chapter  5
12 Pages


If historians have found it diffi cult to ascertain precisely how the Nazi regime planned to deal with the Jews within its reach at any given moment between 1933 and 1941, how much more challenging must it have been for contemporaries to do so. Hindsight easily creates the impression that the encounter between the Third Reich and the Jews had to unfold as it ultimately did, prompting the question of why observers did not see the writing on the wall until it was too late. For two decades and more following the Holocaust such hindsight informed much of the writing on responses to Nazi rule. The Jews of Germany in particular were often chided for their alleged ‘psychological predisposition against contemplating any alternative to the favourable and seemingly promising situation’ they enjoyed on the eve of the Nazi era (Morgenthau, 1961: 8). Also, the actions of bystanders to the encounter between the Third Reich and the Jews in the 1930s have been interpreted in light of the systematic mass killing that characterized that encounter only after 1941. More recently, though, many historians have rejected this approach, noting that it assumes that there was always a clear message on the wall to be read, that the message always spelled death, and that any alert and reasonably intelligent observer should have been able to read it at any time. In the event, the fi rst two assumptions have already been shown to be questionable. The third is no less problematic.