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Watching from the Window

12 Years That Shook the World Podcast

Released: September 15, 2022

German officials round up Jews for deportation as neighbors look on. Lörrach, Germany, October 1940. —Stadtarchiv Lörrach

When the Nazis boycott Jewish-owned businesses in Lorrach, Germany, Bernard Loeb’s neighbors turn on him. When the Nazis attack Jews, his neighbors burn his synagogue. And when the Nazis deport Bernhard, his neighbors watch it happen. So who are these neighbors? And what role did they play in Nazi crimes? Featuring Museum curator Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe.



Erin Harper:  The Nazi officers leave the apartment. They seal the door on their way out. Minutes earlier they forced a Jewish family out of their home, and into the street. It’s October of 1940. And this is the Nazis’ deportation of Jews from the city of Lörrach, Germany. 

The Nazis take photos to document this moment. And when we look at the pictures today — at first glance, we see Jews being led out into the street. And behind them are the Nazi officers enforcing the deportation. But when we look closer, we see something else. Something striking. 

In the background, there are dozens of other local people watching it all happen. So it raises some questions: Who are these people? What did they know about the Nazis’ persecution of Jews? And once the Jews are removed from their world — what happens next?

From the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, this is 12 Years That Shook the World. I’m Erin Harper.

Our story starts in the small city of Lörrach, in the far Southwest corner of Germany, with a   Jewish man named Bernhard Loeb. He lived in Lörrach for many years with his wife, Juliane, and their five children. Bernard was a leader in the local Jewish community. 

He was also passionate about furniture. And in the early 1920s—when he bought a home in the center of Lörrach— he furnished it with his favorite items. He also opened a shop to sell furniture. As a local business owner, and a figure in Jewish cultural life, Bernhard would have been a familiar face to many of his neighbors in the city. 

His business was thriving, and even withstood the Great Depression. But a few years later— in 1933— the Nazis rose to power in Germany. And a significant number of Bernhard's neighbors supported the Nazi Party. So, for Bernhard and his family, everything was about to change. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: On April 1st, 1933, Jewish business owners in Lörrach arrived early to open to weekend customers. They found their shopfronts flanked by uniformed Nazi stormtroopers. Erin Harper: That’s Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe, an acquisitions curator at the Museum. She’s describing the unfolding of the Nazis’ nationwide economic boycott against German Jews. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: Earlier that morning, these same troops led a parade through the city streets to draw attention to the boycott. 

Erin Harper: The troops carry signs and warn pedestrians not to shop at Jewish-owned businesses. One sign reads, “Buy only at Christian shops! … Not a penny to the Jews!” The boycott is highly orchestrated. Two days prior, the Nazis had chosen which businesses to target in Lörrach. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: At the top of their list was Bernard Loeb’s store at 160 Baslerstrasse. Details of the boycott, including the names of Jewish proprietors and their businesses, were also published in a local paper. 

Erin Harper: This means that Lörrach residents who read the paper could have known about the boycott ahead of time. And those who were curious could show up on the streets to watch. And they did. 

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: In surviving photographs and personal accounts, we learn that the streets were scattered with curious onlookers. A photo taken in front of the Knopf department store, which was several blocks down the street from Bernard's shop, shows men, women, and young children looking on as the boycott unfolded. Erin Harper: It turns out this boycott of Jewish-owned stores was not popular among Germans across the country. Because many people thought it would harm their already-fragile economy, since the Depression. So the national boycott only lasted one day. Although— Bernhard would learn that that boycott was only the beginning of the Nazis’ campaign against German Jews. Over the next few years, Lörrach changes. Nazism soaks into the community. Red Nazi flags are flown outside buildings. As officials parade through the streets, many of Bernhard’s neighbors raise their arms in the Nazi salute. Children in Hitler Youth programs hold rallies in public parks. All of this underscores a rise in anti-Jewish sentiment— known as antisemitism. 

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: The Nazis thought of Germany as a racial state where Germans of so-called “German blood” were a separate and superior race to Jews and others. Antisemitism was foundational to Nazi beliefs. Soon laws were introduced that excluded Jewish Germans from professional and public life, which denied them rights that were afforded to non-Jews.

Erin Harper:  These Nazi laws are designed to drive Jews out of the country. So, many German Jews pack their bags, struggle through the difficult emigration process, and escape. But some Jews can’t fathom leaving. Like Bernhard. He raised his family in Germany. He goes to synagogue in Germany. He built his business in Germany. Germany is his home. So how could he just pick up and leave? So while three of his adult children would escape, Bernhard, his wife Juliane, and their two daughters, Erna and Gerda, stay behind. And the Jews who’ve stayed can’t imagine that the Nazis’ persecution could get any worse. Until it does. First, it was a boycott. Now, things turn violent. 

It’s November 9th, 1938. Nazi officials begin organizing and instigating attacks on Jews across German-occupied areas. Terror sets in for Jewish families. Some Jews telephone each other, warning them to keep their children inside. Jewish-owned homes and businesses are being ransacked and vandalized.

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: Synagogues were destroyed, with religious objects and texts desecrated and burned. This event is widely known as Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass.”

Erin Harper: Some Jews look out their windows to see local Nazi officials, and members of the Hitler Youth throwing bricks at their homes, setting fires to their synagogues, and physically attacking Jews. But it’s not only Nazi officials and Hitler Youth committing the attacks. Some local residents — ordinary people — also join in. 

Then, local police show up — but they don’t stop the violence. They stand by and let it happen, because a lot of these local officials are in on the attacks. As the synagogues burn, fire fighters are called — not to save the synagogues — but to ensure the fires do not spread to surrounding buildings. And in many cases, these people — the officials and the local residents — are committing violence against Jews who they know: Jews who shop at the same market as them; go to the same school with them; or play cards at the same club. Some had grown up with the Jews. And today, these ordinary people turn on their Jewish neighbors. But, why? Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: Some people who turned on their Jewish neighbors may have been antisemitic. Even those who objected to the persecution of Jewish people may have turned away rather than step out of line. 

Erin Harper: Because, they think, stepping out of line may have consequences. For helping Jews— one could be denounced in the newspaper, or humiliated in the streets, which sometimes happened under the Nazi regime. So, some people may have thought, better to just keep quiet, and look away, while Jews are attacked. Others, perhaps, were indifferent. They didn’t care that Jews were being assaulted. They may have already been convinced by the Nazis’ ongoing message that Jews were an enemy in their society. So, during Kristallnacht, Bernhard watches as his city crumbles. Then, Nazi officials arrest Bernhard, his son, his son-in-law, and dozens of other Jewish men, without cause. They’re released from prison by the Nazis, and return home just weeks later. 

Despite the relentless attack on Jewish-owned businesses, Bernhard manages to keep his furniture store open for a few more months. But in January of 1939, he’s forced to turn his business over to the Nazis. 

Then, in September of 1939, the Germans invade Poland, starting World War Two, and escalating their campaign against European Jews. Another year passes. Bernhard and his family continue to be perceived as enemies in their own community. 

Now, it’s October 22, 1940. On this foggy and gray morning, Bernhard hears pounding at his door. He opens it to find the Gestapo secret police. The same thing happens at 20 other Jewish homes in Lörrach. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: There was little-to-no warning when Gestapo officials arrived at the houses of Jewish families in Lörrach. They demanded that residents pack their things and leave their homes. It's impossible to imagine the duress of those who had to decide what to take when they were not even certain about where they would be going, or what would await them when they got there.

Erin Harper: One by one, Gestapo officers lead some 50 Jews out of their homes, including Bernhard, Juliane, and their two daughters, Erna and Gerda. There’s also a local policeman taking pictures to document the deportation. Remember the photos from the beginning of our story? This is that moment: The Jews, the police, and the neighbors— watching. 

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: These photographs show local police and members of the Gestapo who carried out the deportation. Local onlookers were also present. Lined up and leaning out of second-story windows, men, women and children looked on, as small groups of their Jewish neighbors were directed to the trucks that would carry them away.

Erin Harper:   One witness later said someone in the crowd picked up stones and hurled them at the Jews. But on the other hand — a woman watching out the window of her workplace— Anneliese Eichhorn—many years later recalled her feelings at that moment. She said, “I could have cried … Those poor old people …  But we weren't even allowed to show … pity for the Jews... because we had a head Nazi in the office."

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: Residents of Lörrach may have privately objected to these deportations or have felt sadness. But we don't know of any instance where someone attempted to intercede. It may not have occurred as a possibility, given the presence of Gestapo and local police. We can also imagine the social pressures that kept witnesses from taking action. Erin Harper: Social pressures— like being outcast in the community, for not going along with it. Or perhaps some people are afraid they’ll lose their job, or otherwise be punished if they speak out. 

So, back to the deportation. Bernhard and the other Jews are forced onto the truck. As they pull away, a Nazi officer in the passenger seat reaches his arm out the window and gives the Nazi salute to the crowd. And just like that, the Jews are taken away. Bernhard and his family don’t know where they’re going, and can’t fathom what they will face next. We now know that this event marks one of the first deportations of Jews from Germany. Bernhard and the Jews are sent to an internment camp in Southern France, where the French Vichy government is collaborating with the Germans. The following year, the Nazis would begin their mass deportation of German Jews to Nazi-occupied territories to the East.

But let's pause here, and go back to the neighbors, who were watching from the window. From the neighbors’ perspective, Bernhard and the other Jews have just vanished. And what remains of the Jews are the personal belongings they’ve left in their homes. So in the community, with the Jews gone, what happens now?

Well, just after the deportation, local Nazi authorities seal off the Jews’ homes. They begin taking inventory of their possessions— dresses, suits, hats, shoes, treasured wedding presents, violins, pianos, paintings, toys. The Nazis declare that every one of these items is forfeited, and now belongs to the state. A few months later, an ad appears in the Lörrach newspaper. In large bold letters it says an auction will take place, and officials would sell these items at a discounted price. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: From furniture to sewing machines, rugs and curtains to tea sets, anything that could be sold was listed to attract buyer interest. The advertisements listed the address where the goods came from, and it begs the question, how many auction-goers recognize the goods up for sale? And knew those whom they belonged?

Erin Harper: It’s auction day. Local police haul items from the Jews’ homes into the streets: Beds and bed sheets, tables and chairs, glassware, dishware, typewriters, coffee pots. Then, people start showing up in droves. And like the deportation, the auctions too, are photographed. 

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: And in these photographs, we see large crowds. They pile into courtyards and entryways while local police help manage the auctions.

Erin Harper: One photo shows crowds of people, ten rows deep. So, why are so many people attracted to these sales? See, by now, it’s more than a year into World War Two. Much of Germany’s economy is focused on the war effort. Household items are scarce, and prices are up. And this auction is perhaps a rare opportunity for people to obtain goods they can afford. At the front of the crowd is an auctioneer, who was hired by Nazi authorities to administer the sales. The auctioneer takes all of Bernhard’s personal items and sells them to the highest bidder. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: For more than 30 years, Lörrach residents did business with Bernard Loeb. It's hard to imagine individuals watching people they knew, however casually, face years of progressive hardship and then decide to profit from it. Those who later bought the belongings of Jewish neighbors at auction, may have justified their actions as perfectly legal, even if morally objectionable. 

Erin Harper: Outside Bernhard’s home, the auctioneer collects about 6,000 Reichsmarks— which today would amount to more than 40,000 US dollars. And a percentage of that goes in the auctioneer’s pocket as commission. 

For the next several months, the 20-some homes where the Jews had lived, sat empty. And now, Nazi officials put the Jews’ homes up for sale or rent. And again, ordinary people take advantage. They buy the properties, move in, and live their lives.

So, by now, some ordinary people in Lörrach had watched the boycott. Some witnessed Kristallnacht and saw the deportation. Some chose to buy items that had belonged to their Jewish neighbors, and some move into the Jews’ homes. And although many people participated in these actions, not everyone did. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: It's critical to remember that select individuals chose to act independently. They did what they felt was right, even when it was not sanctioned or popular to do so. A range of responses was possible. In some instances, onlookers did express sympathy, unconcerned about who might observe it. 

Erin Harper: In another German town, one Jewish survivor named Manfred Wildmann — who was just a boy when his family was deported — later remembered what one neighbor did while a crowd watched his family being marched away.  He said, “... the whole town was assembled ... looking at the Jews leaving… And one woman had the courage to come out and embrace my mother, to say goodbye. Nothing happened to [the woman.]” Then Manfred said, “If more people had done something like that, things may have changed.” And some people resisted, secretly. After the Jews were deported in other parts of Germany, some kind neighbors slipped into the Jews’ homes, and stashed their family heirlooms for safe keeping— to return the items, if they ever made it back home. One woman who had worked as a cook in a Jewish family’s home, grabbed their family cookbook, and tucked their artwork among the pages. She kept it hidden, and gave it back to surviving family members after the war. 

So if a range of responses was possible, why did many others choose to participate? Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: No one was forced to participate in new opportunities for personal gain, but it was very easy to be drawn in. Motives and pressures varied. Where some of those who became complicit in Nazi crimes were committed ideologues, others simply saw new opportunity. Erin Harper: Now, going back to Bernhard’s story: When he and his family were deported, they were taken to a camp in Southern France. Two years later, in 1942, Bernhard’s wife Julianne died, likely from starvation or disease, in another French internment camp. Bernhard and his daughters, Erna and Gerda, were separated, and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in German-occupied Poland. They did not survive.

Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: In Bernhard’s story, we see the far-reaching consequences of Nazi hatred and antisemitism for one man, for one family, and we remember that this happened millions of times over. 

Erin Harper: Many of the ordinary people who participated— in the boycotts, the attacks, the auctions— would later say they didn’t know where these events would lead. Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe: Beneficiaries, like Lörrach auction-goers, likely had little idea that the persecution they profited from would escalate and result in the murder of six million Jewish people.

Erin Harper: But it did. During the Holocaust, across Nazi-occupied territory, six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. 

Which leaves us with more questions: Like, who is responsible? And to what degree? Was it only high-ranking Nazi officers? Was it the local Nazi officials who organized and enforced the deportations? Or the police and firemen who allowed the violence? What about the auctioneer, or the neighbors who bought the items for sale? Did they play a role i n the persecution of Jews? And finally, those people in the background of the photo— the neighbors who watched from the window, but didn’t try to stop it? Are these ordinary people complicit in Nazi crimes? And was their inaction, part of what made the Holocaust possible? From the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, this is 12 Years That Shook the World. I’m Erin Harper. Joining me was Kassandra LaPrade Seuthe, an acquisitions curator at the Museum. 

To view the photos from this story, tap the episode page from your podcast app, or go online to Our story is informed by the work of the USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education, the State Archive of Baden-Württemberg, Andreas Nachama, Klaus Hesse, and Hansjörg Noe. Our show is produced by myself. Our stories are researched by Meredith Gui. This podcast is funded in part by support from Crown Family Philanthropies, and from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation. 

Listeners, we want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this episode. Send an email to, or talk to us on social media. We are @HolocaustMuseum. And if you love our show please follow us on your favorite podcast app, and tell your friends about us. Thanks for listening.

Additional Resources

Primary Source

  • Baden-Württemberg Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Further Reading

  • Andreas Nachama & Klaus Hesse. Vor aller Augen. Topographie Des Terrors, Hentrich & Hentrich: Berlin, 2011

  • Hansjörg Noe, „Nun kann ich darüber sprechen...“. Stadt Lörrach (Stadtarchiv Loerrach und Dreiländermuseum). 2015

  • Lukrezia Seiler, Was Wird Aus Uns Noch Werden. Zürich: Chronos, 2000.

Online Resources