Driven by distorted views about race and eugenics, the Nazis hoped to improve German society and commerce by purging them of undesirable racial elements. After taking power in early 1933, they initiated a series of racial policies targeting minorities such as the Jews and Romany.
The first Nazi racial policies sought to extract Jews from important white-collar occupations. In April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service rescinded the employment of non-Aryan workers in government jobs. This prevented Jews from working as judges, doctors in state-run hospitals, lawyers in government departments and teachers in state schools.
This law was opposed by President Hindenburg, who objected to the mistreatment of Jewish World War I veterans. Hitler later amended the law to obtain Hindenburg’s approval.
Expulsion from the civil service did not go far enough for hard-line anti-Semites in the Nazi Party and the SA. Many in the rank and file of the party demanded tougher action against the Jews.
Anti-Jewish attacks intensify
Through the summer of 1935, the leaders of local Nazi groups launched attacks on Jewish people and property. In August 1935, Hitler ordered these ‘individual actions” be halted because they drew international condemnation and threatened the German economy. Radical elements of the SA, who beat up Jews or smashed their stores, also demanded immunity from prosecution or civil action.
There were loud calls for laws to restrict Jewish economic influence; to prohibit inter-racial marriage or sexual relations; even to remove the citizenship of German Jews. Some Nazis insisted the government formulate criteria to define exactly who was Jewish.
By the NSDAP’s annual rally in September, Hitler was under considerable pressure to take more decisive action against the Jewish population.
The Nuremberg decrees
Four days after the rally began, key Nazi officials were summoned to Nuremberg and told to draft anti-Jewish laws for presentation to the Reichstag. Hitler himself spent two days trying to decide on the legal definition of a Jew. Unable to make up his mind, he left it to his officials.
On September 15th Hitler addressed the Reichstag, then convened in Nuremberg. He proclaimed two new laws to define racial identity in Germany and outline the relationship between Jews and Aryan Germans:
The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour. Under this law, a ‘full-blooded’ Jew (Juden) was defined as anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents. A ‘full-blooded’ German (Deutsche-blutige) was anyone with four German grandparents. Those not in either category were ‘half-breeds’ or ‘mongrels’ (Mischlinge). This law was accompanied by propaganda charts that offered visual explanations of ethnic status. The law also outlawed marriages or extra-marital sex between Jews and non-Jews. German women under the age of 45 were forbidden to work in Jewish households as servants.
The Reich Citizenship Law. This law decreed that only those of German blood were citizens of the state, while Jews were only recognised as Staatsangehoriger (‘subjects of the state’). This measure effectively abolished their citizenship. Jews were no longer permitted to vote or hold public office. Jews already working for the government were to be ‘retired’ at the end of 1935. Mischlinge retained their citizenship only if they were practising Christians.
Effects of Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws, as these decrees became known, were not popular with the Nazi Party’s radical anti-Semites, who thought they did not go far enough.
Nevertheless, these laws were worded broadly enough to permit wide-ranging persecution of German Jews over the next three years. Sometimes this persecution was officially sanctioned and expressed in government regulation; sometimes it was unofficial, carried out by agreement rather than by law.
Jewish businesses were subject to boycotts and intimidation, then forced to close or declare bankruptcy. Once shut down, many businesses were seized by the government and sold cheaply to Germans. Employers and organisations inserted an ‘Aryan paragraph’ into their employment contracts, preventing Jews from obtaining certain jobs.
A rolling series of decrees continued to prohibit Jews from various professions and occupations. By 1938, Jews in Germany were banned from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and journalists.
Nazi legislation also included a degree of racial segregation. Jews were barred from using public facilities such as libraries, parks and beaches. They could not enter residential or business areas deemed to be ‘Aryan zones’, nor were they allowed to claim lottery winnings, insurance payouts and state pensions.
Jews were not permitted to use state-funded hospitals or receive any education past the age of 14. Jews were forbidden to own radios and keep pets, while Jewish names were erased from World War I memorials. In Munich, the town council ordered the destruction of the city’s largest synagogue, declaring it to be a ‘traffic hazard’.
Jews were not the only target of Nazi racial policies. The regime also moved against Germany’s 20,000 Romany, an eastern European race scattered around the continent, most living nomadically. Long before the rise of the Nazis, the Romany or ‘Gypsies’ had been stereotyped as beggars, thieves and social parasites.
Even during the liberal democratic Weimar period, the Romany had been subject to restrictive laws. Romany were required to carry identity cards and submit for fingerprinting. They were sometimes prohibited from travelling or settling outside a certain area.
The rise of the NSDAP saw anti-Romany activity take an even deadlier turn. In July 1933, the Nazis passed the eugenics-based Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, which authorised scientists to carry out forced sterilisations on those who might contaminate the Aryan gene pool. The law specifically mentioned “Gypsies” as potential candidates for sterilisation.
In 1934, Berlin passed laws restricting marriages between Romany and Aryan Germans, while the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 disenfranchised Romany as they had Jews. In June 1938, the Nazi regime launched Zigeuneraaufraumungswoche, or ‘Gypsy Clean-up Week’, with hundreds of Romany beaten, arrested, chased out of the country or detained in concentration camps.
A historian’s view:
“The Nuremberg Laws achieved one of the main goals of the German radical right for more than half a century: the reversal of Jewish emancipation. Jews in Germany again became aliens in their own country. To mitigate the effect of the Nuremberg Laws on world opinion, and to gain their acceptance by the German public, Nazi propaganda claimed that the Nuremberg Laws marked the end of legal measures against the Jews.”
1. The Nazi regime moved swiftly against Germany’s Jews, withdrawing their right to work in certain professions.
2. This did not satisfy radical anti-Semites in the Nazi Party, who by mid-1935 were demanding stronger action.
3. In September Hitler unveiled the Nuremberg Laws, which defined ‘Jewishness’ and disenfranchised all Jews.
4. A wave of further decrees through the 1930s imposed even more restrictions and prohibitions on German Jews.
5. Another target of Nazi racial policy was the Romany, who were considered an unclean, socially undesirable race.