German Jews


According to the census of June 1933, the Jewish population of Germany consisted of about 500,000 people. Jews represented less than one percent of the total German population of about 67 million people. Unlike ordinary census-taking methods, the Nazi racist criteria codified in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and later ordinances identified Jews according to the religion practiced by an individual's grandparents. Consequently, the Nazis classified as Jews thousands of people who had converted from Judaism to another religion, among them even Roman Catholic priests and nuns.

Eighty percent of the Jews in Germany (about 400,000 people) held German citizenship. The remainder were mostly Jews of Polish citizenship, many of whom were born in Germany and who had permanent resident status in Germany.

In all, about 70 percent of the Jews in Germany lived in urban areas. Fifty percent of all Jews lived in the 10 largest German cities, including Berlin (about 160,000), Frankfurt am Main (about 26,000), Breslau (about 20,000), Hamburg (about 17,000), Cologne (about 15,000), Hannover (about 13,000), and Leipzig (about 12,000).

At 10:00 a.m.on April 1, 1933, members of the Storm Troopers (SA) and SS (the elite guard of the Nazi state) stood in front of Jewish-owned businesses throughout Germany to inform the public that the proprietors of those establishments were Jewish. The word "Jude," German for "Jew," was often smeared on store display windows, with a Star of David painted in yellow and black across the doors. Anti-Jewish signs accompanied the slogans. In some towns, the SA marched through the streets singing anti-Jewish slogans and party songs. In other towns, violence accompanied the boycott; in Kiel, a Jewish lawyer was killed. The boycott ended at midnight. Boycotts organized at the local level continued throughout much of the 1930s.

At their annual party rally, the Nazis announced new laws that made Jews second-class citizens and revoked most of their political rights. Also, Jews were prohibited from marrying or having relations with persons of "German or related blood." "Racial infamy," as this became known, was made a criminal offense. The Nuremberg Laws defined a "Jew" as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents or who was a practicing Jew.

In response to the murder of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a young Jew in Paris, German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels delivered a fiery speech to the Nazi party faithful in Munich on November 9, 1938. The party members were gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch (Adolf Hitler's first attempt to seize power). The speech was a signal for an organized assault on Jewish homes, businesses, and places of worship by members of the SA, SS, and other Nazi party organizations such as the Hitler Youth. Although Nazi officials later portrayed the pogrom as a spontaneous act of public outrage, the population's participation in the pogrom was limited. The violence against Jews lasted into the morning of November 10 and became known as "Kristallnacht": the "Night of Broken Glass." At least 91 Jews were killed and up to 30,000 more were arrested and confined in concentration camps. "Aryanization," the transfer of Jewish-owned businesses to "Aryans," accelerated following the pogrom.