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Tina Sanjar

The Nuremberg Laws

In 1933, less than 1% of the German population was Jewish. Jews contributed significantly to German culture. Many served in World War I and thought of themselves as Germans first and Jews second. They considered Germany a home; their passionate ties and blind loyalty to Germany caused them to be blind to the harsh reality of anti-Semitic measures (Refugee Crisis 5).

Before the war, Hitler used the law  to effectively remove Jews from public life. Under the excuse of ensuring racial "purity," numerous decrees were passed allowing harassment, imprisonment, and murder. These decrees were aimed at not only Jews, but anyone defined as "non-Aryan" (5). More than 400 specifically anti-Jewish decrees were enacted based on the Nazi definition of "non-Aryan" ("Final Solution" 3).

After the Enabling Act, violence against Jews escalated. On April 1, the Nazi regime called for a national boycott of all Jewish business. Lists of specific businesses and individuals to be boycotted were published. German Jewish leaders were ordered to deny reports of Nazi atrocities committed against Jews. The boycott lasted three days and revealed the efficiency of Nazi intelligence on Jewish economic life. The idea that it was permissible to destroy life without impunity was strengthened ("Final Solution" 2). Most of the Jewish leaders believed that the Nazi regime would be short-lived. German Jews who began to feel the stigma of isolation had no centrally organized spokesman or organized representation to protest. On April 4, 1933, the first law specifically dealing with Jews was passed (Refugee
Crisis 5).

Jews were barred from civil service and on April 7; the German government issued an order firing all civil servants not of "Aryan" descent. This was the first instance of discrimination based on "race" which was consistent with German law. These actions created thousands of jobs for "Aryans." On April 11, a decree was issued defining "non-Aryans" as those who descended from "non-Aryan" grandparents ("Final Solution" 2). The Nazis issued instructional charts to help distinguish Jews from Mischlinge (Germans of mixed races) and Aryans. The white figures represent Aryans; black figures represent Jews; shaded figures represent Mischlinge (Race Laws 1). This law provided precedent for the concept of racial inequality. Differences between non-Jewish Germans and Jewish Germans became an issue of legal interpretation. This laid the foundation for a method of legalizing persecution (Refugee Crisis 5). On April 26, the state police came under the control of the Nazi government. The Gestapo had unlimited police powers; they could follow, arrest, interrogate, and detain without outside authority. Still ignorant of the reality around them and hopeful that the Nazi regime would collapse, Jews went to their local police for help. They appealed to the courts for protection or payment for damages caused by Nazis. Most could not believe that basic civil rights, due process under the law, and the right to a defense and appeal were no longer applicable (6).

Book burnings became common in pre-war Germany. On May 10, 1933, in Berlin, the first of a series of book burnings took place. The effort was aimed at erasing literary and scientific contributions of intellectuals, specifically of Jewish scholars (6). On September 28, Jews were excluded from all artistic, dramatic, literary, and film enterprises. On September 29, Jewish farmers, or those with Jewish ancestors, could no longer own farmland and were denied rights to family property inheritance. 37,000 or more Jews left Germany in 1933, but many stayed hoping the terror would pass (6).

1934 was marked by an increase in anti-Semitic actions and crushing all opposition. After the consolidation of power in 1934, the path was cleared for Hitler and the NSDAP-the National Socialist German Workers' Party (National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) or Nazi Party- to implement its program of anti-Semitism throughout Germany.

The period between 1933-35 was marked with inconsistent policies. Days of physical violence would be followed by weeks of relative calm that allowed Nazis to assess world reaction. When there was none, more persecutions followed. The overall confusion made it impossible for the Jewish community to grasp the intentions of the government; false optimism was fostered. Underneath these contradictory policies was the common thread of Jews being steadily deprived of their livelihood and legal status. Each of these regulations had the full support of the non-Jewish public and legal establishment. By the end of 1935, more than 75,000 German Jews had fled Germany (6).

On September 15, 1935, at the Nuremberg NSDAP party convention, new laws which embodied Hitler's racial visions in Mein Kampf were passed. The purpose of these new racial laws, known collectively as the Nuremberg Laws, was to eliminate random discrimination and introduce a comprehensive body of laws aimed at excluding Jews from mainstream German life. The Reich Citizenship Law, Reichsburgergesets, was the most serious; the status of German citizenship was decreed to belong only to 'a national of German or related blood' ("Final Solution" 5). It excluded Jews from any rights as citizens with race as a determining factor. Loss of citizenship was the most important step in the process that lead to the ultimate exclusion and murder of German Jews. Citizenship, at that time, was the only status that conferred specific rights and privileges on individuals before International Law asserted that people have rights regardless of whether or not they have citizenship under a nation state. Mistreatment of Jews became normal under a legal system based on extreme prejudice and violence. German Jews could now be expelled from the Reich without warning. Without being able to hold public or civic positions, a large part of the German Jewish population had no means of financial survival. Legalization of Nazi policy meant that there was nothing illegal about the inhumane treatment of the Jews in the Reich. The Convention on Genocide in 1947 was a crucial turning point because it specified Genocide as a 'crime against humanity;' invoking a universal principle in the judgment of nations. It was deemed necessary to appeal to a law higher than that of any individual state in such cases (Genocide 1).

The second law, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, Gesetz zum Schutze des deutschen Blutes und der deutschen Ehre, forbade marriage and sexual contact between Jews and Aryans. This law, also known as the Blood Protection Act or Blutschutzgesetz, had two more prohibitions: Jews were not allowed to carry the German flag or employ Aryans in their households (Laws of Nuremberg 1). Jews were stripped of all basic civil rights and classified as a separate race of subjects rather than citizens ("Final Solution" 5). The first amendment to the citizenship law defined a "full Jew" as a person with three Jewish grandparents. Jewish persons from mixed races were those who descended from one or two fully Jewish grandparents. "Halfjews" were defined as people with two Jewish grandparents. A "Quarterjew" was a person with one Jewish grandparent (Laws of Nuremberg 1).

The Law for the Protection of Genetic Health of the German People soon followed. It required all persons wanting to marry to submit to a medical examination, after which a "Certificate of Fitness to Marry" would be issued if they were free of diseases. The certificate was required for a marriage license (Race Laws 1).

From the time the Nuremberg Laws were passed until 1938, sporadic legislation resulted in further severity against Jews. Street names that sounded Jewish were changed and Jews whose first names did not sound "Jewish" had to add "Israel" or "Sarah" to their names. Passports and identity cards were marked with a "J" for Jude. To enforce these laws, the SS increasingly began to take power over the Jews. The result of the Nuremberg Laws and the regulations which followed was to bring together the various policies toward Jews, which had been inconsistent and contradictory (Refugee Crisis 7).

The Nuremberg Laws were an important step toward the Nazi goal to exterminate all Jews. The Nazis now had a definition that was escalating in severity and leading to the destruction of European Jewry. Once Jews could be defined and identified, they could be segregated socially, politically, and economically from other Germans. Jews were now outside the protection of a state they had placed their confidence in for generations.

Works Cited:

"The Refugee Crisis and the Persecution Years." Holocaust Documentation and Education Center (Florida International University). Lesson 4, pgs. 5-7.
Offline May 2001.

The First Steps Leading to the "Final Solution"

The Nuremberg Race Laws

The Nazi Genocide of the Jews, 1935-45: A Brief Introduction to the Holocaust

The Laws of Nuremberg (This site links to the Holocaust/Shoah Page)

The Nuremberg Laws, by Ben S. Austin