History tells us of the truth of the inhumane conditions Jews and other “community aliens” and "undesirables" dealt with as racism in Europe came to a peak during the Third Reich, but no account of history can never truly paint everything that has transpired. Proudly, the Nazis overran most of Europe with racism as their foundation, led by someone people now deem as the personification of evil. The Nazis marched forward with racial purification as their rallying cry.
The Creation of the Nuremburg Law
The Nuremburg Law was written in a span of two days because Adolf Hitler suddenly decided that it was about time to impose more restrictions on Jews. However, there were existing drafts already written; it was just that the severity and language still needs refinement. Hitler demands that new laws should be passed to protect the German Blood and German Honor in order to purify the German race. The lawmakers ended up writing the specifics of the law on menu cards during mealtimes as they hastily put together the law.
Dr. Kurt Mayer, head of Reich Office for Genealogy Research, expressed his anger and disgust as he was not consulted in the drafting process of translating the racial ideology into a law that would decide the fate of the many Jews. When Hitler first came to power, the expulsion of German Jews from numerous professions started. The oppression of Jews came by slowly, but by September 15, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed by the Reichstag.
The Passing of the Nuremburg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws were composed of the Reichsbürgergesetz or Reich Citizenship Law and Gesetz zum Schutze des Deutschen Blutes und der Deutschen Ehre translating to the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, which sought the ideal that only those of German descent could be citizens. Later on, this law was given more depth regarding the classification of Jews.
Under the Nuremburg Law, Germans were also forbidden to have sexual relations, as well as get married, with the Jews, as this became punishable by law. Jews were not allowed to have a German maid under the age of 45, their right to vote has been taken away, and they were not allowed to occupy public office. Most establishments denied them from availing products or services, even if it was a necessity. And aside from stamping the Jewish people’s identity card with a big red letter J, they were also forced to have recognizable Jewish middle names. Israel and Sara were the ones used to make it easier for the police to identify them.
It has soon come to the attention Hitler and the lawmakers that they have not specified in the Nuremburg Law who was to be counted as a Jew. This led to more discussion as they have realized that specific labeling of the citizens would most likely lead to social repercussions. They worried that several years of German-Jewish assimilation would inevitably reveal distinguished Nazi supporters, decorated war veterans and some 45,000 soldiers as half-Jewish.
By November 14, 1935, definition was given as to who was classified as Jewish. The lawmakers decided to focus on the blood instead of religion and came up with 3 racial categories: Germans, Jews, and Mischlinge or part-Jews. A person is of full-Jewish blood if that person has 3 Jewish grandparents. Mischlinges were classified into two. A first-degree Mischlinge was defined as anyone having two Jewish grandparents, does not practice Judaism, and was never married to a Jew. A second-degree Mischlinge is anyone who has only one Jewish grandparent.
Although the Nuremburg Law refers specifically to Jews, the Germans also enforced these laws to the Roma people, popularly known as Gypsies, black Germans, and their children. Other European countries, Bulgaria, Italy, Slovakia, and France, to name a few, enacted similar legislation. By the end of 1938, half the population of German Jews had fled the country.
Not all Jews were as lucky, however. As Nazi Germany moved to occupy Soviet territories, the mass killings of Jews ensued. The killings were assigned to SS formations, called Einsatzgruppen or task forces, under the head of the Reich Security. History dictates that Poland was plagued with murders, but the extent of the damage was done to the Soviet territories. The SS formation’s main goal was to deal with “all anti-German elements” in hostile countries.
Surprisingly, history reveals that most of the Einsatzgruppen were ordinary citizens, most of whom were professionals and intellectuals – with PhDs. Their victims were typically harassed into undressing and giving their valuables up, after which they would be forced to line beside a ditch to be shot. Some would be forced to climb into a ditch, lie on a layer of corpses, and wait for their imminent murder – such hatred rooted from racism was their motivation. Almost 500,000 people were murdered by the winter of 1941 to 1942. The numbers rose up to two million by the end of the war.
The invasion of Poland in 1939 gave way to the establishment of ghettos, which was done to confine Jews. Ghettos were enclosed districts housing the city’s Jewish population. The Germans required ghettos to be run by a Jewish council, of which they were responsible for everyday operations – distribution of food, water, medical care, shelter, and heat. The Jewish council also accounted for the confiscation of property, organization of forced labor, and the facilitation of deportations to extermination camps.
According to accounts of these Jews in history, their basic strategy was to minimize losses by cooperation and bribery. Eventually, they were ordered by Germans to compile lists of names to be deported, sent for “resettlement”. Leaders who refused to adhere to the orders were shot. Others opt for suicide rather than cooperate with the deportations. Those who adhered, however, tried to send the least useful workers or those unfit to work.
These ghettos were intended to be temporary – the Jews were to be deported to other locations, but that never happened. They were deceived and were sent to extermination camps, instead. The ghettos, however, are seen in history as crowded prisons, instruments of slow and passive murder. Starvation and disease prevailed and many Jews perished in these inhumane conditions. The old, the young, and the weak were being sent to extermination camps.
In July 1942, the closure of ghettos in Poland was ordered. Most of the population was sent to extermination camps; those who proved useful would be sent to concentration camps. As death camps continued to welcome newcomers, mass shootings continued in Russia. Here, the Germans faced another problem to their agenda: the search for a more efficient method of mass murder.
Despite the rising death toll, the Germans feared that shootings were causing psychological problems within the SS. Experimental gas vans, equipped with glass cylinders and a sealed compartment, was proposed. These machines were mainly used to kill the disabled and mentally ill, but the Germans found them useful for the extermination of Jews. However, as with some SS forces unable to follow through with shootings, handlers of the gas vans became troubled, eventually making the method ineffective.
Nazi Germany’s plan was carefully planned, but the execution was slow and painful. One, gain public trust by propaganda and overt racism. Two, paint Jews and those lesser than their Aryan race as banes to humanity. Three, break their spirit. Four, murder them. The plan was clear, simple, and effective – but what they didn’t know is that humanity prevails in the end. Even their allies faltered in the midst of mass shootings and gassing – and the Jews, of course, resisted.
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Background & Overview of the Nuremberg Laws. (n.d.). Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-the-nuremberg-laws
Berenbaum, M. (2020, May 13). Nürnberg Laws. From Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nurnberg-Laws
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.) The Nuremburg Race Laws. Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-nuremberg-race-laws