James F. Tent. In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003. xvi + 280 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-1228-4.
Reviewed by Kyle Jantzen (Faculty of Arts and Science, Ambrose University College)
Published on H-German (April, 2004)
Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust: Germany's "Mischlinge"
Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust: Germany's Mischlinge
James F. Tent's monograph, In the Shadow of the Holocaust, emerges explicitly out of his encounters with Germans of partial Jewish descent who survived the Holocaust. The book is essentially an account of the experiences of some of the roughly 72,000 Mischlinge, Germans with either one or two Jewish grandparents, during the Third Reich. In the preface, Tent explains how he was led to pursue this topic of research by an encounter with a retired East German professor, during a 1978 train journey, and by subsequent friendships with other Germans of partial Jewish descent who had survived the Holocaust and gone on to study at the Free University in Berlin. These relationships motivated him to write "a history that showed how people of partial Jewish ancestry coped with conditions on a day-to-day basis from the time the Nazis seized power until they were vanquished, and then to show how the legacy of that anti-Semitic hatred has lingered in the minds of the victims ever since" (p. xii). Rather than replicate the comprehensive studies of Nazi policy concerning the Mischlinge (the term he uses throughout the book), Tent acknowledges the groundwork done by other historians and declares that his interest lies in "personal accounts and case histories" (p. xii).
To this end, Tent bases his work largely on extensive interviews with twenty surviving Germans of partial Jewish descent, supplemented by other cases drawn from archives in Hesse, Berlin, and North Rhine-Westphalia. In successive chapters, he follows the lives of these Germans of partial Jewish descent, who were (generally speaking) driven from their schools, occupations, and social networks, and eventually compelled to perform forced labor during World War II. Lastly, he tries to understand the impact of the marginalization of Germans of partial Jewish descent as they restarted their lives following the collapse of National Socialist Germany. Each chapter consists of a synopsis of the issue at hand, followed by roughly twenty to twenty-five accounts of individual experiences. In a short conclusion to the book, Tent highlights the difficult choice most Germans of partial Jewish descent made to stay in Germany after 1945, and reiterates his motivation for writing the book, which was "to utilize the oral histories that only such eyewitnesses can provide." He goes on to praise their courage: "By volunteering such information, they have bequeathed to future generations further proofs of the human cost of the Holocaust" (p. 241).
Tent's case studies are the strength of this book. Indeed, the stories of these Germans--many of whom would not have identified themselves with respect to their Jewish heritage before 1933--are poignant. Young men and women, most of them school-aged at the time of Hitler's seizure of power, generally lost their opportunities for education, careers, marriages and families. Instead, most were forced to eke out a living performing menial jobs, living as quietly and privately as possible, coping with denunciations and police surveillance, and eventually serving in some form of forced labor, whether they were men toiling in heavy construction camps or women struggling in war-related industries. Their stories demonstrate the dreadful loss of opportunity suffered by Germans of partial Jewish descent, often forgotten beside the greater tragedy of the slaughter of their Jewish relatives at death camps like Auschwitz. Many of Tent's subjects managed to rebuild their lives after the war, though most, he argues, tended to live quietly and privately, just as they had in the years before 1945.
In the Shadow of the Holocaust is not an analytical study of Germans of partial Jewish descent in National Socialist Germany. As Tent notes, the cases he studied were of too narrow an age and educational bracket to be representative (p. 18). If anything, at times Tent tries too hard to read meaning into each story he tells, causing him to make conflicting generalizations or generalizations based on only one or two cases. The result is that one often feels that the condition of Germany's partially Jewish citizens rises and falls from page to page. For instance, in the chapter on education, after only one case involving a brother and sister, he concludes, "all over Germany similar scenes were taking place." One case later he asserts, "a pattern of social exclusion for Mischlinge was emerging all over Germany as National Socialism permeated the educational system" (pp. 29-30). Later still, Tent adds that one student's "school experiences demonstrated that teachers could inflict terrible emotional damage on children" (p. 36). In contrast to these assertions, other cases within the same chapter demonstrate that conditions did not worsen for every one of Tent's subjects, and that a few of their teachers and school administrators were kind and helpful. As a result, the conclusion at the end of the chapter--that "when the issue turned to multiethnic minorities, as far as the Nazis were concerned, Germany's Jewish-Christian citizens had become by far the victims of choice in 1933"--is not especially convincing (p. 59). Both the Roma people and Afro-Germans suffered racial persecution at least as severe as Tent's subjects, many of whom received nominal protection thanks to the presence of their "Aryan" parent. It would have been far more effective for Tent to have argued that educational opportunities for Germans of partial Jewish descent depended largely on the attitudes and actions of their teachers and local school administrators. A few managed to earn an Abitur, but most were pushed out of the system far earlier.
Along with too many such unsubstantiated generalizations, there are frustrating inconsistencies and overstatements in the text. For instance, Tent describes extramarital sexual relations in National Socialist Germany as "frowned upon by large segments of society" and "not the done thing," while four pages later, in another case study, he argues, "in the normal... scheme of things, such a relationship would have aroused little comment" (pp. 112 and 116). Later, there are conflicting signals about how determined Hitler was to be rid of the Mischlinge (pp. 142-150). In the same section, before a series of two dozen stories of Germans of partial Jewish descent who survived forced labor, Tent asserts that the labor camps were "an unmistakable indication of the steep descent of Germany's Mischlinge into the category of outcasts being readied for slaughter just like Germany's hapless Jewish citizens" (p. 149).
As a result, In the Shadow of the Holocaust is a book that succeeds in spite of the author's analysis, simply on the strength of the stories he tells. Though difficult at times, it is worth reading for the same reason that it was written--to put a human face on the suffering of the thousands of Germans of partial Jewish descent who were caught in the racial politics of the Third Reich.
. Tent recognizes many of the newer works relating to Germans of partial Jewish descent in Nazi Germany, including: Jeremy Noakes, "The Development of Nazi Policy towards the German-Jewish 'Mischlinge,' 1933-1945," Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 34 (1989): pp. 291-354; Beate Meyer, "Juedische Mischlinge": Rassenpolitik Verfolgungserfahrung, 1933-1945 (Hamburg: Doelling und Galitz, 1999); Sigrid Lekebusch, Not und Verfolgung der Christen juedischer Herkunft im Rheinland, 1933-1945: Darstellung und Dokumentation (Koeln: Rheinland-Verlag, 1995); Gerhard Lindemann, "Typisch juedisch": Die Stellung der Ev.-luth. Landeskirche Hannovers zu Antijudaismus, Judenfeindschaft und Antisemitismus, 1919-1949 (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1998); Bryan Mark Rigg, Hitler's Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002); Nathan Stoltzfus, Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1996); and Alexandar-Sasa Vuletiae, Christen Juedischer Herkunft im Dritten Reich: Verfolgung und Organisierte Selbsthilfe, 1933-1939_ (Mainz: Institut fuer Europaeische Geschichte, 1995).
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Kyle Jantzen. Review of Tent, James F., In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans.
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Copyright © 2004 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.