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  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY FORTY SEVEN Safe and Secure

A wonderful ride today through the heart of Franconian wine country. I stopped at Kitzingen to buy my picnic – some Krautkrapfen, savoury slices of a doughy swiss roll filled with Sauerkraut and bacon.

Kitzingen, Leaning Tower and the medieval bridge (c)

This is a lovely town with its medieval bridge straddling the River Main. It lies at the heart of the Franconian wine trade - and has a legend to prove it. The Leaning Tower, so called, was built in the thirteenth century and still stands despite a strangely distorted roof. The locals will tell you that the roof is leaning drunkenly because there was a drought when the tower was being built and the workmen had to mix their cement with wine.

Kitzinger was the first town in Bavaria to adopt Stolpersteine – the 'stumbling blocks', brass plates in the pavement that mark the homes of Holocaust victims. There is something particularly tragic about Kitzingen's Stolpersteine because, as explains, even after the Nazis seized power and “despite an increasing deprivation of rights and boycotts, a lively Jewish life continued in Kitzingen. They all had been affected by the proliferating anti-Jewish prohibitions. But a feeling of safety and opportunity remained. Kitzingen Jews still had a sense of security — they had never been subjected to a personal attack.” [my italics]

How could they feel safe? One explanation may be found in the series of elections that led to Hitler's dictatorship. The Nazis won their first seats in the Reichstag in 1924 with 6.5% of the popular vote, but by 1928 this had dropped to 2.6%. The Great Depression lifted the Nazis to 18.25% in 1930 and to 37.3% in the July 1932 elections. Even though the Nazis were the largest party, Hitler still could not form a government, partly because of the strength of the communist vote. New elections were held in November 1932 when the Nazis held out as the largest party but with their share of the vote reduced by two million votes to 33.1%.

At this point, the Prussians intervened and Hindenburg, virtually as his dying act, appointed Hitler as Chancellor. In March 1933, Hitler had one last try at winning a majority in the polls - but even as Hindenburg's anointed son and nowwith police and SA, the paramilitary Sturmabteilung, as enforcers in the polling booths, he still could only win 43.91% of the popular vote: the Social Democrats polled 18% and the communists 12%. Hitler had now had enough of democracy: he manoeuvred the Reichstag into passing the Enabling Act which gave him dictatorial power that he relinquished only at his death.

The point I want to draw from this is that, across the board, Hitler's support was always less than 45%. And if you look at where the bulk of pro-Nazi sentiment lay, you will find it, broadly speaking, in the north and east. The south and west of the country polled low numbers for the Nazis. If you average out the support for Hitler in Bavaria across all four elections – including the rigged 1933 election – then Lower Bavaria, where Kitzinger lies, shows 22.5% support and Upper Bavaria, 27.2%. The lowest average vote for Hitler was in the Koln-Aachen area at 20.6%.

Who were the people who voted for Hitler? It is often assumed that they were the German equivalent of Daily Mail readers, the lower middle classes – but this is not correct. Hitler's base in the early 1930s was not solid and coherent. Rather it was unstable and very disparate, drawn from elements of the upper middle class, the civil service, the lower ranks of pensioners, some white- and blue-collar workers, particularly those in small-scale manufacturing and crafts. There was no commonality here, just a confluence formed by the economic situation and glued together by anger, frustration and fear.

So if you were Jewish and living in Kitzingen where only a minority of people supported the then apparently unthreatening Nazi party - whose power base was not well-represented in this affluent town of wine makers - you might well have “a feeling of safety and ... a sense of security”. And one last factor: if there is a single characteristic that would determine whether someone at the beginning of that desperate decade would vote for Hitler, it was whether they were Protestant or Catholic. And Kitzingen was a Catholic town.

So in 1933 Jewish families might well feel reasonably secure. They had been there a long time and had made important contributions to the town's preeminence in the wine trade. Some read the signs and left; many were confident enough in their futures to stay. But after five years of Hitler's dictatorship, the Nazi state and propaganda machine was all-powerful and what happened in Kitzingen on 10th November 1938 is a testament to just how effective the Nazis could be even in an area where they found no natural sympathy. The pogrom was prepared by three members of the Nazi district administration in Würzburg. All members of the local SS and SA were summoned. The Kitzinger synagogue's furniture and ritual objects were destroyed. Torah scrolls were torn and burned, and their precious silver pendants stolen. The noise attracted many city dwellers to the synagogue fire. Masked and armed SS and SA men also invaded Jewish homes and devastated them. Others joined them and ransacked. The apartments of the cantor and the teacher were devastated.

Fifty seven Kitzinger Jews were arrested and held prisoner in the large hall of the district court. Along the way, they were abused and mocked — as their trucks drove past the burning synagogue, they heard the cry of the gathered crowd — “Throw them into the fire!” The sick and old were soon released. The rest were brought by trucks to the prison in Würzburg. Twenty three were subsequently deported to Dachau including Rabbi Wohlgemuth …. Of those who were still in the city in 1942, 76 were deported to the Izbica [Ghetto](near Lublin, Poland) on 24th April; 19 were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp on September 23rd.

As I pedalled on from Kitzinger through the beauty of the vine draped hills, I could but think of the so many might have beens of that decade. The Stolpersteine are memorials to the victims of the Nazis, but they are also testament to the terrifying power of National Socialism to poison the minds of many of those in Kitzinger who were believed by Jews living and working with them to wish them no harm.

This is a really good film about Project Stolpersteine with some sincere home spinning at the end -

Here's little tour of Kitzingen -

Music on the Main by Eric Triton, a musician from Mauritius -

And how to cook Krautkrapfen - in German but easy to follow and very entertaining -

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