In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans by James F. Tent

Tent, James F. In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans.                   Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

In his book In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Nazi Persecution of Jewish-Christian Germans, historian James F. Tent focuses on the small group of Mischlinge or partial Jews. This group of approximately seventy-two thousand half-Jews with one Jewish parent and the quarter-Jews with a Jewish grandparent were relentlessly persecuted by the Nazis. This small drop of Jewish blood made them pariahs, with discrimination and persecution. The Mischlinge were saved the full brutality reserved for full-Jews because the Nazi regime was still swayed somewhat by the non-Jewish relatives. Their lives were always teetering on the edge and only by keeping the lowest profile did so many live. Their harrowing story has not had near the public attention as have the full-Jews who were sent to concentration camps.

It is this long-neglected group that James Tent distillates on. This account is nothing short of brilliant. He writes of the experiences told to him by survivors in which he had extensive interviews with twenty survivors over several years. Tent is not the first scholar to focus attention on this group of mixed lineage, however, he does not address only the legality of their situation but the misery that was endured. Tent ties the oral history with archival history and published sources to present the reader with a concise, chilling story of this small, oppressed group. The reader will find moving accounts of men and women from all over Germany, and from all different classes, who struggled to survive under hostile duress. Most of Tent’s survivors were teenagers at the time, but the umbrella of hate they lived under was still vivid as they recalled their stories. There is no denying that Tent wrote this book with the utmost regard for accuracy. It is also understood that the author felt compassion and had respect for these brave men and women.

James F. Tent attended Dartmouth College and the University of Wisconsin. In 1969 Tent wrote his Master’s thesis German social democracy and the general strike from 1890 to 1914. Tent taught New European history, German history, military history, and the history of the cold war at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is also the University Scholar and chair of the Department of History. Tent has written several books and has even been a commentator for The History Channel.  A few of his works include E-Boat Alert: Defending the Normandy invasion fleet, Mission on the Rhine: Reeducation and Denazification in American-Occupied Germany, and he wrote the forward in Stories of Courage and Sacrifice of World War II Army Air Forces Flyers In Defense of Freedom by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. Tent received high praise for In the Shadows of the Holocaust. Michael Berenbaum, author of The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust, wrote that “Tent has done a prodigious amount of research, and it shows on virtually every page.” Perhaps Beate Meyer’s review, who wrote a book on the same subject as Tent, Jüdishe Mischlinge, will prove to a potential reader that this is not a book to be missed. Meyer writes that this is “An impressive and penetrating examination of the persecution of the so-called Mischlinge. Tent’s greatest accomplishment is to show how the entire process affected the victims, both at the time and then for the rest of their lives.” This was a mammoth undertaking for Tent, the praise is well-deserved.

Tent explains that eyewitness accounts, by those in Germany labeled partially Jewish, between 1933 and 1945, were explored judicially in order to have a clear picture of the extent Hitler and his National Socialists were willing to go to exterminate Judaism in Europe. (p. 1) His focus was to stay on the sufferings of victims who have gone mostly unnoticed. In 1935, Hitler was busy promoting the Nuremberg degrees, or race laws as they were later known. During the Nuremberg Party Rally, it was actually the specialist medical advisor, Dr. Gerhard Wagner that pushed for, and spoke in favor of, not allowing sexual relations between Jews or partial Jews with citizens of German blood, Deutschblütige. (p. 10-11) Interestingly, Hitler’s own Interior Ministry representative, Lösener, and his boss, Stuckart, wanted the addition of one single sentence in the final copy of the race laws. They added, “This law applies only to full Jews.” (p. 11) Hitler did not let it pass and marked it out. Strangely, Hitler took the sentence out but at the same time, he used the exact same phrase for public announcements.

Tent explains the importance of two of the Nuremberg decrees. The citizenship decree immediately revoked citizenship from full-Jews and at the same time forbade them from having relations or marrying citizens of full-blood. The Mischlinge’s citizenship became provisional. The second decree dealt with protecting the full-blooded Germans. It “…barred both Jews and half-Jews from marrying citizens of German blood.” (p. 11) The importance, Tent believes, is what was not spelled out. There was never a specific ban on relationships or sexual relationships between the Mischlinge and Germans. In essence, these two decrees kept the half-Jews in a state of limbo. Tent refers to the Nuremberg decrees throughout the book, referencing how the race laws impacted the Mischlinge. He is clear that this is not a study in which the race laws are systematically considered but rather, “…it describes the lives and fates of a representative group of individual victims drawn from both genders and from all walks of life.” (p. 17)

Tent breaks this book into five sections. Each section has a brief history of what is to be discussed, but the bulk is focused on the case histories of the victims. The first is titled ‘Innocents in Classrooms.’ The progression of dividing school children started early. Dependent upon the degree or percentage of Jew a person claimed determined the group. The half-Jews were lumped more and more with the full-Jews and the quarter-Jews with the Aryans. Tent explains that the gulf between the groups would grow further apart as time went on. When the Nazis seized power in 1933, the approximately seventy-two thousand Mischlinge were, in fact, children and teenagers. The social discrimination came at a crucial period in their development.

In ‘Mischlinge Need Not Apply,’ Tent explains how the National Socialist laws that were concerned with employment affected the Mischlinge. Tent contends that the laws were intentionally drafted to exclude all people with any percent of Jewish blood. They were barred from legal and medical professions, and also journalism. The Aryan paragraph that mandated such exclusions would have reached deeper into the private sector as well but the Reich Ministry of the Interior realized that the country could not tolerate such a mass banishment of workers too fast. The Reich labor minister had to remind the Reich economic chamber and some of the business associations that they could not start dismissing all the Mischlinge yet, as they were still citizens. (p. 62) From 1933 on, Germany’s half-Jews found employment a struggle to find, even those who were well educated.

The next two sections are ‘Drawing the Line’ and ‘The Penultimate Step: Forced Labor.’ Tent further explains the disintegration of society. Friends and neighbors became informants and spies for the Gestapo. Consider that there were seventy-two thousand half-Jews and forty thousand quarter-Jews living in a country of over seventy-five million. The Mischlinge led a forced lonely life while still living amongst their persecutors. (p. 103) In the ‘Penultimate Step’ the Mischlinge, during midwar, June 1941, was seeing their Jewish relatives disappearing and knew it could only be their turn next. Tent continues to explore the “…zealous informers who reported even the slightest transgression of Nazi laws…” (p. 192) The victims are hoping, with increased desperation, for an Allied victory.

The final section, ‘A Time of Silence,’ follows the memories of the twenty victims through the final hours of persecution. In the author’s words, they had become hunted people, at any moment neighbors might betray them, the Gestapo agents may apprehend them, or they could be taken into forced labor. Their lives had become fraught with unease and anxiety. May 1945 saw an end to fighting but the Mischlinge’s predicament was not understood and many found themselves as prisoners of war along with other Germans. This misunderstanding, Tent argues, is why their story was not heard. Tent asks, who could they tell? Who would listen? During Allied occupation, the policy banned anti-Semitism and campaigned for denazification, but the Mischlinge’s story confirmed that they were still discriminated against and that many “…Germans covertly maintained their prejudices.” (p. 234) Tent explains that a lot of survivors adopted a similar strategy for living after 1945 that they had used during the war, which was obscurity. They retreated into society’s background, continuing to live low-profile lives. (p. 242)

A chance meeting on a long-distance train in the German Democratic Republic sparked in Tent, the need to write this story. During the summer of 1978, Tent shared a train compartment with Professor Werner Jentsch and his sister. For several hours of that train ride, Jentsch described his life as a half-Jew in Hitler’s Germany. This unplanned meeting put Tent on his journey that eventually led to In the Shadow of the Holocaust. Tent has written a part of history that needed to be written, and he wrote it exceptionally well. This book will add yet another layer of knowledge to any person studying the twisted history of Nazi Germany.

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