Karl Christian Führer. Media History. Volume 18, Issue 1: Ephemera, 2012.
As a rule, all authoritarian political regimes take great care to control the public sphere according to the interests of those in power. Using tight rules of censorship, surveillance and various other means, they suppress the free expression of opinion and create a stream-lined public discourse. In modern times mass media are at the core of this policy. Nazi Germany can serve as one of the prime examples to prove how the strategic use of media and media content can help both to establish and to sustain a brutal dictatorship: Hitler’s rise and reign would have been impossible without the modern mass media and the Nazi policy of media control.
However, it will be argued here that the notion of a viciously well-tuned Nazi media machinery, popular with many historians of the Third Reich, should meet some qualifications. A close look at the margins of print—that is at the classified ads in one of Germany’s most important and wide-spread newspapers of the 1930s—can discover messages contradicting the official propaganda in an important matter of ‘race’, which must have infuriated all true believers in the National Socialist doctrine. As will be shown below Jews of both sexes, using their own words and promoting their own interests, placed classified ads in a newspaper aimed at the broad German public even after 1933. Indirectly, but yet very clearly, these advertisements, appearing among the matrimonial ads and in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column, expressed Jewish self-assurance or even pride. At the same time they also revealed some of the dramatic social changes forced upon Germany’s Jews by the racist policies of the Nazi regime. Easily available for the ‘general reader’, these small ads raise important questions about the social history of German Jewry after 1933, Nazi Germany’s public sphere, and also about the historical relevance of seemingly marginal media content.
In the following, at first the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ (FZ) will be introduced, the newspaper that printed all the ads in question, describing its special position on the German market of printed matter. Then classified ads placed by Jewish customers in the FZ during the years of the Nazi reign will be presented and discussed as a source both for media history and the social history of the Third Reich. While such advertisements were only a rather short-lived phenomenon in the column ‘Situations Wanted’ from which they more or less disappeared already in late 1934, matrimonial ads seeking potential Jewish brides or grooms had not only a tradition well preceding the year 1933 but also appeared in the FZ still in 1937/1938. Therefore remarks on why and how Jews used classified ads to seek employment during the very first phase of the Nazi dictatorship form the first part of the investigation, while a more thorough look at the matrimonial columns follows. As will be argued these documents offer not only interesting insights in Germany’s social history after 1933; at a more general level they also draw attention to the often overlooked or underrated character of newspapers as a form of communication that offers consumers opportunities to shape mass media content.
The German Newspaper Market and the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’
The German newspaper market of the early 1930s was huge but highly fragmented. All in all, nearly 3500 different dailies appeared in some 15 million copies per day. Most of these papers were decidedly local both in terms of content and distribution while dailies that reached a wide-spread readership were rare. Among the few papers of national appeal, the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ stood out for several reasons. In the Weimar Republic, its editorial staff enjoyed an almost unrivalled journalistic reputation. Few contemporaries would have disputed the statement that the FZ was the very model of a high-quality broadsheet and quite different from the yellow press or the many papers dishing out political propaganda disguised as information.
At first sight, the FZ circulation figures may appear as hardly impressive, but it should be kept in mind that different standards apply here, due to the fragmented character of the German press market. With some 60,000 sold copies during the years of the slump after 1929/1930 and 70,000 sold copies during the years of Germany’s economic recovery after 1935/1936 the FZ belonged to the small group of Germany’s most successful newspapers. Besides this, it certainly reached much more people than the circulation figures suggest. Due to its high reputation more than 4600 hotels and cafes in all of Germany held a subscription to the FZ, providing the paper for their customers on a daily basis. It could also be read in all public libraries and reading rooms. While we have come to regard the ‘public sphere’ almost exclusively as an abstract concept, these facts can remind us that the term also has a literal meaning—and in late Weimar, Germany no other daily achieved a comparable presence in this public sphere.
This did not change after 1933 although the FZ was anything but a partisan of National Socialism. Before the Nazi seizure of power, the paper had promoted a left-wing orientated liberalism; after 1933, it tried to observe a policy of carefully veiled opposition to the regime and it policies, suggested by an intricate set of dissident catchwords and modes of speech. The NSDAP treated the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ in conflicting ways. On the one hand, the newspaper was clearly regarded as an ideological enemy. On the other hand, it was not banned (this happened only in 1943) because the party still saw some value in its existence: no other German newspaper was so closely followed and so highly regarded in Western foreign countries. So the FZ was allowed to carry on since it served a symbolic purpose: its very existence proved both to German and to foreign audiences that Nazi Germany’s mass media were not totally gleichgeschaltet (brought into line with the NSDAP). It was probably for the same reason that the newspaper could print the ads placed by Jewish customers presented and discussed below: also in this respect things in Germany should appear as ‘normal’ at least in the columns of the FZ. While to some extent the very existence of the FZ in the Third Reich served propagandistic purposes the greater room of manoeuvre enjoyed by the paper and its editorial staff, however, also opened up opportunities of undermining or contradicting the official propaganda that other media lacked. Classified ads offered some of these opportunities. Thanks to them, a positive image of Jews could be found in at least one segment of Nazi Germany’s mass media well into the 1930s. At the same time, especially the press was used by the NSDAP as a means to build an anti-Semitic consensus among the population. Aggressive negative messages and images abounded in a multi-faceted campaign, created to ‘unmask’ all Jews as destructive enemies of the German people.
‘Otherwise any kind of work welcome’. The Fate of Jews on the German Labour Market after 1933 and the Classified Columns of the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’
Pages filled with economic advertising were one of the strong features of the FZ. Carrying a large financial section and in-depths articles even on highly specialised economic topics the paper also attracted many advertisements in all economic matters. Especially in the weekend editions ads abounded that offered business opportunities and vacant jobs or sought business associates. Naturally, the column ‘Situations Wanted’ also featured regularly. On 15 May 1933 six of the more than 80 ads on this page were in one respect unusual: the people who had placed them to seek gainful employment declared themselves as Jewish. One of them read: ‘Jewish lawyer, age 32, unmarried, a determined worker, fluent in French and English, modest expectations (bescheidene Ansprüche), seeks for the well-known reasons a new area of endeavour (neuer Wirkungskreis), at home or abroad.’ Another lawyer, aged 40, drew attention not only to his Jewish ancestry and his PhD but also to his status as a former ‘front-line soldier’. Two more lawyers, a female nursery-school teacher and a pharmacist ‘with excellent references and promising ideas of his own’ also advertised expressly as members of the Jewish community.
It was not the client’s respective professional background that made these ads unusual. Unprecedented was only the declaration of their religious and ethnic affiliation: before May 1933 no client in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column in the FZ had felt the need to disclose these facts. Ads were routinely centred on characteristics and qualifications relevant for potential employers and the information whether an advertiser was Jewish or not did was obviously not regarded as essential. Change was, of course, brought about by the racist policy of the Nazi regime. When the young lawyer, cited above, spoke of the ‘well-known reasons’ for his wish for a new start, he referred to a wave of anti-Semitic measures, put into practice in April 1933: ‘Non-Aryan’ civil servants were sacked (with some exceptions), lawyers and notaries lost their licenses, doctors were cut off from compensations paid by the compulsory health insurance for the treatment of its members.
The ‘Situations Wanted’ column of the FZ documented many of the effects suffered by German Jews from these blows against their economic well-doing. In the summer of 1933 especially lawyers and other members of the legal professions turned to advertising. For example, there were four more ads placed by Jewish jurists in the FZ on 28 May 1933 and three in each Saturday edition between 4 and 18 June. Tellingly, these men rarely asked for a specified situation. Instead most searched for a new Wirkungskreis (area of endeavour), suggesting that they were ready to try something new even if it meant a loss in social reputation. One, 30 years old, also called himself a man of ‘only modest expectations’ and sought employment ‘of any kind’ (28 May); both the owner of a legal practice who had been ‘very successful up to now’, and a company lawyer (Syndikus), having served a ‘renowned industrial company’ for more than eight years, used almost the same words (11 and 18 June). A former female judge and civil servant, holding ‘the best of references’, was ready to work ‘as a secretary or shorthand typist, making only modest demands’ (9 July).
Given the fact that jurists who had to pass through years of a long and arduous professional training had since long held a well respected position in German society, these advertisements spoke of a dramatic social change. They also disclosed the arbitrariness of Nazi Germany’s Rassenpolitik that inconsiderately put an end to the careers of highly qualified people. One articled clerk (Gerichtsreferendar) who had passed all his exams with good or very good marks (which was rare among German jurists) wrote that he had been dismissed ‘just a few weeks’ before the end of his traineeship. Now he looked for any position that might give him a chance ‘to further use his knowledge and abilities’ (4 June). Even more successful and respectable was a judge at a regional court (Landgerichtsrat), ‘Non-Aryan, made redundant (abgebaut), excellent references and exams’. In August 1933 this man, who had had any right to see himself as securely well established, asked to be taken in ‘as an intern’ (Volontär) by any company, ‘at home or abroad’, that was willing to give him a chance (6 August).
Already in June 1933 Jews with other vocational backgrounds joined those from the legal professions in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column of the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’. Although the policy of compulsory ‘Aryanization’ up to then officially applied only to the civil service and to lawyers, industry and commerce too proved to be no save haven for Jewish employees. So a chemist, ‘Jew, age 30, in employment for years’, sought a new Wirkungskreis ‘owing to circumstances’, and one executive employee of the clothing industry, ‘28, Israelite, unmarried, up to now successful in eminent companies of the wholesale business’, also looked for a new job (18 June). The following week the FZ printed an ad placed by yet another Jewish chemist (‘for years very successful as managing director in the photographic industry’) who wanted to leave Germany (‘preferably Netherlands’), one from a salesman (‘expert knowledge in all merchandise, great organisational talent, expertise in advertising’) who had had a career in several great department store companies, and one ad from an ‘architect and independent businessman, successful for more than 20 years in the Rhineland, now looking for the well-known reasons for a new area of endeavour, at home or abroad’, who once again described himself as a man of ‘only modest expectations’ (25 June). In July the executive of a large retail shop for shoes stated that he had been ‘made redundant for being a Non-Aryan’ (30 July); in August the director of a bank, ‘for years successfully in charge of a medium-sized provincial bank’ reported the same discrimination (6 August). Even retail traders seem to have been affected by the anti-Semitic wave sweeping through Germany in 1933: in August, the Jewish owner of a shop specialised in jams advertised that ‘the circumstances’ forced him to close down after 14 years in the business. As a seriously disabled war veteran he now looked for light office work, ‘preferably in stocktaking’ (10 September).
At least in some cases, such advertisements appear to be more than just an effort to cope individually in adverse circumstances. A few of them read almost like a public statement, meant as a protest of principle against the very idea that the question of ‘race’ should be taken into consideration in business matters. On 2 July 1933, the personnel manager of a great department store company, ‘a German Jew and front-line soldier’, particularly stressed that he was ‘not under notice to leave’, but yet he looked for a new job, wanting ‘to work for a company which is in these times still keen to employ a leading, productive man of complete integrity in a position of trust’. Also out of the order is an ad placed by one Alfred Katzmann from Cologne in the FZ of 8 October 1933. It was not only highly unusual that someone advertising in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column signed with his full name plus postal address; Mr. Katzmann also came across both as proud and indignant: ‘Forced by the circumstances’ to quit his job as a managing director in a large retail shop for interior decoration in Cologne, he named the company which he had served ‘successfully for years’ and stated that it was mainly his work that had built the firm’s renown. Offering his ‘great capacity for work, his acknowledged expertise, good taste, organizational talents und experiences in advertising’, he now sought a new situation. This may have been written as a swipe at his ungrateful former employer, but in the context of the tightly controlled public sphere of Nazi Germany this ad inevitably gained a new meaning: here was a document of Jewish self-esteem or even pride, clashing with the National Socialist doctrine that Jews were just ‘parasites’ feeding on the German Volk.
To some extent, the same can be said of all the ads placed by Jewish customers in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column of the FZ in 1933/34. Jointly, they proved how well integrated, successful and respected German Jews had been in many parts of the country’s business life before the Nazi takeover; since they spoke of individual experiences they also suggested at least some of the hardships suffered by Jews due to racist discrimination. Many of these advertisements also displayed a determined will to keep going even if it meant a totally new start. There was, for example, the former female schoolteacher, ‘age 39, widowed’, who was ready to work as a housekeeper (10 September), the lawyer looking for a job as private secretary (20 October) or the former district judge (Amtsgerichtsrat) who hoped to use his skills as an amateur pilot in a suitable employment ‘at home or abroad’ (30 July).
In 1934, the number of these ads (which had never been large) slowly dwindled away. In many weekend editions of the FZ the ‘Situations Wanted’ column now carried only one or maybe two advertisements from Jews. They were mostly brief and matter-of-factly, but tellingly in some cases a desperate tone crept in. On 25 February 1934 the only job-seeking ad placed by a Jew read: ‘Is there still a company (retail, wholesale or industry) willing to employ a highly skilled Jewish clothing retailer (Textilkaufmann), age 28, so that he can prove himself in managing a large and difficult field of work?’ Very much in same vein was this ad that appeared in July 1934: ‘Who needs me? Age 28, married, half-Aryan, engineer, university education, business man, experienced with cars, electricity, the wireless, high-frequency engineering, seeks a new area of endeavour. Abroad preferred, perhaps as chauffeur. Otherwise any kind of work welcome’ (1 July 1934).
At first sight it may come as a surprise that comparable ads placed by Jewish customers lacked in 1935 since this year brought about a considerable intensification of anti-Jewish discrimination. The racist Nuremberg laws were passed, all exceptions guarding ‘Non-Aryan’ civil servants were abolished, in many towns boycotts of shops owned by Jews became endemic, banks cut-off Jewish customers from further credit. However, all this left very little trace in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column of the FZ—in contrast to the preceding years. In all likelihood, this gap reflected a change of attitude among the victims: unlike then in 1933 or 1934, the expense to pay for an advertisement seeking employment in a paper aimed at the general German reader was now obviously regarded as a waste of money. Jews, so it seems, had learned that it was useless to advertise their expertise, flexibility and even their humbleness—it would not bring them back to work in any ‘ordinary’ business. In consequence, the ‘Situations Wanted’ column in magazines written and read only by German Jews (e.g. in the ‘Israelitisches Familienblatt’) thrived.
In terms of the economy, then, the separation of social spheres between ‘Jews’ and ‘Germans’ appears as well advanced in 1935. Paradoxically, the racist policies of the Nazi regime made the Jewish contribution to Germany’s industry and commerce clearly visible only in 1933; just two years later, however, the NSDAP had already succeeded in discouraging Jews from making any effort to advertise their skills in public. The up and downswing in ads placed by Jewish customers in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column of the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ after January 1933 is therefore highly significant as a document of Jewish life in Nazi Germany: it speaks as much of Jewish pride and efforts to cope as—indirectly—of vanished hopes and disillusion.
Looking for an ‘Israelite Marriage’: Matrimonial Ads placed by Jews in the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ before 1933
Advertisements for love and marriage from Jewish customers had, unlike advertising for a new vacation, a tradition well preceding the year 1933 in the columns of the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’. Although few German Jews wholeheartedly subscribed to the Zionist notion of a Jewish Volk or race during the Weimar Republic, many of them still expressly searched for an ‘Israelite marriage’ (as it was often called) when they came to look for a bride or groom. Classifieds played an important part in this quest. In fact, Jews seem to have been far more active advertisers than non-Jewish Germans, at least in a national, well-respected and liberal newspaper as the FZ. In the late Weimar Republic, 50% and more of all classified ads for a marriage partner carried by the FZ came from customers who unambiguously identified themselves as Jewish. Since Germany’s Jewry made up just 1% of the population, this finding is remarkable. Obviously, the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ served an important task in the social life of German Jewry.
This penchant for matrimonial ads derived as much from the regional distribution of the Jewish population in Germany as from its social structure. A large Jewish community and thus a promising market for intra-ethnic marriages existed only in some big cities, while most other towns offered little choice just among its Jewish citizens. Traditionally, Jewish families had therefore often relied on the help of a marriage broker, called the Schadchen (a Yiddish term), but already in the late nineteenth century these go-betweens became to be replaced by the more modern and more wide-ranging newspaper advertisement.
Social characteristics played a part in this process, too. In the Wilhelmine Kaiserreich and also later on, 50% of all German Jews were independent businessmen or businesswomen who earned money most of all in commerce and retailing. For these members of the middle classes, the fortune of the family business was a matter of the highest importance—and marriage served often as a means to secure the company’s future since it could either generate new capital (the bride’s dowry) or a brain gain (a knowledgeable husband or bride, ready to join the business). So demands on the desired marriage partner were frequently quite specific, and advertisements in a national newspaper could therefore be seen as more promising than the efforts of a marriage broker whose connections were naturally more selective.
Closely reflecting these preoccupations, many matrimonial ads placed by Jews in the FZ during the late Weimar Republic stressed the economic aspects of marriage. Offers to marry into a business (Einheirat) were frequent. Here is one example, printed by the FZ in December 1932: ‘Marry into a business! An opportunity to marry into a well-established wholesale business in tobacco in South Germany is offered to competent tobacco retailer (Tabakhändler), Israelite, in his 30s’ (18 December 1932). In other cases great importance was placed on the dowry of the bride. This ad also appeared in the FZ in the fall of 1932: ‘Israelite Marriage. Young lady, aged 22, pretty, well educated, efficient both in house-keeping and in running a business, dowry 15,000 RM, seeks well-educated man in a secure position’ (16 October). A male counterpart to this read as follows: ‘For my son, very handsome, 1.80 m tall, well educated, extremely industrious, from a highly respected Israelite family in South Germany, owners of a thriving factory and retail business in Frankfurt, I am seeking a pretty, well educated lady of religious up-bringing. Must have considerable assets’ (18 September).
To be sure, such an entrepreneurial or calculating approach to marriage was not exclusively Jewish. Non-Jews, too, searched for an Einheirat or stressed their wish for financial security. However, it must be said that Jewish advertisers in the classifieds of the FZ in the 1920s were particularly keen on money—or maybe only frank about it. In any case, Jewish advertisers frequently numbered the dowry’s value in Reichsmark (RM), while Non-Jews were much more guarded in this respect. The figures given in such ads, ranging from several thousands to some tens of thousands RM, clearly placed the advertisers among the well-to-do middle classes. In a society where 90% of all households earned and spent <2500 RM per year, a family ready to provide a daughter with such sums was doubtlessly privileged. The fact that Jews felt no qualms to advertise this social status in a newspaper aimed at the general reader may come as a surprise since Weimar Germany had its fair share of ardent Anti-Semites. However, at least members of the Jewish entrepreneurial and retail milieu who dominated among the classifieds in the FZ seem to have felt particularly secure and well integrated. Changes in these ads after 1933 can therefore be seen as a sign how this specific milieu fared in Nazi Germany.
Change and Continuity. The Jewish Marriage Market in the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ in Nazi Germany
Just as in the late Weimar Republic the FZ carried many matrimonial ads from Jewish customers also after the Nazi takeover. During the fall of 1933, 63% of all such ads were for an ‘Israelite marriage’; in the following years this figure was always above 50%. Only in 1937 it dropped to 27%.
As far as I can see, the continuing prominent presence of Jewish advertisers in the columns of the FZ was an exception. All other German newspapers seem to have rejected matrimonial ads by Jewish customers in Nazi Germany at least since 1934 or 1935—that is ads that expressly called for a response from Jews or clearly identified the client as Jewish or ‘Non-Aryan’. In most cases this boycott seems to have happened deliberately in adjustment to the racist National Socialist ideology. In some cases, newspapers rejected ads from Jewish customers after the NSDAP put pressure on them. For example in the spring of 1935, the ‘Hamburger Fremdenblatt’, Hamburg’s second largest newspaper, was accused that it would disregard the highly important ‘racial question’ by still carrying classified ads for Jewish marriages. The local Nazi party organ called this a scandal: such advertising, the paper stated, did not belong in a ‘German newspaper’. Silently, the ‘Hamburger Fremdenblatt’ obeyed: after the attack from the local party organ no more matrimonial ads appeared that used the words ‘Jew’ or ‘Non-Aryan’. It should be noted that this happened several months before the racial Nuremberg laws were passed at the Reichsparteitag in September 1935. Thanks to its special status among the German press things were different at the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ even after that date: the paper carried ads for Jewish marriages up to the fall of 1938. Only after the pogrom of November 9 that marked a decisive radicalisation of Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish policies such ads disappeared completely.
Maybe even more so than in the ‘Situations Wanted’ column Jews seem to have used this opportunity to advertise in public deliberately to display what can be called Jewish pride. Admittedly, this effect may to some extent be caused by the fact that every matrimonial ad necessarily presents the bride or groom-to-be in the most positive light. Jews stuck to this rule even after 1933—but inevitably any example of Jewish self-importance took on a highly political character in Nazi Germany. Ads such as ‘Jew, a fine figure and a man of character’ (8 September 1935) or ‘elegant man, dashingly handsome, a sportsman and Jew’ (4 November 1934) must have infuriated all true believers of the Nazi Weltanschauung. A phrasing common to most matrimonial ads placed by Jewish customers in the FZ was that the potential husband or wife came from ‘the best of families’. Variants of this were ‘a family well respected for generations’, ‘a high-ranking family of academics’ or ‘the best of German families’ (3 June, 10 June, 24 June 1934).
Jews still used these phrasings even after the September of 1935 when the Nuremberg laws had officially established that Germany’s Jews were only second-rank citizens. At least by then the pronounced pride that Jews took in their social background must be regarded as a deliberate political statement. The same can be said of ads that drew attention to the war-experiences of Jewish men. ‘Frontkämpfer’—front-line soldier—was a term that carried many positive meanings in German society. Tellingly, it appears in some advertisements for a marriage partner placed by male Jews in the FZ after 1933 among the list of positive qualities and characteristics common to all such ads (21 October, 2 December 1934, 3 March 1935) while I have found no comparable examples during the late years of the Weimar Republic. This change, I think, can clearly be seen as a reaction to National Socialist propaganda.
While some sense of Jewish pride was common to all classified ads placed by Jews in the FZ these advertisements at the same tine also display a wide range of reactions to the experience of the Nazi terror. First, they prove that matchmaking was a highly flexible market. Very quickly after the Nazi seizure of power, two new forms of Jewish ads for a marriage partner appeared: one that asked for a foreign husband and one that offered a marriage into a foreign country. Marriage, it seems, came to be regarded as a way to leave Germany for less hostile surroundings especially among young German-Jewish women, while male Jews in foreign countries also saw new personal opportunities thanks to the anti-Semitic politics of the ‘Third Reich’.
Second, the ads prove that at least some German Jews sought to re-define marriage after 1933. Under the pressure of the NSDAP, marriage came to be seen as a personal bond among ‘comrades’ meant to prove itself in hard times. In some cases, financial interests were deliberately denied. Here is one example that appeared in the FZ in June 1934: ‘Which cultivated man is interested only in the human qualities of his wife, not in her money? Young lady, Jewish, very pretty, 24 years old, dark blond, slim figure, with great qualities of heart and mind, efficient in house-keeping, capable to help her husband in any profession’ (24 June). Another example, also from the summer of 1934: ‘I am seeking the acquaintance of a pretty, young lady with earnest intellectual interests, caring and comradely, prepared to share the inevitable problems of live as my companion. Only affection to each other will decide. No financial interests whatsoever. I am an engineer, non-Aryan, 33 years old and good-looking’ (17 June). Very much in the same vein, other ads were centred on the terms ‘comrade’, ‘comrade for life’ or ‘Lebensgemeinschaft’ which might be translated as ‘partnership for life’ (15 June, 22 June and 29 June 1934).
It should be stressed that all this was a totally new tone in the language used by Jews in classified ads in the FZ. Coded in a formulaic language that avoids hints at the Nazi terror these advertisements still clearly demonstrate a changed perspective on life: the middle-class security that had both been advertised and sought after in the many ads centred on a precisely numbered dowry or a ‘secure position’ before 1933 did no longer exist here. In reaction to this new insecurity a new Jewish inwardness was cherished. Although emigration from Germany is rarely mentioned in these classified ads it seems only sensible to assume that this option implicitly belonged to the ‘problems of life’ that the bond of married ‘comrades’ might have to face.
However, many Jews who placed a matrimonial ad in the FZ after 1933 appear as remarkably unfazed by Nazi discrimination. Frequently, wordings parade an amazing trust in a bright future for a Jewish couple and their family business in Nazi Germany still in 1937 and even in the spring of 1938. Here are two examples from April 1937 and respectively from May 1938: ‘Self-employed businessman, Mid-30s, Jewish, wealthy, a man with an excellent reputation and of pleasing looks, owner of a thriving retail business, a lover of sports and music, seeks a Jewish lady of means for marriage, aged 22 till 30’ (18 April 1937). The second example: ‘Co-owner of a well-established clothes factory in Berlin, high income, great looks, seeks a good-looking, well-educated, young lady (Jewish) of means, efficient both in house-keeping and in business matters’ (1 May 1938). Comparably optimistic, in October 1937 a widowed lady, ‘Non-Aryan, age 50’, looking for a ‘cultivated man in comparable circumstances’, pointed out not only her ‘considerable assets in real estate’ but also the interest she collected from ‘a large and well-secured fortune of her own’ (24 October 1937).
It is impossible to tell if ads like these derived from self-delusion or if the people who placed them were really as untouched by Nazi discrimination against Jews as they appear to be. Bewildering as they are, they prove that Germany’s Jews experienced the years between 1933 and the spring of 1938 in very different ways. While some sought to escape from their native land and others tried to brave themselves for things to come, seeking a companion to stand by them in hard times, some seem to have imagined that Jews would be able to lead a normal and secure middle-class life in Nazi Germany still in 1937/1938. Others still sought desperately for gainful employment of any kind already briefly after the Nazi takeover.
In my view, it is just because of these highly contradictory findings that the classified ads placed by Jews in the FZ are historically important documents. As texts that were written by ordinary German Jews for their own interests and in their own words they help us to avoid generalisations about Jewish experiences in the ‘Third Reich’ and they bring us closer to the muddled sphere of everyday life which is rarely as clear-cut and unambiguous as it appears both in the victim’s retrospective and in many history-books. More specifically, the contradictory strategies and hopes expressed in the ads presented above may draw more attention to the fact that social rank and financial means can make a great difference among the victims of racist discrimination. Recent research has done much to reconstruct how ordinary German Jews tried to cope with the pressure of the National Socialist regime on its primary ‘racial enemies’. However, we still lack a comprehensive study on the impact of class and social standing on the victims’ experiences and their efforts to adjust. Although they offer only tantalisingly imprecise and often inconclusive information classified ads placed by Jews after 1933 clearly point to the importance of such an investigation.
In terms of media history, these ads may also help to emphasise a specific trait of the production of newspapers: to some extent readers regularly shaped (and still shape) their content by placing small ads serving their own interests while all the other mass media offer few or no comparable opportunities. Media historians should pay much more attention to this interactive character of newspapers. Classified advertisements in the daily press can be called a social network avant la lettre since they offer an opportunity for individuals to address an anonymous mass in private matters. This may cause trouble even in a liberal society—for example when sex is concerned. In a totalitarian dictatorship such as the Third Reich classified advertisements as messages from ordinary people can be even more subversive—despite a mundane character. The ads placed by Jewish customers in the ‘Frankfurter Zeitung’ may prove the point. Even when they were meant only to foster personal interests they contradicted messages created by the official propaganda apparatus. In further research it would therefore be interesting to ask if the character of newspapers as a form of two-way communication lead to comparable clashes between propaganda and voices ‘from below’ also in other dictatorial systems of the twentieth century. Here too, officially unwanted messages from people lacking a voice in the general public might be found right at the margins of print.