Chronology of Jewish Persecution: 1939
Jews are eliminated from the German economy; their capital is seized, though some Jews continue to work under Germans.
At the Buchenwald, Germany, concentration camp, Deputy Commandant Arthur Rödl orders several thousand inmates to assemble for inspection shortly before midnight. He selects five men and has them whipped to the melody played by the inmate orchestra. The whipping continues all night.
Decree pertaining to the expiration of permits for Jewish dentists, veterinarians, and pharmacists.
Nazi Generalfeldmarschall Hermann Göring orders Reinhard Heydrich to establish a Jewish Emigration Office, and informs him to speed up the emigration of Jews. Heydrich appoints Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller to head it.
On the sixth anniversary of his appointment as chancellor, Hitler threatens in the Reichstag that if war breaks out, the result will be the extermination of Europe’s Jews. Ridiculing the Western Allies’ lack of humanitarian action in regard to the Jews, he notes that “it is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor, tormented Jewish people, but remains hard-hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them.”
The St. James Palace Conference is held in London to find a peaceful solution to the political stalemate in Palestine. Jewish delegates withdraw when Arab delegates refuse to meet with their Jewish counterparts--and when British delegates support the Arab position.
Anti-Jewish legislation is passed in Italy.
Pope Pius XI dies. His unpublished encyclical on racism and antisemitism does not go beyond the Vatican’s traditional policy concerning Jews. This policy is based on the doctrine of St. Augustine that the Jews are Cains who must not be killed but who must wander in suffering for all eternity, until they see the light and choose conversion to Roman Catholicism.
The German-American Bund stages a rally in New York City. About 20,000 enthusiasts attend; they come mostly from Father Charles Coughlin’s Christian Front.
New York Democratic Senator Robert F. Wagner, a German American, and Massachusetts Democratic Representative Edith Nourse Rogers jointly propose the Wagner-Rogers Bill to permit 20,000 German children (specifically, Jewish children) into the United States over a two-year period. The bill is tagged with so many amendments that, after hearings, it never leaves the the House or Senate. The bill does receive considerable support from the press and certain churches, and many individuals and organizations testify for or against the bill. But the antisemitism rife in the American public and Congress--and the lack of support from President Franklin Roosevelt--sink the bill. The Wagner-Rogers Bill’s foremost opponent, Senator Robert Reynolds of North Carolina, has a secret relationship with German-American Nazi agent August Gausebeck. Gausebeck’s partner is Walter Schellenberg, the coordinator of Gestapo activities in the United States.
Asked for her opinion on the bill, Mrs. James Houghteling, wife of the commissioner of immigration, whispers that the only problem with the Wagner-Rogers bill is “that 20,000 ugly [Jewish] children would all too soon grow up into 20,000 ugly adults.” Mrs. Houghteling is Laura Delano Houghteling, President Roosevelt’s cousin.
Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli is elected as Pope Pius XII.
Hungary enacts a law permitting the establishment of the Hungarian Labor Service System (Munkaszolgálat). Under the law, Jews of military age will be employed in construction, mining, and fortification work for the military.
Nazi troops enter Czechoslovakia and occupy Prague. No nation takes forcible action against the move. Of roughly 50,000 Jews in the city, only 19,000 will escape from Europe. Tens of thousands of Jews are trapped when Nazi troops enter the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia.
Slovakia becomes a German satellite and declares itself an independent state under protection of Nazi Germany.
Hitler announces that Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist and declares Slovakia a protectorate of the Reich.
The French government passes legislation outlawing incitement to race hatred.
As 500,000 people watch, 20,000 protestors march in a “Stop Hitler” parade held in New York City.
The Spanish Civil War ends, with Francisco Franco’s Fascists the victors.
The Institut zur Erforschung des jüdischen Einflusses auf das deutsche kirchliche Leben (Institute for the Study of Jewish Influence on German Church Life) is founded.
Great Britain institutes conscription.
Italian forces occupy Albania.
Hitler offers a mocking response to United States President Franklin Roosevelt’s April 15 request to respect the independence of European nations. He renounces the Anglo-German Naval Pact and the Polish Non-Agression Pact.
The SS transfers almost 900 women prisoners from the Lichtenburg concentration camp for women to Ravensbrück. Upon this transfer, Ravensbrück replaces Lichtenburg as the main camp for women prisoners in Germany.
The German refugee ship USS St. Louis leaves Hamburg. Most of the thousand or so passengers are Jewish escapees from Nazi Germany. They have landing passes for Cuba as well as quota numbers that could allow them entry into the United States three years hence.
The British government issues a White Paper (commonly called the MacDonald White Paper) that limits Jewish immigration to 10,000 a year for five years. The White Paper allows 75,000 Jewish immigrants (up to 10,000 per year, plus an additional 25,000 if certain conditions are met) to enter Palestine. The White Paper also restricts Jewish land purchases in Palestine. British government policy will succeed in keeping the actual numbers of Jewish immigrants far below the quotas for settlement in England and Palestine.
Ernst Toller, a German-Jewish playwright in exile in New York City, commits suicide.
The German refugee ship USS St. Louis reaches Cuba. But after extortionate demands for money are made by the Cuban government, the USS St. Louis departs Cuba and sails along the east coast of the United States. President Roosevelt orders the Coast Guard to prevent any of the passengers from landing in the U.S., even should they jump ship.
The Boston, Massachusetts, newspaper of the Christian Science Church attacks Jewish refugees as causing their own troubles, a position taken by many important Protestant journals of the time.
After being denied access to Cuba and the United States, the German refugee ship USS St. Louis docks in Antwerp, Belgium. Belgium offers to take 214 passengers, the Netherlands 181, Britain 287, and France 224. Ultimately, the Nazis will murder most of the passengers except for those accepted by Great Britain.
German Jews are denied the right to hold government jobs.
Reacting to German anti-Jewish policies and reflecting the attitude of many other officials in Great Britain and Western Europe, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain writes: “No doubt Jews aren’t a lovable people; I don’t care about them myself. But that is not sufficient to explain the pogrom.”
The Reich Ministry of the Interior publishes a listing of allowable first names Jewish parents may give their new babies.
Hitler’s speech to generals urges the liquidation of Poles in the forthcoming war in order to gain Lebensraum (“Living space”) for Germans.
The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact) is signed in Moscow, freeing Hitler for the moment from the worry of an Eastern Front war. The pact contains a secret protocol on the disposition of Poland, which will be divided between the two larger nations. They also agree to divide up eastern Europe, including Poland, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, and parts of Romania.
Hitler guarantees to respect the neutrality of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Sweden.
The German economy shifts to a wartime footing. The Nazi government issues restrictive Lebensmittelkarten (ration cards) to Gypsies and resident aliens within the borders of the Reich. Ration cards for Jews restrict the holders to a starvation diet of 200 to 300 calories per day.
Because of a protracted shooting schedule in New York, popular Polish-Jewish film stars Leon Liebgold and Lili Liliana miss their ship back to Poland two days before the Nazi invasion of their homeland. The couple remains in New York.
Sixty German-Jewish children are shepherded by train and boat through Holland to safety in the British port city of Harwich.
German forces overrun western Poland, instigating World War II. Three thousand Jewish civilians die in the bombing of Warsaw. German troops enter Danzig, trapping more than 5000 Jews. Throughout Germany and Austria, Jews may not be outside after 8:00 p.m. in the winter and 9:00 p.m. in the summer.
September 1-October 25
Great Britain, France, India, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany. The British government cancels all visas previously granted to“enemy nationals”; one effect is that German Jews can no longer immigrate to safety in England.
At a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive, an organization informally recognized as the ad hoc Jewish government of Palestine, David Ben-Gurion vows that Jews will fight Hitler. A total of a million and a half Jews will fight in the armed forces of nations opposing Germany: 555,000 Jewish servicemen and women in the American Armed Forces; 500,000 for the Soviet Union; 116,000 for Great Britain (26,000 from Palestine and 90,000 from the British Commonwealth); and 243,000 Jews for other European nations.
German forces occupy Przemysl, Poland.
SS Security Service chief Reinhard Heydrich orders chiefs of Einsatzgruppen to establish, in cooperation with German civil and military authorities, Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland. He decrees that all Jewish communities in Poland and Greater Germany with populations under 500 are to be dissolved, so that deportations of Jews to urban ghettos and concentration camps can be accelerated. Further, Heydrich orders the establishment of ghetto Judenräte (Jewish councils). The main goals of the ghettoization process are to isolate Jews, force them to manufacture items for Germany, and provide easy Nazi access for murder and deportation.
The Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA; State Security Main Office) is founded.
After the German invasion of Poland earlier in September, the first Polish women prisoners arrive in Ravensbrück. By 1945 more than 40,000 women from Poland and the German-occupied eastern territories will have been deported to Ravensbrück.
On this Jewish Day of Atonement, Jews across Poland are publicly humiliated by SS troops: forced labor, coerced shavings of beards, destruction of property, beatings, and forced dancing. At Piotrków, Poland, Jews are compelled to relieve themselves in the local synagogue school, then use prayer shawls and holy books to clean up the mess.
Jewish prisoners of war kept at Zyardow Stadium in Poland for ten days without food are forced to clean latrines with their bare hands.
Poland surrenders, and the country is partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union, as was outlined in a secret amendment to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. More than 2 million Jews live in the German area and 1.3 million in the Soviet-controlled territory.
German administrative divisions of Eastern Europe are established. They are Greater Danzig (northern Poland), West Prussia (northern Europe on the Baltic), Greater East Prussia (northern Europe on the Baltic), and the Warthegau (western Poland). Jews are forcibly expelled from these areas.
Hitler orders that selected physicians be authorized to administer “mercy deaths”--euthanasia--to incurably ill or undesirable German citizens. No legal justification for the killings is necessary. Health care professionals sent thousands of institutionalized mentally and physically diabled people to central “euthanasia” killing centers, where they killed them by lethal injection of in the gas chamber.
The Polish government-in-exile is formed in France. When hostilities escalate, the government will move to London.
In an address to the Reichstag, Hitler offers peace to England and France, but only if Germany’s former colonies are returned, Germany is allowed to join world trade, and Britain and France allow Germany to solve the “Jewish problem.”
In a meeting at the White House, the economist Alexander Sachs presents a letter to President Roosevelt. The message, written by Albert Einstein and with the support of other physicists — Leo Szilard, Eugene Wagner, and Edward Teller among them — call on the United States government to explore the military potentials of nuclear energy. In the letter, Einstein warns that the Germans have stopped selling uranium from Czech mines, a clue that the Nazis are trying to build a nuclear weapon. Roosevelt reponds, “What you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.” From these beginnings, the Advisory Committee on Uranium is born with a mandate to begin a nuclear weapons program.
Hitler anounces to his general staff his plans to conquer the West and knock out the Low Countries, then France, and finally England. Halder and Brauchitsch agree to try to dissuade Hitler. Halder, in league with Beck, Canaris and Oster, and the other conspirators pull out the secret plans for the second coup attempt.
Kraków, one of the most important Jewish communities since the 1300s, is designated the capital of the Generalgouvernement.
Germany annexes the former Polish regions of Upper Silesia, Pomerania, West Prussia, Poznan, amd the independent city of Danzig. Those areas of Occupied Poland not annexed by Germany or the Soviet Union were placed under a German civil administration and were called the General Government (Generalgouvernement).
The Labor Department of the Generalgouvernement of Occupied Poland issues the Arbeitspflicht (Work obligation) decree, which makes slave labor mandatory for all Polish men and women over the age of 14 and under age 60.
October 26, 1939-early February 1940
In a plan devised by Adolf Eichmann, the Nazis deport and “resettle” some 78,000 Jews to a “reservation” located in the Lublin-Nisko region of southeast Poland. The project is temporarily suspended when rolling rail stock is needed for German military campaigns against the Low Countries.
SS chief Heinrich Himmler designates the next three months as the period during which all Jews must be cleared from the rural areas of western Poland. Hundreds of communities will be affected, and thousands of Jews will be expelled with nothing but what they can carry with them.
Brauchitsch and Halder drive to the Chancellory to see Hitler who explodes in anger and vows to destroy the “spirit of Zossen.” Halder panics and aborts the second coup attempt. Conspirators ordered to shut down the entire plot.
With the Cash-and-Carry provision about to expire, the United States Congress passes legislation prolonging its madate and permitting European democracies to buy war materials.
SS Security Service chief Reinhard Heydrich orders that all Jews be removed from the newly formed Warthegau province (formerly western Poland) of Greater Germany. The order is made so that the region can be prepared for resettlement by ethnic Germans.
The antisemitic Fideikommissariat (Estate commission) is established to “Aryanize” Jewish-owned businesses in Occupied Poland.
November 30, 1939-March 13, 1940
General Johannes Blaskowitz, the commander-in-chief of Greater Germany’s Eastern sector, complains to the German High Command that the activities of Einsatzgruppen (killing squads) are excessively brutal and a threat to army discipline. His complaints are noted but are largely ignored; Einsatzgruppen activities continue as before.
German Field Marshal Johannes Blaskowitz, commander-in-chief of the German Army Group East, reports that many Jewish children in transport trains are arriving at their destinations frozen to death.
German authorities seize Jewish property in Poland. Items that are appropriated include businesses, homes, furniture and other household goods, currency and bank accounts, art, jewelry, and other valuables. Now economically helpless, the Jews have virtually nothing with which to sustain themselves.
As an example of its policy of blocking all Jewish escape routes in Central Europe, the British Foreign Office warns Bulgaria that if it ships its Jews to Palestine, the British will “expect the Bulgarian government to take the immigrants back.”
In eastern areas of Greater Germany, two years of forced labor is made compulsory for all Jewish males aged 14 to 60.
Jewish girls in Lódz, Poland, who have been impressed for forced labor, are forced to clean a latrine with their blouses. When the job is complete, the German overseers wrap the filthy blouses around the girls’ faces.
106 non-Jewish Poles are murdered at Wawer, Poland.
The riverboat Uranus reaches the Iron Gates gorge in Romania, on the Yugoslavian border, with 1210 fugitive Jews from Vienna, Austria, and Prague, Czechoslovakia. The boat’s journey is halted after Great Britain, holder of the Mandate on Palestine, protests to the Yugoslavian government.
1939: Other important events
SS chief Heinrich Himmler is appointed Reich commissioner for strengthening German nationhood. Eager to increase the growing Aryan birth rate, Himmler orders his SS men to impregnate their wives and to act as “conception assistants” to childless women over the age of 29.
The first issue of Die Aktion: Kampfblatt für das neue Europa (The Action: Newspaper for Fighting for the New Europe), an antisemitic propaganda periodical distributed outside of Germany, is published.
An antisemitic film comedy, Robert und Bertram, is produced in Germany.
In the United States, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigates the pro-Nazi German-American Bund.
An Elmo Roper poll claims that 53 percent of Americans feel Jews are “different” and require “social and economic restrictions.”
A Gallup poll reports that 83 percent of Americans oppose the admission of a larger number of Jewish refugees.
Based on instructions coming from the State Department, a United States consular official in Stuttgart, Germany, tells Ernest Michel, a German Jew who has an American sponsor, that all U.S. immigration quotas are filled and that he should reapply for admission to the United States in three years. Ironically, 1939 was the only year in which U.S. quotas were filled.