The Racial State


The radicalisation of the State

The Nazi regime could not just act as it wished in the early years of rule – Nazi ideology could only be implemented when politically possible. There were three phases: 

  1. The legal revolution 1933-34: Hitler couldn’t completely prevent SA violence but tried to control it as much as possible. He consolidated his power by legal means. 

  2. Creating the new Germany 1934-37: By 1934, Nazi power was secure but Hitler still worried about political opinion at home and abroad. He wanted to keep anti-Semitism hidden and project the image of Germany as a civilized society. Hitler avoided confronting groups like the army or the Churches. 

  3. The radicalisation of the state 1938-39By 1937, Germany was stronger; the economy had recovered; the ** controlled the police system and Hitler felt that Germany was ready for war. The Nazis now took bold steps that they wouldn’t have done earlier in their reign: Hitler took control of the army and let loose persecution of ‘racial enemies’. 

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Nazi racial ideology

Social Darwinism and race theory

  • Social Darwinism was a theory widely discussed in 19th century Europe. Social Darwinists adapted Darwin’s natural selection theory to unscientific theories about human society to justify ideas of racial superiority and the theory of eugenics. They put forward theories to justify European superiority and these ‘advanced’ Europeans had the right to rule over ‘inferior’ colonial people.  
  • Hitler’s obsession with ‘the survival of the fittest’ between different races fitted his view of Jews – he saw humanity as consisting of a hierarchy of races: the Jews, black people and the Slavs were inferior races. 
  • The Herrenvolk (master race) was Aryan – Hitler believed that it was the destiny of the Aryan race to rule over the inferior races. To ensure their success in this racial struggle, it was vital for Aryans to maintain their racial purity. 

Groups excluded from the Volksgemeinschaft were divided into three categories: political enemies; 'asocials' (people who didn't fit the social norms imposed by the Nazis) and racial enemies which were subdivided into those of a different race (Jews, Gypsies) and those with hereditary defects or have a family history of defects (mental illness, disabilities). 

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The Racial State

Policies towards the mentally ill and physically disabled

  • Considered to be ‘biological outsiders’ from the Volksgemeinschaft – they were a threat to the Aryan race. 
  • Nazi ideology came from the science of eugenics; eugenicists believed that ‘interventions were necessary as a means of eliminating biological flaws’ (homosexuality, mental illness, hereditary diseases) – proposed the improvement of a race through selective breeding and sterilisation. The Nazis could only do this because it was agreed by many before they came to power. 
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  • Before the Nazis came to power the Prussian state government had drawn up a voluntary sterilisation programme for those with hereditary defects. 
  • July 1933 – took this policy further by introducing the Law for Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny (Sterilisation Law) – compulsory sterilisation. Was applied to: 
    • Congenital feeble-mindedness (Alzheimer’s) 
    • Schizophrenia 
    • Manic-depressives 
    • Epilepsy 
    • Physical malformation (if proven to be hereditary) 
    • Alcoholism 
    • Hereditary blindness + deafness 
  • Amendments allowed sterilisation of children over 10. 
  • 1935 – extended to abortions which were allowed for sterilisation 
  • Decisions about sterilisation were made by The Hereditary Health Courts – most judges were in favour of sterilisation 
  • 400,000 people were sterilised. 
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  • October 1939 – sterilisation programme morphed into euthanasia; euthanasia was authorised for the mentally ill and physically disabled. 
  • Regarded as an ‘Unproductive Burden’ – by 1939, Germany was ready to go to war so they needed to get rid of a financial burden. They had to be ‘mercifully’ put to death. 

The T4 Programme 

  • From October 1939, the programme was expanded and had to be moved to a larger headquarters: Tiergarten 4. 
  • By 1941, rumours had spread and aroused opposition; religious leaders, e.g. Pastor Braune, wrote a long letter against the programme. 
  • Catholic Church released a statement citing ‘the direct killing of people with mental or physical illness was against the natural and positive law of God’. 
  • Nazis were alarmed by the hostile public reaction; August 1941 – halted the programme. 
  • Was an isolated success in a racial policy being stopped – religious leaders never opposed the persecution of other impure groups (Jews).
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Policies towards asocials

  • ‘Asocial’ – social outcast; covered a wide range of people, including criminals, ‘workshy’, tramps, prostitutes, alcoholics, juvenile delinquents.  
  • Nazi policy: to introduce tough measures against asocials and give the police more power to act against them.
  • September 1933 – began a mass round up of tramps (often young homeless, unemployed people); they didn’t have enough space for them in concentration camps so sort them into the ‘orderly’ or ‘disorderly’. The ‘orderly’ were fit and forced to work; the ‘disorderly’ were sent to concentration camps.
  • 1936 – Due to the Olympic Games, the police rounded up large numbers of tramps – to project an image of a hard-working society. Also, an ‘asocial colony’ (called Hashude) was set up in northern Germany to re-educate asocials so they could be integrated back into society.
  • 1938 – bigger round up of tramps, beggars, prostitutes and gypsies; most were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. 
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Policies towards homosexuals

  • Before 1933, homosexuality had been outlawed like other European countries. But, in the Weimar era, homosexuality had flourished.  
  • Nazis saw homosexuals as degenerates, perverted + a threat to racial health. 
  • 1933 – a purge of homosexual organisations and literature; clubs were closed down. 
  • May 1933 – Nazi students attacked the Institute of Sex Research (a gay organisation) and obtained a list of names from the institute – the beginning of persecution. 
  • 1934 – the Gestapo began to compile a list of known gay people + killed Röhm and other gay SA leaders. 
  • 1935 – the law on homosexuality was amended to widen the definition of homosexuality and to impose harsher penalties on those convicted. After the law was changed, 22,000 men were arrested between 1936 and 1938. 
  • 1936 – Himmler created the Reich Office for the Combatting of Homosexuality and Abortion – after those convicted had served their sentence, they were rearrested and sent to concentration camps and made to wear a Pink Triangle. Men who would not abandon their orientation were immediately sent to concentration camps. 
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Policies towards religious sects

  • There were several religious sects that had been established by the time the Nazis came to power: 
    • Mormons 
    • The Jehovah’s Witnesses 
    • Christian Scientists 
    • Seventh Day Adventists 
    • New Apostolic Church 
  • All had international links which alarmed the regime about their loyalties. 
  • November 1933 – most were banned. 
  • The ban would be lifted if they proved their loyalty to the regime. 
  • The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only group to show hostility towards the Nazis. They believed they could only obey Jehovah so refused to make an oath to Hitler, give Hitler the salute, participate in Nazi parades or accept army conscription. Regarded persecution as a test of their faith and became more resistant under further pressure – many were arrested and imprisoned but they still resisted. 
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Policies towards the Roma and Sinti

  • After 1935, there was a growing persecution of Germany’s 30,000 gypsies (known as Zigeuner). Nazi legal experts ruled that the Nuremburg Laws applied to gypsies. 
  • 1936 – the ** set up the Reich Central Office for the Fight Against Gypsy Nuisance.
  • Dr Robert Ritter became the expert ‘scientific adviser’ in the locating and classifying of gypsies. He focused on part-Gypsies (became known as ‘Mischlinge’ – mongrels); they had become integrated in society and posed a threat to the Aryan race.
  • December 1938 – Himmler issued a Decree for the Struggle against the Gypsy Plague.
  • After war broke out, Gypsies were deported to Poland.
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  • Nazis believed that the individual counted for nothing when the interests of the community were at stake. Acted against those it considered to be political, social and racial enemies of the Volksgemeinschaft. 
  • Groups were subjected to increasing levels of persecution as the Nazis felt more secure in their levels of power. After 1938, Nazi racial policies became even more radical – the T4 programme.
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Policies towards the Jews, 1933-37

The boycott of Jewish shops and businesses, April 1933 

  • Hitler imposed a boycott of Jewish shops and businesses – he claimed this action was justified in retaliation against Jews in Germany and abroad who had called for a boycott of German goods due to the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. 
  • Goebbels was employed to perform an extensive propaganda campaign against Jews. 
  • The SA carefully marked out which Jewish businesses to target and stood outside and intimidated potential customers. 
  • Shops were the main target but it also applied to doctors and lawyers e.g. court proceedings involving Jewish lawyers and judges were disrupted; Jewish professions were attacked in the streets by the SA. 
  • The boycott made a huge public impact and featured prominently in the news in Germany and abroad. 
  • But it wasn’t a complete success – it was difficult to define what a Jewish business was and how far they could extend this boycott to: would they trace the half-Jewish businesses? What about the many German businesses funded by Jewish banks in America? 
  • Several Germans used Jewish shops in defiance of the policy. The boycott was abandoned after one day. But it marked the beginning of Nazi violence towards Jews. 
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Policies towards the Jews, 1933-37

  • Some historians believe Hitler only intended for the boycott to be brief – it was decided a week after the Enabling Act was passed 
    • Hitler was trying to send a powerful message to Jews how aggressive the Nazi regime could be; it was a new dictatorship making a point. 
    • He was anxious to keep the SA under control. 
    • He was concerned about negative reactions from his conservative allies and from foreign opinions. 

The Civil Service Laws, April 1933 

  • The regime introduced the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service – all Jews would be dismissed from the Civil Service. 
  • This was not as straightforward as they had hoped; they had not devised a way of working out who was ‘Jewish’. 
  • Another difficulty: President Hindenburg wanted Jews who had fought in WW1 and those whose fathers had been killed in the war to be exempt from the law. This amendment lessened the law’s impact as it applied to two-thirds of Jews in the Civil Service. But this was only honoured until Hindenburg’s death. 
  • Had a devastating economic impact on middle-class Jews and caused increasing levels of Jewish emigration. 
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Policies towards the Jews, 1933-37

Further anti-Semitic legislation in 1933

  • Similar laws were passed which were aimed at excluding Jews from professions. 
  • Not as effective as the Nazis had hoped because there were exemptions for those who had fought in WW1 and there were many Jews in medicine, law and education so it was not possible to remove them all at once.

The legal profession
Jews made up 16% of Germany’s lawyers, often working in family firms. 60% of non-Aryan lawyers could continue working despite the new regulations. The exclusion of lawyers was a gradual process over several years. 

More than 10% of German doctors were Jews. They were attacked by Nazi propaganda as ‘a danger to German society’. In April 1933, the regime banned Jewish doctors so they could still treat Jewish patients, but many Jewish doctors carried on their normal practice for several years. 

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Policies towards the Jews, 1933-37

In April 1933, the Law against Overcrowding of German Schools and Universities restricted the no. of Jewish children who could attend state schools and universities. Nazi propaganda promoted this on the basis that Aryan students would receive more resources and attention rather than pupils who would ‘grow up to be enemies of Germany’. Not all Jewish children were forced out of state schools at this point – this process wasn’t completed until 1938; they could still attend private education and Jewish schools.  

The press
In October 1933, the Reich Press Law enabled the regime to apply strict censorship and to close down publications they disliked. Jews had had a prominent role in journalism and publishing.

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Policies towards the Jews, 1933-37

The Nuremberg Laws, 1935

  • The regime extended their anti-Semitic legislation by introducing the Nuremburg Laws.
  • They were announced at the annual political rally at Nuremberg.
  • By 1935, many fanatical anti-Semites in the Nazi Party were restless and believed the persecution of Jews had not gone far enough - they urged Hitler to move faster and faster. It was time to deal with 'Jewish Bolshevism'. 
  • The Reich Citizenship Law meant that someone could be a German citizen only if they had purely German blood. Jews and other non-Aryans were now classed as subjects rather than citizens and had fewer rights than citizens.
  • The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour outlawed marriage between Aryans and non-Aryans and it was illegal for Jews to have sexual relations with citizens.
  • These laws were later extended to be made more extreme against the persecution of Jews - they covered almost any physical contact between Jews and Aryans.
  • November 1935 - the First Supplementary Decree on the Reich Citizenship Law defined what constituted a 'full Jew': someone who had three Jewish grandparents or someone with three full Jews in their bloodline.
  • Half-Jews were labelled as 'Mischlinge'.
  • Was difficult because many Jewish parents or Jews had converted to Christianity.
  • The position of Jews without the rights of citizenship left them with obligations to the state but with no political rights and powerless against Nazi bureaucracy.
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The development of anti-Semitic policies, 1938-40

The effect of the Anschluss with Austria, March 1938

  • The Anschluss with Austria was banned under the Treaty of Versailles.
  • One of Hitler’s key aims: a union between Germany and Austria into a greater Germany with Aryans as the superior race; his ambition was to eventually reunite Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland, which used to be referred to as  the Prussian states run by the Habsburg princes.
  • After 1933, Hitler encouraged Nazi groups in Austria to campaign for Anschluss – the Austrian government banned Nazi demonstrations and in March 1938, they called a plebiscite to show that the majority opposed the union.
  • The Austrian government looked to Britain, France and Italy but they did not intervene – they were forced to resign to the Nazis.
  • The Nazis had taken over Austria without firing one shot – this was a ‘bloodless victory’.
  • Afterwards, Hitler felt more secure and confident that Germany was ready for war and his next target was Czechoslovakia (a large German minority lived in an area called the Sudetenland).
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The development of anti-Semitic policies, 1938-40

  • In September 1938, Hitler demanded the Sudetenland from Britain and France. Britain and France agreed; they achieved another ‘bloodless victory’. In March 1939, he occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. In August 1939, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with Russia (the Nazi-Soviet Pact – Russia agreed to not oppose German invasion of Poland. On 1st September 1939, they invaded Poland. Two days later, there was war.
  • 1937-38 – the more radical phase of anti-Semitism was part of a general radicalising of the regime’s policies.
  • The occupation of Austria led to a rapid increase in the economic campaign against Jews (apart of the Four Year Plan) as the Nazis could act against Jews in Austria without constraint – caused Goering to take more radical action against Jews in Germany:
    • April 1938 – the Decree of Registration of Jewish Property allowed for the confiscation of Jewish property over 5000 marks. The starting point for the Aryanisation of Jewish property; these were taken and given to Aryans.
    • October 1938 – the passports of Jews had to be stamped with a ‘J’ to make them easily identifiable if they continued to work or refused to hand over their property.
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The development of anti-Semitic policies, 1938-40


The first way of making Germany ‘Jew free’ was through voluntary emigration. As war approached and the Nazi regime moved to more radical policies, the focus moved to forced emigration.

Voluntary emigration

  • In 1933, 37,000 Jews left Germany, including many leading scientists and cultural figures. Between March 1933 and November 1938, 150,000 Jews voluntarily left Germany.
  • Jews found it difficult to decide whether to stay or go. The situation was made more confusing by the Nazis who were both encouraging the Jews to emigrate and threatening to take their assets. Nazi policies were contradictory - they were making it harder for Jews to leave Germany by ********* them of their assets.
  • Most German Jews, especially the older generation, felt thoroughly German and wanted to stay.
  • Making the Reich ‘Jew free’ was difficult - it was hard to find foreign countries willing to accept large numbers of Jews, as many countries had started to put up barriers to limit Jewish immigration.
  • The situation for German Jews became more desperate after the Reichkristallnacht.
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The development of anti-Semitic policies, 1938-40

Reichkristallnacht, 9th - 10th November 1938

  • The Night of the Broken Glass
  • When Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were loooted, vandalised and set on fire.
  • Between 1933 and 1938, Jews were subjected to increasing levels of persecution but many could still have some kind of normal existence - this changed with the Kristallnacht which was the first form of accelerated violence, first major incident against the Jews. 
  • Nazi propaganda presented this pogrom as an uncontrolled outpouring of anti-Semitism: 'the National Soul had boiled over'. In November, Ernst vom Rath, a German official in Paris, had been killed by a young Polish Jew angry at how the Nazi regime treated his parents. This was more an excuse for unleashing anti-Semitism than a cause.
  • In reality, Kristallnacht was orchestrated by Nazi leadership; most of the people involved were SA or ** officers who had been instructed not to wear their uniforms. 
  • 91 Jews were killed and thousands were injured.
  • These actions didn't receive universal approval from the German people - some ordinary citizens joined in the violence but many people were horrified by the destruction e.g. a British official claimed that 'he had not met a single German from any walk of life who does not disapprove to some degree of what has occured'.
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Policies towards the Jews, 1940-41

The spreading war and the development of anti-Semitic policy

  • Invading Poland caused Britain and France to go to war, but Poland was occupied. A series of Blitzkreig victories in 1940 defeated the French and they left Britain isolated. 
  • Hitler could now fulfil his Lebensraum plans in the east. In 1940, Hitler and Stalin had an agreement that if Hitler invaded Poland, Stalin would not stop him. But this was only a temporary alliance and Hitler wanted to occupy more lands in the east. In June 1941, he launched Operation Barbarossa in which German armies swept across the USSR. 
  • These events impacted on the development of anti-Semitic policy - the war in the east aimed to eliminate the 'Bolshevik Jew'. The war with Soviet Russia intensified the pressure on Hitler to deal with the 'Jewish question'. The Nazis were trying to deal with the German Jews but as they were conquering more Lebensraum, they were having to deal with more Jews.
  • A series of measures had further isolated Jews from German society by 1941:
    • Radio sets were confiscated from Jewish households
    • They were banned from buying radios
    • They were banned from buying luxuries e.g. chocolate
    • They were excluded from war time rationing allowances
    • They had to have a police permit to travel
    • By 1941, Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David
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Policies towards the Jews, 1940-41

Deportation and Ghettoisation

  • The Nazis needed a plan to deal with the no. of Jews, including the German Jews and the new Jews in the occupied territories. They wanted the Jews out of Europe - as they occupied more and more territory, they became more aware of the mass of Jews in Europe. This caused the creation of the Jewish ghettos.
  • In February 1940, the first ghetto was built in Lodz, the second biggest city in Poland. The ghetto was built in one day with barricades and 320,000 Jews were held there. A Jewish Council of Elders was formed and they were given responsibilities for food, finance, accomodation etc. 
  • Jews sent to ghettos had their homes and goods confiscated. Those who managed to cling onto their valuables had to eventually sell their belongings to survive. 
  • The Nazis restricted the amount of food and medical supplies going into the ghetto on purpose. This meant that the ghetto was overcrowded and in a terrible condition - on average, 6 people shared one room; few of the apartments had running water. There was a terrible lice infection and diseases spread rapidly. 
  • The rules in the ghetto was laid out by the Nazis but the Jews would try to find loopholes: there was illegal black market trading, schools and printing presses.
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Policies towards the Jews, 1940-41

The Warsaw Ghetto

  • This was the largest and most infamous ghetto.
  • In October 1940, a wall was built around the Jewish quarter of Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
  • It contained more than 400,000 Jews at first and later more gypsies and Jews were sent from the countryside to live in the ghetto. 
  • Germans were consuming an average of 2300 calaries a day in ocupied Poland. The average figure for the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto was 300 calaries a day. 
  • Malnutrition and overcrowding led to an outbreak of killer diseases and more than 100,000 people died in the ghetto between 1940 and 1941. 
  • The Nazis never saw ghettos as a long-term solution to the 'Jewish problem' - it was only designed to be temporary but the conditions of the ghetto gives us an insight of the fate that was to come for Jews. The ghettos were designed to ensure that Jews died in large numbers (from starvation, cold, disease, forced labour) - between 1940 and 1942, 500,000 people died in the ghettos. 
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Policies towards the Jews, 1940-41

The Einsatzgruppen ('Special Groups')

  • A special branch of the German forces.
  • As Germany started to take more western territories of the USSR, it needed to deal with the problem of communists and 'Jewish Bolsheviks'. 
  • The activities of the Einsatzgruppen were far beyond that of a normal army regiment i.e. they were not set up for military combat but for the mass killing of Jews. 
  • It's estimated that half a million Jews were killed between June and July 1941. 
  • They were temporary units made up of temporary police and regular army troops. 
  • They played an important role in the 'ethnic cleansing' of German occupied territories as their main role was the mass shooting of Jews.
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