When I first wrote The Mischling, much of my reader feedback focused on the underlying history. How could such a thing happen? Why is Friedrich, the protagonist, not protecting his fiancé? Other feedback questioned how the characters didn’t know what was going to happen if they broke the law.
After all, we’ve seen the footage and photographs of the atrocities that happened in concentration camps. United State Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that the Jewish population in Europe shrank from nine and a half million in 1933 to three and a half million in 1945.
Unfortunately, within the confines of a ten-page script, I hardly had enough room to explain the inner workings of the Nazis first antisemitic laws, much less go into detail about the political landscape of the late 1930s in Nazi Germany.
As late as early 1938, a relatively small percentage Jews in Germany believed that there was any reason to flee the country. During a recent trip to the US Air Force Museum, I got a chance to see a touring Holocaust display, including several letters of victims. The letters dated between 1937 and 1938 all voiced the same frustration, but few spoke of outright fear or desperation. But how could this be, when Hitler’s systematic persecution of the Jews started as early as 1933?
The simple answer is the 1936 Olympics. Berlin was chosen as the location of the 1936 Olympics even before Hitler was elected. During the Olympic planning, antisemitic sentiment began leaking out of Germany. Hitler planned to refuse to allow Jews to compete in the games. For reasons still unknown, despite two committee meetings to discuss relocating, boycotting, or cancelling the games, the games continued as scheduled. Once an agreement was on the table to allow Jewish athletes the ability to attend, the United States was the first country to agree to go forward with the games.
Due to the heavy international spotlight on Germany because of the Olympic games, Hitler ordered individual actions against the Jewish population to stop in July of 1935 and called a conference at Nuremberg to discuss how to handle the situation.
The Nazis passed the marriage bill in September 1935, eleven months before the Olympics. The Nuremberg Laws clearly defined interaction between Jewish and “Aryan” Germans. For some, including Jewish families, the laws were considered a relief at the time. The rules were clear. These groups of people are considered of Jewish decent, and these were considered of German decent.
The Nuremberg laws inadvertently caused a problem within the Nazi Party. Under the new laws, several prominent WWI war heroes and Nazi party founders would be considered Jewish. There was no way that such a bill would be well received though the party. Therefore, a third category was created. Mischlinge, mixed bloods, were German citizens with one or two grandparents of Jewish decent. A third Jewish grandparent would automatically make the child Jewish. A Mischling second class with one Jewish grandparent would be allowed to continue as a German citizen. A first class Mischling was defined as a Mischling and was still left in no man’s land. If the Mischling attended synagog or married a Jew, he was automatically considered Jewish. Otherwise, they were allowed to continue as a subclass of German citizens.
Any interaction, especially of a romantic nature, between Jews and Aryans were forbidden by the laws. Weddings were forbidden, even on foreign soil. In addition, any illegitimate children with a Jewish parent were automatically Jewish.
If you’ve read the script, you’d know that Bianka’s father was Jewish. Therefore, as a Mischling of the first degree, while she herself was not, at that point, considered, Jewish, she was unable to marry a German.
However, while Jesse Owens was winning Olympic medals, Hitler didn’t dare press the issue. So, for the entirety of 1936 and early 1937, it seems to many as if the subject was dropped. Those who broke the laws were arrested and taken to prison, served there terms, and in some cases, released.
The Mischling is set in 1938, a full three years after the Nuremberg Laws were originally published. The Olympic celebrations had ended and the Olympic torch was on route to Japan. By this time, it was clear to Hilter’s henchmen that the Nuremberg Laws weren’t strong enough. Because originally, capital punishment wasn’t an option, anyone who broke the Nuremberg Laws was sent to trial, served the term in regular prison, and then, upon release, was sent to work camps create for political criminals and extremists. Based on the Russian Gulag system, these work camps would later be known as concentration camps.
In The Mischling protagonist, Friedrich, doesn’t react as if his girlfriend is going to a concentration camp because the more pressing issue is being arrested and being sent to regular prison. His own actions with her would mean that he was a criminal. The physical intimacy that he displays at the wedding ceremony would have been considered racial defilement. While Oskar’s underground dealings would have made him privy to the risks of work camps, it’s unlikely that a large percentage of the German or Jewish population understood the ramifications of the concentration camps.
So why was the threat of the Gestapo real to them? Hitler’s Gestapo had been murdering, harassing, and absconding with political “dissenters” since he took power.
Read The Mischling.