Skip to comments.American's diary, letters show the depth of Nazi persecution
Posted on 10/22/2006 1:05:56 PM PDT by SJackson
In addition to his family's home movies of the Nazi takeover of Austria, Stan Baker donated the letters and diaries of his mother, Helen Porter Baker, to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Like the films, those writings from the spring of 1938 document -- from a rare American point of view -- the anti-Jewish persecution that launched the Holocaust outside Germany's borders, as well as the pro-Nazi frenzy that accompanied the German takeover.
Helen Baker was writing as an educated, cultured Christian, appalled by what she saw. While she and her family were safe as foreigners and "Aryans," they had friends who suffered, and they repeatedly witnessed the public victimization of strangers.
The racist furor started before the German annexation. Vienna had a long tradition of anti-Semitism, and Austria's native Nazi movement exploited it.
Baker's diary entry on March 10, the eve of the Anschluss, describes mobs of Austrian Nazis roaming the streets of Vienna, defying police and outshouting smaller groups of supporters of the existing government of Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, a conservative anti-Nazi.
Even then, Jews were being harassed -- and fighting back, despite being grossly outnumbered. "We saw several fist-fights where insulted Jews tried to defend their honor," Baker wrote.
Her letter to a relative in Boston described that day in more detail.
"When some small group dared to respond to 'Heil Hitler' with 'Heil Schuschnigg,' there was usually a sharp exchange of words containing some insulting remarks about the Jews, with a final exchange of blows. ... A crowd of Nazis would stop in front of a Jewish store and shout their heads off while the poor frightened owner looked on helplessly from upper windows. It was really dreadful," Baker wrote.
It got worse.
After the German takeover, anti-Semitism and political repression became officially sanctioned and relentlessly harsher. Helen Baker's diary entries recounted the day-by-day slide into tyranny and barbarism.
And in letters home to America, she described in more detail the tightening of the screws on the Jews, and the feverish Nazi propaganda and mass adulation displayed by many Viennese for Adolf Hitler.
In one letter, she described events on the day of the German-sponsored plebiscite of April 10, a rigged election designed to show near-unanimous support for the Austrian annexation.
Hitler visited Vienna that day. Ross and Helen Baker, curious and aware of the historic nature of the events, showed up outside City Hall to watch.
"Hitler appeared on the balcony and everyone 'heiled' and saluted and yelled (with two notable exceptions)," Helen Baker wrote.
"... You are sure to read descriptions of all this in the home papers, but they can't picture the tone of adoration and worship with which they say 'Mein Fuhrer.' An article in yesterday's paper describes him as a 'conqueror of hearts'...
"Now that the excitement is over and the voting over, everyone will sit back and await the miracle -- all except the Jews -- and they will respond to increasing pressure until they one way or another disappear from the scene. Many cafes and movie houses are showing signs, 'We cater only to Aryans.' "
Shaking the dust
In a letter dated May 1 from Venice, Italy, just after the Bakers' departure from Austria, Helen Baker described how things got worse as April wore on.
She included a detailed description of her failed attempt to enter a Jewish shop, captured on film.
"Boy-oh-boy! ... After the election things began to tighten up and we became more and more uncomfortable until we could hardly wait to get out.
"Before the election the drive against Jews was bad, but as soon as the vote was in, they really began to put the screws on. On the last Saturday that we were there, a Nazi was stationed in front of every Jewish store to prevent Aryans from going in. We ran several experiments knowing that, as Americans, we could go wherever we chose. They stopped us, asked if we were Aryan and then informed us it was a Jewish store. With one exception, it was sufficient to say that we were Ausländer (foreigners), but this man was downright mean and threatened to arrest me if I went in. It was too close to our departure to take any chances, but I certainly was tempted to call his bluff, for of course he had no right to stop me. As there were all sorts of unreasonable arrests, I probably would have been taken and no telling how long it would have been before my case came up.
"The Prof. with whom Father studied microchemistry was arrested and was in prison for 10 days before his family knew where he was. Trumped-up charges by an enemy were sufficient grounds. ...
"An Aryan caught buying in a Jewish store was often made to walk the streets wearing a large placard 'Ich bin ein deutscher Schwein und kauf' bei Juden ein' (I am a German swine and buy from Jews). They even branded some on the forehead with indelible ink.
"We met a very nice Jewish couple at the mission. He was an electrical engineer in Germany, making an excellent living until driven out. They came to Vienna and had -- or have -- few roomers. The Nazis first took his license plates and then came back and took his car. He was also one of hundreds who were compelled to scrub the streets on their hands and knees to remove the Schuschnigg propaganda signs. ...
"Of course the suicides among the Jews and the active members of the Vaterländische Front (Schuschnigg's supporters) reached appalling numbers. One doctor that we know of was called for 60 in one day, and there were probably about 200 daily for the first week or two. ...
"The so-called vote was the biggest farce ever staged. Most people were asked to mark the ballot at a table in the presence of Nazis. If they insisted on going into a booth, the envelope was opened immediately. A friend of ours purposely invalidated his by erasing out the 'nein' instead of putting a cross in the 'ja' circle. He hadn't gone 10 steps before he was called back, the mistake (?) explained and a new blank furnished, while a man watched him vote right. A 'nein' would have cost his mother a job and spoiled his chances for an education.
"Ah, I could go on and on, but what's the use! It makes me jittery just to think of it."
Get off the train
Although the family ended up making an uneventful exit, the anti-Semitic crackdown finally touched the Bakers themselves in the days leading up to their departure.
"Each day some new law went into effect," Helen Baker wrote in the May 1 letter. "Then came the rule that no Jew, even an American citizen, could leave the country, so Father dashed down to the embassy to get an affidavit that we were Aryan. They were so busy that they dismissed him with 'Your face is enough!' "
Although they were not bothered at the border, others were.
Border guards "had five or six young fellows who looked Jewish, get off the train with all their luggage and we had to wait until they returned. I don't know, but they probably had to strip, as an American fellow did whom we met in Vienna and again here in Venice. He took off everything but his socks."
5 would be - because we defend the Jews, we must be destroyed with the Jews.
You are right-on, my friend.
You have condensed it and illustrated its absurdity quite nicely.
There is a string of truthful words that you do not often see.
When you boil that argument down it amounts to this:
1)The Arabs want to kill the Jews, because they're Jews.
2)We refuse to allow the Arabs to get away with this.
3)This pisses the Arabs off.
4)We get what we deserve, because we've pissed the Arabs off.
I believe that you're misusing the word "Arab" - there are Arab Jews, Arab Christians, Arab Zoroastrians, Arab Animists, Arab Baha'i, Arab Agnostics, Arab Atheists, etc etc etc.
I believe that you mean to say "Muslims".
On the left, "Never again!" is sounding weaker and weaker and begining to have echos of ""Finish the Job..."
Churchill used to call them "Mohammedans".
I've seen it too, which is why I stand firm. Never again is as much about the future as it is about the past. Didn't think it would or could ever happen within my life time.