In the early 1930s, radio was a relatively new and expensive medium which had only existed in Germany for a decade and thus had not become part of the usual fixtures in each home. In 1933, only a quarter of all households owned a radio. The National Socialists realized the political potential of radio broadcasts as a means of indoctrination early on. Only weeks after Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor, the new regime managed to largely monopolize broadcasting companies. Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels estimated that use of the radio during the election campaign had a “60, 70, 80%” share in the right wing coalition’s victory in the election of March 1933. The NSDAP made extensive use of the new medium on the local and regional levels as well, as the excerpts from this speech by its Hamburg district leader Gauleiter Kaufmann show.[00:16-00:50]
Karl Kaufmann was one of the younger high-level officers within the NSDAP. As a member of the so-called “generation of war youths” [Kriegsjugendgeneration], he belonged to an age group who were too young to become frontline soldiers during World War I yet old enough to have experienced the war—and particularly the end of it—as a major break in their lives. Unable to find long-term employment after leaving school, he managed to quickly rise through the political ranks of the NSDAP, then a relatively minor party. In 1929, Hitler appointed him, a junior politician who had just turned 28, to NSDAP district leader Gauleiter of Hamburg. In the years between 1933 and 1939, Kaufmann also held several government offices: As Reich Governor Reichsstatthalter (since 1933), head of Hamburg’s government (since 1936), and Reich Defense Commissioner Reichsverteidigungskommissar (since 1939), he was by far the most influential Hamburg politician during the period of the National Socialist dictatorship.
In his radio speech, Kaufmann seeks to justify the NSDAP’s Jewish boycott of April 1st. This campaign had been prompted by “horror propaganda spread abroad” (Goebbels) or, put differently, the foreign news media’s critical coverage of the violence by which the National Socialists reinforced their rule and intimidated their critics. The official goal of this campaign was to end the supposed “horror propaganda” by means of a wide-ranging boycott of all Jewish businesses in Germany.[03:58-06:17]
In order to decry the foreign news media, Kaufmann paints a picture of a peaceful Germany where “no one laid a finger” on the Jews and no Social Democrat “agitator” had been held responsible. It is true that during the first phase of National Socialist violence neither Social Democrats nor Jews were the main targets of SA Storm Division raids, but the communists. Yet there were violent attacks against other opponents of the NSDAP as early as spring 1933—for example in Kiel, where attorney Wilhelm Spiegel was murdered on March 12. A Jew and a Social Democrat, he inspired National Socialist rancor for more than one reason.[10:32-12:47]
The second leitmotif in Kaufmann’s speech is his demand for “equality” between Germans and Jews, which takes it for granted that German citizens of Jewish faith are not considered Germans. In a tactical maneuver, the aggressive National Socialist actions against the “Jewish guests of our nation” are thus fashioned into an act of self-defense against Jewish dominance. In order to make his demand for “equality” sound plausible, Kaufmann mainly refers to Jewish representation in the medical profession and the justice system, which, according to him, was “disproportionate to the Jewish population in Germany”. Jews were traditionally well represented in these professions and—in relation to their share of the population – their number was indeed disproportionately high. Nevertheless, Kaufmann gives inaccurate figures in his speech. For example, it is wrong that 43% of all attorneys in Hamburg were Jews, as he claims. In fact, 134 of Hamburg’s 646 attorneys were members of the Jewish congregation (21%). Even if one includes those attorneys who were converts or part Jewish (baptized Jews and so-called Mischlinge [mixed-blood]), the percentage of so-called non-Aryans was no higher than 32% and thus still far below the numbers given by Kaufmann.[13:24-17:10]
Kaufmann’s polemic against the Jews’ disproportionately high representation in certain professions and industries picks up on widespread existential fears among young academics and mid-size business owners. In contrast to the campaign against the supposed “horror propaganda,” this line of argument appealed to material interests and promised a solution to existing problems by excluding Jewish competition. It foreshadows the mass expulsion of Jews from academic and legal professions which began only days later with the anti-Jewish legislation passed that April.
On April 1st, 1933, members of the SA stood outside Jewish owned shops, law offices, and doctor’s offices in order to intimidate their potential clients. In many cases, antisemitic slurs were written on shop windows; there were a few instances of violence. For those affected by it, the boycott was a traumatic experience since it was the first time they had been publicly excluded from mainstream society.
Many Jewish business owners resigned in the face of the intimidating effect the SA thugs had on their potential clients and closed their shops and offices in the course of the day. Others felt encouraged by the open show of solidarity by their patients and clients. Among them was physician Henriette Necheles-Magnus from Wandsbek, who later remembered about this day: “Patients kept coming with flowers, with small gifts: “We want to show you what we think of this policy.” “I am not ill, doctor, I have come to see how you are.” [...] My neighbor across the street had the same experience, she said she had never sold as many single eggs as on this day, since the poor people only had enough extra money to buy one egg and they wanted to demonstrate a feeling of solidarity to her somehow [...] Overall, the boycott was unpopular.”
The boycott officially ended after one day, but that was not entirely true. In fact, the NSDAP and SA merely withdrew their uniformed men from their posts outside Jewish businesses on April 2 while numerous local chapters of the NSDAP quietly continued the boycott. Party members who patronized Jewish stores or frequented restaurants owned by “non-Aryans” faced a party tribunal. In rural areas in particular, even those “national compatriots” who weren’t NSDAP members were pressured to avoid Jewish owned shops. In countless cases, those not giving in to the pressure were publicly shamed.
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Michael Grüttner, Prof. Dr. phil., born 1953, is professor for Contemporary History at the Techincal University of Berlin. His focus of research: German and European history of the 19th and 20th century, history of Nationalsocialism, history of scholarship and higher education.
Michael Grüttner, Radio Appeal for an Anti-Jewish Boycott (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-99.en.v1> [November 30, 2023].