coming Messiah. I hope I shall never forget the high, proud voices of the little boys as they said, or rather shouted, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow out of his roots, and the Spirit of the Lord shall be upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding.”
The Forces of Darkness
As during my stay I came to hear more and more of the struggle of the Church I felt as if I had been wafted back to the first century, when the early Christians were struggling with the forces of pagan darkness. Just now, except in the case of Niemoller and some others, these forces are using cunning rather than violence. For instance, the Evangelical Church asks for permission to run a girls’camp for Bible study. “Certainly,” replies the Government, “only of course you must not play games or organise other amusements, as this is the province of the Hitler Youth Movement.” Or, three pastors in neighbouring villages are known to be staunch churchmen. The one with the largest family is promptly compelled to accept a miserable living at the other end of Germany, where he cannot afford to take his family. The second will be forced away to another remote village, while the third will be forbidden to leave his own parish. And again, in the Prussian Church, which is State dependent, members of the German Faith Movement (professed pagans) ask for and obtain jobs as pastors, so that they may the better destroy Christian solidarity.
These persecutions are mild (for Nazi Germany), but it is clear that Hitler means to exterminate the Church or use it as an instrument of his will. Church people know that they will have to fight a decisive battle in the near future. But as yet the persecution of Christians is not comparable with that of the Jews.
Tragedy of the Jews
This great tragedy of the Jews I came to know well, for I was happy, yet sad, in having friends among the Jewish families in Berlin. One day of fearful cold I was invited to a party. I made my way through streets where the Christmas trees all but hid the smashed windows of the Jewish shops. The sky seemed so hard and compressed that it could not snow. The wind was agonising. A fine white sand blew about and rested in little ridges in sheltered places. There were particles rasped from the sky by the wind. In my friend’s little gloomy flat there was no comfort from the bitter cold. The central heating would not work: but, being Jews, they dared not complain. But it was a festival and I forgot the cold as I watched the pretty ceremony of lighting the candles. The eight people present had the dark hollows under the eyes that one comes to associate with Jewish people in Germany. I have never seen any of them show any violent emotion – only those dark hollows under the eyes and the closed-up look of their faces, which betray what they have been through and what they are facing. Their only hope lies in emigration. Their relations in concentration camps would, it was said, be released when and if they had visas for another country. Some indeed had been released. They had been warned that if they disclosed to anyone the treatment they had received they would be executed for high treason.
But the means of emigration are pitiably inadequate. The young and gifted, with relatives abroad, manage to get out after long and soul-wearying negotiations. The children may go. But to others every country is closed.
I think of a friend of mine who tried to get a boy of 14 out of Germany. She wrote letters and interviewed committees in Berlin and in London. The correspondence was lengthy and delays innumerable. At last the thing was done. The child’s clothes were packed and he was sent off to a school in the United States. Feeling beneficent and successful, my friend went to tea with the parents. They sat down to the table. There was a fourth chair. With one hand the mother pushed it away, and then in silence poured the tea. That despairing gesture of the mother was all but overwhelming. My friend had come to congratulate them … on what? What chance had these ordinary, decent, quiet folk, 50 years old, of finding a home in a foreign country? She knew the answer. Absolutely none. They would never see their child again.
From Aryans and Jews alike I repeatedly heard the sentence; “Germany is one large concentration camp!” And we have the responsibility of knowing we could release the prisoners if we would. In this country of ours we are most privileged and fortunate. I think of the German Jews I have known – kindly, quiet people, who would be well and happy and useful in New Zealand. Could not New Zealand be generous and let them in? It would be a proud position to belong to a country truly standing for freedom and justice and a fair chance for all.