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Nazi racial- and Jewish policy

The Nazis used public places to spread their racist ideas. The depicted diagram carries the heading “The biological development”. Underneath: “The Nordic race’s stages of development”. USHMM # 45105.

Why did Nazi Germany end up killing 6 million Jews?

This question is extremely difficult to answer. Some historians believe that the Nazis had planned the extermination of the Jews since their takeover of power in 1933. Other historians believe that the extermination of the Jews was a result of the specific historical context, and thus not originally planned for. According to the latter group of historians, the “race war” against the Soviet Union, which began in 1941, took place in a specific historical context, where it became possible to kill people – Jews, Poles and Russians – in a new and terrible manner.

The following is a brief examination of the Nazi racial policy from 1933-1945.





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Nazi racial- and Jewish policy - an overview
Table: excerpts from laws and decrees, 1933-1938
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Nazi racial- and Jewish policy - an overview

The Nazi racial policy between 1933 and 1945 consisted of two elements: eugenics and racial segregation (later racial extermination). The Nazis thus tried to keep their own “race” free from abnormalities and illnesses (eugenics) and keep the Aryan race closed to other ”inferior” races (racial segregation and extermination).

In the name of eugenics the Nazis initiated forced sterilisations of the hereditary ill and carried out euthanasia (emergency killings) on around 200,000 mentally and physically disabled Germans.

The other part of the racial policy, the racial segregation, was initiated in order to suppress and persecute all non-Aryans, first of all Jews. But gypsies were also included in this morbid form of “apartheid”. The though was that non-Aryans constituted a threat against the German blood and the German Volksgemeinschaft (‘people’s community’). Later on the racial segregation was radicalised and became a policy of racial expulsion: Jews were forced to emigrate. This policy succeeded very well in Austria in 1938, and was then introduced in Germany itself under the slogan: Germany for Germans!

There were about 500,000 believing Jews in Germany by 1930. More than 160,000 of them lived in Berlin. The Jews only constituted about 0,8% of the total German population of around 70 million people.


When occupying Poland in 1939, this policy of emigration became untenable for the Nazi regime. It was simply unrealistic to make more than 3 million Polish Jews emigrate.

This led to ambitious Nazi plans for a solution to the ’Jewish Question’ – for living together with Jews was unacceptable! The Nazi leadership at this point (1939-1940) worked with serious plans for carrying out a forced deportation of the Polish Jews to Madagascar. This plan was never realised, in particular because of the war with Great Britain.

The racial policy reached its preliminary culmination in the period of 1939-1941. The Nazis began to deport Jews from the German-controlled areas to ghettos in Poland and Russia, beginning with the Polish Jews but soon including German Jews as well. The ghettoisation of the Jews took place while Germans living in the occupied areas (the so-called Volksdeutsche) were brought in to the Third Reich. This demographic policy fitted in well with the overall goals of the Nazi racial policy: areas were made “free of Jews” while Volksdeutsche were rehoused in areas given up by the Jews.

But: What was to happen to the Jews in the ghettos? Apparently, the Nazis were not sure themselves.

In 1941 it looked as if the Nazis had decided the future of the Jews. For starting in 1941, Jews were executed and murdered on a scale utterly unknown up until then. The mass murders began in connection with the war of extermination against the Soviet Union, which began on 22 June 1941. Large-scale executions of Jews, Poles and Russians took place, most frequently carried out by the four so-called Einsatzgruppen. A total of 1,5 million Jews were murdered in the occupied Soviet territories – with eager help from local anti-Semites. Almost simultaneously, mass executions were initiated in six “killing centres”, extermination camps, situated in Poland. At least 3 million Jews perished in these camps. To this should be added another 1,5 million Jewish victims, who died in the concentration camps, the ghettos and elsewhere as a result of hunger, slave labour and random executions.

Consequently, the Nazi racial policy can be characterised as a policy of extermination beginning in 1941, whether there existed a clear order to commit mass murder, or not. It is demonstrably true that the Nazi regime was behind the murder of more than 6 million Jews between 1941 and 1945.



Table: excerpts from laws and decrees, 1933-1938


7 and 11 April 1933: The Civil Servants Act means that only Aryans (members of the Aryan ”race”) can be employed as civil servants. The law defines what constitutes non-Aryan based on biological principles, in the ‘1. Ordinance for the re-establishing of the Civil Service’ (the “Aryan Law”):

§2 (1) Non-Aryan is he who descends from non-Aryan, especially Jewish, parents or grandparents. It suffices that only one parent or grandparent is non-Aryan.

§2 (2) Civil servants, who were not employed before 1 August 1914, shall provide documentation of their Aryan descend or of their active participation in the World War.

Following the issuing of the Act, around 30,000 civil servants are dismissed from public service.

7 April: It becomes possible to revoke the license of Jewish lawyers.

10 May: Public book burnings of ”non-Aryan” literature in the larger cities.

July 1933: Forced sterilisation becomes possible based on racial criteria according to a new law. Around 200,000 are forcibly sterilised.

1935: Jews are prohibited from bathing in public together with Germans (Aryans).

15 September 1935: The Nuremberg Laws – Jews are defined on biological and racial principles. Jews and gypsies become second-rate citizens without full civil rights.

November 1938: Jews are prohibited from going to the movies, theatres and art exhibitions. Jewish children are excluded from German schools.

December 1938: All Jews lose their drivers license. Jews are prohibited from driving.




Want to know more?

Most sections on this web site include aspects of the Nazi racial- and Jewish policy. In particular, see:



> The Nazi ideology
> Anti-Semitism
> The Nazis and anti-Semitism
> The Nuremberg Laws
> The Night of Broken Glass
> The Final Solution
> Extermination camps





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