In the initial years of Nazi rule, Jewish newspapers found it increasingly difficult to operate. Because the Third Reich was an authoritarian dictatorship that did not tolerate criticism in the press, and because Jewish life itself was under assault, Jewish newspapers found themselves in a precarious position after 1933.
The Nazis had always railed against the "Jewish press" because they believed that the "Jewish conspiracy"—which they were convinced was driving world events, against German and European "interests"—was manipulating news for its own purposes and spreading anti-German messages. The strong prevalence of Jewish journalists and editors in all German news media—a consequence of an uneven, century-long process of Jewish emancipation in the German lands—allowed the Nazis to accuse the Jews of "running" the press in Germany. From the early years of their rule, as part of a strategy of removing Jews from civil service and other public positions, the Nazis thus stripped Jewish owners of their newspapers, and fired Jewish journalists and editors.
But what was to be done with the actual Jewish press? What was to be done with publications that were not German outlets supposedly infiltrated by the Jews, but rather newsletters, journals, and newspapers published by Jewish organizations—the press, that is, by the Jews and for the Jews? The Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith), the largest German Jewish organization, ran its own weekly, distributing it among hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany. Even as it had to tone down its reporting—much of the pre-1933 reporting alerted its readers of Nazi antisemitism and related issues—the newspaper continued its run into the Nazi period. Despite the threat of regime censorship and intervention, it nevertheless strove to provide information and news that was pertinent and useful to its readership.
The Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 changed this radically. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis banned all Jewish newspapers and seized their assets. Simultaneously, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry mandated the founding of a single, Nazi-controlled Jewish information sheet, Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ("The Jewish news journal"), published by the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland. The organization was set up and tightly controlled by Himmler's experts on anti-Jewish policy, and was, since September 1939, part of the SS Reich Main Security Office.1 This "Jewish" newspaper would have a wholly different function than the pre-Kristallnacht Jewish press. The new, Nazi-controlled publication was designed to convey the key points of Nazi policy and restrictions placed upon the Jews.
Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt offered news of the tightening Nazi regulations and orders pertaining to Jews in Germany, as well as reports and articles following current Nazi policy. Between 1938 and 1941, this meant Jewish emigration, and much space in the journal was devoted to information about possibilities of emigration, emigre stories and experiences, and related matters. The newspaper also featured a busy section of advertisements and notices, which inadvertently testified to the dire situation in which the Jews found themselves. Doctors unable to practice medicine sold their medical instuments and tools; single men and women looked for other singles with visas and exit permits, hoping to marry them and flee; people leaving the country sold entire households for next to nothing.
The Nachrichtenblatt was published in Berlin, and was supervised directly by the Propaganda Ministry, which approved all articles and print items in advance of publication. In two former capitals of countries swallowed up by the Reich—Vienna and Prague—other Nazi agencies supervised the publication of two "local" issues along the same lines and with largely similar content. Over time, the demographic consequences of emigration, deportation, and genocide shrunk the numbers of German Jews in the Reich, so did "their" journal shrink in size and frequency. By mid-1943, the publication of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt ceased.2
This article, published in the Vienna edition of Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt a few months after Kristallnacht, illustrates well the key features of the journal. "As an Emigrant in Shanghai" was one of the many articles on the topic of Jewish emigration from the Reich, and especially from Vienna. Unlike German Jews, who had been persecuted since 1933, Austrian Jews had begun to live under Nazi rule only very recently, since the Anschluss of March 1938. Many Jews from Austria were now eager to emigrate to countries that would accept them, and leave the Reich and the Nazis behind. This, however, was very difficult, and was increasingly becoming impossible. The Nazis themselves, however, favored Jewish emigration as a "solution" to the "Jewish question" in this period and were eager to to spread the word among the Jews on the possibilities, benefits, and prospects of emigration. Thus, articles like "As an Emigrant in Shanghai" reflect a confluence of Nazi and Jewish concerns in this period, and a role that the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt played in this confluence. Of course, the relationship between the Nazi state and the Jews was not one of two equal sides; and while the Nazis, who pulled all the levers of the state, favored emigration as a "solution" to a "problem" conjured up by their racist worldview, many Jews were eager to emigrate in order to save their lives.
Emigration was a key topic in all editions of the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt in the period between Kristallnacht and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. After the failure of the Évian conference, the places where Jews could go and hope to stay became increasingly scarce and remote. The Chinese city of Shanghai, under Japanese occupation, was one of the few places that was open to Jews who could leave Europe and reach east Asia.3 These emigrants were mostly wealthy Jews who were able to book around-the-world cruises that would make a stop in Shanghai; many people also disembarked in the Egyptian Mediterranean port of Alexandria, hoping to reach Palestine.
The anonymous article featured here is a matter-of-fact early account of refugee life in a faraway land. It contains useful information about the cost of living in Shanghai, as well as interesting observations of a Central European middle-class man, reflecting the stereotypes and worldviews of the time.