2 4 0 D O C . 2 9 I M M I G R AT I O N F R O M T H E E A S T
Published in Berliner Tageblatt, 30 December 1919, Morning Edition, p. .
This first public statement by Einstein on Jewish affairs was written at the request of the Work-
ers’ Welfare Bureau of Jewish Organizations (Arbeiterfürsorgeamt der jüdischen Organisationen), an
umbrella agency established in January 1918, to which the major Jewish interest groups in Germany,
including the Zionists, belonged. For background on Einstein’s earlier contacts with the Zionist
Association of Germany (Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland) and for his devotion to the cause
of Zionism, see the editorial note, “Einstein and the Jewish Question,” pp. 229–236.
Einstein’s statement was solicited in response to a steady drumbeat of attacks by right-wing news-
papers, in particular the Deutsche Tageszeitung, organ of the German National People’s Party
(Deutschnationale Volkspartei). In late September, for instance, it had called for a halt to Jewish im-
migration into Germany “daily by the hundreds and the thousands” (“täglich nach Hunderten und
nach Tausenden”), pointing out that “today the Jews feel themselves to be rulers of Germany” (“Heute
fühlen die Juden sich als Herrscher in Deutschland.” Deutsche Tageszeitung, 26 September 1919,
Morning Edition, p. ).
Well before the outbreak of the First World War, the terms “Russians,” “Jews,” “revolutionaries,”
and “Easterners” had become almost interchangeable in the lexicon of the political right (see Williams
1966, p. 145). The putative number of 70,000 East European Jews (Ostjuden) in Berlin is in any case
too high by a factor of 2. According to the census of 1925, the number of foreign Jews in Berlin was
43,000, just over 25% of the total Jewish population. Since ca. 80% of these foreigners were emi-
grants from Eastern Europe, the latter’s number in Berlin was less than 35,000 (see Maurer 1986, pp.
76 and 83). The figure of 70,000 most closely approximates the number of East European Jews for
the entire Reich (see Maurer 1986, p. 65, which cites figures provided by the Workers’ Welfare Bu-
reau), as well as the number of all those from Eastern Europe in Berlin, including a considerable pop-
ulation of ethnic Germans (see note 4).
Charges of profiteering and black market dealing figured prominently among the accusations rou-
tinely leveled against East European Jews, but they are scarcely borne out by the available statistics.
Their occupational structure in Prussia in 1925 as reported to the Workers’ Welfare Bureau indicates
that 30% were engaged as industrial and artisanal workers, 50% were involved in commercial endeav-
ors, 12% were listed as without occupation or independent, and the remainder were sparsely scattered
in agriculture, the free professions, the health sector, and the domestic labor market (see Maurer 1986,
There was great unease in the Jewish community about how the government would react to calls
by center and right-wing parties for the expulsion of East European Jews (see Maurer 1986, pp. 192–
254, and p. 361). Prussian Interior Minister Wolfgang Heine’s speech in the Prussian parliament on
16 December 1919 sent mixed signals. While he was not prepared to deliver Jews from Eastern
Europe into the hands of their Polish and Russian “executioners” (“Schergen”), he did consider the
possibility of removing Ostjuden from large urban centers and concentrating the undesirable elements
among them in internment camps (see Adler-Rudel 1959, pp. 113–114).
Heine’s speech came on the heels of a decree that he had issued on 1 November, in which he called
for the temporary internment of criminal and highly suspicious aliens prior to their deportation. This
decree, and successive ones issued in 1920 and 1921, proved far less extensive in their implementa-
tion than initially feared. The number of detainees was small: by July 1921, only three hundred indi-
viduals had actually been interned in a handful of camps. Excesses perpetrated by guards at the largest
camp in Stargard, Pomerania, in May 1921 precipitated a Reichstag commission of inquiry, and the
camps were closed in December 1923 (see Maurer 1986, pp. 416–435, and Adler-Rudel 1959, pp.
115–119). Additional factors in the closing were cost and policy considerations. During a debate in
the Reichstag, a member of the Social Democratic Party protested that internment “was highly objec-
tionable in its results even from a political point of view because America would refuse to admit
persons who had been interned in concentration camps, and the Jews would consequently remain a
burden to Germany.” Jewish Correspondence Bureau (Berlin), 21 January 1921.
Resentment of the Versailles Peace Treaty, fundamental hostility to the republican form of gov-
ernment, and general political instability exacerbated Germany’s economic distress in the period
immediately following the November Revolution. One symptom of this malaise was a pressing
housing shortage. At the beginning of December 1919 in the Schöneberg district of Berlin, the house-