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Bernheim Petition


BERNHEIM PETITION , petition against Nazi anti-Jewish legislation, signed by Franz Bernheim on the initiative of Emil *Margulies and submitted to the League of Nations on May 17, 1933, by representatives of the *Comité des Délégations Juives (Leo *Motzkin, Emil Margulies, and Nathan Feinberg). At the same time they presented to the League a similar petition signed by the Comité, the American Jewish Congress, and other Jewish institutions. Since there was a special procedure regarding petitions addressed by inhabitants of German Upper Silesia, Bernheim's petition alone was immediately considered by the League. When the Nazis came to power, Bernheim, a warehouse employee in Upper Silesia, was dismissed from work as a result of racial discrimination, and took up temporary residence in Prague. In his petition he complained that the anti-Jewish legislation of the Third Reich was also being applied to Upper Silesia, in violation of the German-Polish Convention of May 15, 1922 (Geneva Convention), which guaranteed all minorities in Upper Silesia equal civil and political rights. The petition requested the League to state that all the anti-Jewish measures, if and when applied in Upper Silesia, infringed upon the Geneva Convention and were therefore null and void, and that the rights of Upper Silesian Jews be reinstated and that they receive compensation for damages. Bernheim's petition was placed on the agenda of the 73rd session of the League Council on May 22, 1933. The German representative, von Keller, lodged an objection denying Bernheim's right to submit the complaint, a plea that was rejected by an ad hoc committee of jurists. Four days later von Keller declared in the name of his government that internal German legislation did not in any way affect the General Convention and that if its provisions had been violated, this could only have been due to errors and misconstructions on the part of subordinate officials. The purpose of this public apology was to prevent a general debate on the petition, but these tactics failed, and in two public sessions (May 30 and June 6) the persecution of Jews in Germany was fully discussed. Many of the speakers severely censured Germany for the treatment of its Jews and demanded that they be accorded minimum human rights. In a unanimous decision, Germany and Italy abstaining, the Council adopted a resolution noting the German government's declaration and requesting it to furnish the Council with information on further developments. On September 30, 1933, the German government submitted a letter in which it claimed to have fulfilled its obligations, and that the rights of the Jews of Upper Silesia had been restored. The main objective of the Comité des Délégations Juives in bringing the petitions before the League was to focus world attention on the anti-Jewish legislation of Nazi Germany and the persecution of its Jews, and to have it condemned. The discussions in the League Council, and especially the declaration of the German government, helped the Jews of Upper Silesia in their struggle for their rights before such local bodies as the Mixed Commission established under the Geneva Convention. Until the expiration of the Convention on July 15, 1937, the Jews of Upper Silesia continued to enjoy equality of rights, and even sheḥitah, forbidden in the Third Reich, was permitted them.


G. Kaeckenbeck, International Experiment in Upper Silesia (1942); Question des Juifs allemands devant la Société des Nations (1933); G. Weissmann, in: blbi, 61 (1963), 154–98; N. Feinberg, Ha-Ma'arakhah ha-Yehudit neged Hitler al Bimat Ḥever ha-Le'ummim (1957).

[Nathan Feinberg]

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