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The Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating antisemitism as a form of scientific racism.
The Nuremberg Laws classified people with four German grandparents as "German or kindred blood", while people were classified as Jews if they descended from three or four Jewish grandparents. A person with one or two Jewish grandparents was a Mischling, a crossbreed, of "mixed blood". The Nuremberg Laws classified people with "German or related blood" as "racially acceptable" . These laws deprived Jews and other non-Aryans of German citizenship and prohibited racially mixed sexual relations and marriages between Germans and Jews. On 26 November 1935, the laws were extended to "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring".
These laws were both an attempt to return the Jews of 20th-century Germany to the position that Jews had held before their emancipation in the 19th century; although in the 19th century, Jews could have evaded restrictions by converting, this was no longer possible.
The laws were a legal embodiment of an already existing Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.
Before 1806, when general citizenship was largely non-existent in the Holy Roman Empire, its inhabitants were subject to different estate regulations. Varying from one territory of the Empire to another, these regulations classified inhabitants into different groups, such as dynasts, members of the court entourage, other aristocrats, city dwellers (burghers), Jews, Huguenots (in Prussia a special estate until 1810), free peasants, serfs, peddlers and Gypsies, with different privileges and burdens attached to each classification. Legal inequality was the principle.
The concept of citizenship was mostly restricted to cities, especially free imperial cities. There was no general franchise, which remained a privilege for the few, who inherited the status or acquired it when they reached a certain level of taxed income or could afford the expensive citizen's fee (Bürgergeld). Citizenship was often further restricted to city dwellers affiliated with the locally dominant Christian denomination (Calvinist, Catholic or Lutheran). City dwellers of other denominations or religions and those who lacked the necessary wealth to qualify as citizens were considered as mere inhabitants who lacked political rights and were sometimes subject to revocable staying permits.
Most Jews then living in German locales that allowed their settlement were automatically defined as mere indigenous inhabitants, depending on permits that were typically less generous than those granted to Gentile indigenous inhabitants. In the 18th century some Jews and their families (such as Daniel Itzig in Berlin) gained equal status with their fellow Christian city dwellers, but had a different status than noblemen, Huguenots, or serfs. They often did not enjoy the freedom of movement across territorial or even municipal boundaries, let alone enjoy the same status in the new place as in the old.
With the abolition of legal status differences in the Napoleonic era and its aftermath citizenship was established as a new franchise generally applying to all former subjects of the monarchs. While Jewish emancipation did not eliminate all forms of discrimination against Jews, who often remained barred from holding official positions with the State, such forms of discrimination were no longer the guiding principle for ordering society, but a violation of it. These restrictions were mostly abolished in the 1840s, in few smaller states as late as 1869.
In the mid-19th century, the fiercely antisemitic völkisch movement appeared in Germany. One of the major demands of the various völkisch groups had been the expulsion of German Jews and banning sexual relations between those considered to be of the “Jewish race” and those considered to be of the “Aryan race”. In 1881, a petition presented to the German government by the völkisch groups demanding Jewish disemancipation and the banning of marriage and sexual intercourse between “Aryans” and “Jews” had collected over a million signatures. Reflecting the strength of the völkisch movement, from 1892 when the so-called Tivoli Program was adopted, the Conservative Party formally advocated disemancipation of German Jews. In his best-selling 1912 book Wenn ich der Kaiser wär (If I were the Kaiser), Heinrich Class, the leader of one of the more powerful völkisch groups, the Alldeutscher Verband, urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to Fremdenrecht (alien status). Class went on to urge in Wenn ich der Kaiser wär that Jews be totally excluded from all aspects of German life with Class recommending that Jews be forbidden to own land, hold public office, and to participate in journalism, banking, and the liberal professions.
Within Germany, persecution of the Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) long preceded the Nazi regime. In 1899, Alfred Dillmann established the Central Office for Fighting the Gypsy Nuisance in Munich. This office collected information and the fingerprints of Gypsies. In 1926 in Bavaria, the ‘Law for the Combating the Gypsies, Travellers, and Work-Shy’ required the systematic registration of all Sinti and Roma, and sent Gypsies over 16 to workhouses for two years if they could not prove regular employment. The law prohibited Gypsies from "roam[ing] about or camp[ing] in bands," and this law became the national norm in 1929.
The Nazis used a pseudo scientific basis for the Nuremberg Laws, in part based on the book Foundations of Human Hereditary Teaching and Racial Hygiene by Eugen Fischer, Erwin Baur and Fritz Lenz, and a publication from 1933 by Gerhard Kittel, called Die Judenfrage (The Jewish Question).
After the First World War, the Jews of Germany were among the most assimilated in Western Europe, speaking German, as opposed to Yiddish, as their first language. Many were secular or atheistic and many had fought for Germany in the First World War.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), which had been founded in 1919 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, adopted the movement's demands to disemancipate the Jews as its own. Attacks on Jews started shortly after the Nazi assumption of power on 30 January 1933, when Adolf Hitler assumed the Chancellorship. The Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, the first nationwide stage of the antisemitic campaign, began on 1 April 1933.
However, the völkisch nationalists demand for laws disemancipating Jews and banning sex or marriage between "Aryans" and "non-Aryans" were not immediately met. A dispute between the Interior Ministry and the NSDAP over the precise "racial" definition of a Jew, namely how many Jewish grandparents did one have to have to be considered Jewish, led to the entire process being hopelessly bogged down by 1935.
The lack of a clear definition of who was a Jew confused efforts to enforce antisemitic laws and measures. The first Nuremberg law, nominally designed for the "prevention of the propagation of hereditary illness", did not attack Jews explicitly. Other laws claimed to preserve German blood and honour, but again were not specifically antisemitic.
The original German Gypsy policy, as it was laid during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, focused on integrating Gypsies into the “ordinary” German society. However, during the Nazi regime, the same theories that were behind the Nazi idea of the Jews as an anti-race, were used to deem Gypsies as an inferior race that was a danger to the survival of the German people and the purity of the German ‘blood’.
In July 1933, under the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring" physicians sterilized an unknown number of Gypsies, part-Gypsies, and Gypsies in mixed marriages. Under the "Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" of November 1933, the police arrested many Gypsies along with others the Nazis viewed as "asocials", and "work shy", including prostitutes, beggars, chronic alcoholics, and homeless vagrants, and imprisoned them in concentration camps.
During the spring and summer of 1935, many Alte Kämpfer (Old Fighters; i.e. those who joined the Nazi Party before the NSDAP made its electoral breakthrough in the election of 1930, and who tended to be the most ardent antisemites in the Party) and SA members, disenchanted with unfulfilled promises by the Nazi party, were eager to lash out against Germany's Jewish minority as a way of expressing their frustrations against a group that the authorities would not generally protect. The German historian Hans Mommsen wrote about the Alte Kämpfer that:
"After the Nazi seizure of power, those groups in the NSDAP that originated in the extreme völkisch movement—including the vast majority of the Alte Kämpfer—did not become socially integrated. Many of them remained unemployed, while others failed to obtain posts commensurate with the services they believed they had rendered the movement. The social advancement that they had hoped for usually failed to materialize. This potential for protest was increasingly diverted into the sphere of Jewish policy. Many extremists in the NSDAP, influenced by envy and greed as well as by a feeling that they had been excluded from attractive positions within the higher civil service, grew even more determined to act decisively and independently in the "Jewish Question". The pressures exerted by the militant wing of the party on the state apparatus were most effective when they were in harmony with the official ideology".
A Gestapo report from the spring of 1935 stated that the rank and file of the Nazi Party would set in motion a solution to the "Jewish problem" "by us from below that the government would then have to follow". The ensuing wave of assaults, vandalism and boycotts by the Alte Kämpfer and SA members against German Jews in the spring and summer of 1935 was far more violent than the antisemitic campaigns in the two previous years. As a result of this antisemitic agitation, these matters were raised to the forefront of the state agenda. The Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, a leading expert on public opinion in Nazi Germany argued that there was a vast disparity of views between those of the Alte Kämpfer and the general German public, but that even those Germans who were not politically active favored bringing in tougher new antisemitic laws in 1935.
Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the Economics Minister and Reichsbank president, criticized arbitrary behavior by Party members as this inhibited his policy of developing the German economy. From Dr. Schacht's viewpoint, the violent antisemitic campaign waged by the Alte Kämpfer and SA made no economic sense, since Jews were believed to have certain entrepreneurial skills that could be usefully employed to further his policies. Schacht made no moral condemnation of anti-Jewish policy and advocated the passing of legislation to clarify the situation. Following complaints from Dr. Schacht plus reports on the public disagreement with the wave of antisemitic violence, Hitler ordered a stop to "individual actions" against German Jews on 8 August 1935. A conference of ministers was held on 20 August 1935 to discuss the negative economic effects of Party actions against Jews. Hitler argued that such effects would cease once the government decided on a firm policy against the Jews. At the same time, the Interior Minister Dr. Wilhelm Frick threatened to impose harsh penalties on those Party members who ignored the order of 8 August and continued to assault Jews. From Hitler's perspective, it was imperative to bring in harsh new antisemitic laws as a consolation for those Party members who were disappointed with Hitler's order of 8 August, especially because Hitler had only reluctantly given the order for pragmatic reasons, and his sympathies were with the Party radicals.
The seventh Nazi Party Rally was held in Nuremberg from 10–16 September 1935. It was meant to celebrate the Nazi regime's renunciation of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles in March 1935, which had disarmed Germany, hence its motto Party Rally of Freedom. The rally saw the Reichstag pass the Reich Flag Law, which was Hitler’s response to the "Bremen incident" of 26 July 1935 in New York, in which a group of anti-Nazi demonstrators boarded the Bremen, tore the Nazi party flag which the Bremen had been provocatively flying from its jackstaff and tossed it into the Hudson River. When the German Consul protested, U.S. officials responded that the German national flag had not been harmed, only a political party symbol. On 15 September 1935 Hitler declared the Nazi Swastika flag the national flag of Germany.
The Party Rally of September 1935 had featured the first session of the Reichstag held at that city since 1543. Hitler had planned to have the Reichstag pass a law making the Nazi Swastika flag the flag of the German Reich, and a major speech in support of the impending Italian aggression against Ethiopia. However, at the last minute, the German Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath persuaded Hitler to cancel his speech as being too provocative to public opinion abroad as it blatantly contradicted the message of Hitler's "peace speeches", thus leaving Hitler with the sudden need to have something else to address the historic first meeting of the Reichstag in Nuremberg since 1543, other than the Reich Flag Law. Hitler's need for something to present to the Reichstag was especially acute as he had invited all of the senior foreign diplomats in Berlin to the Party Rally of 1935 to hear what was billed as an especially important speech on foreign policy.
On 12 September 1935, two days after the beginning of the party rally, leading Nazi physician Gerhard Wagner surprisingly announced in a speech that the Nazi government would soon introduce a "law for the protection of German blood" to prevent mixed marriages between Jews and "Aryans" in the future. Hitler immediately decided to extend the legal scope. On 13 September, Dr. Bernhard Lösener, the Interior Ministry official in charge of drafting antisemitic laws was hastily summoned to the Nuremberg Party Rally by plane by Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, the State Secretary of the Interior Ministry, and directed to start drafting at once a law for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for 15 September. Lösener arrived in Nuremberg on the morning of 14 September.
Because of the short time available for the drafting of the laws, both measures were hastily improvised—there was even a shortage of drafting paper so that menu cards had to be used instead. Such was the degree of improvisation that Franz Gürtner, the Justice Minister, first learned of the adoption of the laws from listening to the radio. Most of the debates about the drafting of the laws concerned a precise definition of what constituted a Jew in Nazi "racial" terms, i.e. how many Jewish grandparents one had to have in order to qualify as Jewish under Nazi racial theories.
Hitler himself spent the night of 14–15 September hesitant and indecisive over just which of the various definitions of a Jew to adopt, and finally excused himself from the debate. On 15 September, Hitler presented the laws drafted by Stuckart, Lösener and Medicus to the Reichstag.
The first law, The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between "Jews" and "Germans" and also the employment of "German" females under forty-five in Jewish households. The second law, The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as Aryans ("German or related blood") were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). Wilhelm Frick wrote "No Jew can become a Reich Citizen, because German blood is a prerequisite in the Reich citizenship code." This was also applied to others whose blood was not related to German blood, such as the Gypsies and Negroes. However, other European minorities living in Germany such as Danes and Poles could be Reich Citizens. In effect, this law stripped Jews of German citizenship. Between November 1935 to July 1943, 13 implementation ordinances were issued dealing with the enforcement of Reich Citizenship Law that progressively marginalized the Jewish community in Germany.
Hitler appeared before the Reichstag in Nuremberg, introducing the laws and their alleged motivation, before the laws were formally read and proposed for adoption by Hermann Göring, the President of the Reichstag. In his speech he laid out his case for the new laws:
...Bitter complaints have come in from countless places citing the provocative behavior of Jews....a certain amount of [conspiratorial] planning was involved....[To prevent] vigorous defensive action by the [Aryan] people, we have no choice but to contain the problem through legislative measures....it may be possible, through a definitive secular solution, to create a basis on which the German people can have a tolerable relationship with the Jews. ... This law is an attempt to find a legislative solution....if this attempts fails, it will be necessary to transfer [the Jewish problem] ... to the National Socialist Party for a final solution by law (German: endgültige Lösung).
The measures were unanimously adopted by the Reichstag. In 12 years of Nazi rule, the Reichstag only passed four laws: the Nuremberg laws were two of them.
The Nuremberg Laws formalized the unofficial and particular measures taken against Jews up to 1935. The Nazi leaders made a point of stressing the consistency of this legislation with the Party programme, which demanded that Jews should be deprived of their citizenship rights.
The Laws for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour
(5 September 1935) Moved by the understanding that the purity of German blood is essential to the further existence of the German people, and inspired by the uncompromising determination to safeguard the future of the German nation, the Reichstag has unanimously resolved upon the following law, which is promulgated herewith:
- Section 1
- Marriages between Jews and citizens (German: Staatsangehörige) of German or kindred blood are forbidden. Marriages concluded in defiance of this law are void, even if, for the purpose of evading this law, they were concluded abroad.
- Proceedings for annulment may be initiated only by the Public Prosecutor.
- Section 2
- Extramarital sexual relations between Jews and "German or related blood" is forbidden..
- (This concept was unofficially termed Rassenschande - 'defilement of blood'. Supplementary decrees set Nazi definitions of racial Germans, Jews, and half-breeds or Mischlinge --- see the latter entry for details and citations and Mischling Test for how such decrees were applied. Jews could not vote or hold public office under the parallel "citizenship" law.)
- Section 3
- Jews will not be permitted to employ female citizens under the age of 45, of German or kindred blood, as domestic workers.
- Section 4
- Section 5
- A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of Section 1 will be punished with hard labour.
- A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of Section 2 will be punished with imprisonment or with hard labour.
- A person who acts contrary to the provisions of Sections 3 or 4 will be punished with imprisonment up to a year and with a fine, or with one of these penalties.
- Section 6
- The Reich Minister of the Interior in agreement with the Deputy Führer and the Reich Minister of Justice will issue the legal and administrative regulations required for the enforcement and supplementing of this law.
- Section 7
- The law will become effective on the day after its promulgation; Section 3, however, not until 1 January 1936.
Legal discrimination against Jews had come into being before the Nuremberg Laws and steadily grew as time went on; however, for discrimination to be effective, it was essential to have a clear definition of who was or was not a Jew. This was one important function of the Nuremberg laws and the numerous supplementary decrees that were proclaimed to further them.
The Reich Citizenship Law had little practical effect as it deprived German Jews only of the right to vote and hold office. Much to the fury of the Alte Kämpfer and the other radicals in the NSDAP, the recommendation from the Interior Ministry that the Reich Citizenship Law applied only to those classified as "full Jews" and those "half-Jews" who practiced Judaism or were not in a mixed marriage was taken up; those Mischling who were Christians or were in a mixed marriage retained their German citizenship. The NSDAP had wanted the Reich Citizenship Law to apply to "Grade 1 and Grade 2 persons of mixed descent". The suggestion of Dr. Frick for creation of a tribunal before which every German would have to prove that they were Aryans in order to keep their German citizenship was not followed. Because of this, the Nuremberg Laws were highly unpopular with the Party radicals. Joseph Goebbels had the radio broadcast recording the passing of the laws by the Reichstag cut short, and ordered the German media not to mention the laws until a way of implementing them had been found. At a secret conference held in Munich on 24 September to finally resolve the dispute over who was a "racial" Jew or who was a "half-Jew", Hitler accepted Lösener's less sweeping definitions of three or four Jewish grandparents, and ruled that the laws were not to apply to those Mischling who were Christians and to "Grade 2 persons of mixed descent". However immediately afterwards in a meeting with Martin Bormann, Hitler declared that paragraph six of the First Ordinance of the Reich Citizenship Law was not to be applied in practice, and instead accepted Bormann's suggestion of excluding Mischling from a whole host of German institutions such as the DAF.
People defined as Jews could then be barred from employment as lawyers, doctors or journalists. Jews were prohibited from using state hospitals and could not be educated by the state past the age of 14. Public parks, libraries and beaches were closed to Jews. War memorials were to have Jewish names expunged. Even the lottery could not award winnings to Jews. With the so-called Namensänderungsverordnung ("Regulation of Name Changes") of 17 August 1938, Jews with first names of non-Jewish origin were required to adopt a middle name: "Sara" for women and "Israel" for men. At the instigation of Swiss immigration official Heinrich Rothmund, passports of German Jews were required to have a large "J" stamped on them and could be used to leave Germany—but not to return.
All people who wanted Reich citizenship had to own the official Aryan certificate document, one form was to acquire an Ahnenpass which required the owner to prove via birth or baptism certificates or certified thereof that all grandparents were of "Aryan descent". The Ahnenpass was given out to citizens of other countries, under the condition that they were of "German or related blood", regardless of where they lived, "eg an Englishman or Swede, a Frenchman or a Czech, a Pole or Italian".
Later the death penalty was applied under the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour. For example, in Nuremberg a Jewish businessman named Lehmann (Leo) Kazenberger was accused of having a sexual relationship with a younger German woman, this was prohibited by the race laws as Rassenschande or "racial pollution". He was denounced and arrested but he and his alleged girlfriend denied the charges. The case was heard by Oswald Rothaug who, according to many observers, used the case as an opportunity for getting noticed by Hitler. Under wartime law when a crime had been committed during blackout hours death penalty could be applied. Kazenberger was sentenced to death and guillotined on 2 June 1942.
The Nuremberg laws were based on a belief in scientific racism and derived from a primitive understanding of genetics. Although the Nazis took these ideas to violent extremes, they were based on thinking that already existed across Europe and America. Nazi laws banning "interracial marriage" and according to Nazi racial ideology the Germanic Nordic-Aryans were a master race and in accordance with ideas expressed in eugenics and Social Darwinism; they therefore sought to preserve their supposed racial superiority by banning inter-marriage with people they regarded as inferior or as a threat, in particular Jews, Gypsies and blacks who were classified as untermenschen ("subhumans") that were seen as racially distinctive minorities of "alien blood".
Allies of the Nazis passed their own versions of the Nuremberg laws including The Law for Protection of the Nation in Bulgaria, in 1940 the ruling Iron Guard in Romania passed the Law defining the Legal Status of Romanian Jews, in 1941 the Codex Judaicus was enacted in Slovakia and in 1941 the Ustasha in Croatia also passed legislation defining who was a Jew and restricting contact with them. Hungary passed its first "Jewish Law" in May 1938 banning Jews from various professions; further laws emulating the Nuremberg regulations were added in 1941.
An original typescript of the laws signed by Hitler was found by the 203rd Detachment of the U.S. Army's Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC), commanded by Martin Dannenberg, in Eichstätt, Bavaria, on 27 April 1945. It was appropriated by General George S. Patton, in violation of JCS 1067. During a visit to Los Angeles, he secretly handed it over to the Huntington Library. The document was stored until 26 June 1999, when its existence was revealed. Although legal ownership of the document has not been established, it was given on permanent loan to the Skirball Cultural Center, which placed it on public display three days later, until the document's transfer to the National Archives in Washington D.C. on 25 August 2010.
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Quotation in German: z.B. ein Engländer oder Schwede, ein Franzose oder Tscheche, ein Pole oder Italiener.