Nuremberg Laws - Toward The Nuremberg Laws

Toward The Nuremberg Laws

After the First World War, the Jews of Germany were among the most assimilated in Western Europe, speaking German, as opposed to Yiddish, as their first language. Many were secular or atheistic and many had fought for Germany in the First World War.

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), which had been founded in 1919 as an offshoot of the völkisch movement, adopted the movement's demands to disemancipate the Jews as its own. Attacks on Jews started shortly after the Nazi assumption of power on 30 January 1933, when Adolf Hitler assumed the Chancellorship. The Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses, the first nationwide stage of the anti-Semitic campaign, began on 1 April 1933.

However, the völkisch demand for laws disemancipating Jews and banning sex or marriage between "non-Aryans" and "Aryans" were not immediately met. A dispute between the Interior Ministry and the NSDAP over the precise "racial" definition of a Jew, namely how many Jewish grandparents did one have to have to be considered Jewish, led to the entire process being hopelessly bogged down by 1935.

The lack of a clear definition of who was a Jew confused efforts to enforce anti-Semitic laws and measures. The first Nuremberg law, nominally designed for the "prevention of the propagation of hereditary illness", did not attack Jews explicitly. Other laws claimed to preserve German blood and honour, but again were not specifically anti-Semitic.

The original German Gypsy policy, as it was laid during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, focused on integrating Gypsies into the “ordinary” German society. However, during the Nazi regime, the same theories that were behind the Nazi idea of the Jews as an anti-race, were used to deem Gypsies as an inferior race that was a danger to the survival of the German people and the purity of the German ‘blood’.

In July 1933, under the "Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring" physicians sterilized an unknown number of Gypsies, part-Gypsies, and Gypsies in mixed marriages. Under the "Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" of November 1933, the police arrested many Gypsies along with others the Nazis viewed as "asocials", and "work shy", including prostitutes, beggars, chronic alcoholics, and homeless vagrants, and imprisoned them in concentration camps.

During the spring and summer of 1935, many Alte Kämpfer (Old Fighters; i.e. those who joined the Nazi Party before 1930, and who tended to be the most ardent anti-Semites in the Party) and SA members, disenchanted with unfulfilled promises by the Nazi party, were eager to lash out against Germany's Jewish minority as a way of expressing their frustrations against a group that the authorities would not generally protect. The German historian Hans Mommsen wrote about the Alte Kämpfer that:

"After the Nazi seizure of power, those groups in the NSDAP that originated in the extreme völkisch movement—including the vast majority of the Alte Kämpfer—did not become socially integrated. Many of them remained unemployed, while others failed to obtain posts commensurate with the services they believed they had rendered the movement. The social advancement that they had hoped for usually failed to materialize. This potential for protest was increasingly diverted into the sphere of Jewish policy. Many extremists in the NSDAP, influenced by envy and greed as well as by a feeling that they had been excluded from attractive positions within the higher civil service, grew even more determined to act decisively and independently in the "Jewish Question". The pressures exerted by the militant wing of the party on the state apparatus were most effective when they were in harmony with the official ideology".

A Gestapo report from the spring of 1935 stated that the rank and file of the Nazi Party would set in motion a solution to the "Jewish problem" "by us from below that the government would then have to follow". The ensuing wave of assaults, vandalism and boycotts by the Alte Kämpfer and SA members against German Jews in the spring and summer of 1935 was far more violent than the anti-Semitic campaigns in the two previous years. As a result of this anti-Semitic agitation, these matters were raised to the forefront of the state agenda. The Israeli historian Otto Dov Kulka, a leading expert on public opinion in Nazi Germany argued that there was a vast disparity of views between those of the Alte Kämpfer and the general German public, but that even those Germans who were not politically active favored bringing in tougher new anti-Semitic laws in 1935.

Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the Economics Minister and Reichsbank president, criticized arbitrary behavior by Party members as this inhibited his policy of developing the German economy. From Dr. Schacht's viewpoint, the violent anti-Semitic campaign waged by the Alte Kämpfer and SA made no economic sense, since Jews were believed to have certain entrepreneurial skills that could be usefully employed to further his policies. Schacht made no moral condemnation of anti-Jewish policy and advocated the passing of legislation to clarify the situation. Following complaints from Dr. Schacht plus reports on the public disagreement with the wave of anti-Semitic violence, Hitler ordered a stop to "individual actions" against German Jews on 8 August 1935. A conference of ministers was held on 20 August 1935 to discuss the negative economic effects of Party actions against Jews. Hitler argued that such effects would cease once the government decided on a firm policy against the Jews. At the same time, the Interior Minister Dr. Wilhelm Frick threatened to impose harsh penalties on those Party members who ignored the order of 8 August and continued to assault Jews. From Hitler's perspective, it was imperative to bring in harsh new anti-Semitic laws as a consolation for those Party members who were disappointed with Hitler's order of 8 August, especially because Hitler had only reluctantly given the order for pragmatic reasons, and his sympathies were with the Party radicals.

The seventh Nazi Party Rally was held in Nuremberg from 10–16 September 1935. It was meant to celebrate the Nazi regime's renunciation of Part V of the Treaty of Versailles in March 1935, which had disarmed Germany, hence its motto Party Rally of Freedom. The rally saw the Reichstag pass the Reich Flag Law, which was Hitler’s response to the "Bremen incident" of 26 July 1935 in New York, in which a group of anti-Nazi demonstrators boarded the Bremen, tore the Nazi party flag which the Bremen had been provocatively flying from its jackstaff and tossed it into the Hudson River. When the German Consul protested, U.S. officials responded that the German national flag had not been harmed, only a political party symbol. On 15 September 1935 Hitler declared the Nazi Swastika flag the national flag of Germany.

The Party Rally of September 1935 had featured the first session of the Reichstag held at that city since 1543. Hitler had planned to have the Reichstag pass a law making the Nazi Swastika flag the flag of the German Reich, and a major speech in support of the impending Italian aggression against Ethiopia. However, at the last minute, the German Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath persuaded Hitler to cancel his speech as being too provocative to public opinion abroad as it blatantly contradicted the message of Hitler's "peace speeches", thus leaving Hitler with the sudden need to have something else to address the historic first meeting of the Reichstag in Nuremberg since 1543, other than the Reich Flag Law. Hitler's need for something to present to the Reichstag was especially acute as he had invited all of the senior foreign diplomats in Berlin to the Party Rally of 1935 to hear what was billed as an especially important speech on foreign policy.

On 12 September 1935, two days after the beginning of the party rally, leading Nazi physician Gerhard Wagner surprisingly announced in a speech that the Nazi government would soon introduce a "law for the protection of German blood" to prevent mixed marriages between Jews and "Aryans" in the future. Hitler immediately decided to extend the legal scope. On 13 September, Dr. Bernhard Lösener, the Interior Ministry official in charge of drafting anti-Semitic laws together with another Interior Ministry official, Ministerialrat (Ministerial Counsellor) Franz Albrecht Medicus, was hastily summoned to the Nuremberg Party Rally by plane by Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, the State Secretary of the Interior Ministry, and directed to start drafting at once a law for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for 15 September. Lösener and Medicus arrived in Nuremberg on the morning of 14 September.

Because of the short time available for the drafting of the laws, both measures were hastily improvised—there was even a shortage of drafting paper so that menu cards had to be used instead. Such was the degree of improvisation that Franz Gürtner, the Justice Minister, first learned of the adoption of the laws from listening to the radio. Most of the debates about the drafting of the laws concerned a precise definition of what constituted a Jew in Nazi "racial" terms, i.e. how many Jewish grandparents one had to have in order to qualify as Jewish under Nazi racial theories.

Hitler himself spent the night of 14–15 September hesitant and indecisive over just which of the various definitions of a Jew to adopt, and finally excused himself from the debate. On 15 September, Hitler presented the laws drafted by Stuckart, Lösener and Medicus to the Reichstag.

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