The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

1933 and beyond: From full-rights citizens to refugees and victims

Despite the promise of equal opportunity, Weimar revealed a troubling amount of popular prejudice against Jews. The economic disarray of the interwar period – hyperinflation and the Depression – encouraged conspiracy theories as explanations for these serious problems. Even mainstream politicians saw in Jews a convenient scapegoat for these economic disruptions.

After Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazis moved immediately to undermine the basis of economic life for Jews. In April 1933, the new regime attacked Jewish businesses and intimidated their customers. Less well-known measures taken by municipal authorities included canceling city contracts with Jewish firms, rescinding licenses for Jewish businesses, and encouraging the harassment of Jewish entrepreneurs. Nazi officials also pressured companies and organizations to remove Jews from management and executive boards and excluded businesses owned by Jews from umbrella organizations or participation in state finance.

Between 1933 and 1939, the state, corrupt party officials, or “Aryans” looking to profit from the forced sales of businesses dispossessed Jews and plundered their property. Jewish property owners were paid a fraction of the real value of their assets. Those who fled found it difficult or impossible to take any of their material possessions or savings with them. Those who remained behind were subject to increasing persecution and terror, and were robbed of all their belongings before they were eventually deported to labor or concentration camps. Ironically, many of those businesses formerly owned by Jews were integrated into the German war effort. Some of new owners even made use of forced labor to produce their goods.

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

From economic to political participation

Epilogue

Family stories

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Warburg

After 1933, as many Jews tried to emigrate from Germany, selling their businesses and taking their assets out of the country became was extremely difficult. The Nazis made it a complex logistical and legal task to find a potential buyer and to settle on a price in a market that had been flooded with businesses for sale. Max Warburg understood how important it was for business owners to sell their firms at a decent price and use the proceeds to emigrate. The Warburg bank played a central role in helping Jews transfer and liquidate their businesses, and then emigrate to the Americas and Palestine. Max Warburg did his utmost to facilitate this process, remaining in Germany until the very last minute to help however he could.

For more information about Glückel of Hameln see Shared History Project: https://sharedhistoryproject.org/object/hamburg-during-the-life-of-gluckel-of-hameln

Jewish emigrants in front of a travel agency "Palestine & Orient Lloyd", Berlin, January 1939. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-E01073 / Unknown author / CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Austrian Nazis and local residents watch as Jews are forced to scrub the pavement after Nazi annexation, April 1938.  Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park.