Eichmann’s Jews – The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945.
By Doron Rabinovici
Polity Press – £20.00
When thinking of my wonderful Dutch mother, I often remember her talking of her harrowing teenage years growing up in occupied Amsterdam.
For the uninitiated, numerous factions of the German Wehrmacht and SS occupied Holland’s capital, which, following the country’s capitulation in May 1940, was governed by the appalling excuse of a human being known as Reichskommissar, Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
As the former Federal Chancellor of Austria in 1938, he briefly served within the General Government of occupied Poland, before bequeathing The Netherlands his unwavering, anti-Semite hatred – with all the uber, enthusiastic relish of an Austrian wanting to prove himself to the equally odious Adolf Hitler.
In the midst of reading this unique and altogether unequivocal book, I couldn’t help but think back to some of my mother’s words. Although in truth, the manifestation of anti-Semitism appears to (unsurprisingly) have been far worse in Austria, as is evidenced time and again throughout Eichmann’s Jews – The Jewish Administration of Holocaust Vienna, 1938-1945.
In the chapter ‘Persecution,’ Doron Rabinovici writes: ‘’In the first few weeks, the ‘Aryanizers’ grabbed Jewish businesses, department stores and small shops. Some non-Jewish shop owners in Vienna hung signs saying ‘Aryan business.’ Jewish shop owners were forced to paint the Star of David on their window displays. Nazi sentries stood in front of shops with signs saying ‘Don’t buy from Jews.’ Non-Jews who persisted in going to Jewish shops were likely to have to pass through a jeering cordon. Some non-Jewish women who had entered a Jewish shop had a swastika shaved on their heads or branded on their bodies. To amuse onlookers, a sign was hung on the victim saying: ‘This Aryan swine only shops with Jews.’’’
Does this almost sound like the breakdown of society?
To be sure, it’s hard to imagine that this was what life was actually like in one of Europe’s major, and most cultural of capital cities (not that long ago).
A partial explanation may have been due to Austria’s very close (political) proximity to Germany and the fact that Hitler was born in the country. That Austria was also horribly anti-Semitic – and many say still is – may have also played a part; which is more than substantiated by the following: ‘’The public did not need to be persuaded by the government or party to espouse the anti-Semitic policy. On the contrary, the Nazi authorities had to appeal to the people to moderate their enthusiasm. As early as 14 March 1938, the new rulers banned excesses under-taken on individual initiative and the uncoordinated confiscation of property […]. The expropriation of the Jews was completed in Austria more thoroughly and quickly than in the Altreich. In May 1939, 30 per cent of the self-employed Jewish businesses still existed in Berlin after six years, compared with just 6 per cent in Vienna after a single year.’’
As Peter Goodrich, Cardozo School of Law in New York is quoted as saying, Eichmann’s Jews is ‘’a unique and candid account of the internal workings of the Jewish community in Vienna during the war. Doron Rabinovici has the courage and the gall to address directly the question of how much Eichmann’s Jews facilitated the Holocaust.’’
Now there’s something to be fundamentally proud of I guess. Although a few readers might regard/describe this brave and compelling book as being a sincere roller-coaster of an eye-opener – especially when it comes to unbelievably, ghastly human behaviour.
Moreover, it asks just as many philosophical questions as it pronounces the dogmatic and overtly considered variance in (anti-Semitic) cruelty.
As such, is it any wonder the aforementioned Seyss-Inquart was such a relentless pig in Holland during the war? Is it any wonder that Austria still has such a tarnished reputation (when it comes to racism)?
While Eichmann’s Jews may not make for the most relaxing of bedtime reading, it’s an extraordinary and meticulous piece of work nevertheless.