At the core of the Nazis’ racial antisemitic ideology, even at the highest echelons of the Nazi Party, irony, at times, prevailed. At times, the principal “Aryan” specimen was actually Jewish. Irony is not always a laughing matter, especially when rooted in racism, hatred and antisemitism. Yet, through these few recorded instances we can unequivocally discredit racist supremacist propaganda. It is not only a matter of exposing ridiculous pseudo-scientific theories, but encouraging critical thinking and civic responsibility in the souls and minds of students of all ages.
In 1936, athlete Jesse Owens won four medals in the Berlin Olympic Games to the dismay of the Nazi leadership that proclaimed “Aryan racial superiority.” In an ironic twist, a Black athlete from the United States defeated so-called Aryans in the capital of the Third Reich.
David Erwin Goldschmidt was eleven years old when Hitler came to power in Germany. He attended the local school in Heppenheim where, as in other schools, pupils were taught how to identify and “scientifically measure” Aryan racial characteristics in comparison to those of Jewish people. Since David resembled a typical Aryan with his straight light hair, his sheer presence created a problem for the school administration. His teacher ultimately asked him not to attend these classes since his looks contradicted the subject matter. As a result, David had to leave school because his facial characteristics challenged the Nazi racial curriculum.
Felix Berger was an athletic, intelligent German-Jewish high school student in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland). He apparently was a blonde young man, with blue eyes and a muscular torso. According to his sister Judith, a teacher in Nazi racial education called Felix to stand in front of the class in order to demonstrate ostensibly Aryan facial characteristics since he typified the so-called German master race. The teacher did not know that Felix was in fact Jewish, but Felix’s classmates did. Felix’s peers roared with laughter, forcing the teacher to stop his lesson in pseudo-scientific racist ideology. In the end, the principal did not dismiss the teacher, but asked Felix to leave school. Ironically, the Aryan “archetype” had become an outcast.
Born in 1934, Hessy Levinsons Taft’s Jewish parents took her to a photographer’s studio when she was six months old. Like many other proud parents, they wanted a photo of their beautiful baby girl for their family album. Unbeknownst to them, their Jewish baby was showcased in a Nazi propaganda magazine. Hessy had been chosen as the perfect example of the Aryan race on its cover.
Imrich Vesely spoke perfect Hungarian and German. He luckily managed to escape the Slovakian Hlinka Guard and live undetected as a Jewish refugee in Budapest. He was hired by a German-Hungarian hardware firm that assumed that Imrich had “Aryan origins.” Imrich excelled in his new position and gradually won the trust of his employer to oversee the import-export business through the German diplomatic office. He did not divulge his Jewish identity to anyone. Imrich, well-liked by his colleagues and other business associates, ironically received a special invitation to the annual German ball – a formal event in an upscale Budapest hotel. Although Imrich politely declined the invitation, his boss insisted that he attend and represent the company. In his words, “I saw that there was undeniably a grotesque, humorous side to it all. Naturally, in the end I decided to go through with it, come what may.”
That evening, Imrich was personally introduced to the guest of honor, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Although he had been uncomfortable the entire evening, Imrich shook hands with Goebbels, who noted “how splendid it was that the cheating, conniving Jews had been pushed aside.” Imrich ironically masqueraded as a model of “Aryan business ethics” in the presence of one of those closest to Adolf Hitler who did not “fit the Teutonic Warrior image the Nazis were so fond of projecting.”
Reading such instances may elicit a smirk and even a chuckle. Nevertheless, stories of Jewish people who were mistaken for non-Jews at the time are not actually humorous, but allow us to examine our own prejudices and mobilize in the global fight against antisemitism and racism.