home l Historymain l Germany 1919 1945 l Life In Nazi Germany

'Nobody did anything about the Armenians, so why would they do anything about the Jews?'
(Supposedly said by Hitler when asked if the treatment of the Jews would result in International punishments). Also it explains why we study it - to stop future genocides.

Key Questions:
What were the Nuremberg Laws?
Why did the Nazis hate the Jews?
What was the Kristallnacht?
What was the Final Solution?
What were Extermination Groups?
What were Death Camps?

The Nazi (mis) Treatment of the Jews falls into two main phases: 1933 - 1939 and 1939 - 1945.
1933 - 39: The idea was to get the Jews to leave Germany. As life became more unpleasant, about half of Germany's Jewish population did just that. Anne Frank's family is an example of this, so is Henry Kissenger.
The second phase (Sept. 1939 - 1945) was more brutal. The Final Solution (1942 on) was the result of competing Nazi policy towards the Jews. It was decided to simply eliminate all the Jews by what has been called 'Mass Production Murder' or 'Industrialised Murder'. To carry out this, the Nazi state used many vital resources that the Army needed to try to avoid defeat in WW2. This fact shows that the Nazis made genocide a priority.

It should be noted that the Jews weren't the only group picked up for destruction by the Nazis. Gypsies suffered greatly. Slavs and Poles were subject to mass murder too. Communists, homosexuals, the mantally and physically handicapped were also murdered.

Hitler picked up on anti-Semitism (Jew hating) sometime around 1914. Nobody knows quite when he started or why. What is clear is by the time he got into politics, Hitler was using Jew hating to stir up crowds. It is worth pointing out that much of Europe including the UK was anti-Semetic to some extent. What Hitler wasn't new but he took it to new extremes.

Once Hitler got power in January 1933, life got worse and worse inside Germany.

January 30 Hitler forms his first government.
March 23 Hitler forms first majority government. Enabling Act follows soon after.
April Official One Day boycott of all Jewish businesses across Germany. (This was supposed to be longer, but most Germans ignored it, so the Nazis back off - for now.
1933 - 34 Anti-Jewish propaganda (from the state) steadily increased. At the same time, Nazi officials are told to speed up any Jewish applications for passports etc, so they can leave Germany more easily.
May Jews forbidden to join the newly reformed conscript Army. (Remember Rearmament?) Jewish officers are forced to resign.
September The Nuremberg Laws Jews are banned from marriage and other relationships with Germans. (The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour). Jews are no longer citizens, just non-Germans who happen to live inside Germany. (Reich Citizenship Law). This causes a major wave of Jewish migration.
More obvious anti-Jewish posters and 'newspapers' are removed during the Berlin Olympic Games. One Jewish athlete is included in the German team to show 'balance'. Even so, some foreigners aren't impressed by the Nazi policies. Others - however - are.
September For the first time since 1935, Hitler delivers an extreme attack on the Jews in a major public speech. More Jewish busineses are forcibly confiscated or 'sold'to Nazis at rock bottom prices.
April Jews have to register their property - making it easier to seize, attack and otherwise abuse.
June/July Jewish doctors, dentists and lawyers can no longer serve German citizens.
October Jews have a red 'J' (for Jude = Jew) on their passports.
November 9 - 10 Kristallnacht Nazi attacks on synagogues, businesses and homes. More Jews leave Germany.

November 12 Jews are 'fined' and have to pay for all the damage caused.
November 15 Jewish children are no longer allowed non-Jewish (i.e. state) schools.
December Remaining Jewish businesses seized.

January All Jews living in Nazi Germany have to add new first names to all their papers - 'Israel' for men, 'Sarah' for women. A Reich Office for Jewish Emigration established to speed up emigration 'by all possible means'.
September 1 The War begins, more restrictions on Jews put in place as Germany is under war conditions.

Once the war began, things got really vicious. Up to September, 1939, the Nazis only had to deal with Jews living on German teritory. (Remember in 1938, this meant Jews living in Austria and from March 1939, Czech Jews too). Now they suddenly had 3 million Polish Jews under their control. POolish Jews were considered worse because they were 1. Jewish and 2.Polish - both groups considered by Nazis as sub-human. Polish Jews were rounded up and put in Ghettos - walled off districts in major cities that were only for Jews. These were overcrowded, underfed and quickly full of diseases like typhus. Away from the cities, Jews were pushed about too. Some were killed out of hand (as were non-jewish poles as well). Ultimately whether you were gassed, shot, starved or died of typhus you were dead and dead because some semi-educated thug with a chip on both shoulders decided this was so.

As the war progressed and more areas fell under Nazi rule, more Jews (including some who had fled pre-war Germany) came under Nazi control. Different Nazi governors had different policies and the level of brutality and death varied. The major change came in June 1941. The War against the Soviet Union began. Beyond the military campaign, the Nazis saw this as a clash of civilisation - Nazi civilisation against the barbarians - i.e. the Rules of War didn't apply. Each of three German Army Groups (about 1000000 soldiers) was followed by an Extermination Group. These targetted Communists, Jews and anything else the hard core Nazis wished to erase from history. Even though the word 'Genocide' wouldn't be invented until 1947, this is exactly what it was. Bullets, axes, iron bars and other weapons were used on their victims. Local populations were encouraged to join in as well. Most alarmingly, the Nazis carefully recorded each days activities - as if they were claiming expenses. (This also allows us to prove these crimes really happened).

In Autumn 1941, Himmler - head of the SS - witnessed one of these groups in action. He was physically sick - guess he wasn't such a hard man after all. Also by now even the Extermination Groups were starting to crack up from exhaustion and the realities of committing mass murder day in, day out. Something different was needed. Furthermore, as the SS pointed out, massive amounts of ammuntion was being used up at a time when the Army was fully engaged in a total war.

Back in Germany, it was decided to clear out the remaining Jewish population from Germany (about 250000 people). The Nazis had built concentration camps in Eastern Poland and the Baltic states. Already other Jews had been sent there - where they were killed/died at differing speeds depending on each Nazi commander's policy. Despite the Army's vital need for supplies as the Russian winter hit it hard, the rail network and trains were used for transporting German Jews instead - a decision that could only have come from highest level of thwe Nazi state. When the German Jews arrived in the east they meet varying fates (i.e. they were killed at different speeds). Some commanders just killed them as the trains arrived. Some killed the weak and worked the strong to death. Some just put all of thenm into camps and let them die slowly. What emerged was confusion, lack of clear policy or orders and complete indifference to human life.

As a result, in January 1942, the Wannasee Conference took place. It was decided that mass extermination was now the policy and in addition to concentration camps, extermination (or death) camps were to be set up. These had one purpose only - kill every person inside, do it quickly and destroy the evidence. In March 1942, 75% of the Nazis' victims were still alive. By May 1943, 75% of all the Nazi victims were dead.

A good BBC timeline : http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/genocide/launch_tl_persecution_genocide.shtml
A good but detailed guide: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/genocide/