Modern history



Discrimination against minorities such as homosexuals, Gypsies, asocials, the mentally ill or handicapped or African-Germans was designed in the first place to purify the German race and render it fit for a war of world conquest. German society was to be rid in the long term of its social ballast, of categories of people who would not or could not play their part in working towards war, through joining the armed forces, toiling away in armaments factories or toughening themselves up for the coming conflict. Seen in this light, they were burdens on Germany’s state and society that posed a long-term threat to the future. Removing them by imprisoning them, and, just as crucially, taking them out of the chain of heredity, would eventually save the nation money, therefore, by reducing the numbers of unproductive people who, as the Nazis saw it, had to be supported by all the rest. One minority in German society, however, appeared to the Nazis as something entirely different: not a tiresome burden, but a vast threat, not merely idle, or inferior, or degenerate - although Nazi ideology held them to be all these things too - but actively subversive, engaged in a massive conspiracy to undermine and destroy everything German, a conspiracy moreover that was not just organized from within the country, but operated on a worldwide basis. This minority, no more than 1 per cent of the population, was the Jewish community in Germany.63

Antisemitism was intimately connected with other aspects of Nazi racial policy. The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was originally conceived as part of a package that included laws removing citizenship from the Jews and banning marriage and sexual relations with Aryans. These latter laws were temporarily withdrawn, however, mainly because of the bad effect it was thought that they would have had on public opinion abroad. In the early years of the regime, the state’s eugenic policies against minorities such as the asocials, criminals, gypsies and homosexuals were a good deal more radical than they were against the Jews. When Jews fell into one or other of these groups, of course, they were more harshly treated than most; yet the generalpolicy of the regime to Germany’s Jewish minority did not include sterilization or castration solely and simply because the person in question was Jewish. Such policies, however, demonstrated to the Nazis how much they could get away with, and inured them to state-sponsored violence against the body on a systematic scale. It was an experience that was to prove useful to them as their antisemitic actions began to become more radical with time. In the meantime, however, the contrast was clear enough. After the promulgation of the Law of 7 April 1933 banning Jews from occupying posts in the civil service, the universities, the teaching profession, the judiciary and other state-funded institutions, the government put a brake on antisemitic violence for a while. As we have seen, it was concerned to dampen down the violent activism of the brownshirts. It was worried about the effects of antisemitic actions on the fragile economic recovery. It was apprehensive about the economic and diplomatic consequences that the law and the preceding, government-sponsored boycott of Jewish shops were bringing in the reaction of foreign states and foreign businesses. Finally, it was anxious to placate its increasingly restive conservative partners, who - for example - had insisted, in the person of Reich President Hindenburg, on exempting former front-line soldiers from the law.64

It took some time for the effects of the law of 7 April 1933 to work their way through the institutions, but by the end of 1933 the purge was for the moment more or less complete. The cooling-down of the leadership’s ardour was not welcome to many Party activists, least of all within the paramilitary Storm Divisions, who organized repeated local boycotts of Jewish businesses during this period, reaching renewed and often violent heights in the spring of 1934. The stormtroopers’ activism was muted for a while following the purge of 30 June 1934, but by the Christmas period at the end of the year, boycott actions were in full swing again. Moreover, local Party organizations also pushed forward the economic marginalization of Jewish businesses in other ways too, as we have seen, and in this area they were encouraged by the Party leadership as well. 65 In the spring and summer of 1935, however, antisemitic violence broke out afresh in many parts of the country. Antisemitic propaganda became more widespread than ever. The circulation of the sensationalist antisemitic paper The Stormer soared in 1935 when its editor, Julius Streicher, the Party Regional Leader of Franconia, secured a contract with the Labour Front for copies to be placed in every factory and workplace in the land. From now on, the paper was omnipresent and inescapable. The deal made Streicher into a millionaire: the paper had always been his personal property rather than the organ of the Nazi-owned Eher Publishing House.66 More immediately, its new-found wealth and power enabled it to advertise more widely than before, with posters seemingly on every street corner. Other Regional Leaders besides Streicher held public meetings and gave speeches to harangue people, and especially Party members, about the evils of the Jew. Behind all this were more general ideological influences, ranging from increased sales of Hitler’s My Struggle to frequent attacks on the Jews in the Party press. Many local groups took all this as giving the green light to go on the offensive once more.67

The reasons for this recrudescence of attacks on Germany’s Jews by Party groups and stormtroopers in 1935 lay above all in the growing unpopularity of the regime. As we have seen, whatever public euphoria had accompanied the Nazis’ establishment of the Third Reich in 1933 wore off in the course of 1934, and the brief fillip given the regime by Hitler’s decisive action in crushing Röhm’s supposed putsch attempt at the end of June 1934 had dissipated by the end of the year. During the first months of 1935, Gestapo, Security Service and other agents reported a sharp increase in popular discontent, as material conditions remained miserable, real levels of unemployment stayed high, prices of food and other basic necessities rose sharply, and people became wearied of the regime’s constant demands for acclamation, support and money. Rumours and jokes about the corruption of local and regional Nazi bosses multiplied, and all the efforts of the Propaganda Ministry to generate positive popular enthusiasm for the Third Reich seemed to have failed.68 Within the Nazi movement itself, too, the crushing of any remaining hopes for a ‘second revolution’ in June-July 1934 had created a good deal of bitterness. The desire for violent action, ingrained in many parts of the SA, needed a fresh outlet. How could the brownshirts justify their existence, either to themselves or to the Party, except by violent action? That after all was what they had been created for. But the desire to resume a policy of struggle was not confined to disgruntled stormtroopers. The Nazi Party more generally was well aware of the fact that it had not only failed to sustain the enthusiasm of the broader public but was actually losing what support it had ever enjoyed amongst it. Action was needed.

Not only the Nazi Party but also significant parts of the state and civil service had wanted since the middle of 1933 to introduce measures banning marriage and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews, creating a special category of citizenship for Jews, and accelerating the removal of the Jews from economic life. Point 4 of the Nazi Party programme stated unequivocally that in the Third Reich, Jews were not to be citizens, and a number of Hitler’s early meetings, not to mention My Struggle, had made it clear that he was viscerally intolerant of sexual relations between Aryans and Jews. Acting on this principle, the Party’s Reichstag delegation had already unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill to outlaw racial miscegenation in March 1930, with sanctions up to and including the death penalty. Such provisions would also have the effect of extending the Party’s sphere of influence still further, into the most intimate areas of private life. A new citizenship law would, moreover, not just give rights as an automatic consequence of racial identity, but would also apply political criteria, with refractory elements denied civil rights too. Driving the Jews out of economic life would placate the Party’s many lower-middle-class supporters and give them much-desired opportunities to improve their own situation. A fresh campaign of antisemitic propaganda, terror and legislation would divert popular hostility to the regime, it was thought, by putting the blame for the people’s miserable situation firmly onto the Jews.69

The antisemitic actions carried out in the spring and summer of 1935 took many forms. In May there were, as we have seen, numerous boycotts of Jewish shops organized by stormtroopers and SS men, often accompanied by violence. It was also at about this time that antisemitic street signs were put up by the roadside on the boundaries of many towns and villages. These were not new in principle, for many had already been erected in Julius Streicher’s fiefdom of Franconia, but they were erected in many more places in the spring and summer of 1935, including in southern Bavaria. The commonest slogan painted on them was ‘Jews are not wanted here’, but some essayed ironic understatement (‘Our demand for Jews has been sufficiently supplied’), uttered threats (‘Jews enter this locality at their own peril!’) or tried an appeal to religious sentiment (‘The Jew’s Father is the Devil’).70 In a number of municipalities, including Weimar, local authorities banned Jews from going to the cinema; in Magdeburg all the trams acquired signs placed over the entry doors bearing the words ‘Jews not wanted!’ The same town also stopped Jews from using the city library. Inns and restaurants in Stralsund and other places closed their doors to Jewish customers. Swimming pools and public baths, reported a Social Democratic agent in August, were barred to Jews ‘in innumerable communities’. Jewish cemeteries and synagogues were desecrated. Non-Jews who had relationships with Jews were publicly paraded as ‘race defilers’ and frequently had to be taken into custody by the Gestapo, for once in truth for their own protection. The atmosphere on the streets of many towns in the Rhineland, Westphalia, Hesse, Pomerania and East Prussia was so threatening that many Jewish inhabitants scarcely dared leave their houses any more.71

Actions such as these were encouraged not only by the general atmosphere of antisemitism but also explicitly by leading figures in the Party. ‘Some people think’, Goebbels told a rally of the Berlin Region of the Nazi Party on 30 June 1935, ‘that we haven’t noticed how the Jews are trying once again to spread themselves over all our streets. The Jews ought please to observe the laws of hospitality and not behave as if they were the same as us.’ Reporting on 15 July that an antisemitic film had been jeered at by ‘troops of Jewish trouble-makers’ on its first performance three days previously, Goebbels’s Berlin Party paper The Attack urged Party members to take violent action: the Jews, it declared, must ‘ever and again feel the flat of our hand’. In fact, the Jewish ‘demonstration’, whether real or invented, was the excuse by which Goebbels sought to justify the antisemitic violence that now inevitably followed, with Party activists beating up Jews on the main shopping street, the Kurfürstendamm, or pursuing them into nearby pubs and bars and physically attacking them. This incident in turn sparked a fresh wave of violent boycott actions in other parts of the country.

Goebbels was not the only Nazi leader who whipped up his followers in this way. On 30 August 1935, Julius Streicher held a rally in Hamburg. The day before, two lorryloads of stormtroopers drove through streets known to be inhabited by Jews, throwing blazing torches onto the road with chants of ‘Let the Jews perish!’ Party comrades were told that attendance at the rally was compulsory; a massive advertising campaign offered tickets at 10 Reichsmarks apiece to the unemployed. Twenty thousand people attended, many of them in SA, SS, Hitler Youth, Labour Service or other uniforms, strategically placed in the audience to lead the applause at preordained points in Streicher’s speech. Working his voice up to a deafening bellow, Streicher inveighed against foreign correspondents who criticized Nazi antisemitism. ‘I say here’, he shouted, ‘that we do what we want with the Jews in Germany!’ As his speech went on, so a listener reporting secretly to the exiled Social Democrats in Prague observed, he became more and more obscene, not only declaring that hundreds of German women had been raped by Jews, but also giving graphic details of these supposed crimes. When one girl gave birth to a baby nine months after marrying a Jew, he went on, ‘what lay there in the crib, comrades?! A little ape!’ Some of the listeners walked out at this; others, drafted in from the Labour Service, had apparently long since fallen asleep. Nevertheless, although ordinary people in the audience seem to have been either indifferent or repelled, such rantings must have had an effect on the committed Nazis amongst them; and they were repeated, if in less extreme form, by other Nazi leaders across the country. Most local and regional Party leaders took Streicher’s insistence that antisemitic actions should be legal and non-violent as nothing more than an attempt to assuage public opinion at home and abroad.72


Neither this wave of terroristic actions nor the accompanying campaign against the Catholic Church had the desired revitalizing effect on public support for the regime. Indeed, the coincidence of these campaigns caused many Catholics to sympathize with the Jews and to feel, as the Gestapo in Münster reported, ‘that the measures taken against the Jews are going too far’. They were in any case hostile to the idea that race rather than religion should be the guiding principle of social action. Boycotts and, still more, violence, inspired ‘rejection rather than approval’ in the wider population, as another Gestapo agency reported. In Mannheim-Neckarau shoppers even engaged in fisticuffs with stormtroopers who tried to stop them from patronizing Jewish retailers. The middle classes were particularly upset at such open disorder on the streets and feared its impact on foreign opinion. Some took the cynical view that petty-bourgeois Nazi activists were just trying to drive out competition.73

A Social Democratic agent in Bavaria reported, however, in more nuanced terms:

The persecution of the Jews is not meeting with any active support from the population. But on the other hand it is not completely failing to make an impression. Unnoticed, racial propaganda is leaving its traces. People are losing their impartiality towards the Jews, and many are saying to themselves that the Nazis are actually right to fight them; people are only against this fight being exaggerated. And when people shop in Jewish department stores they do so in the first place not to help the Jews but to cock a snook at the Nazis.74

The Nazi leadership had no objection to the violence in principle, but there was a growing feeling that, whatever Streicher might say, it was having a damaging effect on foreign opinion when the regime still needed sympathy abroad. In the last week of August 1935 it was reported that brownshirts had staged a violent demonstration against the Jews in Breslau and beaten up the Swedish consul in the city in the process. Göring, Bormann and Hess, speaking for Hitler himself, all put the police on notice in late July and early August that uncoordinated terror actions against Jews had to be stopped. As Goring told the Gestapo, general regulations for dealing with the Jews would soon be issued. These were indeed already in the air. Debate had been conducted in a desultory fashion within the Interior and Justice Ministries since July 1934 without getting beyond what were seen as formidable legal obstacles to a new law governing citizenship and interracial sexual relations. On 21 May 1935, however, a new Defence Law included in its provisions the banning of ‘mixed marriages’ between German soldiers and non-Aryan women.

Local registry offices had already begun to refuse applications for mixed marriages on a wider basis. On 19 July representatives of the Justice and Interior Ministries and Hess’s office proposed a law to prevent such marriages altogether. The matter had become urgent not least because of the numerous attacks on ‘race traitors’ and a wave of arrests of such people by the Gestapo. In May 1935 a new law governing citizenship applications by foreigners already ruled out Jews and other non-Aryans. A consensus on legislative action thus seemed to have been achieved; and as this became clear to local and regional Party organizations at the beginning of September, the wave of violent antisemitic actions finally began to subside, though it did not stop altogether.75

Not only the idea of a new citizenship law but also a considerable number of concrete proposals for its formulation were therefore familiar to state and Party officials by the time the annual Party Rally began in Nuremberg on 9 September. At this point dock workers in New York who had torn down a swastika flag from a German ship were released by a magistrate with a lengthy denunciation of Nazism and all its works. This so enraged Hitler that he decided on the spot that the time had come to declare the swastika Germany’s national flag. As he told the Party Rally on 11 September 1935, the recent congress of the Communist International in Moscow, which had declared an international war on fascism, demonstrated that it was time to tackle the Bolshevik menace, which he regarded as the product of an international Jewish conspiracy. Hitler summoned the Reichstag to a session in Nuremberg on 15 September, the final day of the Rally; the fact that he could simply command it to attend in this way showed how insignificant it had now become. The Reichstag session, he now decided, would be the opportune moment to introduce the citizenship, miscegenation and state flag laws all in one go. After some hurried, last-minute drafting of the detailed Laws in collaboration with an Interior Ministry official, Hitler introduced them on 15 September 1935. The Jews in Germany, he said, had been using the tense international situation to stir up trouble. ‘Vehement complaints are coming in from innumerable places about the provocative behaviour of individual members of this people,’ he claimed: indeed, Jewish provocations had been organized and thus had to be answered with decisive action if they were not to lead to ‘individual, uncontrollable defensive actions carried out by the outraged population’. Here was a characteristic mixture of lies and threats, capped by an equally characteristic assurance that the new laws would be ‘a once-and-for all, secular solution’.76

Hitler left the detailed justification of the Laws to Goring, whose speech to the Reichstag left little doubt that he was no less rabid an antisemite than Goebbels, Streicher or indeed the Leader himself. The swastika, he told the assembled, brown-uniformed Reichstag deputies, was a ‘symbol of our struggle for our own, species-specific race, it was a sign to us of the struggle against the Jews as racial wreckers’. When ‘an impudent Jew, in his bottomless hatred’ for Germany had insulted the flag in New York, he had insulted the whole nation. Thus Jews were not to be allowed to fly the flag. The new Laws, indeed, would go much further, and protect German blood against pollution by Jews and other alien races. They were, he declared,

a declaration of faith in the strengths and blessings of the Germanic-Nordic spirit. We know that to sin against the blood is to sin against the inheritance of a people. We ourselves, the German people, have had to suffer greatly because of this hereditary sin. We know that the final root of all Germany’s decomposition came in the last analysis from these sinners against heredity. So we have to try to make a connection again to the chain of heredity that comes to us from the greyness of prehistory . . . And it is the duty of every government, and above all it is the duty of the people themselves, to ensure that this purity of the race can never again be made sick or filled with rottenness.77

The parliament naturally passed all three laws with acclamation, and they were printed in full in prominent positions in the daily newspapers the following day. But they were not all as simple and straightforward as they might at first sight have seemed.78 The Reich Citizenship Law defined citizens of the Reich exclusively as people of ‘German or kindred blood’. Just as crucially, it declared that only someone who, ‘through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully’ was entitled to be a citizen of the Reich. Only citizens could enjoy full political rights. All other people, notably the Jews, but also potentially all opponents of the regime, or even those who silently distanced themselves from it by their lack of enthusiasm for its policies, were merely ‘subjects of the state’. They had ‘obligations towards the Reich’ but were given no political rights in return. Details of implementation were left to the Interior Ministry, in conjunction with Hess’s office, to work out, and in due course two officials in the Ministry, Dr Wilhelm Stuckart and Dr Hans Globke, issued a commentary justifying its provisions and outlining its implications. Within a fortnight, Interior Minister Frick had ordered the dismissal of any civil servants of Jewish ancestry who had remained in post as a result of the special provisions of the civil service law of 7 April 1933.

But who exactly was a Jew? Frick’s decree applied to people with at least three out of four grandparents who were Jewish and, naturally, to all those who practised the Judaic religion. According to contemporary estimates, which varied widely, there were in addition some 50,000 Jews in Germany in 1935 who had converted to Christianity or were the children of Jewish parents who had converted, and 2,000 three-quarter Jews who had converted. The high rate of intermarriage between Jews and Christians over the previous decades had produced between 70,000 and 75,000 people who had only two Jewish grandparents and 125,000 to 130,000 who had only one. In addition, many of these were married to non-Jews, as were anything up to about 20,000 people who fell into the Nazis’ category of full Jews, and many of these, again, had children. The Nazis themselves reckoned in 1939 that there were 20,454 racially mixed marriages in the Greater German Reich (including, by this time, Austria and the Sudetenland). The same census, the first to define Jews by racial criteria, also counted 52,005 half-Jews and 32,669 quarter-Jews living in the old German Reich. Over 90 per cent of people defined as mixed race belonged to a Christian Church. As with any racist legislation, the devil lay in the detail, and in these circumstances reaching a hard-and-fast definition of who was Jewish and who was not was nigh impossible. An insoluble ideological dilemma faced Nazi legislators: was the poison they thought Jewish blood carried with it into the bloodstream of the German race so virulent that only a small admixture would be enough to turn a person into a Jew, or was German blood so strong and healthy that it would overcome all but the most powerful admixture of Jewishness in a person’s hereditary constitution? To such questions there was no rational answer, because there was from the beginning no rational basis to the assumptions on which they rested. All solutions the Nazis arrived at in the question of mixed-race Germans and mixed marriages were thus in the end entirely arbitrary.79

The niceties of racial classification kept civil servants busy in endless meetings and internal memoranda over the following weeks. The more cautiously inclined warned that defining half-Jews as fully Jewish would add a substantial number of previously loyal Germans to the tally of Nazism’s internal enemies. Their counsels prevailed, and such people were classified in a supplementary decree issued on 14 November 1935 as mixed-race of the first degree, unless they practised the Judaic faith, or were married to a full Jew, in which case they were counted as fully Jewish (Geltungsjuden, in official jargon), with all the consequences this entailed. People with only one fully Jewish grandparent counted as mixed-race of the second degree. There were further provisions dealing with anyone born out of wedlock, or born after the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 (they were more likely to be classified as fully Jewish). The legislators recognized the arbitrariness of these measures by including a final provision for Hitler to grant exemptions whenever and to whomsoever he pleased. In due course, he did indeed do this, or others did it in his name through the application of a stamp bearing his signature to a document known as a Declaration of German Blood. Meanwhile, all the authorities had to go on in establishing Jewish ancestry was whether or not someone’s grandparents had practised the Judaic religion, a fact which rather made a nonsense of scientific claims about the importance of race and blood in determining Jewish or German identity. Genealogists suddenly became the most sought-after experts in the whole country, as Germans scrambled to find evidence in parish registers and other sources of their racial purity to include in their so-called Ancestry Proof (Ahnennachweis), a document that now formed the essential prerequsite for a career in the civil service or indeed virtually any other kind of job.80


The Nuremberg Laws were presented in the press as a stabilizing measure that would help the Jewish minority in Germany to settle down to living its own life. Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry was careful to ban triumphant or gloating articles in the press, forbidding ‘leading articles in the tone “go to it!” ’81 Nevertheless, the Laws opened the way for further, massive discrimination against anyone who counted as a Jew. Two weeks after the decree of 14 November 1935, Hitler retroactively annulled its provision banning any extension of measures to ensure the purity of German blood beyond those contained in legislation. This effectively authorized non-governmental organizations to apply the Aryan paragraph to their members and employees, not only Jews but also those of mixed race as well. Further measures placed more restrictions on the admittance of Jews to state-regulated professions. People with two Jewish grandparents now had to get official permission from a Reich Committee for the Protection of German Blood if they wanted to marry a non-Jew. But the Party representatives on the Committee voted down such applications with such regularity that it was wound up in 1936 and the applications passed to a single official to deal with. Mixed-race people could still study, they were not banned from sexual or other kinds of relationship with non-Jews, and in many respects they lived a relatively unrestricted life. This included, for men, the performance of military service. The army leadership was naturally exercised by the fact that banning men of mixed race from doing military service would deprive them of thousands of potential recruits. Writing to Hitler’s army adjutant, Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, on 3 April 1935, an official in the Interior Ministry estimated that there were 150,000 male half-Jews and quarter-Jews of military age in the country - a considerable exaggeration that further fed the army’s concern.82

The army leadership certainly had good cause for concern. By the end of 1935 it had cashiered virtually all remaining fully Jewish officers and men, and in the early summer of 1936 the army reached an agreement with Hitler that while male half- and quarter-Jews had to perform military service, they should no longer be allowed to hold positions of authority in the armed forces unless granted a specific, personal exemption on Hitler’s own authority. The Nazi Party’s Genealogy Office bombarded the military with information about officers who were ‘not purely Aryan’ and ought in its view to be removed from their posts. However, many senior officers in 1936-7 still resented political interference in military affairs and ignored these demands. In addition, checking up on the ancestry of tens of thousands of men was a well-nigh impossible task, and quite a few officers managed successfully to conceal their part-Jewish ancestry at least until the outbreak of the war and in some cases even longer. From the point of view of the military, of course, what mattered was whether or not they were good soldiers, or sailors, or airmen.83

The army’s attitude mirrored precisely the debatable and uncertain status of Germany’s many part-Jewish inhabitants after 1935. Nevertheless, on the whole, mixed-race people, indeed even Jews, were to some extent relieved by the passage of the Nuremberg Laws because they seemed to remove the major elements of uncertainty in their position and promise an end to the violent antisemitic campaigns of the preceding months. Party activists were understandably enthusiastic about the Nuremberg Laws, and rightly saw them as a major step along the road to the complete removal of Jews from German society. However, both Gestapo and Social Democratic agents reported a critical, even hostile, attitude to the Nuremberg Laws even amongst groups in society that were normally far from favourably inclined towards the Jews. Four-fifths of the population in the Palatinate were said to disapprove of the Laws, the working class was almost unanimous in its rejection of Nazi antisemitism, and the petty-bourgeoisie disliked the Laws because small businessmen feared they would lead to renewed boycotts of German goods in other countries. Even the Social Democrats, however, admitted that most people were feeling so intimidated after the violence of the summer and the propaganda surrounding the Nuremberg Laws that they no longer patronized Jewish shops. Indifference and passivity characterized the reactions of the majority of the population.84

Gradually, the never-ending violence, the incessant propaganda and the legal endorsement of Nazi policies by the state were having an effect. As one Social Democratic agent reported from Berlin in January 1936:

The campaign against the Jews is not without influence on people’s opinions either. Very slowly, views are being filtered into it that they used to reject. First people read the ‘Stormer’ out of curiosity, but then in the end something from it sticks. At the same time one has to admit: it says a lot for the German people that despite years of campaigns against the Jews it is still possible at all for Jews to live in Germany. If the German people were not naturally good-natured, this propaganda would have led to Jews simply being beaten to death on the streets . . . In general one can conclude that the National Socialists really have brought about a deeper gulf between the people and the Jews. The feeling that the Jews are another race is general nowadays.85

The effect that the constant barrage of antisemitism had on a thoughtful young person can be gauged from the memoirs of Melita Maschmann. She had plenty of contact with Jews, who made up about a third of her class in the secondary school she attended in a well-to-do part of Berlin in the early 1930s. Here the non-Jewish girls instinctively dissociated their Jewish classmates from ‘the Jews’, who ‘were and remained something mysteriously menacing and anonymous’. ‘The anti-semitism of my parents’, Maschmann went on in the open letter she wrote to a former Jewish schoolmate after the war,

was a part of their outlook which was taken for granted . . . One was friendly with individual Jews whom one liked, just as one was friendly as a Protestant with individual Catholics. But while it occurred to nobody to be ideologically hostile to the Catholics, one was, utterly, to the Jews . . . In preaching that all the misery of the nations was due to the Jews or that the Jewish spirit was seditious and Jewish blood compelled you to think of old Herr Lewy or Rosel Cohn: I thought only of the bogey-man, ‘the Jew’. And when I heard that the Jews were being driven from their professions and homes and imprisoned in ghettos, the points switched automatically in my mind to steer me round the thought that such a fate could also overtake you or old Lewy. It was only the Jew who was being persecuted and ‘made harmless’.86

After joining the Nazi League of German Girls, however, she felt an ‘open breach’ with her Jewish schoolfriend ‘. . . to be my duty, because one could only do one or two things: either have Jewish friends or be a National Socialist’.87

Constantly exposed to antisemitic propaganda, Maschmann later remembered that she and her upper-middle-class friends had considered it rather vulgar, and often laughed at attempts to convince them that the Jews performed ritual murders and similar crimes. As educated people they looked down on the antisemitic scandal-sheet The Stormer. Yet although she did not take part in violent actions or boycotts, Maschmann accepted that they were justified, and told herself: ‘The Jews are the enemies of the new Germany . . . If the Jews sow hatred against us all over the world, they must learn that we have hostages for them in our hands.’ Later on, she suppressed the memory of the violence she had seen on the streets, and ‘as the years went by I grew better and better at switching off quickly in this manner on similar occasions. It was the only way. Whatever the circumstances, to prevent the onset of doubts about the rightness of what had happened.’88 A similar process of rationalization and moral editing must have taken place with many others, too.


From September 1935, antisemitism became a principle governing private life as well as public. Enshrined as the cornerstone of Nazi ideology since the beginning, it was now penetrating larger areas of German society more deeply than ever before. The whole of the civil service was now engaged in applying the Nuremberg Laws and others besides. Judges, prosecutors, policemen, Gestapo and other law enforcement agencies spent increasing amounts of their time on enforcing antisemitic legislation. Town councils and their employees in libraries, swimming pools and all other kinds of municipal establishments carried out antisemitic regulations. Innkeepers, shopkeepers (many of whom protected themselves by putting up signs advertising themselves as a ‘purely Aryan establishment’), traders, businessmen, people in every walk of life were aware of laws against the Jews and had little hesitation in complying with them. Of course, the Social Democrats’ secret reports were filled with examples of individual landlords and restaurant-owners who turned a blind eye to notices they were forced to put up banning Jewish customers. Nevertheless, all of this was having an effect. Together with the progressive economic marginalization of the Jews, the Nuremberg Laws marked a significant step in the direction of the removal of Jews from German society. Their isolation was considerably greater after September 1935 than before.89

The third of the measures promulgated at the Nuremberg Party Rally of 1935, dubbed by the Nazis the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, was perhaps the most significant of all of them in bringing Nazism into the private sphere. It forbade marriages between Jews and Germans ‘or kindred blood’ and banned sexual relations outside marriage between the two categories as defined by the Citizenship Law as well. Jews were not allowed to employ female domestic servants under the age of forty-five if they were Germans, in an allusion to a sexual fantasy that often made its appearance in the pages of The Stormer. These laws were to be administered by the regular courts. Cases were brought under the loaded heading of ‘racial defilement’ (Rassenschande, literally ‘racial shame’ or ‘racial disgrace’). By their very nature such cases were difficult to identify, and prosecution depended heavily from the beginning on denunciation by neighbours, acquaintances and sometimes family members of those involved. From 1936 to 1939 the annual average of convictions for racial defilement under the Nuremberg Laws ran at about 420, two-thirds of them Jewish men. Under continuous pressure from the Gestapo and the Reich Justice Ministry, the courts became steadily harsher; in 1938, for example, a majority of racial defilement sentences passed by the Hamburg Regional Court involved lengthy periods of imprisonment in a penitentiary rather than an ordinary prison. The definition of illicit sexual relations was extended until it covered almost any kind of bodily contact between Jews and ‘Aryans’, including socially conventional embraces and kisses.90 Eleven sentences were passed for racial offences in the remaining months of 1935, then in the first full year of the law’s effect, 1936, the number jumped to 358, increasing to 512 in 1936 and falling back to 434 in 1938, 365 in 1939 and 231 in 1940. The increasing emigration of young and middle-aged Jews may have been a factor in the decline. It is possible, too, that the law’s deterrent effect had an influence, as sentences grew steadily harsher over time.91

Inside prison, offenders were frequently exposed to antisemitic abuse from warders; in some institutions they were routinely put on short commons, and even good behaviour was often regarded as ‘typical of the racial character which understands how to conform even in a position of powerlessness’, as one Bavarian prison official noted in 1939. ‘I suffer very much because of the hatred of Jews’, wrote a young Jewish inmate to his mother, in a letter confiscated by the prison authorities in June 1938: ‘One official calls me Moses, even though he knows exactly what I am called . . . Another one called me a damn Jewish swine this lunchtime.’ Their sufferings did not end there. Following an order issued by the Reich Minister of Justice on 8 March 1938, Jews who were sent to prison for race defilement were rearrested by the Gestapo when they completed their sentence and taken off to concentration camps.92 Here they were frequently singled out because of the nature of their alleged offence. In the Buchenwald concentration camp, the twenty-year-old Julius Meier, a well-educated, middle-class Jew, serving a two-year prison sentence after being denounced by a neighbour who had observed him being intimate with his family’s non-Jewish domestic servant, was marked down by the camp doctor for castration. Refusing to sign the consent form, on the grounds that his emigration papers were about to be completed, Meier was repeatedly punched in the face by an SS guard on the doctor’s orders, kicked, denied medical assistance for his injuries, and put in the camp’s punishment bunker for twelve days. Using what influence they had, Meier’s parents completed his emigration papers and obtained an order from Reich Security Head Office - not to release him, however, but to countermand the castration order. The telegram thus went not to the commandant, who would have arranged his immediate release, but to the camp doctor, for whom breaking Meier’s will had by now become a matter of personal pride: on his orders, Meier was put back into the punishment bunker and murdered by an SS guard.93

The law offered many new opportunities for the harassment and persecution of German Jews, especially men. In December 1935, a 43-year-old Jewish clerk was condemned to one year and three months in gaol for race defilement. He had lived together with his non-Jewish partner for a year and they had a nine-month-old baby. But prosecutions were often brought on the flimsiest of pretexts. In Bad Dürkheim, for example, a 66-year-old Jewish man, Hermann Baum, was condemned to a year in prison in November 1935 on the evidence of a fifteen-year-old girl who testified that he had tried to kiss her. The Gestapo called in domestic servants who worked in Jewish households to inform them that they had to leave, and plied them with leading questions (‘but he’s touched you sometimes on the shoulder hasn’t he?’) in the hope of making an arrest, threatening them with imprisonment themselves if they did not incriminate their masters.94 In November 1935, a fifty-year-old Jewish businessman, Ludwig Abrahamson, was denounced to the Gestapo for carrying on sexual relations with a non-Jewish employee, Wilhelmina Kohrt. Under interrogation he admitted that he had forced his attentions on her (whether in fact this was true may, in view of the methods used by the Gestapo to extract confessions, be doubted). He was sentenced to two years in prison and on his release was taken by the Gestapo to Buchenwald concentration camp, from which he only secured release on 6 October 1938 by providing proof that he would emigrate. An even more striking case was that of Hannelore Krieger, a worker in a factory producing alcoholic beverages, who was denounced anonymously in April 1938 for carrying on sexual relations with her boss, Julius Rosenheim. He had, she said, demanded sexual favours in return for money; but at her trial, she changed her testimony and said the relationship had ended in 1934, before the Law was passed. The court agreed to acquit both of them, but the Gestapo arrested Rosenheim at the end of the trial and took him off to a concentration camp anyway.95

If Krieger’s conduct perhaps bordered on prostitution, then real prostitutes were particularly vulnerable to denunciation from hostile neighbours for entertaining Jewish clients. Jewish men and women who had more committed relationships with non-Jewish partners took considerable precautions to conceal them after September 1938, but inevitably many fell victim to denunciations from prying neighbours or zealous Nazi snoopers. As time went on, people were denounced simply for being ‘friendly to Jews’: innkeepers for incautiously telling someone that Jews were still welcome in their establishments, German citizens for maintaining friendly relations with Jews of an entirely non-sexual kind, or even non-Jews for shaking hands with Jews in the street. On occasion the behaviour for which such people were denounced could denote a principled opposition to Nazi antisemitism; more often it was the product of indifference to official rules and regulations, or even simply long-maintained habit. Many such denunciations were false, but this in a sense was beside the point; false denunciations contributed as much as truthful ones to a general atmosphere in which Germans gradually cut off all their ties to Jewish friends and acquaintances, much as Melita Maschmann had done. By going well beyond what the Nuremberg Laws prescribed, and by pursuing all the denunciations they received, however frivolous or self-interested, the Gestapo and other agencies of law enforcement and control dismantled piece by piece the elaborate networks of social contacts which had been built up between German Jews and their fellow Germans over the decades. They were backed by the whole range of Party institutions, from the Block Warden upwards, who were similarly dedicated to preventing any further social intercourse between Aryans and Jews.96

Only occasionally did a Block Warden turn a blind eye, as in the case of the young lawyer and aspiring journalist Raimund Pretzel and his partner, a Jewish woman whom he met on his return from Paris in 1934. Pretzel had originally left Germany because of his dislike of the Third Reich’s repression and racism, and also in pursuit of a girl; when she married another man, he went back to Germany and began to make a living writing unpolitical articles for the arts pages of newspapers and magazines. His new partner had been sacked from her library job because of her race, and her marriage had also recently broken up. Her son, Peter, was blond and blue-eyed, and was even photographed as an ideal Aryan child. When Pretzel moved into her flat, they were contravening the Nuremberg Laws, but the Block Warden liked the family and protected them from interference. However, in 1938 she became pregnant, and the danger of denunciation became too great. Taking Peter with her, she went to an emigration office and obtained leave to join her brother in England. Pretzel himself got permission to go to England separately, using the pretext that he was writing a series of articles about English life; viewed with suspicion by the British authorities when he overstayed, he found great difficulty in making ends meet, and was rescued only by Frederic Warburg, head of the publishers Secker and Warburg, who was sufficiently impressed by the synopsis of a book he had submitted to offer him a contract. This satisfied the Home Office, who gave Pretzel a year’s extension to his visa. In the meantime, he had married his partner, and they had had a son. The future for both of them, however, seemed anything but certain, as it did for thousands of others who emigrated at this time.97

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