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Photograph of Jews Cleaning Streets in Vienna

Streetcleaning in Vienna
Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes
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tags: fear & intimidation humiliation

type: Photograph

Forced labor became a defining feature of life for Jews under the Nazi regime. While Nazi policies eventually introduced forced labor at camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau, it was not part of policymakers inital plans. Instead, forced labor was originally intended to humiliate “racial enemies” and assert Nazi power.  

In this image, as part of a ritual of public humiliation, Jewish men and women were forced to scrub the streets to remove political slogans that were critical of Germany’s annexation of Austria, an event also known as the Anschluss.1 In the background, members of the German SA and SS look on, joined by an apparently enthusiastic crowd of civilian spectators. In the days and weeks following the Anschluss, there was a rapid rise in anti-Jewish violence across Austria, particularly in Vienna, where 90 percent of Austria’s Jewish population lived.2

In forcing Jews to perform manual labor, the Nazis acted upon antisemitic ideas about Jews being unproductive, lazy, and overprivileged. Nazi officials encouraged children and crowds to watch and participate in these kinds of ritual humilations,3 which could last hours or even days. In doing so, the party also sought to create public acceptance for the exclusion of Jews.4 Distributing photographs of these events aided that effort. Images similar to this one were widely circulated at the time by the antisemitic Nazi publication Der Stürmer

From 1933 to 1938 the Nazis, with the cooperation of many German agencies and businesses, passed numerous laws and regulations designed to impoverish Jews and remove them from economic life.5 Jews were slowly stripped of any means to make a living and forced into unemployment, poverty—and many were forced into the kind of unskilled labor depicted in this photograph. In September 1938, the Austrian labor administration began requiring unemployed Jews to work in construction and road building projects. This approach, implemented first in Vienna, became the model for forced labor throughout the Third Reich.6 Systematic use of Jewish forced labor began in earnest at the end of 1938 following Kristallnacht, the violent attack on Jews and Jewish owned businesses throughout Germany.7 The forced labor program eventually expanded and included more groups, particularly eastern workers in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union.

The type of manual forced labor illustrated here was transformed into a large-scale program affecting millions of people within only three years. The marginalization of the Jewish community took place in public, in their own communities and streets, as this photograph demonstrates. Images like this one helped make the public willing to accept it.

Wolf Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938–1944 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 107. 

These slogans supported the government of Kurt Schuschnigg, which had attempted to prevent the Anschluss and stop the Nazi government from taking over Austria.

For example, Jews were forced to clean barracks, schools, Hitler Youth homes, Nazi Party meeting rooms and work on construction projects. Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor, 105–109.

One of the first major laws designed to exclude Jews was the April 1933 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which barred Jews from serving in the civil service. It was followed by restrictive laws curtailing Jews from practicing law, medicine and a host of other professions. 

For more examples of anti-Jewish legislation introduced in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, see the Experiencing History items Dismissal Letter for Professor Eugen Mittwoch and Eviction Notice for Dr. Erwin Schattner.

Gruner, Jewish Forced Labor, 106.

By summer 1939, 20,000 German Jews were already subjected to some form of forced labor. Early labor camps were not usually permanent but established for specific projects and then dismantled. Others still lived at home but were assigned to heavy labor or undesirable tasks, without taking into account their professions or qualifications.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes
Accession Number 12313
Date Created
March 12, 1938
Location
Vienna, Austria
Still Image Type Photograph
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