Menu
Section: Life in Nazi-controlled Europe

Nazi treatment of 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. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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

Non-white Germans

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.

The following sections describe how the Nazis dealt with Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the mentally and physically disabled peoples.

Nazi treatment of disabled people

Helene Melanie Lebel, was a young Austrian woman who loved to swim and go to the opera. In her late teens she developed mental illness and later had a nervous breakdown. When she was just 29 years old she became a victim of the Nazi’s T4 euthanasia programme.
Helene Melanie Lebel, was a young Austrian woman who loved to swim and go to the opera. In her late teens she developed mental illness and later had a nervous breakdown. When she was just 29 years old she became a victim of the Nazi’s T4 euthanasia programme. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Shortly after coming to power the Nazis began a propaganda campaign against mentally and physically disabled Germans. They did not fit into the Nazi stereotype of the pure ‘Aryan’, that is physically fit with an obedient mind to serve the Reich. In addition, the Nazis viewed disabled people as a ‘burden’ on society, and said that they were ‘unable’ to work and ‘drained resources from the state’. As early as July 1933, the Nazis passed a law that allowed forced sterilisation of 350,000 men and women, who were deemed likely to produce ‘inferior’ children. Between 1939 and 1941 a programme of euthanasia (so called ‘mercy killing’), ordered by the state, led to the murder, by doctors and medical staff, of at least 70,000 people.

To a certain extent both the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Germany protested against the euthanasia programme. In July 1941 a letter from the Catholic bishops was read out in all churches, declaring that it was wrong to kill. Opposition to the programme increased amongst the Catholic population of Germany. During July and August 1941, Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, a Catholic Bishop issued three sermons condemning this practice; he sent a telegram of the third sermon to Hitler calling on him to “defend the people against the Gestapo”. This third sermon was also reproduced and sent all over Germany to families, and even to German soldiers on the Western and Eastern Fronts.

Fearing a public uprising across Germany, Hitler ordered a stop to the killings. However, the policy continued in one way or another through to 1945. For instance, after the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Nazis murdered thousands of seriously ill Poles in hospitals. The experience gained as a result of the euthanasia programme was also put to use from 1941 as the Nazis sought to murder the Jews of Europe.

Nazi treatment of homosexuals

Artist Richard Grune was persecuted by the Nazis for being homosexual
Artist Richard Grune was persecuted by the Nazis for being homosexual © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Homosexuals were seen as ’undesirables’ in Nazi Germany. They were persecuted partly because they did not meet the Nazi ideal to create ‘Aryan’ offspring. In all, at least 15,000 homosexual adults were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Many homosexuals were castrated as a form of control, treatment or punishment. Any member of the SS who was thought to be homosexual was sent to a camp as a punishment.

DID YOU KNOW...

Richard Grune

Artist Richard Grune, was an artist who trained at the famous Bauhaus school in Weimar. In 1933 he moved to Berlin to carry on his work.

Grune was arrested and interrogated in December 1934. He admitted to being homosexual and was held in ‘protective custody’. After five months, Grune was transferred to birthplace on the German-Danish border. There he was tried for breaking paragraph 175 of the German criminal code. He was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.

After his release, Grune was again held in ‘protective custody’. In October 1937 he was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. From there he was transferred, in April 1940, to Flossenbürg, where he stayed there for the next five years.

Grune escaped during the evacuation of the Flossenbürg camp and joined his sister in Kiel.

Richard Grune spent most of the remainder of his life in Spain. He spent much this time producing artworks depicting his experiences and those of other camp survivors. He later returned to Kiel, where he died in 1983.

Nazi treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses

Helene Gotthold with her children in 1936. Helene was executed by the Nazis for being a Jehovah’s Witness.
Helene Gotthold with her children in 1936. Helene was executed by the Nazis for being a Jehovah’s Witness. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they owe allegiance only to God. As a result, it was impossible for those living in Nazi Germany or Nazi-occupied countries to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler. Most also refused to serve in the German army because they were pacifists. The Nazis gave Jehovah’s Witnesses the opportunity to renounce their faith and/or convert to mainstream Christianity.

However, very few did this. In consequence, they were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by a purple triangle and kept separate from other prisoners.

DID YOU KNOW...

Helene Gotthold

Helene Gotthold was born in Dortmund, Germany in December 31, 1896.

Helene and her husband were Jehovah’s Witnesses. When the Nazis came to power some of her neighbours refused to have anything to do with their family.Helene’s husband was arrested in 1936. Then, in 1937 the Gestapo arrested Helene. She was beaten and lost her unborn baby. Helen was tried by a court and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. On their release from prison Helene and her husband were reunited with their family. However, in February 1944 Helene and her husband were arrested and imprisoned once more.

Helene and five other Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to death for illegally holding Bible meetings and undermining the nation’s morale. Before her execution, on 8 December 1944, Helene was allowed to write a letter to her husband and children. Her family survived and carried on their missionary work.

Nazi treatment of Roma

Karl Stojka. Read his story below...
Karl Stojka. Read his story below... © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Roma (Gypsies) had long been persecuted in Germany, as they were in much of Europe. The Nazis judged them to be racially ’undesirable’. They did not fit into a well-ordered society as they did not have regular work and were nomadic.

From 1935 the Nazis began rounding up Roma and holding them in camps; by 1939 many thousands had been sent to concentration camps. During the war at least 220,000 from across Europe were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

The notorious Dr Josef Mengele selected many Roma twins for horrific experiments at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

DID YOU KNOW...

Karl Stojka

Karl Stojka was born on 20 April 1931. He was the fourth of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsy parents in a small village in eastern Austria. The family lived in a horse-drawn caravan. During summers they would travel from place-to-place, whilst they spent winters in Vienna. Karl’s ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 200 years.

In March 1938, whilst the Stojka’s caravan was parked for the winter in a Vienna, the Germans marched into Austria. The family and all of the other gypsies there were ordered to remain where they were. Karl’s parents converted the caravan into a wooden house. His father and eldest sister began working in a factory. Karl was enrolled into school.

In 1943 Karl’s family were deported to the gypsy camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In August 1944, 918 of the gypsies were sent to carry out forced labour at Buchenwald concentration camp. On arrival at Buchenwald Karl was thought to be too young to work and was about to be sent back to Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, his brother and uncle insisted that he was 14, so he was allowed to stay.

Some time later, Karl was deported to the Flossenburg. He was liberated by American troops on 24 April 1945.

After the war, Karl Stojka returned to Vienna.

Continue to next topic
Nazi treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses

Nazi treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses