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".
Prior to the formation of Germany in 1871, the legal status of Jews varied from place to place within the German Confederation and the Kingdom of Prussia. Jews became equal citizens with the creation of the new German constitution of 1871. However, they still faced discrimination and antisemitism. Nationalist sentiments and the idea of Germans as a separate race took hold at the beginning of the 20th century. Jews, with their different culture and ancestry, were viewed (particularly by proponents of the Völkisch movement) as being members of a separate and inferior race. Several nationalistic and antisemitic groups (some with memberships of hundreds of thousands of people) formed after the First World War. These groups committed acts of violence against Jews and lobbied for their disenfranchisement and removal from German society.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP; Nazi Party), founded in 1919, was one of several far-right political parties active in Germany at the time. The party platform included removal of the Weimar Republic, rejection of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, radical antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. They promised a strong central government, increased Lebensraum (living space) for Germanic peoples, formation of a national community based on race, and racial cleansing via the active suppression of Jews, who would be stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. The Nazis proposed national and cultural renewal based upon the Völkisch movement.
Nazi eugenics and racial belief
Nazi racial beliefs arose from earlier proponents of a supremacist conception of race such as Arthur de Gobineau, who published a four-volume work titled An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (translated into German in 1897). In it, de Gobineau proposed that the Aryan race was superior, and urged the preservation of its cultural and racial purity. Houston Stewart Chamberlain's work The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1900), one of the first to combine Social Darwinism with antisemitism, describes history as a struggle for survival between the Germanic peoples and the Jews, whom he characterized as an inferior and dangerous group. The two-volume book Foundations of Human Hereditary Teaching and Racial Hygiene (1920–21) by Eugen Fischer, Erwin Baur, and Fritz Lenz, used pseudoscientific studies to conclude that the Germans were superior to the Jews intellectually and physically, and recommended eugenics as a solution.
While imprisoned in 1923 after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler dictated Mein Kampf (My Struggle; originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice) to his deputy, Rudolf Hess. The book is an autobiography and exposition of Hitler's ideology in which he laid out his plans for transforming German society into one based on race. In it he outlined his belief in Jewish Bolshevism, a conspiracy theory that posited the existence of an international Jewish conspiracy for world domination in which the Jews were the mortal enemy of the German people. He believed only one race would survive this struggle, so to ensure the survival of the German people he proposed the extermination of the Jews. While the idea that the Nazis would actually undertake such a thing was not taken very seriously at the time, throughout his life Hitler never wavered in his world view as expounded in Mein Kampf.
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the seizure of power; following a month-long series of attacks by members of the Sturmabteilung (SA; paramilitary wing of the NSDAP) on Jewish businesses, synagogues, and members of the legal profession, on 1 April 1933 Hitler declared a national boycott of Jewish businesses. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, passed on 7 April, excluded most Jews from the legal profession and civil service. Similar legislation soon deprived Jewish members of other professions of their right to practise. As part of the drive to remove Jewish influence from cultural life, members of the National Socialist Student League removed from libraries any books considered un-German, and a nation-wide book burning was held on 10 May. Violence and economic pressure were used by the regime to encourage Jews to voluntarily leave the country. Legislation was passed in July 1933 that stripped naturalized Germans of their citizenship, creating a legal basis for recent immigrants, particularly Eastern European Jews, to be deported. Many towns posted signs forbidding entry to Jews. Throughout 1933 and 1934, Jewish businesses were denied access to markets, forbidden to advertise in newspapers, and deprived of access to government contracts. Citizens were harassed and subjected to violent attacks.
Laws promulgated in this period that were not aimed directly at Jews included the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (passed on 14 July 1933), which called for the compulsory sterilization of people with a range of hereditary physical and mental illnesses. Under the Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals (passed 24 November 1935), habitual criminals were forced to undergo sterilization as well. This law was also used to force the incarceration in prison or concentration camps of "social misfits" such as the chronically unemployed, prostitutes, beggars, alcoholics, homeless vagrants, and Romani people.
The Jewish problem
SA members, disenchanted with the unfulfilled promise of the NSDAP to eliminate Jews from German society, were eager to lash out against Germany's Jewish minority as a way of expressing their frustrations. A Gestapo report from the spring of 1935 stated that the rank and file of the NSDAP would set in motion a solution to the Jewish problem "from below that the government would then have to follow". Assaults, vandalism, and boycotts against Jews, which the Nazi government had temporarily curbed in 1934, increased again in 1935 amidst a propaganda campaign authorized at the highest levels of government. Most non-party members ignored the boycotts and objected to the violence out of concern for their own safety. The Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka argues that there was a disparity between the views 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. The matter was raised to the forefront of the state agenda as a result of this antisemitic agitation.
The Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick announced on 25 July that a law forbidding marriages between Jews and non-Jews would shortly be promulgated, and recommended that registrars should avoid issuing licenses for such marriages for the time being. The draft law also called for a ban on marriage for persons with hereditary illnesses.
Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the Economics Minister and Reichsbank president, criticized the violent behavior of the Alte Kämpfer and SA because of its negative impact on the economy. The violence also had a negative impact on Germany's reputation in the international community. For these reasons, Hitler ordered a stop to "individual actions" against German Jews on 8 August 1935, and the Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick threatened to take legal action against Party members who ignored the order. From Hitler's perspective, it was imperative to quickly bring in new antisemitic laws to appease the radical elements in the NSDAP who persisted in attempting to remove the Jews from German society by violent means. A conference of ministers was held on 20 August 1935 to discuss the question. Hitler argued against violent methods because of the damage being done to the economy, and insisted the matter must be settled through legislation. The focus of the new laws would be marriage laws to prevent "racial defilement", stripping Jews of their German citizenship, and laws to prevent Jews from participating freely in the economy.
Events at Nuremberg
The seventh annual Nazi Party Rally, held in Nuremberg from 10–16 September 1935, featured the only Reichstag session held outside Berlin during the Nazi regime. In response to an incident in New York harbour on 26 July where dock workers had stripped the NSDAP swastika flag from the SS Bremen and thrown it in the harbour, Hitler decided to pass a law making it Germany's sole national flag. Hitler decided that the rally would be a good opportunity to introduce both the flag legislation and the long-awaited anti-Jewish laws. In a speech on 12 September, leading Nazi physician Gerhard Wagner announced that the government would soon introduce a "law for the protection of German blood". The next day, Hitler summoned the Reichstag to meet in session at Nuremberg on 15 September, the last day of the rally. Franz Albrecht Medicus and Bernhard Lösener of the Interior Ministry were summoned to Nuremberg and directed to start preparing a draft of a law forbidding sexual relations or marriages between Jews and non-Jews. They arrived on 14 September. That evening, Hitler ordered the men to also have ready for the next morning a draft of the Reich citizenship law. Hitler found the initial drafts of the Blood Law to be too lenient, so at around midnight Frick brought him four new drafts that differed mainly in the severity of the penalties they imposed. Hitler chose the most lenient version, but left vague the definition of who was a Jew. This question was settled in supplementary legislation passed on 14 November 1935.
Defining the Nuremberg Laws
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
(15 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 Mischlinge 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 Mischlinge 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 Mischlinge 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".
The obligation to wear the yellow badge, introduced in German-occupied Poland in September 1939, was extended to all Jewish people living within the Nazi empire in September 1941. 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.
Impact outside Germany
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 laws on 28 May 1938 and 5 May 1939 banning Jews from various professions. A third law, added in August 1941, defined Jews as anyone with at least two Jewish grandparents, and forbade sexual relations or marriages between Jews and non-Jews.
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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- It was a standard tactic of Hitler's to transfer the blame for his aggressive actions onto his adversary so that his action was simply a "defensive" one.
- Even a cursory review of Mein Kampf and Hitler's speeches before 1935 would make it clear to anyone that this prospect of "hope of toleration" extended by Hitler is a blatant lie. See also Kershaw p. 565.
- The ominous term "final solution" did not yet, in ordinary discourse in 1935, necessarily entail the complete eradication of European or World Jewry. Neither did it exclude that possibility.
- Shirer p. 234n. Most laws in the Nazi state were simply decreed by Hitler under powers vested in him by the Enabling Act of 1933; there was no legal need for the "legislature" here, and having the Reichstag adopt these laws at the party rally was done for propaganda purposes. Kershaw p. 268-75.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nuremberg Laws.|
|German Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Rise of the Nazis and Beginning of Persecution on the Yad Vashem website
- The Citizenship Law, together with Supplementary Decree of 14 November 1935 at the Wayback Machine (archived March 2, 2007) (archived from the original on 2007-03-02)
- Images of a 1938 German "J" Jewish passport from www.passportland.com