Nuremberg Race Laws: Defining the Nation
Fritz Gluckstein reflects on the Nuremberg Race Laws US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Hermann Goering recites the preamble to the Nuremberg Laws at the seventh Nazi Party Congress. National Archives
Two Jewish girls (cousins Margot and Lotte Cassel) ready for their first day of school in Breslau, Germany, ca. 1937. Traditional for all children in Germany, the cones are filled with treats to celebrate their first day of school. Margot's father Saul worked in the Teitz department store until he was dismissed following the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Margot Kestenbaum
Fritz Glueckstein (left) on a picnic with his family in Berlin in 1932. Fritz's father was Jewish and attended services in a liberal synagogue. His mother was Christian. Under the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, Fritz would be classified as mixed-raced (Mischling), but since his father was a member of the Jewish religious community, Fritz was classified as a Jew. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Fritz Gluckstein
An illustration comparing “German Youth” with “Jewish Youth.” It is subtitled, “From the face speaks the soul of the race,” from Alfred Vogel's text Inheritance and Racial Hygiene. Germany, 1938. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Library of Congress
Fred Oppenheimer poses by the railing overlooking the Lahn River in Bad Ems, Germany, 1936. Fred rode his bicycle to and from school each day. After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, he recalls nearly daily attacks from other children on his way home from school. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Steven Oppenheimer
Group portrait of a German Jewish family in Bad Ems, Germany, ca. 1936. Fred Oppenheimer (at far right) rode his bicycle to and from school each day. After the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935, he recalls nearly daily attacks from other children on his way home from school. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Steven Oppenheimer
Subsequent legislation from the Nuremberg Laws forced most Jews to adopt “Israel” as a middle name if they were male, or “Sarah” if they were female. Here the German identification papers of Egon Isaelski bearing the forced middle name “Israel.” Berlin, Germany, October, 12, 1938. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Annemarie Warschauer
Subsequent legislation from the Nuremberg Laws forced most Jews to adopt “Israel” as a middle name if they were male, or “Sarah” if they were female. Later, their identity papers were stamped with a letter “J” in red, indicating that the bearer was Jewish. Here the German identification papers for Marion Wolff include the forced middle name “Sara” and the letter “J” in red. Berlin, Germany, March 27, 1935. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Marion Wolff.
Did you know? In Nazi Germany the state determined who you were and how you were treated.
We are all familiar with census forms and other documents requesting information on our race and ethnicity. Today we self-identify with the group or groups that we feel a part of. This, however, was not always the case in the United States and elsewhere.
In Nazi Germany, the government initiated and enforced policies and legislation that sanctioned racial discrimination. The Nazis sought to unite all Germans, as defined by law, in the so-called “National Community.” The state would then provide Germans with the best education, health care, social programs, and recreational opportunities available. The state served no other purpose than the preservation and expansion of the National Community.
At their annual party rally held in Nuremberg in September 1935, the Nazi leaders announced new laws which institutionalized many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology.
- These Nuremberg Laws defined Germans to be persons of German ethnicity who had four Christian grandparents.
- The laws defined Jews as someone having three or four grandparents who were members of the Jewish religious community.
- The state denied that Jews residing in Germany were in any way German. Their ethnicity, individual identity, or nationality did not matter.
- The state assumed Jews were hostile to Germany and therefore needed to be watched, controlled, and eventually removed from the country.
Like everyone in Germany, Jews carried identity cards, but the state added special identifying marks, a stamp in red of the letter “J,” to the identity cards carried by Jews. The state also required most Jews to adopt an additional middle name: “Israel” for men, and “Sara” for women. These modified identity cards allowed the police to easily identify Jews. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism or who had not done so for many years became subject to legal persecution. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were defined by the law as Jewish and subject to persecution.
After September 1935, the Nazi state also prohibited intermarriages and sexual relationships between Jews and Germans. The children of such unions became subject to varying degrees of persecution.
Everyone had to fill out racial questionnaires documenting, for most Germans, religious affiliations and racial background going back to their grandparents. This required proof such as birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates, going back these generations, from church registers or official government agencies. These certified documents then had to be submitted to the Reich Kinship Office for verification.
Ultimately, the Nazi state determined what jobs you could have, whom you could marry, and what your fate would be during the Holocaust.