“Transfer Agreement” and the Boycott of German Goods

Jewish organizations appealed to the public to forgo the purchase of goods from Germany

Beginning in the spring of 1933, objections began surfacing against the procurement of German goods. Jewish organizations appealed to the public to forgo the purchase of goods from Germany through declarations and placards, with the goal of striking a blow at the German economy, and in this manner, to the power of the Nazis who had recently taken power. The anti-German boycott was initiated following the Nazi boycott initiated on April 1, 1933, against Jewish businesses in Germany. Following this, the Jewish organizations in various countries called for a boycott of German products available around the world, including in Palestine. The boycott in Palestine itself would have little effect on the German economy, but the joint effort in various countries, including the United States, had an impact, although it did not affect Nazi policy towards German Jewry.

During this same period, German products were considered to be of particularly fine quality. Germany was already at the time a highly industrialized nation and its products were marketed internationally. Importers and retailers in Palestine sought to sell products from German factories and promoted them through ads and placards, some in Hebrew and some in Hebrew and German. The expertise of German factories in the production of machines and technical products guaranteed great success for products, especially in Palestine of the 1930s, where many branches of local industry were just beginning to develop. Despite the boycott, there were some German products sold in stores in Palestine, such as medicines manufactured by Bayer and photographic equipment manufactured by AGFA, that were promoted in the newspapers and other advertising venues (for example, in Purim celebration programming in Tel Aviv).

Following the call for a boycott – mainly instigated by the Revisionist camp – leaders of the Yishuv faced a difficult dilemma. At that time (August 25, 1933), a “transfer agreement” was signed with the German Nazi government. Both parties had a vested interest in the agreement. The Nazi leaders hoped that through it they could minimize the worldwide boycott on German products. During these years, the Nazi leaders were still of the opinion that they should promote voluntary Jewish emigration from Germany in order to “be rid” of the “Jewish problem.” On its part, the Jewish side hoped that the agreement would enable German Jews who wanted to immigrate to Palestine to bring with them a more significant portion of their possessions.

In 1931, following the global economic crisis, those who emigrated from Germany were forced to pay exceedingly high taxes for the transfer of their property to points abroad; this policy remained in effect during the Nazi period. As part of the agreement, German Jewry was given the option of depositing a minimum of 1,000 lira in a German bank, and with the money, German products were purchased for export to Palestine.

In Israel, the importers sold the German products and deposited the funds in a bank account, from which a significant sum was returned to the immigrants on their arrival. It is estimated that tens of thousands of German emigrants did just this in order to prevent simply giving their capital to the Nazi German tax authorities. Inevitably, the agreement and its results, i.e. the import of German products to Palestine during the time of the boycott – aroused a stormy debate. On the one hand, there was severe opposition to the transfer agreement, but on the other, there were also voices of support, for example, on the part of the German Olim Association, which was afraid to negatively impact the transfer of property belonging to German Jews who had not yet come on Aliyah.

Public activity surrounding the boycott continued throughout the 1930s, and the transfer agreement remained in effect during these years. It is estimated that some 140 million German marks were transferred by this mechanism to Palestine until the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Economically, the transfer agreement was a great success, both in terms of German emigrants and for the Palestinian economy. The negotiator for the Jewish side was Haim Arlozorov, but he was murdered in Tel Aviv before the agreement was signed. The circumstances of the murder and its motives are to this day not entirely clear, but there is a possibility that the motive was related to Arlozorov’s role in the Negotiations with the German-Nazi side.

“Faust” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and its Translation into Hebrew

German immigrants to Israel from the “fifth Aliyah” often carried volumes of Goethe’s works with them to Israel, in the attempt to retain something from their lost homeland, at least, at the cultural-linguistic level

From the cover of the Hebrew edition of "Faust", 1943

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is considered today one of the outstanding poets in the history of German literature. Goethe is known as the “national poet” of the German people, and throughout the generations, all of the students in the German schools encountered his works at one stage or another of their studies. Many households owned simple or elaborate editions of Goethe’s works, and until not long ago, many were able to recite the poems and ballads of this illustrious poet by heart.

The name of the small city of Weimar is closely tied to Goethe, who lived and worked there most of his life. The life there of the poet – who was also a lawyer, a statesman, and manager of the local theater – and his friendly relations with another key literary figure in German literature in that city – Friederich von Schiller – granted the city of Weimar the title “The Capital of German Classics.”

A portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe’s most famous work is the play Faust. While Goethe earned himself a reputation as a great poet already during his lifetime, mainly due to the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, his glorious reputation, which endures to this day, stems from his monumental oeuvre, Faust. The poet worked on the play for more than 60 years, publishing it in different versions and ultimately, dividing it into two parts. The first part is considered more accessible than the second. Indeed, the first part of Faust has been staged hundreds over the generations, if not thousands of times, while the second part was produced much less, due to its complex content. To this day, the play is still performed (still mainly its first part) and movies have been made based on its famous plot.

The first page of a two-part edition of “Faust”, Paris 1840

The main character in the play is a middle-aged scholar, Heinrich Faust. Faust’s character is based on an historical figure named Johann Georg Faust, who was an alchemist, astrologer and fortune teller from the 16th century, to whom were attributed dark powers and connections with the devil.

This fabled connection led Goethe, apparently, to the key element in the story of Faust, which is the pact between the scholar and the devil himself. The starting point for the pact is the scholar’s frustration with his advanced age.

The frustration that he feels stems from his inability to understand aspects of philosophy and nature and grasp new connections in these realms. This desire symbolizes the unquenchable aspiration for additional knowledge that ultimately encounters limitations, and, on the other hand, the failure of the scholar to enjoy life in all its aspects. In this state Faust meets the devil, who is in relentless pursuit of human souls.

Faust accepts the devil’s offer to make a pact: in exchange for becoming acquainted with world, acquisition of knowledge, a deeper understanding and hedonism as a young and handsome man, Faust promises his soul to the devil on condition that he will be satisfied with what he experiences and even reach complete contentment.

In the first part of the play, Faust encounters the life of emotion and the soul through a young and beautiful woman named Marguerite. Their relationship ends in disaster from her perspective, since she murders the child she bears with Faust, and loses her sanity in prison. This explains why Goethe defined the play as a tragedy: the protagonist does not solve his problems, and serious damage results to those close to him. In the second part, Faust appears as a person operating within history and society, but he fails in this arena. At the end of this part, Faust envisions a human society that operates for the benefit of all, in which the needs of the individuals are attended to, but since this world has not materialized and Faust is still striving towards it, he does not ultimately lose to the devil, and the soul of the deceased scholar is spared.

The humanistic and philosophical content of Faust made an impression on many generations and had an influence on countless readers, since they were able to identify with the dilemmas of Faust, both as a sensitive person and a man of spirit. The critique of the political, social and religious phenomena of Goethe’s time contributed to the ongoing popularity of the work, one of the reasons for which being that these phenomena have not dissipated with time.

German-speaking Jews, like fellow German speakers, were enamored of Faust. German immigrants to Israel from the “fifth Aliyah” often carried volumes of Goethe’s works with them to Israel, in the attempt to retain something from their lost homeland, at least, at the cultural-linguistic level. A printed edition of the play “Faust” (or of all of Goethe’s writings) could be found in the personal libraries of many Jews. Already in the mid-19th century, a few of Goethe’s works had been translated into Hebrew, but in the 20th century, the interest grew considerably. It is therefore not surprising that in Israel, as well, a translation into Hebrew of the first part of Faust was published by the poet Yaakov Cohen (1881-1960). Surely surprising, however, is the date of publication: 1943, in the throes of WWII and the midst of the Holocaust.

A portrait of Yaakov Cohen, a poet who translated “Faust” into Hebrew

In his introduction, Yaakov Cohen wrote about his hesitations and the difficulties in translating into Hebrew not only the language but also the intentions of the great poet. At the same time, Cohen did not relate at all to the particular problematic nature of publishing a classical work from the German literary canon at the beginning of the 1940s. While at the end of the introduction he mentioned that he had completed the translation a decade earlier (i.e. in the early 1930s), we today remain stupefied by its publication in 1943, of all years. Yaakov Cohen published his translation with Schocken, a publishing house whose German roots surely meant that they understood the significance of the matter. The result was a beautiful edition, with lithographs from 1827 by French Artist Eugéne Delacroix, who admired Goethe and his works. Thanks to this beautiful book, both in its content and its external form, one may say that during the darkest days, it was Jewish intellectuals who made the effort to preserve the humanistic values that had characterized Germany at other times.

The “Degenerate Art” Exhibit, 1937

Every work of art that did not conform to the Nazi definitions was declared “degenerate art” (Entartete Kunst), art that in the opinion of the German rulers from 1933-1945 was not art, but rather a scribble that was mocking of the German people

The cover of the “Degenerate Art” exhibit brochure, 1937

It is no secret that the Nazi’s view of art was contrary to conventions and prevailing attitudes that were accepted among leaders in the art world just prior to the Nazi period. With their rise to power in 1933, the Nazis were given an opportunity to implement their approach, which placed on a pedestal what they referred to as “German art.”

The Nazis were opposed to avant-garde artists and certainly to those who were not from Germany and operated outside of it. The new rulers supported native German artists who adapted their style to the official requirements set by the leading Nazis, and foremost, by Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. They preferred the realistic style, which was sometimes even monumental, manifested, inter alia, in grey and cold architecture that created enormous spaces planned for an anonymous mass. Examples of this architecture can be found in a scattering of German cities, such as Berlin, Nurnberg, Weimar, Munich and others.

In contrast, every work of art that did not conform to the Nazi definitions was declared “degenerate art” (Entartete Kunst), art that in the opinion of the German rulers from 1933-1945 was not art, but rather a scribble that was mocking of the German people.

Modern artists were in the direct line of fire, as well as entire streams of modern art, such as expressionism, dada, as well as artists’ associations such as “The Bridge” (Die Brücke), “The Blue Horseman” (Der blaue Reiter) and others. Many artists who worked in these styles were banned and forbidden to continue in their artistic work. Nazi clerks “purified” the museums, fired many directors – among them, of course, all of the Jews – as well as those who did not agree with the new direction.

The Nazis raided museum storehouses and emptied them of thousands of works of classical modern art. A small portion was selected for an exhibition called “Degenerate Art,” which opened on July 19, 1937 in Munich. However, most of the other works were sold to foreign clients or disappeared.

By acting in this manner, the Nazis created a painful lacuna in the documentation of modern art in the German museums, which in some cases has not been filled to this day. Among the artists adversely affected by the confiscation of their works and the prohibition against creating were important names that prior to 1933 had been held in high esteem in many museums in Germany, and are today valued around the world: Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, George Mucca, Oskar Schlemmer (the five were lecturers in Bauhaus), Oscar Kokoshka, Franz Mark and others.

The Nazis wanted to blacken the name of modern art and to convince the German public that it was not proper and true art. To this end, they prepared the famous exhibition in Munich, which in the course of five months attracted over two million visitors. Some of the visitors certainly came in order to part forever from important works, but there are reports that most of the visitors actually agreed with the Nazi opinions and complained about what in their eyes was not art, and for the fact that prior to 1933, large sums had been paid for acquiring them. The exhibition featured 600 works by 112 artists, including only six Jews. At the same time, the Nazis opened the formal art exhibition, the “The Exhibit of Great German Art,” also in Munich, attended by 600,000, a number that is less than one third of the number of visitors to the “Degenerate Art” exhibit.

Reproduction of photographs with “racial” indications​
“Jewish” sculptures and photographs

Following closure of the exhibit in Munich in November 1937, it wandered among 12 other cities in Germany and Austria until 1941. Each time, the collection of works featured was changed, and propaganda material was also produced such as announcements and booklets (some of which can be found in the holdings of the National Library of Israel), all with the goal of intensifying the effect on visitors to the exhibit.

The texts of the pamphlet present a very clear picture: the authors felt that art prior to the Nazi rise to power had reached the first chapter in its history, which was rotten, distorted and influenced by Bolshevism and of course, by Jews. Absurdly, the Nazis in this manner helped to define the canon of classical modern art, which after 1945 regained its valued position, even in German museums.

German Opposition to Hitler and the Assassination Attempt of July 20, 1944

The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime

Left: Pamphlet by Wolfgang Müller about the overthrow, 1947, Right: Pamphlet by Karl Strölin, 1952

In the last general elections in Germany in March 1933, some 44% of the national electorate voted for Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialist party. This means that despite the strong show of support in this election, in which other parties had been suppressed by the Nazis even earlier, most Germans did not vote for Hitler. In theory, this situation might have given reason to hope that broad portions of the population had begun – at a certain stage – to act against the undesirable, cruel regime. And yet, during the entire Nazi period, from 1933-1945, opposition to the terrible dictatorship remained proportionately very small, and never led to tangible results. The apathy of substantial parts of German citizenry, together with the entrenched obedience to the authorities and the hope of improving the standard of living meant that there were almost no people who were willing to endanger themselves in opposition activities against the regime. New studies note that no more than 7,000 people took active steps against the Nazi dictatorship during these years. The academic world employs the somewhat sarcastic term of “an opposition without a people.”

The opposition activists hailed from all sectors of the German population: Communists, Social Democrats, laborers, students (the White Rose in Munich and in Hamburg), members of the bourgeois and elite (the Kreisau Circle), Jews (the group led by Herbert Baum), Catholics and Protestant Christians, individuals and groups, women and men. A few of them are somewhat well known, for example, Georg Elser (1903-1945), a carpenter from southern Germany, who already at an early stage had clearly understood the Nazi’s goals and refused to accept the reality. He prepared a bomb in Hitler’s favorite beer cellar in Munich where, every year on November 8, the Nazi leader gave a speech commemorating the overthrow attempt of 1923. Elser’s bomb exploded at the planned time on November 8, 1939, but Hitler, contrary to all expectations, had left the site approximately fifteen minutes earlier. This failed attempt was only one in a continuous series of similar events. But Hitler and his cronies survived them all almost unscathed.

The Jewish group of Herbert Baum (1912-1942) operated within a Communist ideology and in 1942 carried out an attack on a propaganda exhibition in Berlin entitled, “The Soviet Garden of Eden,” which mocked Soviet Communism. The White Rose students’ group composed pamphlets with anti-Fascist information and in 1942-43, sent them to specific individuals and also distributed them at the University of Munich. In most cases, those who received them delivered them to the police. Similar behavior is documented in the well-known novel Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, based on a true case of opposition by a working class couple in Berlin who distributed postcards with anti-Fascist texts, but almost all of them were handed over to the police by loyal citizens. Today, it is estimated that the great success of the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) in repressing almost every opposition activity resulted not from its efficiency, but from the generous willingness of most German citizens to report views and acts that were not compatible with Nazi ideology.

The most elaborate opposition plot was that of the Wermacht officers and representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie (the Kreisau Circle and others) whose goal was to assassinate Hitler and arrest the chief leadership of the Nazis in order to halt the war. A few of them had always been opposed to Hitler’s regime, but most were ultimately pushed into action only after the defeat of the German Army at Stalingrad in January/February 1943, and following additional subsequent defeats.

The understanding that this war could no longer end in victory led many army members to a shift in direction, and to act in a manner that violated their oath as soldiers loyal to Germany and to Adolf Hitler, and this at a time when such an oath was a most serious commitment. At the focus of the plot to carry out the planned attack and overthrow were Ludwig Beck, a former general (who resigned from his job as Chief of Staff even before the outbreak of the war due to his opposition to its goals), Karl Friedrich Goerdeler, former mayor of Leipzig who was a liberal-conservative politician, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg, and General Henning von Tresckow. The name of the overthrow plan was Operation Walküre.

Israeli study about the 20 Movement by Dani Urbach, 2009

Following a number of failed attempts to conceal a bomb near Hitler, an additional effort was made on July 20, 1944. A large discussion was scheduled for this day to evaluate the military situation in one of Hitler’s command centers in East Prussia. Baron Claus Graf Schenck von Stauffenberg was invited to the discussion, and he brought with him a bomb that had been hidden in a briefcase. Due to his serious injury from the war, von Stauffenberg had only one hand, and so he did not manage to properly activate the mechanism to detonate the bomb. Moreover, one of the men present at the discussion moved the briefcase, thus distancing it from Hitler. The explosion killed four people and critically injured seven more, but Hitler was only slightly injured and left the meeting room alive and in one piece. Announcements regarding the attack spread quickly across Germany, and mainly the news that the “Führer” had escaped the attack unharmed. The entire plan thus failed, since some of the officers who had not been totally convinced of supporting the overthrow repented immediately upon receiving the news that Hitler was still alive. Already the evening of that same day, a number of officers were executed in Berlin, including Ludwig Beck and von Stauffenberg, and others were arrested and interrogated by the SS and the Gestapo. Showcase trials were held, conducted by the fanatic Judge Roland Freisler. Over 200 people were executed, many of them even in the last weeks of the Third Reich, including almost 50 senior officers of the highest ranks, diplomats, politicians and others. The assassination attempt received wide attention within and outside of Germany, and was one of the signs signaling the end of the battle of the Nazi dictatorship.

Article on the assassination attempt in the Davar newspaper, July 23, 1944

Immediately after the end of the war, public discussion regarding the significance of the attempted overthrow, the civil duty to act against a tyrannical regime, and the question of whether the officers were traitors or heroes, was renewed. The few among them who survived the interrogation, torture and trials worked to spread their version of the events, both orally and in writing. One example is the pamphlet of former Colonel Wolfgang Müller, in which already in 1947 he describes his experiences prior to July 20, 1944, and afterwards. Müller tried to operate against a recurring phenomenon (which came into existence already after WWI), of conservative forces blaming the defeat on those who opposed the regime and the war. The title of his composition was: “Against A New Lie of ‘Backstabbing’.” A further example is the composition of Karl Strölin, Mayor of Stuttgart during the entire Nazi period, and also a member of the Nazi Party, who, towards the end, was able to see Germany’s dire situation and participated in the overthrow attempt, but did so carefully, remaining in the margins of the organizing activity. He titled his composition “Traitors or Patriots”? In recent decades, many studies have been conducted in different languages about the opposition, the various groups it comprised, and mainly, the people of July 20, 1944. Today, there is no longer any discussion regarding the question of whether these people were “traitors” or heroes, but it is still asked why so few people objected to the regime, and why many of them waited until the moment it became clear that the Nazi government was poised at the brink of the abyss and the war was already a lost cause.