“Bacilli,” “spongers,” “parasites,” “poisonous mushrooms,” “rats,” “leeches,” and so forth (Burleigh and Wippermann, 1991, p. 42). This is the language Hitler used to describe “the Jew”. Although one may argue that these metaphors were used as a rhetorical device, the terms employed implied extermination as one possible fate for the Jews. On September 1919, Hitler had been assigned by his commander in the List Regiment of the German army to monitor meetings of the German Worker’s Party.
Shortly after, he discovered his affinity with much of the party’s program and joined the organization. Hitler’s extraordinary oratorical ability quickly propelled him to the leadership of the party in July 1921, where he moved his comrades to a more militant position in regard to the Jews. The success of the Final Solution required the cooperation of the political leadership and bureaucracy, which promulgated decrees that segregated Jews from the rest of society.
These steps included the enactment of laws that defined who was a Jew, followed by a census of the Jewish population and the requirement that Jews register their assets for the eventual expropriation of their property and businesses (“Aryanization”). In the stage preceding the roundup of Jews for deportation, the expectation was that Jews would be used for forced labor. In order to identify Jews they were required to wear an armband with a Star of David. Later, Germans insisted on this rule in all countries occupied by them.
Hitler also began to disseminate in his speeches the “stab in the back” accusation that held Jews responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I and the country’s subsequent economic and political ills. The phrase “stab in the back” was first used by General Paul von Hindenburg when he was summoned by the Reichstag to explain Germany’s defeat, but at the time he did not use it as a condemnation of the Jews. Hitler used the phrase exclusively against the Jews for purposes of political propaganda. Throughout the rest of the life of the Weimar Republic, Hitler made antisemitism his primary focus in building his political movement.
The autobiography Mein Kampf remains an uncanny record of Hitler’s obsession with the Jews and provides insight into the origin of the Nazi racial laws of the 1930s and the subsequent ideas that propelled the Nazis to murder the Jews of Europe. In Mein Kampf, Hitler devoted more than twenty pages to prostitution and syphilis. He blamed the spread of both on the Jews’effort to corrupt the “racial purity” of the German people. The Jews were accused not only of attempting to subvert the nation politically but also of undermining its racial foundation.
Throughout the Weimar Republic, Hitler’s violent language against the Jews was implemented in deed by both the SA and the SS. Jews were an easy target because, although constituting only 1 percent of the population, they were visible in all aspects of German life. Their most obvious presence was in politics, where the Nazis were able to connect Jews with bolshevism. Besides, Jews were largely found in the major cities such as Berlin. The cities also were the centers of banking and commerce, and Jews were prominent as bankers in Weimar Germany.
Although Jews were not owners of the increasingly important credit banks, some of the largest of these banks employed Jewish managers (Niewyk, 1980). Jewish visibility was most pronounced in the unique artistic and intellectual flowering known as Weimar culture. Jews were proud that a quarter of all the Nobel prizes won by Germans by 1933 were won by German Jews. Finally, Jews had every reason to be proud of their military record during World War I, despite charges made by right-wing groups that Jews had evaded military service.
The participation of Jews in the war entitled them to believe that through the crucible of battle, they had proved their loyalty beyond question. This was not to be. Between 1933 and 1935, the German government enacted laws that removed Jews from public life and revoked their rights as citizens. Concurrent with the passage of anti-Jewish legislation, on July 14, 1933, the government issued the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, allowing for the sterilization of anyone recognized as suffering from hereditary diseases, including manic-depressive disease, genetic blindness, genetic deafness, and other chronic diseases.
The policies for each group, however, had different objectives. Sterilization and, later, euthanasia were aimed at improving the health of the national community through a program of “negative eugenics,” or the elimination of the unfit from society. The laws directed toward the Jews had a different intent. Jews were characterized as an active and dangerous enemy that endangered the very existence of the nation. Like traditional antisemitism, which portrayed Jews as enemies of Christendom, the Nazis viewed themselves in an apocalyptic struggle with consequences that would determine the fate of the Aryan race.
German government promulgated the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service on April 7, 1933, barring anyone not of Aryan descent from public employment and establishing in law the principle of racial differences between Jews and all other Germans. The 1933 law represented the link between Nazi ideology and public policy. Inasmuch as the Nazi vision was one of creating a utopia based on racial purity, the law effectively excluded Jews from all key areas of German life.
The Civil Service Law removed the Jews from the state structure, and subsequent laws regulated Jewish physicians to “protect” the biological health of the nation. The disbarment of lawyers had the objective of protecting the social fabric of society, and the laws regarding schools, universities, the press, and the cultural professions aimed at restoring the primacy of Aryan culture. A 1933 directive ordering companies to fire Jewish employees said, “It is not religion but race that is decisive. Christianized Jews are thus equally affected.
” (Miller, 1995, p. 18) Although this was only partially enforced until 1938, this definition increased the number of those considered Jews from approximately 540,000 by religious profession to a pool of possibly 700,000 by genealogy. The problem arising from these objectives was to determine who was a Jew and what constituted membership in that group. One of the first Nazi definitions of a Jew came from Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Nazi Party’s foreign-policy department, who stated, “A Jew is he whose parents on either side are nationally Jews.
Anyone who has a Jewish husband or wife is henceforth a Jew. ” (p. 11) In April 1933, a government decree designated as non-Aryan anyone who had a Jewish parent or a Jewish grandparent; the parent or grandparent was presumed to be Jewish if he or she belonged to the Jewish religion. This definition remained operative until September 15, 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws were proclaimed at a special session of the Reichstag summoned to Nuremberg during the annual Nazi Party rally in that city.
The law defined a Jew as “anyone who had descended from at least three Jewish grandparents or from two Jewish grandparents and belonged to the Jewish religious community on September 15, 1935, or joined the community on a subsequent date or was married to a Jewish person on September 15, 1935, or married a Jew on a subsequent date or was the offspring of a marriage contracted with a three-quarter or a full Jew after the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor had come into force or was the offspring of an extramarital relationship with a three-quarter or full Jew and was born out of wedlock after July 31, 1936.
” (Hilberg, 1961, p. 48) Not defined as a Jew but counted as a Mischling, or of mixed Jewish blood, was “any person who descended from two Jewish grandparents but who did not adhere to the Jewish religion on September 15, 1935 and who did not join it at any subsequent time and was not married to a Jewish person on the September 15 date and who did not marry such a person at any subsequent time. ” Such persons were designated as Mischlinge of the first degree. Any person descended from one Jewish grandparent was designated as a Mischling of the second degree.
Thus the non-Aryans were split into two groups, Jews and Mischlinge, with the latter exempt from the subsequent destruction process. However, the Mischling was excluded from the civil service and the Nazi Party, and was restricted to the rank of a common soldier in the army. Mischlinge also could not marry Germans without official consent. The definition of who was a Jew was determined after a prolonged debate between the antisemitic zealots in the Nazi Party, who saw the Mischling as a carrier of the “Jewish influence,” and the civil service, which wanted to protect “that part which is German.
” (p. 47) The victory of those who would protect the part-Jew, however, was no solace for the Jewish community. After the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws, Jews now found themselves not only socially ostracized but also denied access to German law and the courts for protection. Thinking that Hitler’s animus toward Jews was directed at Jews from the East who were living in Germany, German Jews found that under the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazis would not distinguish among Jews in enforcing their racial policy.
Kristallnacht marked a turning point for Germany’s Jews and, by extension, for all Jews who would be victims of the Holocaust. These events witnessed the government’s legitimizing violence and brutality against the Jews. The events leading to Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass, began on October 7, 1938, when the Nazis decreed that the letter “J” be stamped on all Jewish passports and identity papers. On the same day, the Polish government announced that their nationals living abroad would require the purchase of a stamp on their passports or lose their Polish nationality.
Polish consulates had also been instructed not to renew the passports of Jews who had lived abroad for more than five years which left many Polish Jews stateless. The discrimination of Jews was paralleled by the German effort to exterminate the gypsies of Europe. As in the case of the Jews, Nazi ideology viewed the gypsies as subhuman because of their rootlessness. Gypsies, lacking a country of their own, were perceived as parasites living off the host nations that allowed them to reside within their borders.
In both Germany and Austria, where gypsies were victims of severe discrimination, numerous regulations that limited their movement and rights were rigorously enforced. Although population data on the gypsies are difficult to assess, many scholars estimate that about 1. 5 million lived in Europe on the eve of World War II (Friedman, 1980). The Nazi persecution of the gypsies mirrored that of the Jews. In September 1933, gypsies were arrested throughout Germany in accordance with the Law against Habitual Criminals. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 that defined the status of Jews in Germany also included regulations with regard to the gypsies.
For example, marriages between gypsies and Germans were forbidden The Research Office for the Science of Inheritance, which in 1937 was renamed the Research Office for Race Hygiene and Population, declared that 90 percent of the approximately 28,000 German Rom (gypsies) were Mischlinge, and therefore non-Aryans. As part of the Nazi program to eliminate “lives undeserving of living,” gypsies were designated as asocials and a threat to public health. Viewed as parasites feeding off the body of the German people, most were sent to Dachau, where many underwent forced sterilization.
Although the bulk of the gypsies in both Germany and Austria were considered non-Aryan, there was the matter of “pure” gypsies. In October 1942, Himmler issued a decree that distinguished between Mischling gypsies and those considered of pure blood, whereby the latter would be permitted a certain degree of freedom of movement. Ultimately Himmler’s directive exempted some 13,000 Sinti and 1,017 Lalleri (the gypsies had divided into the two tribes centuries earlier) from the fate awaiting the great majority of the gypsies.
On December 16, 1942, Himmler issued an order that in effect called for the Final Solution of the gypsy problem whereby they would be sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Exceptions were made for those “socially adapted” to German life, former Wehrmacht soldiers, and those necessary for wartime labor. However, in each of these categories, those who were exempted were to be sterilized. The Himmler order of December 16 was to seal the fate of Europe’s gypsy population (Hancock, 1996). In comparing the fate of the gypsies with the Jews, the words of Yehuda Bauer shed light on the distinctions that the Nazis made between the two targeted peoples:
“Gypsies were not Jews and therefore there was no need to kill all of them. Those Gypsies who were of “pure blood” or who were not considered dangerous on a racial level could continue to exist, under strict supervision. The Mischlinge were . . . doomed to death. The difference between the fate of the Gypsies and that of the Jews is clear. The Jews were slated for total annihilation, whereas, the Gypsies were sentenced to selective mass murder on a vast scale. ” (Bauer, 1990, p. 638)
Bauer, Yehudo. (1990). Gypsies. In Gutman, ed., Encyclopedia of the Holocaust(Vol 2) (p. 638). New York: Macmillan.
Burleigh, Michael and Wippermann,Wolfgang. (1991). The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 42.
Friedman, Philip. (1980). Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, p. 382.
Hancock, Ian. (1996). Responses to the Romani Holocaust. In Alan S. Rosenbaum , ed., Is the Holocaust Unique? (p. 44). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Hilberg, Raul. (1961). The Destruction of the European Jews. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, p. 48.
Niewyk, Donald L. (1980). The Jews in Weimar Germany. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, p. 14.
Miller, Richard Lawrence. (1995). Nazi Justiz: Law of the Holocaust. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, p. 18.