“Luitgard Wundheiler remembered how her father, a judge in Marburg,
Germany, weighed the matter. In 1936, her father had just received
the letter sent to all German civil servants asking him to join the
Nazi Party by signing a loyalty oath. He discussed it with his wife
and then called the fourteen-year-old Wundheiler into his study. He
gave her the letter to read and asked her if she thought he should
sign. To her, his choice was clear: he should not sign it because
to do so would be a lie and he never lied. Fifty-seven years later,
Wundheiler still remembered the judicial clarity with which her
father presented exactly what was at stake:
“Before you say yes or no so clearly and so spontaneously, I also
want you to know what the possible consequences are. I don’t
know what the consequences will be definitely, but there will be
some consequences. Under the best of circumstances, I will lose
my job. Under the worst of consequences, you will never see me
again in your whole life because they will do away with me.
There are a number of possibilities in between. Maybe they will
put me in a concentration camp and sometime later release me,
but there will be some consequences, and I want you to know
“As it happened, her father, who was stubbornly honest and
passionately committed to justice, refused to join the Nazi Party.
He was summarily dismissed from the judicary but managed to land a
job as a court messenger. For the remaining years of Nazi rule, he
and his family existed barely above the poverty level.
“For most Germans the choice between personal beliefs and national
policies actually came earlier. In April 1933, the Nazis called for
a boycott of Jewish businesses. It was the first instance of
state-supported antisemitism, an organized and official attempt to
stamp Jews as “other.” Guards stood outside stores and doctors’ and
lawyers’ offices owned by Jews to intimidate callers. This was a
key moment. Would it work? Would Germans refuse to be bullied into
singling out their neighbors and friends?
“A few individuals defied the boycott, but most stayed away.
Significantly, ‘the universities were silent, the courts were
silent; the President of the Reich, who had taken the oath on the
Consitution, was silent,’ Leo Baeck, Berlin’s preeminent leader of
the liberal Jewish community, wrote. To Rabbi Baeck, this was ‘the
day of the greatest cowardice. All that followed would not have
happened.'<4>” (Fogelman, 23-24)
<4> Baker, L. (1978). Days of sorrow and pain: Leo Baeck and the
Berlin Jews. New YorkL Macmillan.
Fogelman, Eva. Conscience & Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the
Holocaust. New York: Anchor Books, 1994
Subject: Holocaust Almanac: The Political Climate