Commemorating 80 Years Since 1938, One Day at a Time

In 2018, the LBI will post online a document from each day of the watershed year of 1938, when German-speaking Jews were forced to realize that they had no future in Germany.

A damaged clothing shop in Magdeburg following the attacks on Jewish businesses and synagogues on November 9, 1938. LBI Photograph Collection, F 13380.

On January 5, 1938, Kuno Fleischer wrote to the shareholders of his family’s paper factory in the small Baden-Wurttemberg town of Eisingen about a recent business dispute and alluded darkly to a time when “grave decisions will have to be made swiftly.” He told his fellow owners—his brother and nephews—that he would soon travel to the United States to “orient himself” adding, “No one of us can predict how things will turn out, and no one can take offense at our holding on for as long as possible to what we have built together.”

For all his evident misgivings about the future in Germany, Fleischer held on a bit longer. He returned from his trip to the US and was arrested and detained twice: once after Kristallnacht in the Dachau concentration camp and again in 1939 in the Police Prison in Stuttgart. He went to England immediately after his release.

Fleischer’s letter, held in the Fleischer-Steiner Collection (AR 25083) in the LBI Archives, hints at the dramatic tension inherent in history; its protagonists do not know what the future holds, but its students do. In 2018, LBI will draw on our rich collections to illustrate the experience of a historical turning point from the perspectives of individuals from all walks of life. A new website will share a document from the archives for each day of 1938, offering a glimpse into the hopes and fears of German-speaking Jews and the choices they faced. Companion exhibits at the Center for Jewish History and in Germany will show selected highlights from the documents.

Until 1938, Jews in Germany had endured mounting persecution in the form of boycotts, exclusion from the professions, universities, and civil service, and the Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935, but many still held fast to the hope that they would be able to remain in their homeland. Over the course of that year, however, a succession of events—the annexation of Austria in March, the arrest of thousands of “work-shy” men in April and June, the deportation of stateless Polish Jews in October, and the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht)—made it clear that the regime would use mass violence to achieve its program of racial and political purity in the Reich, which now also encompassed Austria as well. The desperation of many German Jews by the end of the year was evident in the fact that 10,000 parents were prepared to part—possibly permanently— with their minor children, sending them to England on the Kindertransport beginning in December, 1938.

Through this project, LBI will commemorate a year that changed the world by focusing on the people most affected.


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