I examined the iconic photograph, focusing on three of the characters in the picture: the Jew, his shiksa, and one of the seven storm troopers. Then I thought, “What about the photographer who shot the picture?”
Placing myself in their heads, I wondered, “What were they thinking and doing before, during and right after that photo was taken.”
Yes, this black and white photo, taken in Cuxhaven, Germany, on July 27, 1933. And yes it deserved my attention and analysis. For it went viral and it demonstrated how much the Nazis were willing to do to humiliate Jews.
The Jew (Oskar Dankner)
Oskar Dankner, the owner of theater and lingerie & hosiery shop, stared into the grey sky and beckoned G-d:
“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why didn’t I leave for Palestine, when I had a chance?”
Oskar soaked in sweat, shut his eyes and prayed in silence, “Please G-d let this be a nightmare. Wake me up in my bed.”
But when he opened his eyes, the seven Nazi thugs, wearing sadistic lears, SA uniforms and swastika armbands reappeared. Oskar knew he was in trouble; he understood why these thugs selected him to wear the sandwich board placard reading: As a Jewboy, I always invite only German girls up to my room!
Why? Because he was short, with protruding ears, and had a nose that most Germans labeled as Jewish.
Why? Because he was sleeping with an attractive blonde-haired Christian.
Why? Because Adele was forbidden fruit in this land that forbade miscegenation.
Why? Because these jealous Brownshirted thugs lusted after his blonde-haired girl. When they thought about him in bed with her, it drove them crazy. This short Jude, with his big ears and large nose deserved a public denunciation. The Third Reich demanded they mock and humiliate this Jew.
Why? Because in this land of racial hatred being Jewish was a crime.
Why? Because in the land of ‘rassenschande‘ the Aryan race feared shame, defilement and the mixing of blood.
Why? Because this Jew wore a target painted on his forehead reading: “The Perfect Jew to Humiliate.”
The storm trooper threatened, “Jude, if you and your girlfriend don’t cooperate with us, we’ll herd you through the streets naked and beat you with ropes. Put on these placards or we’ll bash all of your teeth out of your heads. Look at these brass knuckles, these trungeons and these bare fists. These are our dental tools.”
Having already been beaten by these Nazis, he knew they meant business. He remembered Shotsie, his white French poodle barking and lunging at the SA leader. The Brownshirt kicked Shotsie in the head with his heavy jackboot and killed her. How Oskar wept carrying her limp body back to his apartment.
The Jew felt the placard’s ropes digging into his shoulders. He shut his eyes and fantasized that he held his index finger on a Thompson machine gun—like the ones he’d seen American gangsters movies—aimed it, pulled the trigger and blasted these seven thugs to smithereens.
Then he heard the Brownshirt leader scream, “Achtung Juden! Stand at attention you schweinhund We’re taking a picture of you that will convince every Jew to stop having sex with German women and every German woman never to touch a Yid again.”
But the Jew was determined not to look frightened. “I’ll stare into that camera lense and not show an ounce of fear. I will only display my disgust at what these thugs are doing to me and my girl.”
The Jew heard the camera click three times. Then the SA leader ordered, “Vermin, take off those placards and get the hell out of here. The next time I see you two together, I’ll put bullets in your heads.”
The Jew hurriedly complied, running into the congested street, dodging cars and listening to the Nazis laugh. He turned his head looking for Adele and saw her running down another avenue. Then it sunk in real hard, he’d never see her again. These thugs had not only humiliated him but they had publicly castrated him in front of her and the world.
And the Jew wept.
The Shiksa (Adele Edelmann)
The shiksa loved her short, sweet Jewish boy. She knew he loved her too much, for he gave her too much and risked too much just to be with her.
On Sundays afternoons, Oskar filled a straw basket with Jaffa oranges, grapes, and baguettes stuffed with Italian cold cuts and cheeses. The two of them took juants on country roads in his convertible, looking for places to picnic. When Oskar found a suitable green field, he’d placed a blanket on the grass and pulled the cork out of a bottle of merlot. Like sailors, they’d drink the wine straight out of the bottle. While Adele ate, Oskar read her poetry and sang her love songs. Shotsie sat by her side, begging for his belly to be rubbed or to play catch or for a slice of salami.
When Adele threw the ball, Shotsie caught it in her mouth and retrieved it. Adele loved Shotsie almost as much as Oskar did. She enjoyed watching Shotsie chase rabbits and squirrels. When the poodle returned from hunting, Adele opened her sandwich and rewarded her a slice of salami. For that slice of meat, Adele got a lick on her cheek.
When Shotsie died, Adele cried for a week. Spitting her hatred on the ground, she screamed, “I hate Hitler, his Nazi Party and especially those f”ing Brownshirts.”
She remembered the first time she saw Brownshirts marching through Cuxhaven. It was during the Weimar Republic. In those days, Adele experienced the taste of hunger. She remembered her constant thoughts about food. She recalled the growls and pangs emanating from the pit of her stomach. But then she met her loving Jew, who brought her kisses as sweet as Belgium chocolates, eclairs and Napoleons.
Adele adored him. He made her feel special. He treated her with kindness. Oskar bought her gifts: gold rings, necklaces and bracelets. They shopped for her clothing, including the coat and hat she was wearing. Of course, he showered her lingerie and hosiery from his shop. From his garden, he cut her red roses. Adele quivered when Oskar said, “These roses remind me of you.” And she cried in happiness for finally finding a man she loved.
His love for her opened the gates of heaven.
In Cuxhaven’s cafes, she loved his hidden kisses on her neck. She often reciprocated by pecking him on his cheeks. She knew how much those pecks infuriated the Hitler lovers. But now she feared that her love for this Jew would get her a terrible beating. For Adele knew Hitler demanded the protection of German blood and her veins flowed with German blood.
When they dined, they talked about the storm of hatred that engulfed them. She said, “Let’s escape to America or Palestine.” But Adele sensed it would never happen.
And now Adele ran for her life, knowing her affair was over. It was just too damn risky. The Brownshirts’ warnings frightened her. She even feared turning her head to see if her lover had escaped the wrath of the SA.
But as the shiksa ran, she tasted her tears and cried for the loss of her lover.
The Storm Trooper
The storm trooper, who recently joined the SA, loved wearing the uniform, hanging out in beer halls with his comrades and humiliating Jews. They made him a man. A man who was a bully even before he joined their ranks. A bully who loved inflicting pain on the weak. He’d sucker punch a Yid because he loved the sound his fist made on contact with their hooked noses. He loved cutting the beards of orthodox Jews as they begged him to stop. “These untermenschen deserve no better treatment, They’re stinking up my fatherland. They should get the hell out and move to Palestine,” he thought.
On the morning of July 27, 1933, the SA’s commandant assigned him six SA soldiers, gave him the phone number of a photographer and handed him two sandwich board placards.
One placard read, “As a Jewboy, I always invite only German girls up to my room!” and the other read, “I am the biggest sow in town and only have dealings with Jews.”
His commandant added, “I order you men to scan Cuxhaven for that Jewboy theater owner and his blonde sow girlfriend. Find them, call the photographer when you do and march them to our headquarters.”
“Yes sir, commandant,” he replied.
He remembered the theater owner. He recalled kicking the Jew’s French poodle and breaking the dog’s neck. How he enjoyed seeing the agony on the Jew’s face as he carried his dead dog.
“Remember to listen to the photographer’s instructions on how he wants you to pose for the pictures. If you’re lucky, his photos will make you famous.”
When the commandant’s left his office, the storm trooper smiled.
“Not only do I get to bully a Jew, I might get famous for doing it.”
The photographer had not always hated Jews. As a camera buff in high school and the president of the school’s photography club, he had befriended a couple of them. He remembered developing friendships and batches of photos with those Jews. How they loved watching the images come to life as they hung in the darkroom. But after high school, the photographer apprenticed in Berlin, where he learned how to be an anti-Semite; made enough money to open the only photographic studio in Cuxhaven.
He gladly accepted the work of shooting ID photos for the SA or from Jews trying to flee Germany. Those same Brownshirts often hired him for “special assignments.”
On July 26, 1933, an SA officer visited his shop with such a request. “We need you to be ready with your camera and tripod to shoot a photo of the Jew, Herr Oskar Dankner, the owner of the movie theater. Do you know him?”
“Yes, Sir,” he replied.
“Do you know his girlfriend, Adele Edelmann?”
“Sorry, Sir, I don’t know her.”
Taking one of the photographer’s business cards off the counter, the officer said,”Well, that doesn’t really matter. When we call you, be ready to bring your equipment to our headquarters. You will take some shots of the two of them and a group of my men.. The Jew and his sow will be wearing derogatory placards. I want my men to be on both sides of them. I want my men to look serious—stern faced. And I want the Jew and his slut to look humiliated. Do you understand what I want Herr photographer?”
“Yes, Sir. You’ll get exactly what you want Sir.”
As the SA officer exited his studio, he started preparing his equipment for the next day’s shoot. He’d be prepared.
And when they called on the morning of July 27th, he grabbed his equipment, ran out the door and headed for SA headquarters.
Standing behind his camera and the tripod, he positioned the group, studying the ominous grey sky and the shadows it formed. “Storm troopers stand up straight, do not smile, and look at me. Juden and your whore look at me and do not smile,” he ordered.
Then he clicked his Lieca three times.
As the photographer packed up his equipment, he looked at the group and said, “Thanks for your cooperation.”
Walking back to his studio, he imagined his photographs on the front page of the Der Stürmer (The Attacker.) He saw them posted in outdoor displays throughout the Third Reich.
“When German Jews see my photos, they’ll think about leaving for Palestine. This will be my contribution in making Germany ‘Judenfrei.’
Germans across the fatherland and maybe even foreigners will admire my work. Maybe even the Führer would pay him a compliment. Maybe the leader of the Brownshirts, Ernst Röhm, would order that his photo be posted on the windows of Jewish-owned shops and synagogues. Maybe Röhm would offer him a position in the SA.
And maybe for his professional photographic skills, Herr Hitler would present him with a certificate of merit or a gold medal. He’d proudly place the both in his store’s window. Boy, that would bring him plenty of customers and cash and maybe he’d buy a new Leica.”
And then the photographer smiled.
As my daydream ended, I shook my head in disbelief, reexamining the iconic black and white picture and asking, “Why?”