In August 1935 Adolf Hitler spoke of the need to codify provisions of the Nazi Party's program with a law that would define the status of Germany's Jews. In accordance
The Reich Citizenship Law excluded Jews as full Reich citizens: "A citizen of the Reich is only that subject who is of German or kindred blood, and, who through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve faithfully the German people and Reich." The legal and administrative machinery necessary to enforce the law fell under the jurisdiction of Reich Minister of the Interior William Frick, who expanded the law's reach to "members of other races whose blood is not related to German blood, as, for example, Gypsies and Negroes."
German Jews soon found themselves excluded from the positions in government, society, and cultural, educational, and financial institutions that they had acquired after their emancipation in the nineteenth century. Jews now forced into the position of second-class citizens lost critical human and civil rights. Disenfranchised from German society, they faced mounting political, economic, and cultural barriers. Tenured Jewish civil servants, who had been protected by their status as war veterans, were dismissed from the public sector. Jewish professors, physicians, and teachers were banned from the civil service; many Jews lost their pension rights. Insurmountable professional and legal obstacles were placed on physicians, pharmacists, and lawyers. In l938 Jewish professionals were banned from practicing their professions within German society. Social exclusion accompanied professional exclusion; that same year Jews were forbidden to attend the theater, concerts, the cinema, and art exhibitions; they were also banned from restaurants, hotels, and resort areas. And starting in early l939 Jews were compelled to use a first name of Sara or Israel.
Unresolved in the initial September 15th legislation was the biological definition of a Jew; in subsequent weeks, this issue generated considerable debate. The first of thirteen supplementary decrees, all designating the composition of Jewish blood, was published on November 14, l935, and defined a Jew in terms of lineage. Thus, a "full Jew" was one with three or four Jewish grandparents; those with two Jewish grandparents and two Aryan grandparents were considered "half-Jews." Such half-Jews had to meet certain conditions in order to be regarded as full Jews and therefore subject to the provisions of the new law. Half-Jews were to be considered full Jews if they practiced Judaism as a religious faith, or if they had married a Jew or were the legitimate or illegitimate children of Jewish and Aryan parents. The practical effect of these distinctions was that people with two Jewish grandparents, but who did not practice Judaism or who had been baptized, were not considered Jews. This group was referred to as Mischlinge, but even their fate generated considerable debate at the infamous Wannsee Conference in January 1942 that initiated planning for the Final Solution, the annihilation of all European Jewry. Germans married to Jews were encouraged to divorce their spouses. The regime relied primarily on church records to determine the ancestry of racial Jews who had been living as "non-Aryan" Christians.
The Supreme Court of the Reich subsequently became quite involved in litigation interpreting the Blood Protection Law in terms of miscegenation. It and other courts were asked to decide on the types of sexual contact considered to be criminal: what constituted sexual intercourse; did criminal behavior include sexual contact that led to intercourse; how much touching was to be defined as sexual? In 1939 a Jewish man was sentenced to one month in jail for the crime of having looked at a fifteen-year-old Aryan girl.
The Blood Protection Law prescribed severe penalties for Jews engaging in sexual relations with Germans. Jewish men and women convicted of sexual crimes could be imprisoned or executed. Two additional provisions of the law prohibited the employment of any female Aryan servants under the age of forty-five in Jewish households, and Jews from holding or hoisting the German flag.
The Nuremberg Laws were a defining legislative moment in the history of the Third Reich. They codified what for several years had been a growing psuedoscientific and medical set of perceptions regarding socalled healthy Aryan traits, genes, and blood. The laws provided additional statutory justification for the euthanasia program that began in 1938, whereby German citizens, including Jewish and German children, suffering from congenital illness, alcoholism, and feeblemindedness, or anyone deemed otherwise mentally or genetically deficient, could be killed by the state. After 1938 major mental hospitals became killing centers for individuals designated as "life unworthy of life."
The major impact of the Nuremberg Laws was to isolate the Jewish and Romani populations; to deprive them of rights of citizenship; and to effectively bar marriages between Jews and other racially "unfit" groups, and Germans. To marry in Germany, a couple was required to demonstrate the purity of their genetic heritage. In disputed or questionable cases local commissions or courts determined if the amount of Jewish blood in a family's history was sufficient to deny a marriage license. Furthermore, the Nuremberg Laws had the practical effect of legitimizing concentration and death camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Maidanek.The Nuremberg Laws also led to a decree issued on September 1, l941, requiring all Jews above the age of
The denial of fundamental human rights to Jews, Romani, and the psychologically disabled elicited little reaction from the German public. No mass protests were organized, and German citizens appeared undisturbed by the racist and medical assumptions of the Nazi regime. Indeed, the majority of prosecutions that involved "race pollution" arising from the Nuremberg Laws were initiated by ordinary citizens. The regime never forced its citizens to denounce Jews to the authorities for acts of miscegenation. The Gestapo on occasion pursued cases involving violations of the Blood Protection Law.
The Nuremberg Laws were enormously popular with ordinary German citizens; they accepted the underlying pseudo-scientific and medical theories that viewed the Jew as a race pollutant and a danger to the purity of Aryan genes. National therapy (a term coined by Carl Schneider, a psychiatrist active in defining and elaborating the psychological assumptions of Nazi ideology and science) meant ethnic cleansing: ridding the populace of genetic and blood contaminants threatening the psychological and physical health of the German/Aryan population. The Nuremberg Laws, rather than creating a state of mind, confirmed already existing psychological prejudices and phobias against Jews, and fantasies regarding their power to poison and degrade society, and pervert physiological and biological reality.
SEE ALSO Anti-Semitism; Auschwitz; Einsatzgruppen; Euthanasia; Extermination Centers; Gas; Gestapo; Ghetto; Goebbels, Joseph; Göring, Hermann; Heydrich, Reinhard; Himmler, Heinrich; Hitler, Adolf; Holocaust; Intent; Kristallnacht; Labor Camps, Nazi; Nuremberg Trials; SS; Streicher, Julius; Wannsee Conference
Aly, Gotz, and Susanne Heim (2002). Architects of Annihilation. Trans. A. G. Blunden. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Burleigh, Michael, and Wolfgang Wipperman (1991). The Racial State: Germany, 1933945. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Friedlander, Henry (1995). The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Glass, James M. (1997). "Life Unworthy of Life": Racial Phobia and Mass Murder in Hitler's Germany. New York: Basic Books.
Weindling, Paul (1989). Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism 1870945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
James M. Glass
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