Citizenship through History
‘Justice removed, then, what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?
What are bands of robbers themselves but little kingdoms?’
Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Fifth Century AD
The following extended case study investigates the impact of the Nazi regime on people in
Germany, 1933-39. Use the material and the activities that follow to research, investigate and
discuss important issues connected with citizenship today. The following materials look at
how the Nazis arrived at unique and destructive interpretations of the relationship between
the individual and the state, political ideology and process, and ‘society’ and ‘community’.
What important lessons should we learn from this epoch of History? Read the material that
follows, complete the activities, and think about the relevance of these issues to citizenship
The Individual and the State in Nazi Germany
Ideas in Action: Eugenics and Biopolitics
By what stages and why did the Nazis persecute
non-Jewish minorities, 1933-39?
Citizenship Reflection Activity B1
In pairs read and discuss whether you agree or disagree with the following
statements. Be prepared to give your reasons why.
• National characteristics help to define a person
• Differing nationalities display differing characteristics.
• Too many immigrants and asylum seekers could weaken the nation economically
• Human beings are made up of differing races.
• Differing races display differing mental characteristics.
• Some races are more valuable than other races.
• Travellers bring crime with them. They would not be welcome near where I live.
• Life is a struggle for existence in which only the fittest survive.
• The strong are under no obligation to support the weak.
• Humans are little more than sophisticated members of the animal kingdom.
• Human life is more important than animal life.
• The state can decide who should live and who should die.
• Human life does not begin at conception, but at a subjective moment.
• Euthanasia of those with physical or mental defects is justifiable.
• The incurably mentally and physically ill are a burden on taxpayers; taxes should go
to support the healthy.
• Foetuses that are handicapped or deformed should be destroyed if a parent or the
parents wish it.
• The state should sterilize the physically and mentally ill for their own good and the
good of the state.
1933: Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (compulsory sterilization for
the mentally ill and physically ill.
Vagrants’ Registration Book
Law Against Dangerous and Habitual Criminals.
1936: Himmler appointed as Chief of the German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior.
Reich Central Office for the Combatting of Homosexuality set up.
Reich Central Office for the Fight Against the Gypsy Nuisance set up
1937: ‘Preventive custody’ ordered for those who ‘offend against public decency’.
1938: December Decree on the ‘Final Solution’ of the Gypsy Question
Herr Knauer letter to Hitler
Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditarily and
Congenitally Based Illnesses.
1939: Aktion T4
Non-Jewish minorities in Nazi Germany comprised of the physically and mentally ill, vagrants
(asocials and the workshy), homosexuals, gypsies and mixed race children born of French
colonial occupiers in 1923. Between 1933 and 1939 a series of increasingly harsh measures
was directed against them. They were viewed as a burden on the Volksgemeinschaft. In line
with many other European and westernised countries, Hitler and his fellow racial hygienists
and eugenicists wanted these purged from the Volksgemeinschaft. Persecution intensified
particularly in response to the onset of war: valuable resources were needed to support the
injured troops returning from the front. The role of the medical profession, with Doctors in
particular, was decisive in marking the shift from a healing role to a killing role by 1939. This
was done against a background of widespread consent or indifference.
Look at the source that follows. What message is it communicating about Nazi attitudes to
the mentally ill?
Propaganda slide featuring a chart produced by the Reich Propaganda Office showing that in
1936 the total cost of caring for 880,000 people ill with hereditary disease was 1200 million
Reichsmarks, which was almost double the 713 million RM spent on the administration of the
national, state, and local government. [Photograph #07672]
Propaganda slide produced by the Reich Propaganda Office entitled "The Fearful Legacy of
an Alcoholic." According to the chart, an alcoholic will have 894 descendants in 83 years and
of these 40 will live in extreme poverty, 67 will be hardened criminals, 7 will be murderers,
181 will turn to prostitution, and 142 will be beggars. [Photograph #07673]
Stage 1: The appointment to power of convinced social Darwinists (Hitler and the Nazi
Party) led to official measures against non-Jewish minorities. These built on a
backdrop of general consent that had been widespread in Europe and the USA since
the early 1920s.
With Hitler’s appointment to the Chancellorship in 1933, racial hygienists raced to attach
themselves to the new regime. As recently as August 1929 Hitler had been remarking that
the removal of 700-800,000 of the most physically and mentally vulnerable would be a
positive boon for Germany. Here at last, it seemed, was an uncompromising social Darwinist
prepared to use the full force of the state to intervene in strengthening the racial and eugenic
stock of Germany. Having attained power, the implementation of a racial hygiene programme
was now high on the political agenda of the Nazis.
Building on the 1920s eugenicist theories of Binding, Hoche and Alfred Plotz, Interior Minister
Frick announced that henceforth spending would be targeted at those deemed racially
valuable to the regime, whilst the worthless would be selected and eradicated. Within 6
months this view had hardened into the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased
Offspring. Compulsory sterilisation was ordered for a series of supposed hereditary
illnesses, ranging from deafness and alcoholism to manic depression and schizophrenia. As
part of this law, power to decide on such matters was entrusted to Hereditary Health Courts,
which were staffed with physicians and associated members of the medical profession.
Indeed, such views were considered widely acceptable, especially in the context of the severe
economic depression which made the cost:benefits calculations of keeping the ‘unfit’ alive in
asylums appear particularly burdensome. What gave this law an additional sinister character
was its compulsory and arbitrary nature. Members of the medical profession were
empowered to pronounce on the fitness or otherwise of the various patients. Between 1933
and 1939 up to 360,000 individuals had been gruesomely sterilized, some with significant
damage to their health. The vast majority (75%) of the compulsory sterilizations were made
on the grounds of ‘congenital feeble-mindedness’. This term became a catch all for all kinds
of perceived social deviancy, including prostitution and alcoholism. Devices such as mental
tests and implements for measuring the circumferences of heads and the shape of earlobes
began to be used to classify the hereditarily degenerate. Sterilization was used as a means
to push patients back into the community and so reduce the overheads of running mental
asylums on increasingly restrictive budgets. Against a backdrop of general consent, the state
intruded in the most intimate and sensitive aspects of human identity.
Although the law did not extend to the sterilization of those deemed to be ‘habitual criminals’,
such individuals were sterilized on other grounds of social deviancy. From 1933 a series of
police raids rounded up 100,000 vagrants and beggars and put them in what was ominously
entitled ‘protective custody’. As part of the process of registration, a Vagrants’ Registration
Book was established with the aim of tracking ‘orderly wanderers’. Those classified as
‘disorderly wanderers’ were arrested and impounded in the newly constructed ‘concentration
camps’. Following a familiar pattern of semi-official harassment, classification and
discrimination a Law Against Dangerous and Habitual Criminals was introduced in late
1933. Criminality was henceforth explained as a result of scientific-biological reasons.
Experts would decide on the castration of such deviants.
The physically handicapped had long been a discriminated constituency in Germany.
Discrimination in terms of who was entitled to care had already been contracting in the
context of the economic constraints from 1927, such that only children capable of recovery
received attention. Although they were not necessarily compulsory sterilized, they were
considered to be marginal to the main interests of the Volksgemeinschaft. In response to this,
many families withdrew their children from institutions. Eugenicist theories throughout the
USA and Europe would have found nothing unacceptable in the policies advocated by the
Nazis towards the hereditarily ill. Twenty eight US states had sterilization laws and, of
particular note for the Nazis, were the laws against ‘anti racial miscegenation (sexual
relations)’ in the Deep South. Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland all had
compulsory sterilization programmes. Throughout the 1930s, there was little to differentiate
the policies of these countries, apart from the vigour with which the Nazis implemented them.
Stage 2: Official propaganda against non-Jewish minorities.
Nazi propaganda against the hereditarily ill also began to find its way into school textbooks.
Questions such as: ‘The construction of a lunatic asylum costs 6 million RM. How many
houses at 15,000RM could have been built for that amount?’ highlight the cynical
utilitarianism with which the Nazi Party viewed care for those deemed ‘unfit’. Throughout the
mid-late 1930s the Nazis authorised films that labelled the mentally ill. Films such as ‘I
accuse’ were carefully constructed pieces of propaganda in which audience sympathy was
manipulated to side with the killing of incurably ill patients. Up to 18 million saw the film. By
1939, viewing figures for films of this nature were as high as 40 million. According to the
underground opposition reports, the films were poorly received in Roman Catholic areas,
where the clergy exercised influence over their flocks to prevent them from viewing films that
were in opposition to fundamental aspects of Catholic teaching.
Propaganda slide featuring two doctors working at an unidentified asylum for the mentally ill.
The caption reads, "Life only as a burden."
Stage 3: SS control of non-Jewish minorities policy, from 1936
Other, equally disturbing movements were also afoot behind the scenes as the Reich moved
towards a war footing from 1936. SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s appointment as Chief of the
German Police in the Reich Ministry of the Interior in June 1936 was especially significant first
for the persecution of non-Jewish minorities in Germany, then, by 1939 for the persecution of
Jews. As head of the SS, Himmler was an ideological fanatic coldly committed to purging the
Volksgemeinschaft of ‘non-German’ elements. Unlike the SA, the SS leadership had the cold,
rational intellect and organisational wherewithal to implement their policies.
Himmler established subdivisions that targeted ‘habitual criminals’, homosexuals and gypsies.
In each case, SS control of the project intensified persecution. Under SS leadership the
Reich Central Office for the Combatting of Homosexuality justified homophobia on racial-
pathological grounds. As a result, the SS vigorously enforced existing legislation (Paragraph
175) to imprison between 10-15,000 homosexuals in concentration camps, where they were
forced to recognise their ‘crime’ by wearing a pink triangle. Moreover, on Feb 1937 he
ordered that ‘2,000 professional or habitual criminals and those who offend against public
decency should be taken into police preventive custody’, ie concentration camps. This SS
enterprise met with resistance from justice authorities, who resented his appropriation of an
area they considered under their authority. Himmler regularised the situation in December
1937, with a circular which enabled the Criminal Police to take into ‘preventive custody’, and
hence to send to concentration camps, persons who had not been concretely charged with a
criminal or political offence (an unwillingness to conform to the ‘natural discipline of a National
Existing prejudices against the Sinti and Roma (‘gypsies’) also intensified under SS
leadership. In 1936 Himmler established the Reich Central Office for the Fight against the
Gypsy Nuisance as a subsection of the Reich Criminal Police of Berlin. Dr Robert Ritter,
specialist in ‘criminal biology’, contributed significantly to the classification and location of Sinti
and Roma. This was a crucial phase in their persecution. His research was financed by the
SS. He argued that their racial characteristics made them congenitally asocial and criminal.
His research came under Himmler’s umbrella. The familiar pattern of classification,
discrimination and centralisation was re-emerging for the non-Jewish minorities.
By 1938, Himmler was eager to tighten control of gypsies, and thus elevated regional systems
of control into a Reich co-ordinated policy. On 8 December 1938, in line with increasing
radicalisation of policy towards non-Aryans, Himmler issued a decree on the gypsies. This
Decree, which purported to be ‘the final solution of the Gypsy question’ subjected them to
both registration and racial-biological examination. Gypsies were to be classified according to
whether they were a Gypsy, a mixed race Gypsy, or a non-Gypsy itinerant. This information
was then recorded on an identity card, which had to be produced on demand. The Reich
Health Office, under the direction of Dr Robert Ritter was to carry out the work of
classification. Ritter was particularly diligent in his work and, by 1939, he had a record of
20,000 individuals, classified and logged onto his system. Ritter argued that Gypsy
miscegenation with Germans had lead to the emergence of a flaky underbelly of criminality
that could now be found in the slums of Germany. Such contamination, he argued,
introduced potentially subversive blood contamination into Germans – this would proliferate
and continue to undermine Germany’s strength. The 8th December Decree restricted the
movements of Gypsies and gave the police powers to arrest. This was extended in March
1939, as Himmler ordered that racial mixing between Gypsies and Germans was prohibited.
Since the treatment of the gypsies had become a hereditary criminal issue, the regional
Criminal Police forces set up sub groups to deal with them.
Stage 4: Onset of war intensified persecution
With war looming Hitler set about implementing plans for the hereditarily ill that he had been
mulling over since 1935. According to the Leader of the Reich Physicians’ later testimony,
Hitler remarked in 1935 that ‘in the event of war he would take up the question of euthanasia
and enforce it’, because ‘such a problem would be more easily solved in war time.’ Amidst
economic motivations that had rearmament as paramount amongst them, the SS intensified
raids on those considered to be the able-bodied ‘asocial’ from 1938. These were impounded
in concentration camps, which were providing slave labour in quarrying for the building of the
1000 year Reich. A 1938 letter from an anxious parent, Herr Knauer, requesting that ‘mercy
killing’ be used on his deformed son provided Hitler with the pretext to initiate his programme
of children’s euthanasia. This illustrates the ad hoc, almost whimsical way in which policy
was decided in the Third Reich: simply at the Fuhrer’s whim. This programme became
known as Atkion T4, or the so called ‘euthanasia programme’ after the house on
Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, from which the programme was directed. Given the emotive
circumstances, Hitler was able to present himself as responding with sympathy to their
request. He established the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious
Hereditarily and Congenitally based illnesses. The task of these physicians was to evaluate
whether the lives of sick children were worth living. Curiously, if children were to live, their
files were to be marked with a negative (-); if they were to die, then their files would be
marked with a positive (+). Clearly, such symbols were determined as to whether the survival
or death of a child was a positive or a negative for the Reich. By the end of 1939, 5,200
children had been murdered by this means. In the summer of 1939, Hitler ordered that the
children’s euthanasia programme be extended to adults, not least because the resources
such individuals ‘absorbed’ could best be directed towards treating the war wounded. The
steering group responsible for implementing the death projected that between 65,000 and
70,000 adults would receive a ‘positive’ symbol on their files. With the onset of war in 1939,
though, flimsy bureaucratic justifications were no longer required. As the SS advanced into
occupied Poland 4,000 mental patients were shot, and asylums were handed over to the SS
as barracks. In late 1939, the SS Special Commando Lange adapted a van to make the
‘programme’ more efficient. He gassed to death 1,558 patients from Polish asylums in the
back of it. It was an ominous sign.
Nazi persecution of non-Jewish minorities intensified throughout the 1930s because:
Hitler and the Nazi Party were committed to a programme of aggressive social Darwinism.
There was widespread consent and indifference to such a programme. The Nazis built upon
existing work widespread in the 1920s.
There were widespread concerns about the economic utility of keeping the incurably ill alive,
especially in the context of the early 1930s Depression.
SS control of handling non-Jewish minorities intensified the persecution. The SS were
ideological fanatics who had the intellect to orchestrate policies of persecution.
There was no resistance to Hitler’s way of implementing the plans, especiallhy with regard to
the Aktion T4 euthanasia programme.
As Germany came closer to war, concern about the economic and resource efficiency about
keeping lives considered ‘only as a burden’ alive intensified killing.
Doctors in psychiatric units in occupied territories began to look for efficient and ‘painless’
ways of killing the unworthy: they settled upon carbon monoxide (gas) poisoning.
Citizenship Reflection Activity B2
Is it persuasive to argue that there was a ‘slippery slope’ of escalating persecution
towards non-Jewish minorities? If so, why? If not, why not?
Are there individuals in our society whom we dehumanise and persecute? Are human
embryos human? If not, why not? If so, why? If not, when are they human? Why then
and not earlier/later?
What are the ethical issues involved in so called ‘death tourism’ – ie travelling to
another country to avail oneself of euthanasia laws?
Should compulsory sterilisation and euthanasia programmes become enshrined in
English law? Should voluntary euthanasia become enshrined in English law?
Section C: The Individual and the State
Citizenship Reflection Activity C1
Set out below are the 6 key stages of the persecution of Jews and other minorities in
To help you to explain why each of the above stages happened, follow the lines of
enquiry set out below:
• What key measures were taken in each stage (you can use the timeline to help
you here)? Explain the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the
various measures. Who/what was driving policy? Who/what was restraining
• Copy and complete the following two tables. Use them to analyse which
individuals, events and circumstances were driving persecution and which
individuals, events and circumstances were restraining persecution. Record
you evidence in a table like that suggested below.
Stage Individuals/events/circumstances Explanation of their contribution
Stage Individuals/events/circumstances Explanation of their contribution
To complete the table think about the following issues as you read through.
• Which individuals were significant in shaping persecution? Why and how?
• Which individuals restrained persecution? Why and how?
• Which factors accelerated the pace of Nazi persecution of Jews and other
• Which factors restrained the pace of Nazi persecution of Jews and other
• Produce materials for a presentation. In addition to Hitler, which of the other
perpetrators was the most significant in persecuting Jews and other
minorities? Make a case for their significance. Explain why the others were
less significant. Choose from: Goebbels, Goering, Streicher, Himmler,
Heydrich, Eichmann, the SA and the SS.
After each stage, write a summary paragraph answering the question: how did the
issue of x contribute to the persecution of Jews and other minorities? Use the notes
you have been keeping to guide you. Write a maximum of 150 words, making sure that
you illustrate with precisely selected details (hard evidence). Be sharp and concise,
focusing tightly on the question asked.
An excellent place for additional research on all that follows in this chapter is the
Washington National Holocaust Memorial Museum website. This has full details of all
issues raised in this chapter. The address is www.usnhmm.org.
By what stages and why did a civilised nation such as Germany embark on a path of
annihilatory destruction throughout the 1940s? Previously, historiography on the subject has
emphasised the role of Hitler, arguing that he had intended to launch a war of persecution
since as early as 1924. This view was challenged throughout the 1960s. The basis of the
challenge was evidence that Hitler was not as central as had previously been thought, but
that the chaotic structures of the Third Reich and the consent of the German people
pressurised his decisions. In recent years, it appears that these opposing views have been
reconciled. Following the cue of Ian Kershaw and Mary Fulbrook, now historians generally
argue that Hitler was vital in setting the tone and climate of persecution and that the chaotic
structures of the Third Reich enabled this to happen. Individuals in the corridors of power
sought to ‘work towards the will of the Fuhrer’ for careerist reasons. The most effective way
to do this was when support for the regime appeared to be stalling; the anti-Jewish issue
would be used to whip up support. These moves towards persecution were met by and large
with widespread indifference. Such an interpretation explains persecution in terms of the
charismatic authority of the Fuhrer and the ‘anticipatory compliance’ of those around him and
moulds together the intentioanlist / structuralist debate. Persecution unfolded in a crooked
line, in response to circumstance, opportunity and the fluctuating moods of key figures in the
Party. This approach has been termed recently as ‘cumulative radicalisation’. Historians
such as Christopher Browning have identified three key phrases of persecution towards the
Jews: the evolution of a policy of forced emigration, 1933-39, expulsion from occupied Europe
between 1939-41 and the development of a policy of extermination sometime between
summer 1941 and Spring 1942. This section looks at the first of these phases, forced
But why the Jews in particular? German Jews made up for less than 1% of the population of
Germany. They were a highly assimilated minority, prominent in areas like Frankfurt and
Breslau. 17% of all bankers were Jews, 16% of all lawyers were Jewish and 10% of all
doctors were Jewish. This illustrates that Jews had a presence in the professions, but this
was by no means remarkable. They were not economically or culturally dominant: the
overwhelming majority were poor and unprofessional.
And few were as rabidly anti-Semitic as Hitler himself, even if many were prepared to
discriminate against the Jews on a more informal, more ‘genteel’ basis. So why anti-
Semitism? Some historians have pointed to the ‘baggage’ of the Christian past as explaining
anti-Semitism: some Christians in the Middle Ages misread the Scriptures to mean that Christ
had been crucified by the Jews, therefore they should be held responsible for his crucifixion.
There may well be something in this, but this overlooks important evidence: the evidence of
the Scriptures themselves, with their emphasis on reaching out to those not of the Christian
community, the ignorance of many of the persecutors about historical fact and the role that
prominent Churchmen throughout the ages played in restraining persecution. Accounts that
blame the Holocaust on Christianity run the risk of denouncing religious bigotry only to
replace it with another kind of non-religious or anti-religious bigotry; bigotry is neither
necessarily nor exclusively a religious mode of thought. Just as the Nazis misread aspects of
Darwin and applied them ruthlessly to human populations, so too were they capable of gross
misreadings and distortions of the Christian scriptures. Others point to more material
explanations for anti-Semitism: for them, the Jewish association with money lending to
European kings marked them out as unpopular whenever debts had to be recalled. Still other
historians argue from psycho-pathological grounds. Whatever the explanation, and it is
bound to be a fiercely contested and hotly debated one, the answer may well lie in human
nature itself, with, in the first instance, its readiness to scapegoat others.
One certainly cannot discount this with Hitler himself. His hatred of Jews was utterly
irrational, paranoid and way out of any proportion to the threat they were supposed to
present. Consider, for example, the utterly destructive impulse with which Hitler pursued the
Jews: towards the end of World War Two Hitler prioritised transportation of Jews to camps
over the transportation of much needed resources to the army. Conquered territories also
had first to deal with the Jews before even thinking of contributing materially to the war effort.
It was a consuming, utterly emotional and destructive obsession for Hitler, an end in itself
rather than a means to any other end. Quite what instigates such thoughts in human nature or
what emptiness lies at the core from which such thoughts spring really is well beyond the
scope of this and all other intellectual pursuits that claim to be empirical. These are abstract
philosophical and theological questions about human nature and, more specifically, the
problem of evil (does it exist and if so, what’s the answer to it, if indeed there is an answer).
Yet all this is to push towards other, more philosophical frontiers and, as a result, run the risk
of ‘intellectual trespass’: all we can do, is demonstrate how History points to considerations
that are beyond it. The seeds of the Holocaust may well have been ultimately sown in the
flaws of human nature; yet the pursuit of History alone is incapable of demonstrating this
point, only revealing what those flaws might be.
By what stages, and why did the Nazis persecute the Jews
and other minorities in Germany 1933-39?
Timeline of Persecution
Stage 1: Ideology and Support
1919 25 Points of the Nazi Party Programme
1924 Mein Kampf: Hitler made his clearest statement of ideology in this
1933 30th Jan Hitler appointed Chancellor
5th Mar Reichstag elections: Nazis win 43.9% of Reichstag vote. Coalition
formed with the Nationalists
Stage 2: Evolving Policy
20th Mar SS open first official concentration camp in Dachau for ‘asocials’
1st April One day boycott of Jewish businesses
7 April Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service
Stage 3: Mobilising the minds for persecution? Propaganda and the public’s responses
to it, 1933-35.
1933-35 Popular attitudes to persecution
Stage 4: Nuremberg Laws
1935 15 Sep Nuremberg Laws
Stage 5: Official calm - the SS tightening of control over persecution behind the
1936 17 June Himmler appointed in control of Reich police: major implications for
persecution of minorities
1 Aug Berlin Olympic Games
1937 Nov Schacht, a critic of Nazi Jewish policy, resigns
Stage 6: Reichskristallnacht: the convergence of persecution pressures and the official
radicalization of the regime, 1938-39.
1938 12 Mar Anschluss: annexation of Austria
150,000 Jews ‘acquired’. Eichmann forced 45,000 to emigrate
Jun-Oct Decrees attacking Jewish employment and identity
9 Nov Kristallnacht Pogrom
Decree for the Restoration of the Street Scene
Reparations from Jews of German Nationality
1939 Jan SS controlled Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration set up
Jan Hitler announces destruction of Jews in speech
15 Mar Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia
Sep Nazi invasion of Poland; SS shoot 1,000s of Polish Jews
27 Sep SS Main Office for Reich Security (RSHA) set up in Berlin, under
Oct Hitler authorised euthanasia programme
Stage 1: Hitler’s appointment to power handed influence to a Party that was
ideologically committed to strengthening the German nation by strengthening the
Aryan race. This meant ‘protecting’ it from potential enemies to its supposed
biological health. Why was Nazi ideology acceptable to the elites that appointed them
to power and to a large slice of the electorate?
Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor on January 30th 1933 handed decisive influence to a
Party that was ideologically committed to ridding Germany of ‘elements’ assumed to be
hostile to the regeneration and renewal of German strength. Although not always stressed,
these ideological commitments had been no secret throughout the 1920s or in the run up to
the various Reichstag and presidential elections that fractured political authority from 1929 to
1932. Such views received their most concise statement in the political programme of the
National Socialist Party which had not changed since its formulation in 1920. Here, it stated
that ‘Only members of the nation may be citizens of the State. None but those of German
blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a
member of the nation’. It went on to ‘demand an all out battle against those who damage the
common interest, by their actions; criminals against the nation, profiteers, racketeers, etc,
should be punished by death without regard to religion or race’. Finally, the Nazi Party set
itself against ‘the materialistic Jewish spirit within and beyond us and is convinced that a
lasting recovery of our people can only be achieved on the basis of Common Good before
Personal Gain’. Ultimately, it would be for the state (or, by 1934, Hitler) to define the limits of
the ‘nation’, the ingredients of ‘German blood’ and what exactly the ‘common interest’ and the
‘common good’ meant in practice.
These views received a more detailed and elaborate treatment in Hitler’s own statement of
political philosophy, written whilst imprisoned for treason in the Landsberg prison in 1924 and
published in 1925 as Mein Kampf, or ‘My Struggle’. Drawing upon the intellectual heritage of
European racist and eugenicist discourse, Hitler argued that:
• The Aryan race was the true inhabitants of Germany.
• Germany was a superior nation peopled by this superior race.
• Germany was entitled to land on account of its superior race and culture.
• A war of conquest was a necessary part of existence and an important expression of
superiority and strengthening of that superiority.
• Jews were undermining the strength of the German race and German nation.
• The elimination of the Jews and other minorities was an important preparation for war
and a necessary by product of it.
• The mentally and physically handicapped were a burden to the nation and preventing
it from being strong.
• Life was a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive.
• The Jews and Marxists had stabbed Germany in the back after World War 1 – Hitler
even said that if 15,000 Jews had been ‘eliminated’ before World War One, then
German victory in that conflict would have been assured.
Read today and divorced from their historical context of 1933 Germany, there is much that is
both alarming and disturbing in these views. Yet perhaps the most alarming and disturbing
aspect of them to contemporary sensibilities, is that such views gave expression to widely
held assumptions within the political and institutional framework of Germany, particularly on
the post 1918 political right. There was little that was either unique or unacceptable to the
German political right in these assumptions. The extremist views of the National Socialists
were merely one of many programmes that had emerged in Germany in the 1920s. This
acceptability by 1933 to both large portions of the electorate and significant individuals in the
German political elite accounts in part not only for the political success of Nazism; it also
created the context in which subsequent persecution could take place.
Since 1918, the German political right, and those who tended towards it, had assumed that
German military defeat in 1918 and the subsequent political collapse inflicted on it could best
be explained by the ‘stab-in-the-back’ meted out to it by the ‘November criminals’ of 1918.
The ‘stab-in-the-back’ myth held that the German military could have continued the fight for
victory, since it had never capitulated in the field of battle. The peace had been hastily signed
by an alliance of ‘anti-German’ elements of Jews and Marxists, who were together portrayed
as ‘criminals’ conspiring to weaken Germany for their own vicious ends. In addition to acting
as a comfort rag for the trauma of defeat, the myth also served a convenient political purpose
for the traditional holders of power within Germany: the army. Generals Hindenburg and
Ludendorff could use this interpretation of defeat to excuse themselves from responsibility for
it. This would ensure that they retained popularity and political influence. As defeat drew
closer, the military establishment hastily abdicated its political position and handed power to
civilian administrators. It would be the civilian politicians that would be responsible for signing
the Armistice of November 1918. More importantly it would be they who would be
condemned by association with the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.
Hostility towards the Treaty of Versailles united moderates and extremists alike in Germany
throughout the 1920s. The Weimar government that had signed the Treaty had the near
impossible task of overcoming this association with defeat. In addition to the significant loss
of land, the main focus of hostility centred upon Clause 231. This was an acceptance of guilt
for the war. With an acceptance of guilt came an acceptance of responsibility. And, with
responsibility came reparation in the form of a huge and paralysing repayment schedule for
the cost of the war. Although it is debateable as to whether a more equitable peace would
have indeed been possible given the intense animosity of the preceding four years, the
impact of the Versailles ‘Settlement’ is indisputable; it left German politics ‘unsettled’ around
the issue of responsibility for the outbreak and outcome of the war and had created a
potentially powerful rallying cry for nationalist extremists.
In the relatively easy economic and political circumstances of the mid 1920s, such views were
pushed to the political margins. What exploded them back into the mainstream of German
politics, though, was the shuddering impact of the economic depression of the late 1920s and
early 1930s. Economic collapse shattered Weimar democracy, the leaders of which had
proved unequal to the challenge of government at time of crisis. To meet the demands of the
crisis, the German leadership under the guidance of the elderly militarist President
Hindenburg, had begun to shift to a more authoritarian style. Much of this was motivated not
only by an increasing disillusion with the indecision of democratic politics, but also it was a
rearguard action in the face of a rapidly increasing Marxist vote.
Throughout the electoral campaigns of the early 1930s, Hitler and the Nazis had made much
of this communist threat and presented themselves as the only viable option to it. By
November 1932, 33% (around 17 million) of the electorate were to agree with them and view
them as the both the best means of rejuvenating the economy and the best bulwark to
Marxism. Few, if any, were put off from supporting the Nazis as a result of what had been a
relatively understated anti-Semitic campaign throughout the multiple Reichstag electoral
campaigns of the early 1930s. For those that were aware of their eugenicist and anti-Semitic
agenda, their views struck a chord of recognition and chimed with perhaps unrecognised and
unexamined assumptions: Jews and Marxists were one and the same and, as such, were the
sworn enemies of Germany. Germany needed to be purified from these contaminations if she
were to reconnect with her ‘glorious’ past.
Why was Nazi ideology acceptable to the elites that appointed them to power and to a large
slice of the electorate?
• Hitler’s anti-Semitism is best explained by his sense of national trauma at the defeat
of World War One.
• The ideological commitments of the Nazi Party expressed widely held assumptions,
or assumptions that many did not find outrageous.
• Such views had formed an important part of European racist and eugenicist discourse
throughout the preceding 60 years.
• These views derived their authority from the fact that they were founded upon a
• German defeat in 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles intensified anxiety about the
strength of the German nation/race. It sharpened anxiety on the political right about
potential threats to it.
• The economic pressures in Germany in the 1920s had pushed these views onto the
political agenda and led to the increasing strength of the Nazi Party. This strength
was expressed in elite and electoral support.
Stage 2: Evolution of anti-Semitic Policy
The appointment of Hitler to the Chancellorship on 30th January 1933 lent casual acts of anti
Semitic SA violence an air of legitimacy, especially given Hitler’s well publicised opinions on
the subversive and corrosive influence of ‘world Jewry’. Such a climate of acceptance
naturally broadened the scope of the attacks and sharpened the nature of them. Jews
unlucky enough to encounter gangs of SA troops roaming the streets looking for potential
victims could find themselves, mocked, beaten and humiliated in public. The aftermath of the
Nazi victory in the Reichstag elections of 5th March witnessed similar excesses and outrages.
In Berlin, Breslau, and Konigsberg gangs of brown-shirts hunted down Jews and inflicted
beatings on them. Of greater symbolic importance was the SA violence and intimidation of
March 11th inflicted on the court room personnel of Breslau. Institutions whose purpose it was
to uphold ‘justice’ now found themselves subject to violent and unjust intimidation and
pressure. Unsurprisingly, many gave way under this pressure.
Yet this was not what the German elites in the Nationalist political coalition had fully
anticipated when they had prided themselves on ‘hiring’ Hitler to serve their purposes as
Chancellor in January 1933. They had expected to be able to restrain and contain the more
vulgar excesses of Nazi street violence, regardless of the fact that many of them found the
Nazi anti-Semitism acceptable. This had been a severe miscalculation. The German
industrial and political grandees in particular were concerned about the economic damage
such abuse could do to trade relations with countries that also contained significant Jewish
populations. This was particularly pressing, given the economically fragile position Germany
was in in Depression wracked 1933. The fragile economic position of Germany in 1933, thus
restrained persecution. As a result individuals such as Schacht pressurised Hitler to rein in
the vulgar activist element of his Party. Hitler responded with token gestures.
Meanwhile, such persecutions took place within a climate of intensifying hostility stimulated by
the official and semi-official propaganda of the Party. The anti-Semitic feeling whipped up by
Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer was particularly influential in this respect. Der Sturmer was a
pro-Nazi popular newspaper, edited and owned by the rabidly anti-Semitic Julius Streicher.
He accused Jews of ‘corrupting’ the German legal system and providing a pretext for a
‘legalised’ purge of the profession. Within two weeks of Hitler attempting to ‘rein in’ the
radical excesses of the Party, the violence flared up again, this time in the south-west of
Germany. The Nazi leadership was prepared to turn a blind eye to spontaneous thuggery
against the Jews, even when it wasn’t actively initiating it.
By the end of March, the British, French and American press began to report on such
violence. Fearing the domestic economic repercussions of a pro-Jewish US boycott, Hitler
now decided to act. The strategy that he, Goebbels, Himmler and Streicher concocted, was
to discredit such reports as the manifestation of a Jewish smear campaign targeted at
undermining ‘German’ business interests. This, in turn, would be used as a pretext to launch
an official boycott of Jewish businesses within Germany. Official, state sanctioned boycott
would have the added advantages of demonstrating to the militant activists that official action
was being taken to counter ‘world Jewry’, whilst demonstrating to business supporters of
Nazism, that the leadership was prepared to squeeze potential competitors out of existence.
Here, the self interest of some businessmen clearly led to an intensification of persecution.
‘Legal’ measures against the Jews were the means by which Hitler hoped to restrain violent
activism against them at this stage. On 28th March Hitler delivered the order to prepare for a
Germany-wide boycott of Jewish businesses on 1st April. On the 1st April SA troops enforced
the boycott. Complications arose, however, when Jewish World War One veterans attempted
to hold their harassers to account: harassment of war veterans had recently been made a
criminal offence. Still, much of the public remained indifferent to the boycott. Their
indifference expressed itself mainly through a lack of protest against the boycott. In many
cases, Germans actually ignored the boycott and continued shopping in Jewish owned
premises, despite the intimidating presence of the SA.
In the weeks following the boycott, such co-ordinated action from the Party leadership
hardened into a series of legal measures designed to purge the Jews from significant and
influential areas of German society. The means by which this was to be achieved was
through separating the word ‘German’ from the word ‘Jew’, thus establishing two exclusive
categories of identity. Such an action could hardly have been surprising to any individual who
had taken the time to inspect the Nazi Party programme. Here, it emphatically stated that,
since Jews were not full German citizens, they should not be entitled to the benefits of
German citizenship. Subsequently, the 7th April Law for the Restoration of a Professional
Civil Service lumped Jews together with Communists and ordered their dismissal from state
employment. Yet it was not entirely clear cut as to who exactly was a ‘Jew’; before one could
discriminate effectively, one had to classify precisely. Thus, an amendment to the law was
added on 11th April. Those with one or more ‘non-Aryan, particularly Jewish grandparents’,
were to be retired. President Hindenburg intervened to limit the scope of this amendment.
He inserted the important qualification that this law did not apply to those in the civil service
who were war veterans or who had been in the civil service before World War One, or who
had lost either a son or a father in the war. The test of ‘Germanness’, or ‘German’ identity
was now defined explicitly in relation to the contribution an individual had made to World War
One. This would be an effective means to preventing the awkward and potentially
embarrassing fudges that had arisen during the April boycott. A similar decree was
formulated for Jews working in the legal profession. Both decrees merely reflected the
dismissals that had been going on at a local level since the Nazi electoral victory. Such a
reflection and reinforcement of existing prejudices pushed some individuals further in their
hostilities towards Jews. This was shortly followed by a decree of 25 April ‘Against the
Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities’, which restricted Jewish German
entrance to 5% of the total pupil and student population and a maximum of 1.5% of new
entrants per year. The death of General Hindenburg in August 1934 would thus remove an
important voice of restraint in persecution.
Stage 3: How did the German people respond to Nazi anti-Semitic policies?
Hitler’s strategy for taming radical pressure through the introduction of a legalised purge did,
in the short term, achieve his aim. Foreign outrage and the potential repercussions this could
have for the domestic economy had been dealt with. Moreover, Hitler had demonstrated to
his nationalist coalition partners, not least President Hindenburg that he was capable of
muzzling the less ‘respectable’ face of Nazism. Hitler had also begun to realise just what he
could get away with in terms of co-ordinated state persecution. Individual activists and SA
members, though, were not to be so easily fobbed off – they viewed these directives from the
top as further legitimisation for grass roots violence. Informal beatings and boycotts of Jews
and Jewish businesses continued. In response to such an increasingly hostile atmosphere,
25,000 Jews left Germany in the first six months of Nazi rule. By the end of 1933, a total of
40,000 Jews had left, just short of 10% of the German Jewish population. Most of those who
had decided to stay in Germany were elderly. Many Jews believed that the violent excesses
of Nazi activism would soon subside once the initial euphoria of election and power had
Many Germans felt that this was coming not from Hitler, but from the radicals in that
surrounded Hitler: they could not have been more wrong. When support for Hitler was
flagging, one certain way of whipping up support from the Party faithful at times of criticism,
was to divert attention to the so called ‘Jewish problem’.
By the summer of 1935, the snarl of Nazi intimidation flared up more ferociously. Perhaps the
most significant contributor to this increasing radicalisation was Julius Streicher, the Gauleiter
of Franconia and owner of the Der Sturmer, the semi official propaganda organ of the Party.
Streicher had risen through the ranks of the Party and secured a lucrative deal to supply Der
Sturmer to Nazi organisations. The clarion slogan of his publication, which, at its height,
circulated around 800,000 copies a month, claimed that ‘the Jews are our MISFORTUNE’.
Whether Streicher knew it or not, he owed his intellectual debt to the German nationalist
Treitschke who had coined the phrase back in 1862. Lurid, semi-pornographic allegations of
Jewish ritual murders, Jewish occultic practices against the German ‘Volk’ and the sexual
‘defilement’ of Aryan women at the hands of mendacious and seductive Jews made up the
stock in trade of his shoddy periodical. Throughout Germany it was showcased in special
display cases for the edification of the German people. Streicher had the support and
patronage of Hitler throughout the 1930s – he was Hitler’s appointment.
A pedestrian stops to read an issue of the antisemitic newspaper
"Der Stuermer" (The Attacker) in a Berlin display box. "Der Stuermer"
was advertised in showcase displays near places such as bus stops, busy
streets, parks, and factory canteens throughout Germany. Berlin,
Germany, probably 1930s.
National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia
Other more compelling concerns provided the context in which this increase in ‘informal’
hostility to the Jews was taking place. Gestapo reports were detecting a decline in
enthusiasm for the regime after the initial heady days of the Nazi consolidation of power.
Recourse to the tried and tested methods of ‘Jew baiting’ to whip up the support of the Party
faithful would, in the eyes of the leadership, heal these divisions. Although the vast bulk of
the German people did not hate the Jews in the way that the Nazis did, there still existed a
certain distrust about the Jews amongst them. The Nazis could exploit this mistrust when it
suited them to.
There is considerable evidence, though, to suggest that Nazi propaganda had not penetrated
as deep as had been estimated by the Nazis themselves. Here it is important not to take the
Nazi evaluation of their success or otherwise at its own estimation. The picture that emerges
amongst the German population is one of broad indifference, especially in the period to
autumn 1935. There were a small number of those who overtly criticised the regime, with
more actively collaborating in their persecution, whilst most were indifferent to their plight at
best and unsympathetic at worst. However, the collaboration by ordinary Germans with the
Gestapo paints an interesting picture. On average, there was as little as 1 Gestapo officer
per 10,000 head of population. In some areas, such as Dusseldorf, as few as 291 Gestapo
officers served a population of 4 million. In such a context, the consent and collaboration of
the population aided denunciation. Similar figures are available for Essen, where only 43
Gestapo officers were responsible for monitoring a population of 650,000, whilst 28 officers in
Wuppertal monitored a population of 400,000. Such evidence is a challenge to the idea that
the repressive apparatus of the Nazi state alone fully explains the persecution. Indeed, in
Wurzburg, 57% of legal cases of ‘race pollution’ were initiated by ordinary citizens.
Denunciation of one’s Jewish neighbours was effectively a ‘busybodies’ charter. Old
resentments and grudges between neighbours within small communities were settled through
the means of denunciation to the Gestapo. For some, blaming the Jews for the ills or
misfortunes of Germany had become a rather convenient, if intellectually slothful, default
It is important to emphasise at this juncture that the evidence base for such instances of
informal ‘outcasting’ is highly individualised and subject to significant regional variation. Not
only that, persecution fluctuated in terms of intensity and scope. Many of the accounts create
little more than a rather impressionistic picture as to who was doing what to whom and what
the motives for such persecution were. Where local Nazi bosses (the Gauleiters) were
particularly active, and civic dignitaries avowedly anti-Semitic, the day to day experience of
Jews was particularly severe. By the July 1935, though, a widening scope of persecution and
an intensifying viciousness can be detected. Throughout Germany, individuals from the
Gauleiter and mayor down inflicted systematic harassment and exclusion on Jews attempting
to use private amenities, public services, carnivals, relationships, careers and schooling.
More compellingly, the much promised green shoots of economic recovery had yet to pierce
through the muck and gloom of a severe economic depression; at least if they had, most were
colour blind to them. Impatience had begun to fester amongst an increasingly disillusioned
SA, who were straining at the leash for more violence. There was a general impression that
the much lauded momentum for national regeneration had begun to stall, if not, as some
alarmists feared, derail entirely. In this context, the Nazi leadership began to look to
strategies to demonstrate a revival of momentum and commitment to the creation of the new
Germany. And there was no better tried and tested way to drum up support from the flagging
lower-middle-class supporters, than to unite them around that fundamental article of faith of
the National Socialist movement: anti-Semitism.
Stage 4: Why were the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 passed and what impact did they have
on the persecution of the Jews?
Throughout the spring of 1935 Gobbels and Streicher went on lecture tours whipping up anti-
Semitic feeling. At the local level, the cue was again taken and violence towards individual
Jews intensified – the authorities would tolerate, indeed, explicitly encourage such behaviour.
In this atmosphere, placards shunning the Jews from entry into various towns and villages
began to emerge. Depending on the region, Jews found themselves barred from civic
amenities such as public baths, cinemas, restaurants and trams.
A sign at the entrance to Hersbruck warns Jews that they are not desired in the town.
[Photograph #86302] The sign reads, "The City of Hersbruck. This lovely city of Hersbruck,
this wonderful spot on earth, was created only for Germans and not for Jews. Jews are
therefore not desired here." USHMM
Throughout July and August of 1935 such attacks gathered momentum. Once again, Hitler
and the leadership became nervous about the negative response of foreign opinion,
especially when SA inspired violence took out the Swedish consul. Negative responses,
though, were barely forthcoming.
Now was the time to again implement more official measures that would put persecution on a
more ‘respectable’ footing and muzzle the potentially damaging wilder elements in the SA.
The annual Nuremberg Party rally, beginning on September 9th 1935 provided the perfect
platform and exposure for Hitler to demonstrate his own anti-Semitic credentials and the
continued dynamism of the movement. On the final day of the rally on 15th September 1935,
Hitler chose to end the party with a flourish acceptable to the radicals: he authorised the
introduction of the Reich citizenship and miscegenation laws. His public justification for doing
so was his increasing anxiety that recent criticism of fascist Germany from communist
Moscow had, at its root, a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. Privately, though, he was concerned
about criticism that the regime was stalling in momentum. Having hastily settled upon a
series of differing drafts for the differing laws, Hitler made his curtain closing speech. As ever,
though, many of the details had been improvised and ill thought out – persuasive evidence
here that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not the product of a well thought out Master Plan.
The Reich Citizenship Law excluded from citizenship all those not considered to be of
‘German or kindred blood’. Jews, political opponents and those simply lacking in
appropriately enthusiastic external displays of support for the regime were relegated to the
status of ‘subjects of the state’. They were to be afforded no protection. In fact, they had
been singled out as targets of the state. Since the classification of ‘Jew’ was central to the
effective operation of both the Reich Citizenship and miscegenation laws, a definition of what
made one Jewish was essential. Quite who was a Jew turned out to be a gruesomely
complex issue in practice, not least because the principle of ‘blood’ as a defining feature of
‘race’ was highly problematic. A definition that embraced Christian converts, ‘half-Jews’ and
‘quarter Jews’ ran the risk of multiplying the internal enemies of the Reich. Unsurprisingly,
who was a Jew or, more precisely, who was not a German, ended up ultimately being left to
the whim of Hitler.
The German press dutifully reported the laws. Responses to the laws were highly
individualised, with some in the working class openly rejecting them. Whilst some small
businesses feared the economically damaging consequences of trade sanctions, others
greeted with enthusiasm the removal of potential rivals. Most, though, continued to be
indifferent. But in being officially institutionalised persecution had taken on a sinister aspect.
The familiar pattern re-emerged: where the state authorised, the activists interpreted this and
pressured the leadership for increasingly radical measures. The Nuremberg Laws were
followed by a raft of bureaucratized initiatives designed to push Jews further out of significant
aspects of National Socialist Germany. Throughout Germany, the Reich Citizenship Law was
applied with varying degrees of rigour. Much of this still depended on the enthusiasm of local
politicos, such as the Gauleiter and regional mayor. As anti-Semitism hardened into law,
informal attitudes towards Jews continued to harden.
This was particularly the case with the Law for the Protection of German Blood and
German Honour. The German Blood Law enshrined the neurosis the Nazi Party had about
sexual contamination from Jews (miscegnation). It was used as a justification for interfering
in the private choices of individuals, such as marriage partner and sexual partner. The
initiative for these prosecutions rested with individual neighbours, many of whom had scores
Propaganda slide entitled "The Jews have always been Race Defilers."
One image from a slide lecture produced by "Der Reichsfuehrer SS, der Chef des Rasse-und
Siedlungshauptamtes" [the Leader of the SS, the Chief of the Race and Settlement Main
Office]. The slide lecture, entitled "Das Judentum, seine blutsgebundene Wesensart in
Vergangenheit und Gegenwart" [Jewry, Its Blood-based Essence in Past and Future], is Part I
of the thematic series, "Judentum, Freimaurerei, Bolschewismus" [Jewry, Freemasonry,
Bolshevism]. The text of the slide lecture is available at the Bundesarchiv Koblenz, record
group number NS31/163.
In response to such measures, many Jews emigrated. Between 1933 and 1937, around
90,000 Jews are estimated to have emigrated abroad. As far as some in the leadership were
concerned at this stage, emigration was on the agenda: extermination was not yet an issue.
The German Jewish ‘problem’ could not wait – it needed immediate resolution if Germany
were to take its rightful place as world power. As yet, though, there was no clear plan of
Stage 5: Why was there a lull in the intensity of persecution in 1936-37?
Throughout 1936 there were no new initiatives persecuting the Jews. The main reason for
this was the staging of the Olympics in Berlin. Hitler was keen to avoid incurring the
displeasure of the USA who had made some noises about the discernible lack of an ‘Olympic
spirit’ in Germany, and had threatened to boycott the summer games. International pressure
could influence the intensity of persecution of the Jews. The financial costs and publicity such
a boycott would arouse would have been particularly damaging to the Nazi economy. So it
was that Hitler made a show of entering the ‘spirit’ of the games: there was little or no mention
of the Jews in his speeches throughout 1936. He authorised the selection of three half Jews,
each living outside Germany, for the Olympic team, and was barely able to conceal his sulk
when the black Jesse Owens emerged as the star of his newly built 110,000 seater sports
track, complete with idealized Aryan statues at the gates. According to his later
reminiscences, Albert Speer commented that the irony had made Hitler uncomfortable: with
childlike stroppiness, Hitler went on to argue that the participation of a ‘black’ was unfair,
since ‘primitive man’ had a natural advantage in such events over the civilised, culture
bearing Aryans – so the Master Race was not as masterful as it prided itself. Beneath the
official surface of calm, though, the process of Aryanization of businesses continued as did
informal instances of persecution.
Other, equally disturbing movements were also afoot behind the scenes as the Reich moved
towards a war footing. Perhaps the most significant development of this phase was the
gradual interference of the SS and SD in the formulation of Jewish policy.
Stage 6: Why did Nazi anti-Jewish policies became more intense and radical in 1938?
The annexation of Austria in March 1938 had brought with it an extra 150,000 Jews in
addition to members of the Roma and Sinti. Eichmann began to use Austria as a testing
ground for Jewish policy. In the context of occupation, he initiated a policy of forced
emigration and humiliation, compelling the Jews to scrub the streets whilst being watched
over by the menacing SS. Property was confiscated and 45,000 Austrian Jews were evicted.
The SS had asserted their control over Jewish policy.
As preparations for war continued Hitler wanted to prevent another recurrence of the ‘stab in
the back’. Hitler sanctioned more dehumanising legislation on 17th July 1938: ‘II. 1. If Jews
bear first names other than those authorized for Jews by Section I, they must, from 1 January
1939, adopt another additional first name, namely, ‘Israel’ for men and ‘Sarah’ for women.
The SD, under Heydrich’s command, launched a crackdown and police harassment on Jews,
especially in Berlin, with increased pressure for emigration. Such official actions legitimized
unofficial violence on the streets. Gobbels’ diary records a conversation with Hitler on 25 July
1938: ‘The main thing is that the Jews are driven out. In 10 years they must be out of
Germany’. Synagogues began to be targeted.
To discuss the growing emigration crisis, a conference of 32 nations met at Evian, on the
shores of Lake Geneva on July 6th 1938. Here, the nations established quotas and protocols
regarding how many Jews they were prepared to accept as refugees. In the face of hostile
domestic pressure in their home countries, the delegates prevaricated, justifying their fears
about a deluge of immigrants undermining the native culture of their respective countries. As
part of the Nazi regime’s preparation for war non-German Jews were now expelled from the
Reich. First, the Russian Jews, then the 50,000 Polish Jews resident in Germany were
arrested by the Gestapo and shuttled in locked trains to the Polish border. The anti-Semitic
Polish regime sealed their border, leaving the displaced Jews in a stateless ‘no man’s land’.
Eventually, though, they relented and allowed the Jews to shelter in squalid refugee camps
just inside the Polish border. Amongst those residing there was a Jewish family who had a
son studying in Paris, called Herschel Grynzspan. By letter, they communicated their
desperate situation to him. In a rage, the 17 year old Herschel, acquired a pistol, stormed into
the German Embassy in Paris and shot a German diplomat, the non-Nazi Enrst Vom Rath.
Goebbels and Hitler now had the pretext they needed to authorise a full Pogrom pushing the
Jews out of German society.
Goebbels also saw the opportunity to re-ingratiate himself with Hitler through an exploitation
of the issue. Goebbels had been allegedly having an affair with the Czech actress Lida
Baarova; such a choice of partner was politically dangerous given that Hitler was preparing
for a full invasion of the ‘Slavic hordes’ living there. Once again, that firm article of Nazi faith,
anti-Semitism was being exploited to demonstrate credentials of loyalty to the regime. This
incident reveals the chaotic and whimsical way in which the Nazi state operated: Goebbels
exploited anti-Semitism to get the Jews ‘out’ and to get himself ‘in’ with Hitler. Under
Goebbels’ instructions, the Nazi propaganda machine once again ground into action. As the
orders from Goebbels cascaded down to regional party bosses, the SS and Gestapo joined
the SA in smashing up Jewish property. Hitler authorised a full scale attack on Jewish
property and a round up of as many Jews they could find for imprisonment in the camps.
Hitler was at pains to ensure that the violence he authorised would be viewed as the
collective outrage of the ‘National Socialist spirit’ at the Jewish assassination. The violence
had to appear as a spontaneous act of outrage against world Jewish conspiracy and not as
the co-ordinated, authorised plan of the leadership. As the Nazi Party Supreme Court secret
report made clear: ‘The Fuhrer, at Gobbels’ suggestion had decided that such demonstrations
were not to be prepared or organized by the Party, but neither were they to be discouraged if
they originated spontaneously. The Party should not appear as the originator of the
demonstrations but that in reality it should organize them and carry them out’1. The Nazi
press understood the line: they styled it as a ‘spontaneous wave of righteous indignation
throughout Germany, as a result of the cowardly Jewish murder’.
Moreover, the SS began to tighten its grip on anti-Jewish policy. According to Gobbels’ diary,
orders for the arrest of 20,000-30,000 Jews were issued. Subsequent orders issued by the
Nazism: A Documentary reader, 1933-39, Pridham and Noakes, p.359
SS security Service Head, Heydrich, defined the parameters of the violence: the police were
to ensure that the violence was contained and focused directly on German Jews and Jewish
property, and to ensure that this did not spill over into attacks on foreign nationals on non
Jewish property. Such restraints meant nothing to the SA who now had the unambiguous
green light from the leadership they had long anticipated. Little delay was made in
implementing the orders as an orgy of SA violence was unleashed, inflaming synagogues,
smashing shop windows and desecrating Jewish graves. Estimates of at least 1000
synagogues were burned on 9th/10th November 1938, a night the Nazis mockingly referred to
as the ‘Reichskristallnacht’. In total, the SS and SA destroyed about 80% of Jewish owned
businesses. Making use of their extensive files on Jews, the SS hunted down and imprisoned
30,000 Jews in the concentration camps, and meted out arbitrary and merciless beatings. At
least 91 Jews died on the night, and around 2,000 in the aftermath; around 200 synagogues
were set on fire.
As the public crunched over the broken glass and surveyed the debris on the morning of the
10th November, there was a sense of shock and bewilderment. Responses show no evidence
of enthusiasm or support for the actions of the Nazis: a stunned silence appears to have been
the hallmark. Some have conjectured that these was more to do with attacks on property
than attacks on Jews.
Amidst international outrage at the incident, demonstrations took place in New York. In
Britain, moves to establish the Kindertransport were finally implemented. Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain allowed 10,000 German Jewish children to enter Britain, so long as they
had a financial guarantor. Tight immigration controls in the USA led to the acceptance of less
than 500 Jews. The US immigration authorities turned back the St Louis, from Havana. The
ship, carrying nearly 900 Jews, was forced to turn around and dock in Antwerp. Within 18
months Antwerp was under Nazi occupation. Approximately 250 Jews who had been
passengers on the St Louis were eventually killed by the Nazis during World War Two.
The leadership sought to consolidate this new watershed in persecution, by following it up
with a series of legal measures that amounted to a culmination of the banditry that had been
taking place since 1933. On 12th November 1938 the leadership issued a series of decrees
outlawing the Jews from further public and private civic amenities, the rights of tenancy, and
tax concessions. Moreover, the Jews were ordered to pay a fine of 1 billion Reichmarks to
‘atone’ for the damage. The Jews were to be responsible for restoring the ‘street scene’
(repairing the damage done on ‘Kristallnacht’) and were to receive no compensation by way
of insurance. Insurance companies were ordered to pay the sum of 225 million Reichsmarks
to the state. Other measures ‘tidied up’ various loose ends concerning Jews in professions
and ordered the full Aryanization of all Jewish businesses. All Jewish personal property was
ordered to be deposited in banks. Heydrich and the SD stepped up the pressure for forced
immigration, whilst simultaneously denying them the material means to effect such an
emigration. This notwithstanding, most Jews had taken the hint, leaving 164,000
predominantly elderly Jews left in Germany on the eve of World War Two.
The tumorous shadow of the SS also began to loom large in Jewish policy after Kristallnacht.
Himmler issued a police decree imposing strict regulations on the appearance of Jews in
public. With increasing control over the issue, the SS vigorously enforced the existing laws
against the Jews. By 1939, the SS had asserted its control over the centre piece of Jewish
policy: forced emigration. SS control over the Reich Association, responsible for preparing
Jews for emigration, also tightened their grip over Jewish policy. By 1939, Jewish policy was
coordinated by the most chillingly effective organisation in Germany. It would take the
barbarity of war to remove any restraining barriers to the operation and further radicalisation
of Jewish policy. Within 3 years, the policy of emigration escalated into an official policy of
extermination. On 24 January 1939, Goering ordered the establishment of a ‘Reich Central
Office for Jewish Emigration’ in the Reich Ministry of the Interior to promote the emigration of
Jews ‘by every possible means’. Heydrich of the SD was placed in charge of this; the SS now
finally had an influential hand in controlling Jewish policy. In March 1939, Hitler launched a
full invasion of Czecholslovakia, imperilling the Jews that lived there. With his eastern border
secure from Soviet invasion after the signing of the non Aggression Pact with Stalin on 23
August 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. With the establishment of the RHSA in 1939, the SS had
secured full control over the ‘Jewish Question’. Eichmann, newly arrived from persecuting
Jews in Vienna and Prague, now transferred his techniques of humiliation to Berlin and, by
September 1939, occupied Warsaw.
As the Blitzkrieg Stukas screamed down from on September 1st 1939, the 3 million Jewish
Poles and other minorities living there had good reason to be afraid. War would remove the
feeble constraints to persecution that were still in existence. Not without good reason did
Hermann Goring greet the onset of the Second World War as the ‘Great Racial War’. Hitler
would now have his ‘struggle’ that he had anticipated and argued for almost 15 years
previously whilst brooding in the Landsberg prison.
Smiling German soldiers surround a group of religious Jewish men on the street in Minsk
Citizenship Reflection Activity C2
Research the evolution of anti-Semitic policy, from 1939-45. Continue to record the
information in the table above, identifying factors/individuals that accelerated the pace
of persecution and those that blocked it.
In addition to Browning’s Origins of the Final Solution and Pridham and Noakes’
Foreign Policy, War and Racial Extermination look at www.ushmm.org and
Summary Flowchart Diagram
Look at the diagram below. It depicts the way in which persecution of Jews and other
minorities intensified throughout the period. The boxes contain key information for
each phase. The red arrows depict factors that were holding persecution back. Use
the diagram and your own knowledge to discuss the following points:
How far did Hitler have a detailed plan for persecution, and how far was he an
opportunist responding to events as they unfolded?
Which was the most significant factor (the one without which persecution would not
have happened) in the persecution of Jews and other minorities, 1933-39? Choose
from: ideology, pressure on Hitler from below and the bureaucratic structures of the
Third Reich and the way in which decisions were made. Which individuals were
absolutely key in ordering the persecution of the Jews?
How far do you agree with the Jewish American historian Goldhagen in his claim that
the German people were ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’?
How far do you agree with the following view expressed by I. Kershaw in The Nazi
‘ . . . there can be a social context in ‘civilized society’ in which genocide becomes
acceptable . . . many features of contemporary ‘civilized’ society encourage the easy
resort to genocidal holocausts’.
Compare and contrast genocide of 1933-45 with other genocides. Look at the nature,
pace and scope of the genocides. What accelerating/blocking factors are
similar/different to the Jewish experience? Examples may include Bosnia, the
Sudan and Rwanda. How far can they be considered as unique circumstances
unleashing features common to humanity?
How persuasive is it to argue that the eugenics programme was the ‘slippery slope’ to
the Holocaust? Are the two programmes connected in any way, in terms of cause,
course and consequence, or are they following different trajectories?
Select Bibliography and Suggested Further Reading
The following materials are excellent for further research and reflection:
Bartov: The Holocaust
Browning: The Origins of the Final Solution, 1939-42
Bullock: Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives
Burleigh: Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany, 1900-45
Burleigh: Sacred Causes
Burleigh: The Racial State, 1933-45
Burleigh: The Third Reich
Evans The Coming of the Third Reich
Evans: The Third Reich in Power
Kershaw: Hitler: Vol 1 and Vol 2
Kershaw: The Nazi Dictatorship
Longerich: The Unwritten Order: Hitler’s Role in the Final Solution
and Pridham: Nazism: Vol 2: State, Economy and Society, 1933-39
Overy: The Dictators
Flow Chart 1
Formal 1933-35 Nuremberg Laws
Informal 1933 Local Nazi
Persecution bosses put up
A March 1933 Boycott and legal signs and anti-
philosophy purges, 1933. Jewish signs.
of SA violence
persecution Racial hygienist Increased SA
Philosophy; Compulsory Collaboration
Hitler’s sterilization law, and consent of