Many establishments ban Jews, but some doors remain open

Fred Marcus

Fred Marcus

During the spring and summer of 1938, a series of decrees impose increasingly severe restrictions on Jewish participation in economic activities in Germany. These economic restrictions are accompanied by restricted access to social life, as theaters, restaurants, and other venues close their doors to Jews.


Fred Marcus: Then, as now, I’m a great movie fan. And when I was old enough to go out by myself, I used to get my pocket money and go to the movies, usually Saturday afternoon, by myself, in the neighborhood, right near that gymnasium.

And one day, I came to my favorite movie house, second-run movie, not—not one of those big palaces. And I see a sign in the window, where the lady sits in the glass box office, right there where the show times are. And it says very politely, in German, “Juden unerwünscht.” “Jews not wanted.” Not prohibited; it was not a—but it was a sign that said “Juden unerwünscht.” And so standing there, with my money in my pocket, having carefully planned what movie to see, what time to go, all by myself on the sidewalk, looking at that sign, I had my first identity crisis as a Jew.

And I will tell the second movie story, […] which is related to my mother’s death. She died very early, at age 51. And strange as it may sound, one could say that her death saved my life and that of my father, at least for a limited time. Anyway, after she had been buried, cremated, many of our non-Jewish friends extended themselves to—and in 1938, there was still social contact freely going on. Everybody had non-Jewish friends, like American Jews have non-Jewish friends.

And they wanted to do something nice for me, and they invited me over to their house for coffee and cake. And afterwards, as a treat, they were going to take me to the movie, to movies, and this was the downtown movies with neon signs and marble lobby and all that.

And when we got there, the same sign that I had seen in the little theater was, of course, in the window there. And when I saw it, I said to my hosts, a couple, I said, “Thank you very much for coffee and cake, but I think I better leave now.” “Why? Don’t you want to go to the movies with us?” I said, “Well, they don’t want me here.”

And so, as in the first instance, in the second instance I refused to go in. And they complained to my father by telephone that I was a very ungrateful kid. They were trying to do something nice for me, and I would not even accept their hospitality.

Interesting sidelight is that when these first restrictions appeared, the Nuremberg Laws, so that a—a Christian could not marry a Jew, the Aryan purity laws, or these movie things, you know, they explained to me, even those two people. She says, “You know, they don’t mean that. They just have to put the sign there, because if they don’t, they get into trouble with the Nazis. You can come in. It’s just a—you know. They don’t mean that.” But I would not go.

“Everybody had non-Jewish friends, like American Jews had non-Jewish friends.”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 9214

Anti-Semitic sign that reads Juden sind hier unerwunscht (Jews Are Unwanted Here).

An antisemitic sign like the one Fred describes. It reads “Juden sind hier unerwunscht” [Jews are not wanted here].

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Fred Marcus Berlin Zoo

Fred with the cheetah, Pardi, at the Berlin Zoo, August 1938

Courtesy of Audrey Friedman Marcus.

The Marcus apartment is not far from the Berlin Zoo. Despite the enthusiasm of director Lutz Heck  for National Socialism, the Zoo remains open to Jewish visitors until 1939. Fred visits frequently, getting to know the caretakers, who eventually let him help with feeding and caring for the animals. This picture of Fred with the cheetah Pardi is taken in August 1938. He continuei to visit regularly up until he and his father leave Berlin in March 1939, just before the Zoo closes its doors to Jews.

The Berlin Zoo, like much of Berlin, is badly damaged during the war. Only some 90 animals survive.

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