Thursday, 2 February 2012

Remembering Berthold Guthmann

I am sometimes asked if my research on anti-Semitism (with Nico Voigtländer, now forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics) isn't hugely depressing - spending so many hours on a topic that is so harrowing. It is true that I don't always find it easy to deal with the emotional impact. Statistical analysis showing that things don't change a great deal in the average location doesn't exactly leave one optimistic about the future of mankind; at the same time, Nico and I find some small rays of hope -- like an identifiable subset of cities in which persistence was much lower than elsewhere (essentially open, outward-looking trading cities and places with a lot of migration.)

One of the false claims that was used to create ill-will against Jews during and after World War I was that they didn't serve at the front. The German Army High Command actually ordered a count of all Jews in uniform, allegedly to counter such rumors - only to keep the results secret. We do have detailed information on casualties, now beautifully compiled for the web by Leo Finegold. Jews died, if anything, at a higher rate than non-Jewish Germans in uniform.

I was browsing around, gathering some background information, when I stumbled across a small snippet of information. As so often, it's the little details that get you. Here is one that I found particularly moving: It's that little picture of Berthold Gutmann in this post, a German-Jewish aviator during World War I, that I found on Leo Finegold's site. He won an Iron Cross and survived the war. His brother (pictured, together with their sister) died in Verdun. Berthold had a successful career as a lawyer in Wiesbaden after the war. The remembrance book compiled by the German archival service actually has an entry for him:
Deported from Frankfurt to Theresienstadt on June 16, 1943, he was sent to Auschwitz on the 29th of September, 1944, where he was murdered, aged 51.

No comments:

Post a Comment