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Public Humiliation of a Young Couple

Public Humiliation
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Slaski w Opolu

Nazi racial ideology labeled those not considered ethnic Germans as racially inferior. According to this racial hierarchy, people of Slavic origin—such as Poles, Russians, and Serbs—were marked for enslavement, deportation, and murder. Their lands were to be repopulated with so-called "Aryan" Germans. Between 1939 and 1945, approximately 1.5 million ethnic Poles from German-occupied Poland—mostly teenage boys and girls—were deported to Germany for forced labor. Racial separation laws prohibited relations between Germans and "non-Aryans."

One such law, known as the "Polish Decree" of March 1940, regulated the working and living conditions of Polish laborers. Under this provision, any Pole who had sexual relations with a German man or woman, or approached them in any other improper manner, was punished with death. The policy was strictly enforced by the Gestapo.1

German police officials were charged with enforcing such measures, but authorities often relied on civilians to denounce supposed lawbreakers. They also encouraged civilians to participate in public spectacles. This film documents the ritual public humiliation of a young couple in Steinsdorf—formerly the town of ƚcinawa Nyska, in the German-annexed region of Poland—that had supposedly broken the racial separation laws.2 The forbidden affair between Bronia, a 16-year-old Polish forced laborer, and Gerhard, a 19-year-old German, had been reported to the Gestapo. The two were paraded through the streets of the town barefoot with their hands tied. They were forced to wear signs reading, "I am a Polish pig" and "I am a German traitor."3 During this public spectacle, their hair is cut and Bronia is forced to light the pile of hair on fire.

This 1941 film captures the reactions of the couple—as well as many spectators and participants in these rituals of humiliation. For some of those men, women, and children, the event appears to function as a festive social gathering, accompanied by children playing musical instruments. The film concludes with the couple's arrival at the local prison.4

Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 155.

 

The filmmaker's identity remains unknown—he or she may have been a member of the Gestapo, a local Nazi official, or a civilian observer. The film was discovered in an attic in Štúrovo, Slovakia, in 1946. A documentary about the case, titled Forbidden Love: The Story of Bronia and Gerhard, was released in 2002.

The signs are written in both Polish and German.

After these events, Gerhard was sent to fight on the eastern front, where he suffered a severe injury. He died in Germany in 1945. Bronia was sent to a concentration camp. Her fate remains unknown, but she is presumed to have died in the camp.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Slaski w Opolu
RG Number 60.1356
Date Created
1941
Duration 00:05:16
Sound No
Location
Steinsdorf, Germany (historical)
Reference Location
Scinawa Nyska, Poland
Štúrov, Slovakia
Moving Image Type Raw Footage
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