From the moment the Nazis came to power in 1933,
the Jews of Germany were subjected to a never-ending series of discriminatory
laws. There would be, during the twelve years of Hitler's Reich, over 400
separate regulations issued against Jews prohibiting everything from performing
in a symphony orchestra to owning a pet cat.
In the Reich's early years, anti-Jewish regulations
were drawn up by a Nazi bureaucracy that included both radical and moderate
anti-Semites. None of the bureaucrats had any moral qualms about being
anti-Semitic. However, the moderates were concerned with foreign reaction
and the possible disruptive impact of anti-Jewish prohibitions on Germany's
Of the 503,000 Jews living in Germany in 1933,
about 70 percent lived in big cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Breslau.
Many of the young Jews in these cities married non-Jewish Germans.
A timeless scene in an old Jewish neighborhood of Berlin - a sidewalk sale of Kosher foods - still visible in the early Hitler era. Below: The unceasing anti-Semitism of Der Stürmer newspaper run by radical anti-Semite Julius Streicher, Gauleiter of Nuremberg. Under a sign saying "With the Stürmer against the Jews" is a page display beneath the Nazi slogan "The Jews are our misfortune."
Although Jews made-up less than one percent of
Germany's overall population of 55 million, Hitler considered them by nature
to be the "mortal enemy" of the German people. But within Hitler's
bureaucracy, radical and moderate anti-Semites strongly disagreed as to
what legal (or illegal) actions should actually be taken against the Jews.
This bureaucratic in-fighting resulted in complete stagnation concerning
the development of a coordinated Reich policy of anti-Semitism.
Local Brownshirts, upset by the bureaucratic bungling,
often took out their frustrations on local Jews in their neighborhoods,
and by mid-1935 there had been a dramatic rise in the number of street incidents.
Ordinary citizens, encouraged in part by Goebbels'
anti-Semitic propaganda, also took part in spontaneous demonstrations.
One such incident in the summer of 1935 was recorded by the Bavarian political
"There were anti-Jewish demonstrations
in the swimming pool in Heigenbrüken. Approximately 15-20 young bathers
had demanded the removal of the Jews from the swimming bath by chanting
in the park which adjoins the bath...A considerable number of other bathers
joined in the chanting so that probably the majority of visitors were demanding
the removal of the Jews...The district leader of the NSDAP [Nazi Party]
who happened to be in the swimming baths, went to the [pool] supervisor
and demanded that he remove the Jews. The supervisor refused the request
on the grounds that he was obliged to follow only the instructions of the
baths' administration and moreover, could not easily distinguish the Jews
as such. As a result of the supervisor's statement, there was a slight
altercation between him and the [district leader]...In view of this incident,
the Spa Association today placed a notice at the entrance to the baths
with the inscription: Entry Forbidden to Jews."
Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess ordered a halt
to spontaneous anti-Jewish actions, not out of consideration for the Jews,
but to prevent "bringing Party members into conflict with the political
police, who consist largely of Party members, and this will be welcomed
by Jewry. The political police can in such cases only follow the strict
instructions of the Führer in carrying out all measures for maintaining
peace and order, so making it possible for the Führer to rebuke at
any time allegations of atrocities and boycotts made by Jews abroad."
By late summer 1935, the street violence and demonstrations
had diminished. But the bureaucratic in-fighting only escalated and would
soon come to a head at the annual Nuremberg Rally
At this year's Rally, held from September 9 to
15, a special session of the Nazi Reichstag (Legislature) was scheduled
for the last day at which Hitler planned to deliver a major foreign policy
speech concerning the League of Nations and Fascist Italy. However, Hitler
wound up canceling the speech on short notice upon the advice of his Foreign
Minister, Constantin von Neurath.
The abrupt cancellation left a void as to just
what the Reichstag would do during its special Nuremberg session. Radical
anti-Semites at Nuremberg seized the opportunity and suggested to Hitler
that the special session would be an ideal opportunity to announce some
kind of big new law concerning the Jews.
Hitler accepted their suggestion and settled on
the idea of a law forbidding intermarriage and sexual relations between
Jews and Germans, which he knew the radicals had been wanting for some
time. On September 14, the night before the Reichstag's special session,
Nazi legal officials presented Hitler with four drafts of the new law.
Hitler chose the fourth version, which happened to be the least militant,
although he crossed out one important line stating: "This law applies
only to full-blooded Jews."
Around midnight, Hitler told the same legal officials
he also wanted an accompanying law concerning Reich citizenship. The officials,
scrawling on the back of a hotel food menu, hastily drafted a vaguely worded
law which designated Jews as subjects of the Reich. Hitler (a night owl)
approved the draft around 2:30 a.m.
At the Reichstag's special session held later
that day at 8 p.m., Hitler delivered a short speech in which he characterized
the new laws as an attempt to "achieve the legislative regulation
of a problem which, if it breaks down again will then have to be transferred
by law to the National Socialist Party for final solution."
The laws were then read by Reichstag President
Hermann Göring as follows:
Reich Citizenship Law of September
I. 1. A subject of the State is a person
who belongs to the protective union of the German Reich, and who therefore
has particular obligations towards the Reich. 2. The status of subject
is acquired in accordance with the provisions of the Reich and State Law
II. 1. A citizen of the Reich is that subject
only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows
that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.
Law for the Protection of German Blood
and German Honor, September 15, 1935
Entirely convinced that the purity of German blood
is essential to the further existence of the German people, and inspired
by the uncompromising determination to safeguard the future of the German
nation, the Reichstag has unanimously adopted the following law, which
is promulgated herewith:
I. 1. Marriages between Jews and citizens
of German or kindred blood are forbidden. Marriages concluded in defiance
of this law are void, even if, for the purpose of evading this law, they
were concluded abroad.
2. Proceedings for annulment may be initiated only by the Public Prosecutor.
II. Sexual relations outside marriage between
Jews and nationals of German of kindred blood are forbidden.
III. Jews will not be permitted to employ
female citizens of German or kindred blood under 45 years of age as domestic
IV. 1. Jews are forbidden to display the
Reich and national flag or the national colors. 2. On the other hand they
are permitted to display the Jewish colors. The exercise of this right
is protected by the State.
V. 1. A person who acts contrary to the
prohibition of Section I will be punished with hard labor.
2. A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of Section II will be
punished with imprisonment or with hard labor.
3. A person who acts contrary to the provisions of Sections III or IV will
be punished with imprisonment up to a year and with a fine, or with one
of these penalties.
VI. The Reich Minister of the Interior
in agreement with the Deputy Führer and the Reich Minister of Justice
will issue the legal and administrative regulations required for the enforcement
and supplementing of this law.
VII. The law will become effective on the
day after its promulgation; Section III, however, not until January 1,
The announcement of the Nuremberg Laws had the
unexpected result of generating a lot of confusion and heated debate among
Nazi bureaucrats as to how one should define a Jew, given that there had
been widespread intermarriage up to this point.
issued to help bureaucrats distinguish
Jews from Mischlinge (mixed race persons) and Aryans. The white figures
are Aryans; the black figures Jews; and the shaded figures
Mischlinge. Below: Athletes on the outskirts of Berlin work out beyond a tall fence and sign saying "Jews are not wanted here.'
As a result, two months later
a supplemental Nazi decree was issued which defined a "full Jew"
as a person with at least three Jewish grandparents. Those with fewer than
three grandparents were designated as Mischlinge (half-breeds), of which
there were two degrees: First Degree Mischlinge – a person with two Jewish
grandparents; Second Degree Mischlinge – a person with one Jewish grandparent.
The Nazis also issued somewhat complicated instructional
charts to help bureaucrats distinguish the various degrees of Jewishness.
Generally, the more "full-blooded" a Jew was, the greater the
level of discrimination. But much of the confusion remained. In many cases,
the necessary genealogical evidence concerning Jewish family backgrounds
was simply not available.
As it turned out, about 350,000 Germans could
be classified as Mischlinge; with 50,000 having converted to Christianity
from Judaism; 210,000 being half-Jews; and 80,000 considered quarter-Jews.
Nazi bureaucrats also disagreed on how strictly
the Nuremberg Laws should be enforced. Moderate anti-Semites wanted to
protect "that part which is German" concerning valuable civil
servants in the government. Radicals, on the other hand, viewed all Mischlinge
as carriers of "Jewish influence" and wanted them all dismissed.
Much to their dismay, the moderates prevailed, and Mischlinge civil servants
and others were allowed to keep their positions for the time being.
Surprisingly, many German Jews reacted to the
Nuremberg Laws with a sense of relief, thinking the worst was now over
– at least they finally knew where they stood and could get on with their
lives even if they had diminished rights. And to some degree they were
correct. Over the next few years, the Nazis moved slowly in regard to the
Jews. This was the quiet time for Jews in the Third Reich, as Hitler began
to focus his attention entirely on diplomatic affairs and military re-armament.
In diplomatic circles, Hitler was struggling to
gain credibility. Over the past few years, international observers in Nazi
Germany had witnessed an incredible chain of events including: the revolutionary-like
seizure of power in January 1933; the mysterious Reichstag fire in February;
the anti-Jewish boycott in April; book burnings in May; wild street violence
by the Brownshirts; heard rumors of concentration camps; knew about the
(already infamous) Gestapo; witnessed the blood purge of June 1934; and
observed the emperor-like ascension of Hitler as Führer.
For the Nazis, it was now necessary to refrain
from any further actions against the Jews that would serve to undermine
Hitler's credibility on the world stage. The Führer had to present
himself as someone who could be taken seriously, not as the leader of an
The turn of the Jews would come later. Presently,
Hitler's goals were to rebuild the German Army and exploit any opportunity
to expand the Reich. Early in 1936, he decided on a dangerous gamble and
sent his soldiers marching into the demilitarized portion of Germany known
as the Rhineland – the very first territory to be forcibly grabbed by the