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The Crime of My Very Existence

The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality

Michael Berkowitz
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnfsn
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  • Book Info
    The Crime of My Very Existence
    Book Description:

    The Crime of My Very Existenceinvestigates a rarely considered yet critical dimension of anti-Semitism that was instrumental in the conception and perpetration of the Holocaust: the association of Jews with criminality. Drawing from a rich body of documentary evidence, including memoirs and little-studied photographs, Michael Berkowitz traces the myths and realities pertinent to the discourse on "Jewish criminality" from the eighteenth century through the Weimar Republic, into the complex Nazi assault on the Jews, and extending into postwar Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94068-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
  6. ONE Above Suspicion? Facts, Myths, and Lies about Jews and Crime
    (pp. 1-23)

    for many germans the linking of Jews with criminality might have seemed less speculative than “scientific racism” as a basis for Nazi policies. Although some scholars detect the roots of racial anti-Semitism in pre-Christian antiquity,¹ for the sake of illuminating the Holocaust, it suffices to begin with the broad Christian background. In European Christendom a rationale for discriminating against the Jews, accompanying the apparent incompatibility of the Jewish and Christian belief systems, was that Jews were socialized toward criminality and overrepresented in the realm of criminals. This conviction long predated the rise of racism, although sometimes the persecution of Jews...

  7. TWO The Construction of “Jewish Criminality” in Nazi Germany
    (pp. 24-45)

    THE VAST MAJORITY OF JEWS in Germany were neither among the power elite nor suspected criminals before 1933. The philosopher Slavoj Ž¡žek offers a penetrating analysis of the deliberate “paranoid, pathological” construction of Nazi anti-Semitism:

    Let us . . . take a typical individual in Germany in the late 1930s. He is bombarded by anti-Semitic propaganda depicting a Jew as a monstrous incarnation of Evil, the great wire-puller, and so on. But when he returns home he encounters Mr Stern, his neighbour: a good man to chat with in the evenings, whose children play with his. Does not this everyday...

  8. THREE The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the Ghettos
    (pp. 46-73)

    SETTING THE SCENE IN HIS 1936 novella,Beichte eines Mörders: Erzählt in einer Nacht (Confession of a Murderer, Told in One Night),Joseph Roth describes a clock hanging in a dingy café.¹ Frozen at the moment it broke, the clock does not just fail to tell the time; it “ridicules” the very notion of time. Throughout the Third Reich, Victor Klemperer and other sensitive observers perceived that hundreds of terms no longer held the same significance they had before 1933. The words often demeaned or ridiculed what Nazism’s opponents saw as the original, unequivocal intent or gist.² Of these, “resettlement,”...

  9. FOUR Inverting the Innocent and the Criminal in Concentration Camps
    (pp. 74-111)

    A FUNDAMENTAL PROCLIVITY CONNECTING GHETTOS with concentration camps and labor camps in the Third Reich was the Nazi effort to cast all Jews as convicted criminals. This chapter focuses on three aspects of Nazi control of the camps that sought to concretize the preconception that all Jews were outlaws deserving of incarceration (without possibility of parole or release), harsh treatment, slave labor, and ultimately, execution.¹ The first category may be termed the criminal-bureaucratic. Administrative procedures in the camps were devised to exaggerate the idea that “Jews” and “criminals” were synonymous and to propagate the myth that concentration camps were, in...

  10. FIVE Re-presenting Zionism as the Apex of Global Conspiracy
    (pp. 112-144)

    THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN NAZIS AND ZIONISTS, which were often complex and shifted dramatically in the twelve years of National Socialism, have been subject to heated debate.¹ As soon as the Nazis came to power, Zionists, as individuals and representatives of different streams in the movement, disagreed vehemently about how to deal with Hitlerism.² As we know with the benefit of hindsight, in the course of the anti-Jewish “race war” the Nazis and their accomplices persecuted and annihilated Jews regardless of their political creed. If a Jew’s voluntary affiliation mattered at all, it usually did so in a negative way: merely...

  11. SIX Lingering Stereotypes and Jewish Displaced Persons
    (pp. 145-196)

    IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE AXIS DEFEAT, Jews in Central and Western Europe comprised a fraction of the millions of DPs, or displaced persons, anxious to resume a normal life.¹ Along with the conundrum of memory and accountability vis-à-vis the Nazis’ Jewish victims, there were real, live Jews to deal with in Germany, and their ranks swelled considerably after 1945.² The comparatively small fragment of Jews may have seemed almost negligible in the vast sea of dislocated peoples in the eyes of the Germans as well as in those of the Allied powers.³ Yet the Jews posed a set of...

  12. SEVEN Jewish DPs Confronting the Law: Prescriptions, Self-Perceptions, and Pride of Self-Control
    (pp. 197-219)

    ALTHOUGH MANY JEWISH DPS, as well as those entrusted with their welfare, sensed that they remained largely victims of circumstance after the Nazi defeat, concerted efforts were undertaken to dislodge the “Jewish criminality” stereotype and the grounds that sustained it in postwar Germany. This chapter first examines the prescriptions of the Jewish Affairs office of the U.S. occupation forces that tackled the problems surrounding “Jewish crime.” The office expended a great amount of energy to reduce the friction between Jews and Germans that seemed to emanate mainly from the black market. The chapter then explores the selfperspectives of the DPs...

  13. Epilogue: The Estonia Enigma
    (pp. 220-228)

    THE ANNIHILATION OF ESTONIAN JEWRY in the forefront of the Holocaust is well known, especially because of its mention at the Wannsee Conference (January 1942) as the sole instance in which the Jewish problem had been “solved.” No ghettos needed to be created, nor were Estonian Jews transported to concentration and extermination camps. Because the Jews in Estonia were massacred, in total, before the end of 1941, these steps simply were not necessary.

    However, survivors of pre–Second World War Estonian Jewry do exist, because in the wake of the Soviet Union’s occupation of the Baltic countries in June 1940,...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 229-300)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 301-321)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 322-322)