By Daphne Anson
(Sir) Beverley Baxter (1891-1964) was a Canadian-born journalist who spent most of his career in Britain, where he became a Conservative MP. His account of the persecution of Jews in post-Anschluss Vienna appeared shortly after the Kristallnacht pogrom, the 80th anniversary of which is being marked now.
Appearing in an Australian newspaper (Shepparton Advertiser, 25 November 1938), Baxter’s article was entitled “Jew-Baiting In Vienna: How the pogroms are organised”. Here is what he wrote (I’ve changed his original spelling of Brownshirts as two words):
What is the truth about the persecution of Jews in Germany and Austria? How far are tales of
atrocities figments of the imagination or inventions of propagandists? It was partly to answer these questions that I went recently to Vienna, where the Nazis are now in supreme control, and where purification of the Germanic race is proceeding according to plan.
It is difficult to describe the Nazi movement one way or another. To condemn it out of hand would be foolish and would show a lack of understanding. We who extol democracy must be willing to learn where this political and economic creed has succeeded against difficulties that would discourage the methods of democracy.
There is a tremendous and genuine idealism in the movement. It is written in the faces of the young men who have donned the uniform of the cause. One cannot look upon the clear eyes and fine physique of these boys without admitting that Hitler has accomplished miracles. Out of a defeated and disillusioned nation he has created a magnificent new generation — if we are to judge humanity by the welfare of the body and the purposefulness of the spirit.
Unfortunately, in the launching of this movement of “national regeneration,” and I do not mock the phrase — there were also let loose forces of national degradation which are now out of control. And the most vile of these is the persecution of the Jews.
In what I write here I have purposely refused to credit the stories of atrocities which cannot be proved. They may be in time. I only mention, however, those which I know to be true.
Herr Rudolf Bear was a director of the Vienna Opera. He was sitting in his box one night when three Austrian Brownshirts entered and drove him in a car to the outskirts of Vienna, where they beat him with truncheons.
When the director reached home, a bleeding pulp of a human being, he took poison. His servants discovered it in time, however, and he was rush ed to the hospital, where the best doctors in Vienna fought for his life — and won.
At last he was discharged, a cured man, and warned about his future conduct By the authorities.
That night he shot himself. [Emphasis added here and below.] Search the literature of tragedy if you like and tell me where fiction can outdistance that story of established fact.
One of the pranks of the Austrian Brownshirts that followed the invasion of the German army, was to make Jews scrub the pavements; and the favorite victims of this sadistic exploitation were young Jewesses.
But not always. A Jewish violinist was given a pail of water and told to scrub the pavement outside a Christian shop. To add point to the jest, acid was poured into the water. The violinist performed his task, to find that the acid had burned the skin from his fingers and that he could never again — or so he thought — play his violin. He went home and took poison.
Those are two of countless stories that can be proved to the hilt. I need not torture you with any more, but I shall come to an incident that is not without a grim comedy but has a bearing on the argument.
On Whit-Saturday, I drove, in company with a young British woman, out to the Vienna woods, and saw thousands of boyish peasants and their girls in their attractive national costumes bicycling or hiking to their favorite resorts. Nothing could have been cleaner or more wholesome than that unselfconscious companionship of the sexes. The paradox of Europeis that while the political shadows deepen, youth has discovered the common citizenship of the sun and the heritage of the out of doors!
Coming back to Vienna, we drove to the Jewish section. Here and there was a shop proudly proclaiming that it was “Aryan,” some even going so far as to boast that they were “German Aryan.”
Most of the little shops, however, had nothing but the Jewish names of the owners — and a large
number of signs. “To Let,” or “This Business for Sale.”
At the doors, as if it were the ghetto, the proprietors stood in silent misery. The hand of fate was
closing about their throats and there was no escape. .
Coming to the fashionable shopping district we saw two Brownshirts picketing the famous shop of Neumann’s that has done business in Vienna for a century.
This was too much for my companion, who insisted on running the blockade. Stopping the car, she made for the interior of the shop, and was stopped by the young Brownshirts.
“Not Aryan,” he said abruptly in.German.
“What do I care,” said my countrywoman, “I am going in just the same.”
The Brownshirt shrugged his shoulders, made way for us, and we found ourselves in the interior of
Ten or 12 assistants, not all Jewish, stood about like ghosts in some horrible comedy.
Not one would-be purchaser was in the large shop. It was Saturday before Whitsun, when normally the assistants would be struggling to meet the, demands of their customers.
A pretty little Jewess asked us what we wanted, and I decided on a tie. The rest of the assistants looked on with blank expressionless faces,as if the whole process were vaguely reminiscent to them but their brains were incapable of understanding.
I had no German money and proffered a pound. This necessitated the personal attention of the manager. He looked, at the pound, sighed, scratched his head and was quite helpless. He was in that state of mind which we have all known at some stage in our lives, when the most trivial problem is simply too much to bear. The little Jewess relieved him by taking back the pound and giving us the change.
As we left the shop the ghosts all came to life. “Good day, sir, good day, madam,” they chanted in English. Then they were silent and stood again in awful, motionless misery.
Outside, my companion, who is really a gentle soul, walked up to the Brownshirts.
“Do either of you speak English?” she asked.
“Yes,” said one, a. young man of the student type, wearing glasses,”I speak English.” “Then aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” she demanded.
“Bullying helpless people 1 who have done you no harm!”
“No, I am not ashamed,” he said. “I am obeying orders and doing my duty.”
“You are a coward,” said my companion, “or you would not obey such orders.”
The crowd from the pavement gathered around us. I felt exquisitely uncomfortable and tried to pull her arm, but some Scottish ancestor from the fierce and distant past had taken command of her spirit.
“I don’t like doing this,” said the Nazi with the utmost courtesy, “but it is necessary. You will be doing exactly the same thing 15 years from now in England.”
“No we won’t,” cried my friend, “In Britain we raise men, not contemptible bullies. I tell you …”
At last I got hold of her arm and pulled her to the car. I did not applaud the lady’s behavior. We were guests in the country and the Brown Shirts were carrying out their orders. The fact that she is my wife [Canadian-born Edith Letson] does not alter my official opinion of her conduct. At the same time . . .
That afternoon I decided to find out what the official attitude was toward the Jewish persecution. The man to see was not the famous Herr [Arthur] Seyss-Inquart, who died politically in giving birth to the Anschluss. He was used as a pawn to get Dr [Kurt] Schuschnigg out, and now looks on while Reich
Commissioner [Josef ]Bürckel, the strong man from Germany, directs the assimilation of the State into the Reich.
But the man I wanted to see was the Burgomeister, Doctor [Hermann] Neubacher, who was the original leader of the “one German people” party in Austria, who had spent eighteen months in prison without trial at the insistence of Schuschnigg, and who had been appointed mayor of Vienna to carry out the Nazi programme.
I telephoned for an appointment, which was almost immediately granted. From the beginning of this trip I received nothing but courtesy from German State officials. The city hall of Vienna was filled with young Brownshirts who sprang to attention on every side and shot their arms out in the Fascist salute. Their keenness was almost pathetic. The whole business was like a new military toy to them, and they were playing soldiers for all they were worth.
The approach to the Burgomeister’s innermost sanctum is through a series of rooms, in each of which the visitor is detained for a few moments. Uniformed men went swiftly in and out, saluting, bowing, barking, “Heil Hitler!” to each other. Every now and then an older Brownshirt would emerge with a coarse, sullen face, and make his way out quietly. One felt that there was dirty work afloat, and that he had no time for the military trimmings of heel clicking and saluting. I was wondering what it all reminded me of when suddenly I remembered. It was like Scarpia’s anteroom in the opera of “Tosca” when the dictator’s gangsters are waiting for their orders.
The more surprise, therefore to be introduced at last to the Burgomeister and to find a kindly personality in ordinary business dress with humorous, twinkling eyes that inspired complete confidence at once. He expressed his pleasure that a member of the British House of Commons
should call to see him, and .then ask ed me to discuss quite frankly anything I desired. There then began a dialogue on these lines:
“Will you tell me where Dr. Schuschnigg is?”
“Certainly. He is in Vienna. He is no longer at Belvedere Palace.”
“Is it true that he,, is at the hotel occupied by the secret police?”
“Possibly — but he is in a private room. ”
“He is not married yet?”
“No. He would like to marry the Baroness Fugger von Babenhausen, but it has not happened.”
“Will Dr. Schuschnigg be put on trial?”
“That is not for me to say. Berlin will decide.”
“How long, will it take before Austria and Germany become one in spirit ? It seems to many of us a very strange mixture.”
“Germany has always been a strange mixture. The Saxons and Prussians and Bavarians are very dissimilar, but they are all part of the Reich. Austria will come in just as naturally, and perhaps we shall be of great help to the German nation. The people who live in central Germany seldom meet any other nationalities, and they perhaps do nob understand the outside world too well. In Austria we have always dealt with all the nations — sometimes to our disadvantage — but .to the increase of our knowledge of the world.”
His telephone rang. Excusing himself he took off the receiver.”Heil Hitler!” he said and then spoke in rapid German. At the end he repeated “Heil Hitler!” and came back with apologies to where I was sitting.
“There is one question, Herr Burgomeisler that I want to ask you, but perhaps you will not care to answer it. Have there been serious outrages and violence against the Jews since the Anschluss?”
He hesitated for a moment or two and then looked straight at me.
“Yes,” he said. “We cannot deny it.”
“I am sure you will forgive my frankness,” I said, “but in Britain we look upon the persecution of the Jews with horror. It stands against hopes of an understanding between our two countries.”
“That is too bad” he answered. “I must tell you that I do not like the outrages against the Jews. But it is not right to say that they were committed by the real German or Austrian Nazis. It is not the best element that rushes into the streets at the outbreak of a revolution. It was so in the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. So it was with our revolution here of a few weeks past.. Many people became Nazis only on the day when the German troops marched in to Austria. Now we severly punish any outrages against the Jews.”
It seemed discourteous to press the subject further, but there was one question I wanted to ask.
“Is it your intention,” I enquired, “to enforce the Nuremberg decree that any Aryan in Austria married to a Jewess must divorce her?”
“That is not quite accurate,” he answered. “Any German working for the State must do so. But of course he can give up working for the State and no divorce is necessary.”
It seems incredible that such words could come from a man of such obvious humanity. To dissemble the point as to whether or not one worked for the State was simply an attempt to cloak the savagery of the whole thing. What other employer is there in Germany but the State?
“Supposing,” I said, “that a young German comes to you and tells you that his Jewish wife whom he dearly loves is going to have a baby. Would you order him to divorce her?”
The smile left his eyes, and one could feel the struggle between human decency and political policy.
“We do not believe” he said, “that the mixture of Jew and German will make a good race. It may seem hard, but that is what we think. Therefore I would advise the divorce.”
I walked back to my hotel more sick at heart than at any time since my arrival in the new Germany. National Socialism had turned back the calendar to the Dark Ages and let loose over Europe once more the elemental brutality of Jew-baiting.
As I passed the splendid entrance to the Parliament Buildings, I saw two sentries with steel helmets and bayonets on guard. It was no longer a Parliament, but headquarters for the German military governor. On the streets hundreds of young soldiers
strolled along orderly and tactful.
Now and then a dispatch rider on a motor-cycle tore through the traffic.
The Viennese drank their beer, indifferent to the scene. The placard pictures of Hitler were looking
shabby, as if the rain and the wind had, failed to show a proper respect. In thousands of Jewish homes families were cowering, waiting for .the dreaded footsteps of their persecutors. There had been over 2000 arrests the day before. Doctors, musicians, journalists were being rounded up to be sent to Germany to work with unemployed gangs.
I stopped at a bookstall to get something to read. Two publications were given pride of place — the. first a record of Herr Hitler’s triumphant entry into Austria, .the other a present-day history of the curse of Jewry upon civilisation. Nothing of the photographer’s art was spared to make the Hitler, volume impressive. Nothing of photographic crudity was spared to show the Jew as a bestial
In the hotel I found a young British foreign correspondent waiting to see me. In the empty lounge a dreary orchestra was playing the “Blue Danube.” I asked the journalist if he was sending any news.
“Things have rather dried up,” he said. “There are a lot more Jewish suicides, but, none of them are well-known people, and I don’t think London wants that kind of news very much.”
The violinist reached the end of .the “Blue Danube.” With.an attempt at sentiment he began, “Wien, Wien, mein liebes Wien.”