Object of the Semester – Summer Semester 2022

“Greetings from Borkum.” Postcards as Examples of Antisemitism at Vacation Spas in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Angelika Königseder/Carl-Eric Linsler

Antisemitic postcards make up the largest category of objects by far within the Langerman Collection, numbering more than 3,500. Many of them belong to the group of so-called “Judenspottkarten” (Jew-mocking cards): These picture postcards with anti-Jewish content were disseminated in Germany and many other countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They ridiculed and defamed Jews, presenting them as “others” who could not belong because of supposed physical and cultural differences that were considered indelible.[1] Quite a few of these Jew-mocking cards in the collection reflect so-called spa antisemitism, a term that refers to the culture of enmity with which Jewish guests had been confronted in a variety of resort locations within the German Empire and other countries since the 1870s.[2]
For the most part, this spa antisemitism emanated from vacationing guests rather than drawing on local anti-Jewish traditions. In many resorts, however, the antisemitic behavior of guests found favor not only with local spa and bath administrations but with the local population as well, not least for economic reasons: By attracting growing numbers of antisemitic tourists, spa antisemitism became a “lucrative business.”[3]
This everyday antisemitism hit Jewish visitors to the newer spas particularly hard. Fed by the rise in tourism, these locations increasingly drew guests from the middle class and petty bourgeoisie who wanted to show off their social advancement with a vacation but could not afford expensive hotels in established resorts.[4] Many of them regarded Jews – who, thanks to their social advancement in the 19th century, also had been partaking in the development of tourism – with sentiments of envy and resentment, seeing them as unwelcome competitors. They stigmatized Jews as parvenus who had gained their standing unjustly and who ought to be shown that they did not belong. However, since the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of movement prevented them from banning Jews from locations, antisemites tried to make Jewish guests feel as unwelcome as possible, to literally drive them away.
One of the resort areas that stood out in this regard, having earned a reputation already in the 1880s as a stronghold of spa antisemitism, was the North Sea island of Borkum. In an 1897 guide to the island, Borkum was described as “judenrein” – “free of Jews”[5] – and two years later the resort topped a list of seaside and summer resorts, published by the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, that did not want Jewish guests.[6] Our “Object of the Semester” is an antisemitic postcard with the title “Gruss aus Borkum” (“Greetings from Borkum”), published by E. Adami in Emden and posted in Borkum in late July 1901 to one Hede Trümper of Berlin. It combines two essential modes of expression and dissemination of spa antisemitism of the imperial era: the anti-Jewish song and the anti-Jewish picture postcard.
Antisemitic picture postcard “Gruss aus Borkum”
ALAVA – TU Berlin, inventory number 2624
The picture side features the text of the “Borkum song,” which was already sung on the island in the 1890s to the tune of the “Kaisermarsch Hipp, hipp, hurrah!”[7] Beginning with a hymn of praise to the beauty of the island of Borkum, the song in this first version concluded with the lines: “But whoever approaches you with flat feet,/With crooked noses and frizzy hair,/Should not enjoy your beach,/Throw him out! Throw him out!/Out!” The sociologist Detlev Claussen has noted that the song was sung at the resort nightly, and described it as a “Borkum special attraction.”[8] The senders of the postcard reported as much: “This song,” they noted after describing the idyllic vacation spot and sending warmest greetings, “is sung here on the beach every evening at 10 o’clock on the dot; no guest can sleep peacefully if he has not sung along.”
The unmistakable antisemitic message of the “Borkum song” is accompanied by an illustration that is just as unambiguous: A family whose members are marked as “Jewish” by their distorted physiognomies and bodies is barred from entering a banquet hall, while the non-Jewish spa guests allowed inside sing and celebrate.
According to the historian Peter K. Klein, such postcards “are a trivial but revealing medium conveying the diverse manifestations of everyday antisemitism” and forming “an important indicator – one that has received little attention in the field of research on antisemitism for a long time – for the spread of anti-Jewish prejudices and stereotypes.”[9] Although – or precisely because – there is still much to be uncovered with regard to their originators, publishers, production contexts, editions, distribution, user groups, usage practices, and reception, these postcards represent particularly valuable sources for research on the history of everyday antisemitism.
After World War I, spa antisemitism became radicalized. No longer was it aimed merely at keeping Jewish vacationers out of specific resort areas; rather, the expulsion of Jews from tourist destinations was intended to become a blueprint for creating a German Empire “free of Jews.”[10] After the National Socialists took power, the situation in spas and resorts worsened drastically. Previously, initiatives against Jewish guests had mostly been driven “from below.” Now, the newly appointed communal and resort administrations as well as the local NSDAP (Nazi Party) became active, banning Jews from using resort infrastructure and even from setting foot on the beach.[11]
[1] See Peter K. Klein, “Judenspottkarten,” in: Handbuch des Antisemitismus. Judenfeindschaft in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Bd. 7: Literatur, Film, Theater und Kunst, published by Wolfgang Benz, Berlin 2015, pp. 228-232.
[2] See Frank Bajohr, “Bäder-Antisemitismus,” in: Handbuch des Antisemitismus. Judenfeindschaft in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Bd. 3: Begriffe, Theorien, Ideologien, published by Wolfgang Benz, Berlin 2010, pp. 37-40, here p. 37.
[3] Frank Bajohr, “Unser Hotel ist judenfrei.” Bäder-Antisemitismus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt a. M. 2003, p. 15 f.

[4] See Frank Bajohr, “Das Zinnowitzlied: Ein Symbol des Bäder-Antisemitismus,“ in: Hamburger Schlüsseldokumente zur deutsch-jüdischen Geschichte. Eine Online-Quellenedition, published online on 22 September 2016, https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-86.de.v1 [accessed on 1 February 2022].

[5] B. Huismann, Die Nordseeinsel Borkum einst und jetzt, Borkum 1897, p. 119. Citation: Bajohr, “Unser Hotel ist judenfrei.” p. 12.
[6] See Michael Wildt, “’Der muß hinaus! Der muß hinaus!’ Antisemitismus in deutschen Nord- und Ostseebädern 1920-1935,” in: Mittelweg 36 (2001) 4, pp. 3-25, here p. 12.
[7] See Bajohr, “Das Zinnowitzlied.”
[8] Detlev Claussen, “Vertreibung aus dem Urlaubsparadies. Über den Borkumantisemitismus,” in: Helmut Gold/Georg Heuberger (eds.), Abgestempelt. Judenfeindliche Postkarten. Auf der Grundlage der Sammlung Wolfgang Haney, Heidelberg 1999, pp. 251-255, here p. 252.
[9] Klein, “Judenspottkarten,” p. 229.
[10] See Bajohr, “Bäder-Antisemitismus,” p. 39.
[11] See Wildt, “’Der muß hinaus!’,” pp. 19 f. and 23.