1. What Was Left Behind
BM: An oil refinery that belonged to Beatrice's grandfather, Jacque Sonneborn, Elbe.
FK: Photograph taken by father, Josef, an official Austrian war photographer during WW1, showing Russian prisoners of war, published in a magazine, ‘Allgemeine Rundschau’ which commented 'they seem satisfied with their fate'
Jews had lived in Germany and Austria since Roman times. However, they had only been allowed to enter German society fully after the Enlightenment. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Jews made an enormous contribution to German and Austrian cultural and economic life.
Jews were prominent by their success in certain fields, though they formed only a tiny proportion of the overall population. They proved to be loyal and patriotic citizens, fighting in large numbers as German or Austrian soldiers in World War I. They tended to cluster in the cities and also in certain commercial and professional occupations. The assimilated Jews from urban, middle-class backgrounds were often those best equipped to overcome the numerous obstacles to emigration to Britain after 1933.
During the nineteenth century the Jews of Germany and Austria had been granted civil and political rights and had integrated into mainstream society. But in the 1930s a change in political conditions radically altered their situation for the worse. The upheavals following the First World War, the instability of the Weimar Republic and the mass unemployment caused by the Great Depression paved the way for a reactionary backlash and for Hitler's rise to power in 1933.
The decades of gradual integration into gentile society had made the Jews of the German-speaking lands feel secure in their position, despite anti-Semitic manifestations. The abiding impression left by Jewish home and family life in the period before the Nazi onslaught was its peaceable normality.