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Section: Life in Nazi-controlled Europe

Jewish communities in Nazi Germany

On assuming power, the Nazi leadership’s first priority was taking over the state and controlling and dealing with their political enemies. They then sought to tighten further their grip on power.

However, very early on, even as early as spring 1933, mobs of locally organised Nazis attacked Jews on the streets, beating them up and sometimes killing them. Across Germany many hundreds of Jews were rounded up by local SA groups and sent to concentration camps. Attacks on Jews soon increased and became more organised.

However, the attacks and arrests were only in some local areas and generally not controlled by the state. According to Nazi ideology, everything ought to be controlled by the leader of the party, Hitler, and this was especially true of the campaign against the Jews. Hitler was unhappy that these attacks and arrests were often random and out of control. He believed they needed to be regulated.

On 1 April 1933 the state organised a boycott of all Jewish shops and offices. The SA stood outside Jewish-owned properties in order to intimidate customers. Shop doors and windows were broken or had the Star of David painted on them. As part of the boycott libraries were raided and books written by Jewish authors burned in the streets.

During April 1933 the Nazis began to develop antisemitic laws that would severely affect the lives of those Jews living with the German boarders. Gradually over the next ten years theses laws would affect every facet of Jewish existence with Germany and the lands that they eventually invaded and occupied. This section of The Holocaust Explained will concentrate on how Hitler’s antisemitic policies impacted on the Jewish communities within Germany.

Antisemitic laws and policies

Antisemitism was at the core of Nazi ideology. Until 1941, the aim of the Nazi Party was the gradual social, legal and physical exclusion of the Jews from German society. It wanted to make life so difficult for the Jews that they would leave Germany.

At the beginning of April 1933, the Nazis passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which began the exclusion of Jews from professions. Under this law people who had at least one Jewish grandparent were classed as Jewish. It took the Nazi Party over five years to completely expel the Jews from professional and business life in Germany.

Encouraged by centrally organised discrimination, local people, employers and organisations in towns and villages all over Germany began to victimise Jews. In some cases, Jews were expelled from employment and denied membership of cultural and leisure organisations. Shops, hotels and restaurants began to put up ‘Jews not welcome’ signs. Local councils also placed signs on park gates and benches informing Jews that they couldn’t use them.

The Nazi government put in place its anti-Jewish policies by passing two laws: the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour and also the Reich Citizenship Law (the Nuremberg Laws) on 15 September 1935. The first law forbade inter-marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Aryans, the second robbed the Jews of their citizenship and all legal rights. These laws were based on the premise that Jews were a racial group rather than a religion.Those who had three Jewish grandparents were classed as full Jews; those who had fewer Jewish grandparents were labelled ‘Mischlinge’ (half-breeds). Gradually the civil rights of Jews across Germany were taken away – from being banned from being members of sports clubs in April 1933 to being forbidden to buy milk or eggs in July 1942.

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The development of anti-Jewish laws

Centrally organised discrimination

At the beginning of April 1933, the Nazis passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which began the exclusion of Jews from professions. Under this law people who had at least one Jewish grandparent were classed as Jewish. It took the Nazi Party over five years to completely expel the Jews from professional and business life in Germany.

The Nuremberg Laws

The Nazi government legalised its anti-Jewish policies with the passing of two laws: the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour and also the Reich Citizenship Law (the Nuremberg Laws) on 15 September 1935.The first law forbade inter-marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Aryans, the second robbed the Jews of their citizenship and all legal rights.

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A racial group?

The Nuremberg Laws were based on the premise that Jews were a racial group rather than a religion. Those who had three or four Jewish grandparents were labelled fully Jewish. Those who had two Jewish grandparents or fewer were labelled ‘Mischlinge’ (half-breeds).

Part of Gerda Nabe's school project, showing a family tree according to the Nuremberg race laws

Education: the Jewish experience

During April 1933, very soon after the Enabling Act had been passed, Jewish teachers were dismissed from German schools and universities. During the same year the proportion of Jewish students at universities was limited to less than 1 per cent, so that it could be no higher than the proportion of Jews in the German population as a whole.

In some areas many Jewish children were removed from schools, but it was not until 1938 that all Jewish children were banned from attending German schools. Discrimination and isolation within education, as in all other areas of society, was gradual.

In Germany, education was a major tool to promote Nazi policy. Initially, many teachers ignored the political changes. However, very soon, those German teachers who supported the Nazis or had been converted to Nazism began to develop new daily rituals and routines. Many of the 32 per cent of teachers who became Nazi Party members would wear their uniform to school.

Once teachers began to show their support for the Nazi Party in schools, the atmosphere within the classroom became very different from the one students had known previously. The teacher would enter the classroom and welcome the group with a ‘Hitler salute’, shouting “Heil Hitler!” Students would have to respond in the same manner, often eight times each day – at the start and end of the day, in addition to the beginning and end of each lesson.

Abuse and isolation

It became common for Jewish children to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse by fellow students and teachers. Textbooks were rewritten in line with Nazi ideology, leading to Jews becoming the subject of increased antisemitism.

For example, teachers would begin to pick out Jewish students in classrooms to use as examples of ‘non-Aryans’ during biology lessons about racial purity. Jewish children would be told to stand at the front of the class, whilst teachers pointed to their eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair; comparing these to characteristics on Nazi propaganda sheets. Some teachers measured skull size and nose length, and recorded features to determine whether students belonged to the ‘Aryan’ race. During history lessons, whilst the class was taught about the First World War, Jews would be ridiculed and branded as traitors in front of their classmates.

The process of denying Jews a state education was a gradual one. Jewish children would be sent to the back of the classroom, before their eventual isolation within or expulsion from school. But the Nazi laws did not officially forbid German Jews from obtaining education; instead they allowed Jewish teachers to set up separate schools for Jewish students from 1938.

Attacks

The experience of Jewish children attending Jewish schools was not free of Nazi persecution. Often members of the Hitler Youth would wait outside at the end of the school day and set about beating Jewish boys as they left school. Other than attempting to fight back, there was very little that these boys could do to fend off their attackers. In his eyewitness testimony Bernard (a German-Jewish kindertransport refugee) remembers being bullied in this way for over three years while at school. Only two non-Jewish students refrained from bullying him. In another testimony, Steven (also a kindertransport refugee) remembers being beaten by Hitler Youth. He points out that “they would never attack you if they were on their own; they were always in groups.” He also points out that they would never attack the girls.

Jewish Refugees and the Evian Conference

Jewish Refugees from Germany

Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fled Germany in the first months that followed the Nazis coming to power. From 1934 the number of Jews leaving each year briefly decreased. This may have been because – despite the fact that Nazi discrimination and anti-Jewish propaganda continued to get worse – the initial shock of Nazi violence had passed. During the 1936 Olympics, for example, the Nazis attempted to remove obvious signs of anti-Jewish policies, in order to avoid disruption to the games by international protesters. After 1936, however, anti-Jewish policy and attacks became much more aggressive, particularly as the Nazis began to steal Jewish property on a much larger scale. The Nazis called this organised theft of Jewish property ‘Aryanisation’, and it was deliberately intended to push Jews out of Germany. These actions resulted in a new wave of Jewish refugees from Germany.

The Evian Conference

On 7 July 1938, as a result of American pressure, an international conference was held at Evian, in France, to discuss what could be done to help the fleeing German Jews. Whilst each of the 32 delegates expressed their concern about the situation in Germany, the countries concerned offered very little practical help.

During the conference the British government made it very clear that it would not be able to increase its quota for refugees, citing high levels of unemployment. France also said that they were at the extreme point of saturation”.

The Australian delegate reported as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.” Other countries also cited the economic depression and population levels as a reason why they could not increase refugee quotas.

Only one country, the Dominican Republic, volunteered to take in up to 100,000 refugees in return for large amounts of money. In actual fact only 800 refugees entered the country and most of those moved on to the United States.

Hitler noted how “astounding” it was that, even though these countries criticised Germany for its treatment of the Jews, they nevertheless refused to open their borders to them. The British delegate to the conference apologised to the Germans for interfering. The Evian conference sent Hitler the signal he needed: foreign governments would not interfere in his anti-Jewish policies.

The significance of Kristallnacht

Polish Jews expelled

In Hitler’s manifesto of 24 February 1920 he had promised to expel Polish-born Jews living in Germany. Beginning in August 1938 the Nazis rounded up 60,000 Jews and expelled them over the Polish border.

The son of one such family, Herschel Grynspan, was studying in Paris. To bring the world’s attention to the plight of his people, on 7th November 1938 he went to the German Embassy and shot a diplomat, Ernst Von Rath.

National press campaign

Back in Germany, the Nazi leadership used this as an excuse to begin a national press campaign against the Jews. On 8 November Nazis attacked Jews, smashed up Jewish-owned buildings.

On 9 November the diplomat died. That afternoon Joseph Goebbels gave a speech attacking the Jews and calling for an organised pogrom.  The SA were used to organise further attacks against Jews, their shops, homes and synagogues. The night became known as ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘The night of the broken glass’.

Instructions to the police

The police were instructed not to intervene to stop the attacks. (See slides above for Reinhardt Heydrich’s order to the police.) The fire brigade were called out ‘to protect non-Jewish businesses and homes’, but they did not put out the fires in Jewish-owned buildings.

During the night of 9 November, 91 Jews were killed and hundreds more injured. Many hundreds of Jewish males over the age of 14 were taken away to prisons or concentration camps. Over the days, weeks and months that followed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken away to concentration camps.

DID YOU KNOW...

Following the events of 9-10 November 1938, many laws were enacted that effectively banished Jews from most areas of public life.

Hard-line antisemitism was now being followed through into ruthless legislation, expelling Jews from Germany’s social and political life.

Germany was now an extremely dangerous place for Jews to live in and many sought to leave the country by any means possible.

Reacting to public opinion, some countries allowed limited immigration of Jews, but in the main a tight quota system was enforced.

Jewish-owned bag shop with smashed windows, having been attacked on 9 November 1938

Ruth talks about life in Nazi Germany

Ruth was born in 1935 in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish father and a Christian mother. The Nazis would have classed Ruth as Jewish. How did Ruth’s family get on with their neighbours? What was life like in Nazi Germany for Ruth’s family? How does Ruth describe her childhood under the Nazi rule?

Please note that the lead in may take a few moments to allow the video to begin.

Ruth’s father lost his job as a lawyer

Ruth was born in 1935 in Berlin, Germany. Her mother’s family were Christian whilst her father’s were Jewish. Both families got on very well. However, life for the family changed dramatically under Nazi rule. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service led to the exclusion of Jews from professions. Under this law people who had at least one Jewish grandparent were classed as Jewish.  Ruth’s father was expelled from his job as a Lawyer. Watch this video to find out how the family coped with this.

Please note that the lead in may take a few moments to allow the video to begin.

 

Ruth remembers the ‘Kristallnacht’

Ruth was born in 1935 in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish father and a Christian mother. The Nazis classed Ruth as Jewish. On the night of Kristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938 the situation for Jewish families was extremely dangerous. Ruth’s father took brave steps to protect himself and Ruth’s brother, Martin. What did he do?

Watch the video clip and reflect on why he did what he did. What might have happened to Ruth’s father and brother if they had not taken these steps?

Please note that the lead in may take a few moments to allow the video to begin.

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Impact on non-Jewish minorities

From 1935 the Nazis began rounding up Roma and holding them in camps.
From 1935 the Nazis began rounding up Roma and holding them in camps. © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nazi race theory saw many groups as ’undesirables’. These included: Jews, Roma, black Germans, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled. These people could not be part of the new ‘racially pure’ Germany.

During the early 1920s some of the French troops occupying the Rhineland had been of North African descent. Some of these men had developed relationships with German women, resulting in children being born. Children were also born to people from Germany’s African colonies who had settled in Germany. The Nazis saw these mixed race children as ’inferior’ to the Aryans. After 1933 almost 400 black Germans were part of a compulsory sterilisation programme. Between 1939 and 1945, under the shadow of war, many of them disappeared without trace.

This section of The Holocaust Explained will outline how Nazi race theory affected non-Jewish minorities within the German sphere of influence.

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