The Beginning of the Holocaust
The Persecution of the German Jews, 1933 - 1941
Measures designed to drive Jews out of Germany
On the 23rd of March, 1933, the German parliament passed a law called “the empowerment act” which allowed the chancellor or prime minister, Adolf Hitler, unlimited power to rule by decree and without the consent of the parliament or “Reichstag.”
This had come about after the National Socialist German Workers Party, (Nazional Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) had become the largest party represented in the German parliament in 1932. With 13,475,000 votes, the Nazi party had attained a plurality, but not a majority of the seats in the Reichstag.
Nevertheless, the President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, a retired general, appointed Hitler chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. The German constitution at that time allowed the president to make such an appointment in case of an “emergency.”
The NSDAP was not the only German political party that ranted incessantly about the “Jewish conspiracy” and other anti-Jewish canards. However, Hitler was the only candidate for the position of chancellor who had made hatred of Jews a principal plank in the platform of his party.
Therefore, it was no surprise when the Nazi government began at once to take measures against the Jewish population of 522,000 citizens, constituting 0.77% of all Germans. The German government passed 431 laws and decrees aimed at driving all Jews out of Germany. Thousands succeeded in leaving Germany. Yet, when the Second World War began on September 1, 1939, the 164,000 Jews still living in Germany could no longer escape, so that all but 15,000 were slaughtered in numerous death camps, located mainly in eastern European countries occupied by the German armies.
Because the mass murders committed by the German armies and Nazi units were conducted in the main in eastern Europe after the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the atrocities which drove almost all Jews out of Germany between January 31, 1933 and December 8, 1941 are frequently overlooked by historians and others. Yet, the numerous restrictions on their lives between those years eliminated almost all Jews from Germany, with only about 130,000 allowed to come to the United States.
Before these anti-Jewish ordinances could become effective, it was first necessary for the German government to define the word “Jude,” the German word for Jew. The expression “Jude” was not used at first because Nazi ideology held that the population of the world could be divided into “Arier,” or Aryan, and “Nicht-Arier.” Non-Jewish Germans were deemed to belong to the Aryan race while all Jews were labeled “non-Aryans.” It was claimed that these divisions could never be altered and that the “nicht-Arier” were destroying all German culture because they had different blood than real Germans.
To deal effectively with the alleged threat to German culture, the Nazi regime, promptly on attaining power, made books the first casualty of their ideology. Mass burnings of books written by Jews were undertaken in 1933 and thereafter. These burnings were conducted by “Hitler Youth,” who threw into huge bonfires some of the masterpieces of the German language. These burnings were prepared by students, librarians, and professors, who made lists of books by or about Jews. It is significant that the German academic community participated in these actions.
The lists were then handed to storm troopers, who entered libraries and bookstores on May 10, 1933, and seized all books on the lists given them. Included were some books not written by Jews but considered “degenerate,” such as “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque (Kramer), which depicts the horrors of the First World War.
The book burnings were conducted at night as the Storm Troopers marched by torchlight to open places such as the Opernplatz in Berlin, and, singing Nazi songs, tossed the books into the fires. More than 20,000 books were burned in Berlin alone on that night.
A long list of German Jewish authors whose books were burned was augmented by a list of non-Jewish authors. The Jewish authors included the greatest of German lyricists, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), whose poem “Die Lorelei” had been set to music and sung in every German school and home. When it became impossible for the Nazis to suppress everything Heine had written, they published his poems with the subscript “anonymous.”
The books by Albert Einstein were burned and prohibited, although Einstein was a physicist and his books were hardly understandable to the vast majority of Germans, who were evidently not physicists.
Non-Jewish authors whose books were burned included Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Rainer Rilke, and even the children’s books by Erich Kästner.
Because these book burnings were conducted in public, it was not possible for any German to be ignorant of these proceedings. This is an important consideration because so many Germans claimed after the end of the Second World War that they knew nothing of the mass murders committed in their name. The truth is otherwise. The German public knew all about the persecution of the Jews and approved of it from the outset. The reason for this was that long before the existence of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) an eliminationist hatred of Jews was as common in Germany as eating sauerkraut or speaking the native tongue. In part, this accepted disdain for the Jews was the product of Christian theology, which had preached anti-Jewish doctrines for centuries. Particularly Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity, became a source of the unquestioned doctrines concerning Jews that influenced the Nazi ideology and its actions.
That Nazi racial doctrines were embedded in the German culture can be seen in numerous actions ordinary Germans took as soon as the Nazi takeover had arrived. At once, German Christians shunned converts from Judaism to Christianity, who were, despite their religious affiliation, viewed as Jews and excluded from church services or participation in the Catholic mass. Converts to Christianity were seen as Jews and treated accordingly, as recognized by the German doggerel, “Die Religion is einerlei, in der Rasse liegt die Schweinerei,” or “Religion makes no difference, the swinishness lies in the race.”
Moreover, the Christian clergy, both Protestant and Catholic, contributed to the persecution of the Jews not only by keeping quiet in view of the evident atrocities inflicted on the Jewish minority, but also because there was nearly universal agreement among both confessions that Jews were not worth a confrontation with the Nazi regime. It is noteworthy that in 1941 the bishop of Münster, Graf Galen, held a devastating critical speech against the killings of the retarded. That sermon was widely publicized in German Catholic publications and forced the abandonment of euthanasia by the government because Hitler feared that any further such pronouncements against his policies would result in popular condemnation of such actions.
No effort of any kind was made by the Christian clergy on behalf of the Jews. Instead, the clergy preached that “the Jews” were responsible for the death of Jesus and therefore brought the present persecutions on themselves.
Furthermore, both Protestant and Catholic pastors walked ahead of brown shirted storm troopers as they marched down the streets singing such songs as, “When Jewish blood squirts from the knife, things will go twice as well” (Wen’s Judenblut vom Messer spritzt dann geht’s nochmal so gut”). Another popular song in which the clergy participated was: “Sharpen the long knives on the sidewalks and ram the knives into the bodies of the Jews” (Wetzt die Messer auf dem Bürgersteig, lasst die Messer flutschen in den Judenleib”). This song had eleven verses ending in the phrase “Die Judenrepublik,” a reference to the Geman democratic state that existed during the fifteen years between the two world wars. These songs were also taught to schoolchildren and sung by the “Hitler Youth” and the “Association of German Girls” (Bund Deutscher Mädchen) who wore Nazi style uniforms and played war games on weekends.
Another example of the deep-seated hatred of Jews among the German population was the enthusiasm with which people viewed the deportations of Jews assembled in public parks and open spaces. Germans would shout epithets at those about to be deported and expressed their approval of these horrors by outdoing each other in insulting the miserable victims.
There was hardly a German even before 1933 who did not agree that there was “a Jewish problem” called “Die Judenfrage” or “the Jewish Question.” Germans could not tolerate that Jews were human and really quite ordinary people. To Germans it was common sense that there existed a Jewish race that had biological propensities detrimental to German civilization.
The most dramatic evidence for the rejection of the German Jews by the
Christian population even before the Nazi takeover of the government was the
assassination of Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister of Germany, during the
tenure of the short lived German republic between 1918 and 1933. Rathenau was
murdered in the street in June of 1922. Many Germans celebrated the murder
committed by two super-nationalists. Rathenau had been in office only six months
when he was killed. This murder was not surprising, since the German people were
largely convinced that Jews should not be allowed any privileges as German
citizens. Indeed, it was common to sing “Knall weg den Walter Rathenau; die
Gottverdammte Judensau” or “Bang down Walter Rathenau, the God damned Jewish
sow.” It is noteworthy that Germans had for centuries called Jews
“Judensau” and that in Wittenberg, the hometown of Martin Luther, there was
carved into the outside of the church wall statue depicting a rabbi reading a
Hebrew book by holding a candle to the behind of a “Judensau.” There are
today at least 12 churches in Germany and other European countries with similar
carvings in their church walls.
Public opinion can be recognized by reviewing the newspapers of the day. Before the advent of the internet, newspapers were significant in revealing the sentiments of the public. Therefore a survey of 68 Sunday papers published between 1918 and 1933 before the advent of a Nazi government repeated year in and year out that Jews were the enemy of the Christian tradition. During those fifteen years, the newspapers in Germany never stopped in their defamation of the German Jews, holding them responsible for any and all evils in the world. Among these newspapers was “Der Stürmer,” which was entirely devoted to the defamation of Jews, using the most vile language and revolting cartoons.
There can be little doubt that the root cause of all this endemic hatred of Jews in Germany and almost all Christian countries during the 1930’s was a reflection of the teachings of all Christian institutions for 1600 years prior to the assault on the German Jews in the 1930’s. These teachings can be summarized by twelve theses later rejected by both Catholic and Protestant denominations, but very much alive in the 1930’s. These beliefs were that Christianity has supplanted Judaism; that Jews are instruments of the devil; that Jews deliberately alter the texts of the Bible; that Jews are themselves to blame for all their misfortunes; that Jews are God killers; that there can be no salvation for Jews; that the Jewish scriptures are “old;” that Jews are disinherited; that Jews deserve legal disabilities; that God hates the Jews and they are cursed by Him; that Jews serve as an example to unbelievers; and that Jews are less than human.
The Nazi party and government added to these entrenched beliefs the argument that the German Jews were responsible for the defeat of the German army in the First World War. It was claimed by the army commanders, such as General Erich Ludendorff, an avowed Nazi, that the Jews had stabbed the army in the back and that this was the real reason for its defeat. Since the German army lost the war in France and no foreign troops ever entered Germany itself, this lie was easily believed by the vast majority of Germans, already certain that Jews were the cause of all that ails humanity. Furthermore, the nationalists claimed that democracy was a Jewish conspiracy imposed on the German people by the victorious allies and not suited to the German nature and the German way of life.
Finally, the Nazis and other super-chauvinists claimed that the Treaty of Versailles which ended the First World War was an injustice, as it demanded steep compensation from Germany for the destruction the war had brought about. It so happened that the German foreign minister, Rathenau, was Jewish, and he was therefore blamed for signing that treaty, although he had not signed it and was never at the Versailles conference.
The first decrees affecting the German Jews directly had to do with the elimination of the Jews from the German economy. To that end, the Jews of Germany were deprived of their German citizenship on July 14, 1933. On that date also, the state seized all money deposited by Jews in German banks.
Then, on November 10, 1938, the German government ordered that all
synagogues be burned to the ground. This most heinous crime was augmented by an
This order led to the lining up of Jewish citizens outside each precinct in the larger cities, as every Jew who entered was relieved of his valuables while the police commented to the effect that “it stinks from garlic here” or “stinkJuden” and other insulting remarks.
While these and many additional measures drove the majority of Jews out of Germany, 164,000 Jews still remained in Germany at the beginning of the deportations which started in 1941 and ended with the survival of only 15,000 Jews who were, in the main, married to non-Jews who used their influence with their Nazi relatives to save the lives of husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers and their children.
Those Jews who were fortunate enough to flee Germany were not allowed to take any money with them. Their bank accounts were frozen already and confiscated as soon as the Jew had left the country. Consequently, Jewish refugees from Germany needed the help of citizens of their host countries just to survive on a daily basis, as they arrived with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Those Jews who remained in Germany were then systematically deprived of all their rights. For example, Jews were no longer allowed to visit restaurants, theaters, concerts, exhibits, movies, or swimming pools. Jews were not allowed to sit on park benches unless they were willing to sit on a few benches painted yellow and reserved for them.
The Jews were also dismissed from all schools and universities. Finally, even Jewish schools were closed, and it was prohibited to teach Jewish children privately. Consequently, Jewish children grew up without any education whatever.
Jews were deprived of driver’s licenses and ownership of automobiles and were also prohibited from using public transportation. Therefore, Jews had to walk wherever they tried to go, although the wearing of a “Judenstern” or Jewish star on every outer garment was enforced at pain of death.
decrees and decisions which contained directives concerning the Jews.
Between 1933 and the end of 1941, the German government decreed 431 measures designed to destroy the Jewish community in Germany and Austria. These laws were written in a legalese, which often obscured their real meaning, in that the word “Jude” or Jew was seldom used. Instead the term non-Aryan was substituted. In other cases even that term was absent, and such phrases as “the need to reconstruct the medical profession” or the “importance of defending the German people against their enemies” was used.
The first of these decrees dealt with Jewish judges, who were forced to resign on April 4, 1933, on the grounds that otherwise the German people would use violence against the Jews, who were reputedly spreading unjustified horror stories against Germany in foreign countries. The order to dismiss all Jewish judges was given by the Commissioner of Justice for Prussia, Hans Kerrl.
This order was soon followed by the “Law for the Reconstruction of the Civil Service,” which served the sole purpose of dismissing all Jewish civil servants from their jobs. This included all Jewish employees of the federal, state, and local governments This law refers to Jews as non-Aryans and labels other Germans as Aryans. This law also prohibited Jewish lawyers from practicing and furthermore deprived the dismissed employees of any pension otherwise due them. In addition, the law demanded that all civil servants declare which political party they had heretofore supported.
Next, all schools and colleges and universities were to rid themselves of Jewish students. This was to be achieved by refusing Jewish or “non-Aryan” children entry into schools. Therefore a law was passed in April of 1933 that prohibited the acceptance of Jewish children in schools, although the children of front line soldiers from the First World War were exempt from this order.
In April of 1933 the German government decreed that naturalized citizens of Germany can be deprived of their citizenship. This directive was not only aimed at foreign born Jews of Polish origin, it was also aimed at German expatriates who had left for the United States years earlier and were now ordered to return to Germany. It was decreed that only those could be German citizens who were of pure German ancestry and had no Jewish “blood.” Of course, Jewish blood does not exist.
Beginning in May of 1935 physicians were admitted to the practice of medicine in Germany only if they could prove that they were purely “Aryans” and had no non-Aryan (Jewish) ancestor.
In addition to the regulations here displayed, there were many others which are not shown here because they affected only a few persons or were of minimal consequence. One ordinance prohibited Jews from changing their names. Furthermore it was ordered that only people with pure Aryan background could work as dentists, and that those seeking to be examined for the purpose of becoming professors could only take examinations if they could prove non-Jewish ancestry.
Innumerable additional ordinances, decrees and laws were imposed on the Jewish population as early as 1933 and 1934, culminating in the prohibition against publishing Jewish newspapers. This isolated the Jewish community among each other, as Jews had no access to radio broadcasts and were not allowed to write letters to the editors of ordinary publications.
In 1935, the German government issued the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.” This law prohibited Jews from marrying non-Jews. The law also voided all such existing marriages, even if such a marriage was conducted in a foreign country. All sexual contact between Jews and German or related ethnic groups was prohibited, as was the employment of German women in Jewish households.
This law caused great pain and misery to those many Jewish-Christian marriages existing in Germany. It has been estimated that about 13% of German Jews were married to non-Jews in the 1930’s.
This law meant that women and men who had been married many years were now divorced by government decree and that their children were in danger of being subject to all the anti-Jewish acts already in vogue. In addition, the non-Jewish relatives of the now separated couple sought to save the lives of their son or daughter and their grandchildren by playing the Nazi and rejecting all contact with the Jew in the family lest they too become victims of the so-called “racial” laws. Jews are of course not a race but an ethnic-religious community. However, Nazi ideology defines Jews as “Untermenschen” or sub-humans and attributes endless evils to them on the grounds that these evils are inherent in the biological makeup of Jews. These arguments concerning the so-called Jewish “race” were published by Heinrich Class in his book of 1912 called Wenn Ich der Kaiser wär-, or “If I Were the Emperor,” meaning the German Kaiser William. This book sold millions of copies in 30 or more editions, and became one of the most popular books ever written in the German language. According to Class, who used the pseudonym Daniel Frymann, Jews were responsible for every misery ever encountered by the German people and should therefore be driven out of Germany and/or gassed.
In addition to Class, there were other authors in 19th century Germany whom one might call Hitler’s teachers. Among these authors were Carl Grattenauer, Friedrich Rühs, Ernst Arndt, and Hartwig Randowsky, who published a journal called “Judenspiegel” or Jew Mirror, in which he considered the possibility of promoting a form of holocaust later adopted by Hitler. In 1860, Heinrich Nordmann published a book called Der Jude und der Deutsche Staat, or “The Jew and the German State,” demanding the elimination of all Jews from public employment and claiming that Jews are morally corrupt and responsible for all that ailed Germans.
In 1879, the journalist Wilhelm Marr coined the term “anti-semitism.” This concept holds that Jews are a race and not a religious community, and that the Jews have already won ascendancy over the German culture and the Geman spirit. In a book called Der Sieg des Judenthums über das Germanenthum, or “The Victory of Jew Culture Over the German Culture,” Marr demanded that Jews not be allowed to vote or hold public office, and that all Jews be eliminated from the universities.
Therefore it is evident that the persecution of the German Jews could not have been rooted in the defeat of the German army in the First World War, but was the consequence of a thousand years of Christian teaching which influenced generations of Germans and others for centuries.
In 1935, the German government decreed who is a Jew. Accordingly a Jew was defined as anyone who had three Jewish grandparents or anyone who had two Jewish parents or anyone who was married to a Jew or anyone who was a member of a Jewish religious group, including those who had converted to Judaism.
The promulgation of regulations pertaining to Jews in Germany were incessant and innumerable. In 1937 alone, eighteen such regulations were ordered. These regulations dealt with the most minute details of everyday life, making Jewish existence in Germany more and more difficult and intolerable. Added to these restrictions was the general hostility of the German non-Jewish population, many of whom sought to gain advantages for themselves from the losses suffered by the Jews. This meant that many citizens “bought” Jewish property for extremely low prices because the Jews were forced to leave the country and had no choice but to sell their possessions to anyone willing to buy at any price. Of course, the Jews who sold their property were not allowed to take any money out of the country and therefore left Germany destitute.
The Nazi laws also included the threat that anyone who was not Jewish but helped Jews in any manner be punished with imprisonment, which no doubt meant death.
In 1938, the persecution became yet worse, in that all property, including bank accounts of Jews, were seized by the government, leaving the unemployed Jews destitute. In that year also, a Jew identification card was forced on all Jews. This consisted of a card containing the picture of the cardholder and his fingerprints. The name of the owner was augmented with the middle name Israel for men and Sarah for women. In addition, the German Department of the Interior published a list of Jewish sounding names for men and women which were to be used as first names. These names were evidently derived from the Hebrew Bible or from Yiddish speaking sources. Since Jews could not have a German passport, these identification cards served the same purpose as a passport. The German government believed that the names Israel or Sarah would identify the carrier as a Jew in foreign countries, and lead to the persecution of Jews in those countries as well.
In December 1938, Field Marshall Herman Göring announced that he had asked Hitler to agree to several additional measures aimed at persecuting the Jews still in Germany. These measures dealt with the prohibition to rent rooms in hotels and to live in apartments owned by “Aryans.” Furthermore, Göring ordered that Jews would have to live in separate “Jew Houses” and that “Aryans” married to Jews were to live there with them. This decree induced non-Jews living with Jews to abandon their Jewish partner, married or not.
In July 1938, thirty-two countries sent representatives to Evian in France to participate in a conference concerning the admission of German Jews to these possible places of refuge from the Nazi persecutions. The conference had been called by President Franklin Roosevelt. These countries included nine European countries, of which five were eventually invaded by the German armies. Representatives came from Belgium, United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. South America was also well represented, with delegates from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Canada, the United States, the Union of South Africa, and New Zealand, also participated.
The delegates met for two weeks and concluded on July 14, 1938 that nothing could be done to help the German Jews as no country was willing to accept them, except that a few were admitted to the United States within the limited strictures of the quota system then in effect.
The conference resulted in the refusal of any country to accept Jewish refugees and led to the “final solution of the Jewish problem,” as Hitler called it, when failure to emigrate from Germany became reason for mass murder of the Jews still in Germany and Austria at the beginning of the Second World War in September of 1939.
Shortly after the failure of the Evian conference, the German government organized a brutal assault on the Jewish community which came to be known in German history as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of the Crystal,” because the state organized riots that night led to the shattering of window panes and glass artifacts thrown into the street.
Prior to the night of November 9-10, 1938, the anti-Jewish measures of the German government were almost entirely economic and served to drive the German Jews into poverty. The “Night of the Crystal” announced that a new phase in the persecutions had opened and that physical violence against Jews should be expected. That night, 7,500 storefronts of Jewish owned businesses were smashed. Storm troopers and others broke into Jewish homes and beat the residents. They stole whatever valuables they could find. The troopers, mostly wearing civilian clothes, brought sledgehammers and axes with them and used these to destroy Jewish owned buildings. They then set all synagogues on fire. These synagogues burned while the fire departments stood by to make sure that non-Jewish property would not be damaged, and to assault any Jews they could find in the streets. Other Jews were assaulted in their own homes while Jewish furniture and dishes, silverware, and other household furnishings were tossed out of the windows of private homes that had been invaded by Nazi party members.
One hundred Jews were killed by such methods as throwing them into rivers to drown or by beating them to death. Over thirty thousand Jews were hauled off to concentration camps.
A good number of German citizens participated in these riots, although they were not members of any Nazi unit nor invited to do so. Most Germans watched these horrors without comment, although they privately approved of the violence, as they benefited from the destruction of Jewish owned business, which was now no longer capable of competing.
Subsequent to the events of “crystal night,” Jewish books were burned in city parks and Jewish birth, marriage, and death certificates were taken from city halls and burned with the books. Then banners were stretched across most major streets in cities which proclaimed “The Jews are Our Misfortune.” In addition, signs were posted at almost all stores, hotels, and business establishments of every kind proclaiming “Jews not wanted here.” Such signs were also located on highways near the entrances to small towns all over Germany.
It was in 1939 that all charitable foundations sponsored by Jews were seized by the government. Furthermore it was decreed that any Jewish names attached to such foundations be removed, and that no Jews be allowed to participate in the board of trustees or in the distribution of funds from such a foundation, even if the money was donated by Jews.
In 1939 the Jewish population was forcibly enrolled in a Federal Union of the Jews (Reichsvereinigung der Juden) whose announced purpose was the emigration of Jews out of Germany and Austria, which had been invaded by the German military in March of 1938. In addition, this Jewish union was given the task of enrolling Jewish children in Jewish schools, since Jewish children were barred from all public schools. This union was also given the charge of taking care of Jewish welfare needs, as Jews were excluded from receiving help from public institutions or agencies. In view of the seizure of all Jewish property and money, this provision was utter hypocrisy, since the Jewish community had been deprived of any means of helping all the impoverished Jews. In cases in which Jews sold their possessions for a minimum to “Aryans,” the state later seized some of the gain from these advantages that accrued to Aryans.
As soon as the Second World War started on September 1, 1939, all Jews were forced into slave labor by the German government. This labor was extremely hard. That hardship was enhanced because the slaves were given very little to eat. The order to report for labor was published in all newspapers in Germany, including Der Neue Tag, a nationally distributed Nazi newspaper.
As the war would no longer allow Jews to leave Germany for most countries in the world, the Germans decided that the failure of the Jews to leave could only be compensated by killing the remaining Jews.
Beginning in October of 1941, all Jews had to wear a Jewish star on their clothes. This identification sign also had to be attached to the front door of any place in which a Jew was present. In addition, Jews were prohibited from sitting on park benches unless the bench had been painted yellow.
These measures were designed to allow private citizens to identify Jews and harass them in the streets. Jews could be robbed, beaten, and killed with impunity once these identification methods had taken hold. Moreover, the German population had already benefited considerably from the persecution of their Jewish neighbors in that their possessions, homes, money, clothes, art objects, and vehicles fell into the hands of the gentile population after Jews had either emigrated or were deported to killing camps. The fact is that to this day (2013), innumerable Europeans in Germany and all countries occupied by Germany from 1939-1945 possess houses and furniture and much else that once belonged to the murdered Jews. This teaches that mass murder is profitable, a lesson not lost on Europeans from France to Russia, from Norway to Italy, who enriched themselves on the possessions of the Jews.
Since all German Jews had been deprived of their livelihood and their possessions, this led the German government to issue extensive regulations concerning Jewish employment, which resulted in forcing Jews to accept any work assigned them by the labor bureau. These assignments consisted of exceptionally hard physical labor, which was to be carried out by groups of Jews. It was further decreed that the ordinary means of protecting workers from excessive work or dangerous conditions did not apply to Jews. The regulations concerning working conditions for Jews were extensive and detailed and forced Jews into labor battalions in Germany, Poland and other conquered lands. Jews were to be employed in groups and were to be segregated at work from all other workers. Numerous other details concerning Jewish labor were also decreed. The sum of these directives was the enslavement of Jews, whose work was not paid except for a minimum of food, clothing, and housing.
On November 28, 1941, at a time when the German armies were victorious everywhere they went, Jews were once more denied German citizenship. Added to this ordinance was the decree that Jews could not benefit from a will of a deceased person, even if that will designated a Jew as beneficiary. All assets of Jews were seized by the government on the grounds that Jews gained their possessions illegally and by exploiting the so called Aryans.
Since the German armies had conquered all of Poland and much of Eastern Europe including parts of the Soviet Union, the laws pertaining to German Jews were now also applied to Jews in other countries, leading eventually to the Holocaust.
Additional chicaneries were added to the attack on the helpless Jews as the chances of emigration from Germany had precipitously declined at the outbreak of the war. The United States was not at war with Germany until December 8, 1941, so that some German Jews were still able to leave their native land for the U.S.A. before that date.
On the first of March, 1942, Hitler ordered that all books, pictures, art objects and archives belonging to Jews be seized by the German army and handed over to the government. The order begins with the argument that the Jews started the war and are therefore responsible for all losses caused by the war. This bizarre accusation was not new, in that Hitler repeatedly claimed in numerous speeches that the 2nd World War was started by Jews.
After the deportation of German Jews to the concentration camps in Poland began, the German government ordered the closing of all Jewish schools. Jewish children had already been prevented from attending public schools in 1934. This usually meant the end of all schooling for Jewish children, except those who lived in some of the larger cities which already possessed Jewish day schools. These Jewish schools were soon overenrolled, until emigration gradually diminished the number of students and teachers. This decline in enrollment was also caused by the events of “Kristallnacht.”
In addition to the quasi-legal measures that were designed to torture the Jewish population of Germany, the Jews were also subject to a great deal of private sadism. Without legal protection of any kind, Jews became the victims of outright theft of their property by “Aryans.” Jews were shunned by former friends and acquaintances and Jewish children could no longer play in the parks or in the streets lest they be beaten. Some “Aryans” went so far as to seize Jews in the streets and beat them severely in Storm Trooper bunkers and other places convenient to the representatives of “the master race.” These private measures made life for Jews in Germany unbearable, so that all who could fled the country. Some Jews went as far as Shanghai in China to save their lives, while others took advantage of the few invitations to immigrate into countries around the world.
Therefore, 340,000 Jews were able to leave Germany and Austria between 1933, when Hitler became chancellor, until the end of the Second World War. Nevertheless, thousands were still in Germany when the Second World War began on September 1, 1939. Many had made every effort to gain entrance to any other country but were refused. This refusal included the United States, which did accept 85,000 refugees at that time, but left 140,000 Jews behind who were then killed in the German gas ovens.
Two requirements faced anyone seeking to immigrate to the United States between 1933, when the National Socialists became the rulers in Germany at the beginning of the Second World War on September 1, 1939. These were the quota system, which had been in effect since 1921, and the need to obtain an affidavit of support from a resident of the United States before an applicant would be allowed to enter the country.
The quota system was so devised as to favor the immigration of Western Europeans over the immigration of applicants from eastern and southern Europe. Natives of the Americas were exempt from this means of allocating visas needed to enter the United States.
The Immigration Act of 1921 was a temporary measure. It expired in 1924 when Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924. According to that law, immigrants were to be admitted on a national origin basis. This meant that no more than 2 percent of immigrants as of the census of 1890 from any country outside the western hemisphere were to be accepted. In order to avoid rejecting arrivals at American ports of entry, consuls of the United States issued visas in numerous cities in foreign countries. These visas were a document a foreigner needed if he sought to enter here. Consequently every American consulate in Germany provided visas to applicants for immigration to those born in Germany but limited to the number the formula would allow.
The total number of foreigners allowed into the United States was 164,667 immigrants per year. The system was so skewed as to provide that 86% of immigrants would come from Western Europe and only 14% from all other quota countries.
Two purposes were to be accomplished by this national origin quota law. One was to reduce the number of immigrants altogether, and the other purpose was to retain the ethnic composition of the United States by providing that almost all immigrants came from countries with a similar language and similar institutions as were then dominant in the United States. This led to the potential allocation of 51,227 visas for Germans and Austrians each year. Therefore, it would have been possible for Germans, mostly Jewish, to enter this country between January 1933 and the end of 1939. Since the United States did not participate in the Second World War until the end of 1941, it might have been possible to allow 461,043 Germans to come here, thereby rescuing all of the 300,000 German Jews at risk of deportation and murder.
Yet, the United States State Department, with the acquiescence of President Franklin Roosevelt, prevented the entrance of more than a minority of German Jews during the 1930’s, although it was known that these Jews were the target of mass murder by their own government. The failure to allow German Jews to enter was neither accidental nor caused by ignorance. It was a deliberate effort to indirectly contribute to the murder of the Jews, as planned by Hitler and his henchmen.
The evidence for this indictment is considerable. For one, in 1937, the German and Austrian quotas were 42.1% underutilized. This came about as the State Department resorted to the argument that most Jewish refugees were likely to become a public charge or were a security threat. Another means of preventing German Jews to leave Germany for the United States was to give visas to German Jews who were already outside of Germany. There were German Jews in South America and Asia or Australia. These recipients of visas decreased the already scant visas available to Jews still in Germany.
The effect of the invocation of these arguments led to an immediate decline in the number of visas issued to German Jews. This meant that between 1933 and 1944 the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.A. ranged between 250,000 and 300,000, including of course immigrants from countries other than Germany or Austria.
The Roosevelt Administration instructed the consuls of the United States then in Germany to issue visas only to those Jews who had the means needed to support themselves indefinitely without employment, or those who had relatives or friends who would assure the Department of Labor that the refugees would be supported for at least five years if they needed such support.
Not all Americans shared the views of the state department concerning the desperate Jews who were begging to be let into the United States. In particular, Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative Edith Rogers of Massachusetts introduced into Congress a bill proposing that 20,000 German children, who were Jewish, of course, should be admitted to the country outside the German quota. This bill was brought to the appropriate congressional committees directly after the events of “Kristallnacht” of November 9-10, 1938, which saw the burning of synagogues and the physical assault on the German Jews. The Wagner-Rogers proposal was to let these children come to the U.S. over a period of two years. Wagner argued that such a humanitarian act would demonstrate to all the world that America is a compassionate country and that bigotry would be defeated here.
During the hearings on the bill, a number of individuals and groups supported it. This was true of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Furthermore, the famous actress Helen Hayes supported the bill, as did other “famous” people.
Senator Wagner argued vigorously for passage of the bill on the grounds that the proposal to bring in some children would not hurt the economy and that the United States must be an example of equality and kindness to all religions and ethnic groups.
Nevertheless, the bill died in committee, as numerous individuals and groups opposed it. President Roosevelt’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, testified that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.” A number of nativist and isolationist groups opposed the bill, as did several “patriotic” organizations. Furthermore, public opinion was opposed to letting any Jews into the country, although an appeal by Pets magazine to import British puppies in danger of being killed by German bombing raids on Britain led to a huge favorable response, as thousands were willing to take in dogs but not humans.
The American Jewish community during the Franklin Roosevelt administration constituted about 3.6% of the population. This is significant because politicians count votes and see no reason to support those who are a small minority unless that minority exhibits political power for reasons other than their numbers. In the 1930’s, the Jewish community consisted mainly of recent immigrants from the Russian empire or their descendants.
These people were relatively poor and had little interest in the fate of the German Jews. Instead, the Jews of that time were interested in the promotion of labor unions and the future of their businesses. Furthermore, these Yiddish speaking refugees from Czarist mistreatment had no love for their German co-religionists, whom they viewed as arrogant, overbearing, and distant. Moreover, few American Jews were related to the German Jews now seeking help, and fewer yet could afford to sign an affidavit of support for any newcomers to the United States.
The opportunities for German Jews to enter the United States between 1933 and December 8, 1941, when the United States entered the Second World War, were further complicated by the attitude of the majority of the American Jewish community. Public opinion polls from those days show that the majority of American Jews were opposed to intervention in European affairs, and were not inclined to abandon the isolationist position also held by a majority of all Americans.
In addition to these obstacles, the potential German Jewish immigrants were opposed by numerous Roosevelt haters, who called his “New Deal” a “Jew Deal” because so many Jewish lawyers had been appointed to numerous bureaucracies in Washington, where some claimed that the Jewish lawyers were “pushy” and “loud.” Roosevelt knew this and feared that bringing more Jews into the country would arouse these bigots and threaten his re-election.
The Jewish community in the 1930’s imagined that they had a friend in the White House and that they had special access to the president. This illusion was fostered by the immense support Roosevelt received from the American Jews, who favored his domestic agenda, including public housing, social security, unemployment compensation, and so much more welfare legislation. The Jews were of course welcome to promote that agenda. However, when it came to a purely Jewish concern, i.e. the rescue of the German Jew, the American Jews who asked for help from Roosevelt were ignored. Indeed, Roosevelt maintained a vast party apparatus designed to insure gathering votes. Large numbers of Jews helped him in his re-election, but were not considered when it came to a purely Jewish concern.
The Jewish community at that time had no one accepted leader and therefore could not speak with one voice concerning the fate of their brethren in Germany. The most prominent Jews at that time were Henry Morgenthau, a wealthy neighbor of Franklin Roosevelt and secretary of the treasury, Felix Frankfurter, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Samuel Rosenman, President Roosevelt’s speechwriter.
These men and a few others played the sycophants to Roosevelt and did little to call attention to the misery of the Jews in Nazi lands. This behavior changed somewhat after the deportations began in 1941, but during the 1930’s none of the prominent Jews were willing to risk their standing with the president by calling attention to the German Jewish dilemma.
All of these men were highly assimilated and had little to do with the Jewish community. They did not view the German Jews as brethren since they had discarded their Jewish identity long ago. Their interests were found elsewhere, although Morgenthau made some efforts on behalf of the German Jews, which were too late and rather feeble. Felix Frankfurter, then a Supreme Court judge, was even more calloused. When a Polish underground courier showed him pictures of the Belzec death camp, he refused to believe the description furnished by the Polish courier.
The fact is that the Jewish community had little power, and therefore contented itself with meaningless gestures that did not cost the politicians anything but yielded votes among the Jews. It is a paradox that even as Roosevelt did all he could to prevent the German Jews from entering the United States, the Jews of the United States voted for him almost unanimously, and went so far as to hang his picture in almost every Jewish living room. Roosevelt was adored by the Jews, although that affection was by no means reciprocal. On the contrary, Roosevelt disliked Jews and said so repeatedly, although his anti-Jewish remarks became known only years after his death when classified documents became available to the public.
Throughout the Roosevelt administration, Rabbi Stephen Wise, a Reform rabbi, became the unofficial spokesman of the Jewish community. Wise was not related to the 19th century rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. He was an ardent Zionist at a time when the Reform movement had rejected Zionism for fear of being viewed as un-American.
Wise supported Roosevelt in 1936 and was flattered when Roosevelt used a phrase Wise had suggested to obliquely refer to the treatment of “minorities” in Germany. The word “Jews” was not used. Wise was well known to Justice of the Supreme Court Felix Frankfurter, who provided him with access to Roosevelt. Wise also organized protest meetings against the Nazi regime, and made incessant attempts to interest the U.S. government in the cause of the German Jews. This earned Wise the animosity of the State Department but had little effect on its policies, particularly since no other Jewish leaders were willing to join him in his protests. Wise failed to convince Roosevelt and the Jews around the president that any action should be taken on behalf of the German Jews.
The fact is that rescue of the German Jews was given no consideration at all in the 1930’s, particularly since the polls showed that Jews were an unpopular minority in that decade.
For that reason, German Jews made every effort to escape to anywhere in the world in order to save their lives, so that an entire German Jewish colony developed even in Shanghai, China.
The circumstances which prompted the Jewish emigration to the United States between 1933 and 1941 were indeed horrendous. Yet, the horrors that faced those who remained behind were even worse.