The first Nazi racial policies were implemented just weeks after Hitler took power in early 1933. These first anti-Jewish policies were moderate, and there were no clear legal guidelines about who was and was not “Jewish”. The majority of early anti-Semitic decrees were intended 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 In April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service rescinded the employment of non-Aryan workers in government jobs.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 proved controversial and was opposed by president Hindenburg, who objected to the poor treatment of Jewish World War I veterans. Hitler amended the law to obtain Hindenburg’s approval.
Yet bans from the civil service were not enough for some of the 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. Through the summer of 1935, there was an escalation in violence against Jewish people and property. In August 1935 Hitler ordered these ‘individual actions’ be halted, as they invited 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. 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 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.”
Roderick Stackelberg, historian
- The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour. 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 who did not fit into either category were ‘half-breeds’ or ‘mongrels’ (Mischlinge). The implementation of this law was accompanied by propaganda charts, which 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 also forbidden to work in Jewish households.
- 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.
The two Nuremberg Laws, as they soon became known, were unpopular 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.
By 1938 Jews in Germany were prohibited from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and journalists. Nazi legislation also included a degree of racial segregation. Jews were banned from using public facilities such as libraries, parks and beaches; they could not enter residential or business areas deemed to be ‘Aryan zones’. Jews could not claim lottery winnings, insurance payouts and state pensions. They 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 policy. The regime also moved against Germany’s 20,000 Romany, colloquially known as ‘Gypsies’. The Romany were an eastern European race scattered around the continent, many living nomadically. Long before the rise of the Nazis, the Romany had been stereotyped as beggars, thieves and social parasites. Even during the liberal democratic Weimar period, they 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. But 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.
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.
This page was written by Jennifer Llewellyn, Jim Southey and Steve Thompson. To reference this page, use the following citation:
J. Llewellyn et al, “Nazi racial policies”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/nazigermany/nazi-racial-policies/.