Should Jews Return to Germany?



A WIDESPREAD discussion is now under way dealing with the future of the Jews who were once citizens of Germany and of the countries that came under Axis domination. Intricate questions of emigration and re-immigration, punishment and reconstruction, restitution and compensation, are the subject of heated debate. This discussion is of real significance. We welcome the opportunity it affords to present certain basic observations essential to clear thinking on this complex matter.

The problem is highly involved and permits of no easy solution. Yet it may neither be ignored nor be answered in purely emotional fashion. The future of Jews throughout Europe, of Europe itself, and to a large extent of every one of us, is inextricably linked to the answer given, and the repercussions of that answer will be felt the world over.

Several questions immediately present themselves: Do the German Jews want to return to Germany? If not, where else can they go? Is it advisable for them to attempt to return to Germany? Under what conditions should they return?

In the face of the tragic history of the past fifteen years, one might doubt whether any Jew would want to return to a country which has treated his people so cruelly. “Jews should be under the moral compulsion of refusing ever to set foot on the soil of that accursed land,” writes Bernhard B. Fischbein, a leader of the German-Jewish community in Argentina. He expresses the feelings of many Jews and non-Jews. But the very statement of this author was inspired by the fact that there are German Jews in South America — and we may presume elsewhere — “who entertain the idea of returning to Germany.”

Why should any Jew who had the good fortune to escape torture and death by the hand of the SS, SA, Gestapo, and Wehrmacht ever think of going back to Germany, to a country, Mr. Fischbein writes, “whose entire population knew of this greatest of all mass murders in the history of mankind, yet failed to rise against the instigator of the murder”?

We might question the validity of Mr. Fischbein’s assumption that all the German people had full knowledge of the Nazi massacres of Jews — and even if they did have this knowledge, whether they possessed the power to interfere. However, we here are concerned with his conclusions.

Why should any German Jew want to return? The candid answer is that in no other country have the German-Jewish refugees found a home equal to the one they lost when Nazism came to power. No country except Palestine has welcomed them wholeheartedly and made them feel at home. They found that immigration barriers, social unrest, dislike of foreigners, restrictions of various kinds, make the world today poorly suited for human transplantation. Among the older refugees there are many who refuse to identify Germany with Nazism. To them the Third Reich was but a nightmare that would disappear with the fall of Hitler. They are attached to the Germany of old, to the land whose language they speak and whose culture they have helped to build.

It can be assumed that very few of those who have been able to reach the United States think of returning to Germany. Here they have been able to reconstruct their lives. They have become citizens, and their sons are now serving in the armed forces of this country. But many others have been less fortunate. The countries to which they fled had even before 1939 a lower standard of living than that of Germany, and the war has added ruin and distress. The reception accorded the refugee has not been such as to induce him to stay on after the war, if he can help himself.

A pacified Germany, where the rights of the individual were guaranteed, might well look attractive to those who have been unable to take root in their new environments.

There are other psychological, economic, and patriotic reasons which might impel the German-Jewish refugee to return to Germany. The refugee may wish to return to the place where his humanity and rights were spat upon so that he may reassert the validity of his person and demand the respect due his human dignity. He constantly feels the pull of attachment to the familiar scenes of his past. He may hope to find there some remains of the property and business that were torn from him. There is finally his sincere loyalty to the Germany of old, and his desire to aid in its restoration.

Another, and possibly more decisive, factor in the post-war situation cannot be ignored. Improbable as it may seem to the casual observer, the possibility exists that there will be strong pressure exerted upon the refugee to return to Germany after the war. Promises of protection by the Allies, indemnification, outside assistance in re-establishing themselves, and various pledges will be made in an effort to induce German Jews to return. Support for such a policy may be expected to come from governments as well as from private organizations, including Jewish.

The underlying motives will be readily understood by anyone who has followed the intergovernmental efforts of the last twelve years with regard to resettlement of Jewish refugees. To Jews, the history of these endeavors presents a study in subterfuge and evasion, frustrated hopes and broken promises. Great powers have acted hesitantly, and almost invariably have ignored the interests of mankind in an effort to serve their own shortsighted self-interest. Halfhearted and sometimes purposefully futile, these official efforts have reflected the inner weakness of the democracies and testified to their share of responsibility for the rise and strength of Nazism. There is little comfort for those who hope for a fundamental change for the better.


IF THIS view seems unduly pessimistic, consider the results of the Evian and the Bermuda Conferences, and the denial of pleas to open the sparsely settled territories of Canada, Australia, and our own Alaska to the persecuted of Europe.

“It is a record,” says the Honorable James G. McDonald, Chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on National Refugees, and formerly League of Nations High Commissioner for German Refugees, “of millions of refugees sacrificed because most government leaders would not recognize in time the realities of the international situation and would not act with sufficient vigor to prevent the slaughter or exile of these helpless victims of Nazi persecution.”

We may therefore anticipate that some governments which fought Hitler’s Germany would experience a sense of relief should there be evidenced a willingness on the part of German Jews to return to Germany. They may induce such willingness by offers of generous assistance. Some Jewish circles, too, conservative by nature of economic circumstance, can be relied upon to give ideological and material aid to such a policy. Based upon a blind faith in the ability of history to be turned back to the status quo ante, this policy will sail under the banner of Universal Democracy emblazoned with an International Bill of Rights.

There are two flagrant errors in the arguments of those now most vociferous on this subject. One is the tendency to regard the period under Hitler as a temporary aberration from which Germany can recover and be as before, unchanged, unaffected, and unscarred. The second is the fatal disposition, in planning for the return of Jews to Germany and the restitution of their property, to base these plans on the protective force of the Allied armies of occupation.

It should be apparent by this time that we cannot turn back the clock of history. It should be equally obvious from past experience that we cannot achieve the reintegration of Jewish life with the future of Germany by the pressure of outside force.

Few of those who profess to speak with authority on this matter demonstrate that they have grasped the realities of the post-war world. With regard to Germany their hopes revolve around the desire for revenge and return to the “normalcy” of pre-Hitler days. Whether they are pleading for a hard peace or for conciliation, there is usually implied the yearning to erase the history of the last twelve years and the significance thereof. They find it hard or impossible to understand that a social revolution has begun in Europe, Fascism and Nazism being the desperate attempts to divert and channel it.

Whether the Jews can and should return to Germany will depend upon the outcome of this revolution in Germany and in Europe as a whole. Hitlerism cannot be rooted out by military force from the outside, nor can a rejuvenation of Germany be expected from a process of “re-education” administered during a long military occupation. Germany must find within herself the courage and strength to uproot Nazism by destroying the old social structure which bred it, or she will sink into utter demoralization, a sick, cynical country which will be a source of infection for the rest of Europe.

With the downfall of the Third Reich the nightmare of the last twelve years is not over. That which has been for the refugee an interim period of more or less hopeful waiting, for Germany has been an irrevocable period of fundamental changes in her social, political, economic, and cultural life. The refugee can never find again the Germany of pre-Hitler days. The middle class, to which most of the German Jews belonged, has been ruined by Nazism and the war. National Socialism, which rode into power on the promise of saving the middle class, has done more to destroy it than any other force ever seen in a capitalist society. Even before the war, the Nazis had all but finished draining the manpower and economic resources of this class. The rapid and forced rearmament was accomplished largely at the expense of the middle class. Hitler’s command economy meant an intensified process of capital accumulation in the hands of a few great industrial combines.

The “Aryan” beneficiaries of the expropriation or forced sale of small Jewish businesses have themselves in turn become the victims of state-sponsored monopolies. Ownership of the larger Jewish-owned enterprises has been so merged in the intricate Nazi system of holding companies that in most cases its identity will be impossible to trace. In addition, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and other cities which formerly held sizable Jewish populations have been so devastated that there is little remaining tangible evidence of property, whether originally Jewish or not.

On top of all this, Germany will have to face enormous bills for reparations due the Allies and countries occupied during the war. One third of the Netherlands has been destroyed by the Nazis, and the Dutch will demand compensation at Germany’s expense. Czechoslovakia has announced her intention of deporting two million Sudeten Germans to the Reich. Other countries will undoubtedly follow suit. Even if left intact as a political unit, Germany may well suffer the loss of at least one third of her territory in order to satisfy Polish, Russian, French, and other demands.

Germany will be compelled to meet these penalties at the same time that she will be required to rebuild her devastated areas and her broken transportation system, to provide housing for millions, and to deal with reconversion and demobilization problems of unprecedented magnitude. All this she will have to do on her own at a time when there will be no strong government and when the financial structure of the country will have collapsed.

There is no question, of course, that the Allies could force Germany to accept the return of the Jews despite these conditions. Are they, however, ready to accept the consequences of such a policy?


FOR any group of refugees to go back to Germany under the aegis of the Allied armies, to a Germany whose present rulers are defeated militarily but not ideologically and politically, would place them in the category of collaborators with the enemy, traitors in fact — unless there are strong political forces engaged in the fight against Nazi survival and rebirth with which they can join ranks. The existence of a strong and influential political anti-fascist movement is the prerequisite for the return of German Jews. Without it, the “pacification” of Germany might be able to establish the peace of the cemetery, but it will never destroy Nazism or bring Germany back to civilization.

Under the given conditions, the only group capable of organizing and sustaining such a fight is labor. The German labor organizations and political parties in pre-Hitler times were not anti-Semitic; and present imputations notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that German labor has succumbed to the Nazi poison.

Let us be very clear on this point. We do not mean to say that there will be a powerful democratic renaissance in post-Hitler Germany that could sweep away the remnants of Nazism and open up possibilities of a new life for all its victims. But unless there is such a political, social, and cultural movement, carried by great masses of the people, the Jews should not return. They would be dependent upon Allied arms for their protection, isolated once more. They would have returned as victors, not over Nazi inhumanity, but over a disintegrating nation.

If current proposals succeed, Germany will be compelled to make restitution to the Jews for the damage done them. Let us suppose that, under the watchful eye of the occupying forces, the German government makes such restitution.

Meanwhile the rest of Germany will be prostrate. Hordes of homeless families, unemployed and embittered veterans, whole populations of ruined cities, will be faced with the stark realities of hunger, cold, and disease. They will see payment made and material aid rendered the Jews, while they go cold, sick, and hungry.

Inevitably there would be one result. Despite the justice of the Jewish claims, and despite the initial sympathy of most decent Germans for the returning refugees, resentment would develop against their preferential treatment in the face of the nation’s distress. The seeds of Nazi propaganda would come to life. The Nazis’ “people’s community,” shattered by military might, could draw new hope for support from a spontaneous, and this time popular, hatred of the Jews.

The Allied armies themselves might soon run out of patience and understanding. The implacable hatred of the fighting man for his unseen foe softens in faceto-face meeting with the women and children of the vanquished. The American soldier, eager to go home, the sentimental and humane product of our education and tradition, is an easy prey to appeals of distress. Moreover, our own forces are not free from antiSemitic influences. We have no guarantee that German anti-Semitism will not make headway among the men in our army of occupation. The temporarily silent voices of American anti-Semitism will speak again, and it takes no great imagination to foretell the slogans and directions of their demagoguery.

Preferential treatment of the Jews over and before other victims of Nazism is under the present conditions disastrous for the future of the Jews in any European country.


THE Nazi policy has had effects that can be fully eliminated only in years to come. Countries that rejected Nazi indoctrination while they fought for their liberation are now, liberated, showing increased antiSemitism. Holland and France are cases in point. The consequences of such a policy forced upon a mortally sick Germany are only too obvious.

This is not a question of justice and punishment only. It is above all a political question, and to treat it otherwise will spell disaster. Some of us do not think Mr. Fischbein is right that Jews must not return to Germany, and we do not share his identification of the German people with its terroristic rulers. But we think that, without certain prerequisites, the return of German Jews is bound to galvanize the Nazi underground into new life and to begin a new period of disappointment and grief for the returning wanderers. We regard the existence of the following conditions as essential: —

1.There must be complete eradication of Nazism from within Germany, by the German people. The victorious Allies will not and cannot impose such a purification, which will be nothing short of a social revolution. Acting with wisdom and boldness, they could help to bring it about.

2. The Jews must be invited to return by the German people. This would be evidence of the accomplishment of the first condition, and the act would of itself provide a spiritual stimulus to the German people.

3. Jews should return to Germany as German citizens, accepting the principle of equal treatment to be accorded all refugees from the Nazi terror, and demonstrating their return as actuated by a desire to assist in the rebuilding of their country.

It is of primary importance to the future peace of Europe and of the world that racisms such as antiSemitism be prevented. The past decade has given deadly proof that racism is a weapon of political warfare capable of destroying millions of lives. The hoped-for international organization of nations must develop safeguards and sanctions with regard to the use of such ideologies.

Germany and all other countries should be required to accept a common bill of rights covering the civil and human liberties of the individual, regardless of creed, color, or national origin. The international organization must provide judicial and enforcement machinery for redress of grievances in this regard.

A development of this kind is not beyond the possible. One might doubt, however, that it will materialize. The alternative, as far as the resettling of Jewish refugees is concerned, can only be the opening of territories to immigration. Palestine, despite its troubles and dangers, represents a desirable haven to many Jews. If Britain is to be entrusted with the mandatory power of Palestine after the war — and justice may question whether this is wise — the Jewish Homeland should be established.

Whether in Palestine or elsewhere, it is time for an honest and wholehearted effort by our side in the present conflict to achieve an equitable plan of settlement for the Jewish refugee. This plan must be part of the larger scheme of rehabilitating all who have suffered at the hands of Nazi or Fascist persecutors.

Now that the appalling cruelty of Hitler’s prison pens is common knowledge, it is fair to ask whether the German Jews who survive will ever wish to return to their former homeland, and what will be the effect if they do.

Exile PAUL W. MASSING wrote under various noms de plume so long as his German family could be made to pay for his anti-Nazi activity. He is the author of two books, Fatherland and Hitler Is No Fool (published under the signature of Karl Billinger).

MAXWELL MILLEH was born in Boston and has had practical experience with minority problems in this country and abroad.