Facilitating ‘Aryanisation’

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Report of an interrogation by Saul Padover and Lewis Gittler, Psychological Warfare Division, 12th Army Group US Army, with Arthur Koenig, 19 November 1944

Report of an interrogation by Saul Padover and Lewis Gittler, Psychological Warfare Division, 12th Army Group US Army, with Arthur Koenig, 19 November 1944

SUBJECT: A Nazi real estate broker

Arthur KOENIG, 52, is a Treuhaender / a real estate broker, or property trustee / from Aachen who had joined the Nazi party in 1933, made money handling confiscated Jewish property, and now speaks unfavorably of Hitler and his works.

Koenig had been in the real estate and tax assessment business for 13 years when Hitler came to power. He became a member of the party because it was good business to do so. “Otherwise,” he said. “I would have been brotlos” (without employment). There were, he said, 8 Treuhaender in Aachen and all of them joined the Party in 1933. All of them made money during the Hitler regime, but more especially during the war.

As a practical businessman, Koenig had no aversion to profiting from Hitler, but neither was he enthusiastic about the regime. He is certainly no admirer if it now that it has lost the war and caused inconveniences to comfortable people like himself.

He told us how in the latter part of September be was hiding in Aachen in order not to be evacuated by the Germans, and all the time the Wehrmacht was looting houses and stores. At first he, a German patriot, was astonished at this banditry committed by the German Army, then, he said, be realised that it was quite natural. The Wehrmacht, he said, was full of Nazi youth and “the youth corrupted everything.”

Koenig was tense and nervous during the interview. His conscience was uneasy both because he was a Treuhaender and a German. As a Treuhaender, he had at his disposal much Jewish property and he knew every detail of how the Jews had been robbed. As a German, he knew of the atrocities committed in Europe, especially in the East, and he was plainly disturbed at their consequences. When he first heard of soldiers telling of horrors committed against Frenchmen in France and Jews in Poland he “could not believe it.” Later he heard persistent tales of “shooting, gassing, and mass murders” and he reluctantly assumed that it was all true. He could not doubt what was told because he had seen what the Nazis did to Jews in Aachen. “I know how they treated Jews in my city: I knew it from my Jewish clients.”

Jewish businesses and property, he explained, was disposed of by the city which set a price on every item. The price was, of course, as low as possible, but even then the Jewish owner did not get it. The money was put in the bank — only 7% or 8% of it was allowed to the seller. “The government, or the party, kept the rest.” The Treuhaender earned 3% to 4% of every transaction. He also received an “Aryanising” fee of 5%. In short, Koenig implied reluctantly, being a Treuhaender for Jewish property was quite a racket.

Herr Koenig regretted the whole thing. He never was anti-Semitic. In fact, he had never heard the word “Jew” until 1923, when some Nazi agitator began to throw it around. In Aachen there was no anti-Semitism. The city had but few Jews “and they were colossally liked because they were fine people.”

And the results of this whole “Aryanizing” swindle and finagling? Jews had owned the textile factories it Aachen. Then came the Nazis and “Aryanized” the factories. Then came the war and the factories piled up paper profits, while the machines wore out and would not be replaced. Then came the Allied bombers and knocked out the factories. Then came the Wehrmacht and looted what was left. Now there is nothing but ashes and ruins and rubble. Herr Koenig shook his head at it all.

He recalled the tricks one had to employ to get along in the real estate business under the Nazis. You had to have a friend in every government office, but you dared not bribe openly. So you invited the particular Beamter to a good dinner and treated him to excellent drinks. One entertained a good deal in those days, Herr Koenig explained, and usually one frequented the Kneipe where the party officials with their wives or girl friends were to be found. Thus one becomes known as a “regular fellow” among those who wielded power under the Swastika, and thus one obtained commissions for jobs or tips about property sales and exchanges. Koenig told us how for several weeks he went to eat and drink at the tavern where the Aachen Kreisleiter was a regular guest, and in this way he finally managed to make his acquaintance. To know and be known by the Kreisleiter of a city was an invaluable asset to a man in the real estate business.

Herr Koenig’s business was not confined to real estate, but also involved advice on taxes, property evaluation, and foreign money exchanges (“Devisen”). During the war, but particularly since 1941, the real estate business was not good. People, Koenig said, had lots of money and wanted to spend it on concrete things, such as houses and lands, but there [were] few sellers. In the last few years Koenig could not recall the sale of a single house in Aachen! So great was the lack of confidence in German paper money that nobody would exchange a solid piece of property for paper currency. Those who could, bought diamonds, paying 25 times the normal price. “The middle classes,” Koenig said, “had no confidence in money because they did not believe Germany could win. To us, only goods and property were “gold.”

Since Koenig’s contacts were largely with property-owning people, we asked him what, in his opinion, was their attitude about the future, whether, for example, they feared Communism. He replied that so far as he knew Germany had never been threatened by Communism and that the Nazi claim to have saved the country from the Reds was a plain lie. As for the future, people did think there was a possibility that Communism may become a force in the Reich. He himself had never met a Communist, but he often did hear people on the street and in streetcars say. “We’ll come to power some day.” He always assumed it as a matter of fact that these who spoke like that were Communists. Everybody knows that there are a lot of Communists in Germany. As for fearing them, Koenig said that he did not. “There is a lot of drivel about Communism in the Press, but it’s nothing but lies. I have no idea what Communism is; I have never lived under a Communist regime. It may be bad or it may be good. I don’t know.”

Koenig observed that the “Vaterlands Gefuehl” / feeling of patriotism / was vanishing in Germany, and that only the big industrialists are supporting the regime. Hitler was “the salvation of capitalism,” and the capitalists made millions out of the war. Even the workers, who at first “were orated into intoxication,” now are sobering up and are becoming lukewarm in their support of the Nazis. Incidentally, Koenig’s assertion that the chief supporter of Hitlerism are the capitalists and workers, is a favorite one with the middle classes. Others, especially professional people, have made similar statements. (This is a point that deserves further investigation and development. If such a split between middle classes, workers, and capitalists does exist, our propaganda could take advantage of it by divisive tactics).

Now that the factories and buildings lie in ruins, neither Koenig nor his middle class friends have any use for the Nazis. He does not blame the Allies for the Aachen shambles: he blames Hitler and his party. Anything, even Communism, would be better than “THESE”– meaning the Nazi “scoundrels” He spoke of “DIESE” with hate in his voice. “Nazism,” he said contemptuously, “is not a polity; it is a tyranny / “Zwangsherrschaft” / of a few.

He recalled almost with tenderness the days of the Republic, that unfortunate Republic which had been so relentlessly maligned by Nazi propaganda. Under the Republic, which was run by the Social Democrats, Germany “hatte eine anstaendige Regierung” (a respectable government). The government was so good and decent that “we didn’t even notice that we had a government.” To be sure, there was unemployment, but that was a purely economic, not a political question. Anyhow, Bruening was beginning to solve it.

He hoped that now that “alles ist kaput” (everything is ruined) it will be possible to rebuild Germany along middle-class, democratic lines. Perhaps America would lend money. Perhaps Bruening would take over the government and rule with “goodness” and not with “severity.” But he was pessimistic. The picture of Aachen lying in ruins was too vivid in his mind to permit an attitude of hopefulness. Koenig denied that the German people were guilty of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Europe. The people, he said, were ignorant of the crimes, at least of the extent of the crimes. Germans simply could not believe that fellow-Germans were capable of perpetrating such horrors. He hopes that the guilty will be punished, but not the whole nation. He felt the same way about the Generals. The professional soldiers, not politicians. They don’t think of politics.” In short, only Hitler and the higher Nazis are responsible for everything. The German people, the German Generals, German businessmen are innocent victim of the bad, bad Nazis.    

Saul K. Padover Lewis F. Gittler

Questions
  1. What was the nature and extent of Arthur Koenig’s involvement in the Third Reich and the persecution of the Jews?
  2. How can the behaviour of the German troops in Aachen be explained?
  3. How can we evaluate the discrepancy between his inner convictions and his actions?
Sources

NYPL, Saul Padover Papers, Profiles 1944-45.