The Yellow Spot – Anonymous (Victor Gollancz)

In 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power, this book, produced by an anonymous author, was printed by the English publisher Victor Gollancz that laid bare the barbarism and cruelty of the Nazi regime for all to see. Using official Nazi publications and propaganda as evidence, the book clearly demonstrates that anti-Jewish violence wasn’t just some isolated, local phenomenon, but was part of a much larger, systemic, state-sponsored campaign to rid Germany of all its Jewish inhabitants.  (The title itself – the Yellow Spot – refers to the medieval practice of putting a round yellow mark on a black background on the door of a Jewish house or business in order to let people know that they should avoid it.)  Interestingly at the time of publication in 1936 the book was accused of sensationalism; the cover of the paperback version (which I don’t have) stated that it was about ‘the extermination of the Jews in Germany’ while the interior title page stated that it was about the ‘outlawing of half a million human beings’. Whatever the reason for this discrepancy, time has certainly vindicated these initial assertions.

Chapter by chapter, the Yellow Spot, backed up by selections from news-propaganda, steadily builds up a damning indictment of the first three years of Nazi rule in which the early steps to marginalise Jewish economic, social and cultural life within Germany were taken.  As well as the Nuremberg Laws, introduced in 1935, which gave official sanction for discrimination against Jews, the book demonstrates that a creeping culture of violent isolation gradually took root in Germany which served to separate Jews from the rest of society. Gradually all aspects of life in Nazi Germany were absorbed by the racist ideology which left no room for those who did not fit into the ideal of ‘Aryan’ perfection. To name but a few aspects highlighted in this book; Jewish children were separated from others in school and demonised, sports clubs had to exclude Jewish members and were forbidden from playing with teams who weren’t completely ‘Aryan’, while all cultural performances, such as the theatre, concerts and films had to be wholly ‘Aryan’ in nature under the new Nazi rules.

Persecution had reached deep into German society by 1936. The ‘Aryan Paragraph’, brought in to exclude Jews from public sector jobs in 1933, was spread throughout all sectors of employment and professions in order to make it impossible for them to earn a living. Perhaps, in light of what was to come, the most disturbing chapter in the book deals with the early concentration camps where Jews and political opponents were kept in ‘protective custody’. (With breathtaking cynicism this excuse was used by the authorities in order provide legitimacy for the imprisonment of people without trial in brutal camps simply because they might be the subject of attacks by local Nazis, outraged at seeing their enemies walking freely on the streets.) The descriptions of the camps, gleaned from smuggled reports, provide an early insight into what would, within a few short years, evolve into sites of horrific mass-murder and genocide.

As well as the text, The Yellow Spot also reprints a small number of photographs that appeared in Nazi publications, most notably Der Sturmer, a violently anti-Jewish newspaper owned by arch-Nazi Julius Streicher, that was an important means of spreading the new racist dogma to the wider public. Much of the material used in the book comes from Der Sturmer and this newspaper’s all-pervasive and poisonous influence on the Nazi education system is well documented in both words and images within the book. Articles and calls for anti-Jewish actions within Der Sturmer were also used by the regime as a way to excuse the violence of local Nazi groups to the outside world and dismiss them as the isolated actions of hotheads, while at the same time providing official deniability for Hitler and his henchmen. Photography was an important part of the anti-semitic propaganda campaign and what the book calls ‘pillory photographs’ became a means of further isolating the Jewish population within Germany. It would appear that photographs were commonly made of people entering Jewish shops or businesses, or even talking to Jews on the street, which were then published in Der Sturmer accompanied by calls for action to be taken against these ‘traitors’ (a clear signal to any Nazi reader that they could attack them with impunity.)

This form of photography became a weapon to enforce Nazi racial policy; by singling out individuals for punishment who do not conform to the new anti-semitic ideology and are still interacting with Jewish people and businesses it was possible to deter others from doing the same. As can be imagined, the fear of incurring the wrath of local Nazi brutality would be enough for many people to shun contact with Jews. Special hatred appears to have been reserved for what were called ‘race-defilers’ by the Nazis; mixed Jewish-Christian couples who were presented as a threat to the purity of the German race. Photographs of Nazi’s parading such couples on the street, placards tied around their necks, exposing them to both public humiliation and violence were further designed to discourage any contact with Jews in Germany. Also shown in the book are photographs of German towns and villages with signs and banners hung over the streets declaring them to be ‘Jew-free’ or that ‘Jews are not wanted here’.  These images also provide an example of how a photograph taken for an original purpose, can be used for one never intended by the photographer. In this case the original purpose of these photographs was to enforce anti-semitic racial policies and show their widespread support within Germany, but in the Yellow Spot they become damning evidence against the Nazis and those same policies.

This book provides a chilling insight into the early years of Nazi rule in Germany. The immediate years following the takeover of power by the Nazis can often disappear beneath the sheer horror of the Holocaust, yet it was during this time that the foundations of genocide were laid. In these early years of their rule, Nazi racial policies were spread throughout society and were enforced through the use of brutality and violence towards anybody who didn’t conform. Outward agreeement with Nazi dogma was the only way to avoid coming to the attention of these thugs. This fear led to the passive acceptance of anti-Jewish racism within German society, which in turn enabled more and more extreme measures to be adopted by the Nazis, ultimately culminating in genocide. Photography played an important part in the creation of the Nazi state both through valorising its achievements and demonising those it regarded as enemies. Although the images in this book are few in number and of poor quality their impact is strong. The Yellow Spot provided an insight into the Nazi mindset during the 1930s for anybody who chose to learn about it.