The Lost Jews of Europe: Germany



Germany and Nazi Occupied Territories During WWII

Why the Jews?

The answer to this question is a complex one and there is no one simple answer to why the German nation that produced a Goethe, Heine, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Mahler, Kant,  Hegel, Dilthey, Heidiger, Marx, Einstein,  could also produce a Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler? Though Nietzsche was not a proto-Nazi, but Nazi thinkers did imbibe some of his philosophical ideas in their ideology, while Wagner was inherently anti-Semitic and desired to return to the pre-Christian, pagan roots of the German people.

It has been said if there had been no Hitler, there would have been no Holocaust. However, it is not as simple as that – Take just one example of the Jewish massacre of the 12the century:

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Massacre of the Jews of Metz during the First Crusade, by Auguste Migette

El Malé Rahamim – God of Mercy prayer for the murdered communities, in prayer book from the city of Altona

The Rhineland massacres, also known as the persecutions of 1096 or Gzerot Tatnó[1] (Hebrewגזרות תתנ”ו‎ Hebrew for “Edicts of 4856”), were a series of mass murders of Jews perpetrated by mobs of German Christians of the People’s Crusade in the year 1096, or 4856 according to the Jewish calendar.

Prominent leaders of crusaders involved in the massacres included Peter the Hermit and especially Count Emicho.[2] As part of this persecution, the destruction of Jewish communities in SpeyerWorms and Mainz was noted as the “Hurban Shum” (Destruction of Shum).[3] These were new persecutions of the Jews in which peasant crusaders from France and Germany attacked Jewish communities. A number of historians refer to the antisemitic events as “pogroms“.[4]

According to David Nirenberg,[5] the events of 1096 in the Rhineland “occupy a significant place in modern Jewish historiography and are often presented as the first instance of an antisemitism that would henceforth never be forgotten and whose climax was the Holocaust.”[6]


Hitler was not a German

Adolf Hitler was not a German, but he was an Austrian who only became a naturalised German citizen on February 25, 1932. This does not mean that the German nation is therefore not responsible for the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Once National Socialism became the ruling regime, the majority of the German nation willingly complied with his Nazi policy of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Killing Fields

In 1933, before Hitler, there were approximately 500,000 Jews in Germany. Most were Germans first and Jews second. Hitler and the National Socialists of course changed that.

Germany was a nation of affluent Jews, much more so than in Poland and Russia naturally. That being said, there were still MANY Jews in Germany who were far from being wealthy. Only a minority of German Jews were bankers and stock brokers. Most were working men. Machinists, metal fabricators, mill operators and foundry men. Only the National Socialists deluded themselves that ALL Jews were rich and all were stock brokers, bankers and lawyers. When the National Socialists began to systematically deprive Jews of their civil rights, German Jews began to leave in earnest.

I have no idea of how many Jews were still in Germany in 1939. Over 300,000 had already fled the country and many of the others were arrested and confined in camps, later to be killed. Not all, and oddly there were some who stayed the war and were never placed in camps, but not so many.

Why Such a Hatred?

In Hitler’s Mein Kamph he describes the development of his loathing of the Jewish people and how it gradually developed. This pathological hate says more about Hitler’s own psychological state, than it does about the Jewish people as a group worthy of the kind of hate filled madness that afflicted the deeply disturbed Hitler. He was on the one hand consumed with an overwhelming sense of failure. He was an unemployed, social misfit who worked sporadically, in low paid jobs after he was demobbed after WWI. He had had a moderately successful military career, but only achieved the rank of sergeant. He was prone to fits of rage and even ranting and people found his at times uncouth and awaked. However, on the other hand he was consumed with a sense of destiny and delusions of grander. When he was not working he spent his time copiously reading every news paper and article about the socio-political condition in Germany, post the humiliating defeat of WWI.

With the great economic hardship and social unrest in Germany, with high unemployment due to the crippling financial situation, Hitler became involved in politics and join various right wing political groups that were striving a better deal and an end to the humiliation of the German people. He blamed capitalists, Bolsheviks and Jewish financiers for many of the ills that they were experiencing.

Few would have thought that the Nazi Party, starting as a gang of unemployed soldiers in 1919, would become the legal government of Germany by 1933. In fourteen years, a once obscure corporal, Adolf Hitler, would become the Chancellor of Germany.


World War I ended in 1918 with a grisly total of 37 million casualties, including 9 million dead combatants. German propaganda had not prepared the nation for defeat, resulting in a sense of injured German national pride. Those military and political leaders who were responsible claimed that Germany had been “stabbed in the back” by its leftwing politicians, Communists, and Jews. When a new government, the Weimar Republic, tried to establish a democratic course, extreme political parties from both the right and the left struggled violently for control. The new regime could neither handle the depressed economy nor the rampant lawlessness and disorder.

 This site explores the consequences of Germany’s defeat in WWI.






The German population swallowed the bitter pill of defeat as the victorious Allies punished Germany severely. In the Treaty of Versailles , Germany was disarmed and forced to pay reparations to France and Britain for the huge costs of the war.

This site contains the complete Treaty of Versailles as well as maps and related material.

The German Workers’ Party , the forerunner of the Nazi Party, espoused a right-wing ideology, like many similar groups of demobilised soldiers. Adolf Hitler joined this small political party in 1919 and rose to leadership through his emotional and captivating speeches. He encouraged national pride, militarism, and a commitment to the Volk  and a racially “pure” Germany. Hitler condemned the Jews, exploiting antisemitic feelings that had prevailed in Europe for centuries. He changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, called for short, the Nazi Party (or NSDAP). By the end of 1920, the Nazi Party had about 3,000 members. A year later Hitler became its official leader, or Führer.

Adolf Hitler’s attempt at an armed overthrow of local authorities in Munich, known as the Beer Hall Putsch , failed miserably. The Nazi Party seemed doomed to fail and its leaders, including Hitler, were subsequently jailed and charged with high treason. However, Hitler used the courtroom at his public trial as a propaganda platform, ranting for hours against the Weimar government. By the end of the 24-day trial Hitler had actually gained support for his courage to act. The right-wing presiding judges sympathised with Hitler and sentenced him to only five years in prison, with eligibility for early parole. Hitler was released from prison after one year. Other Nazi leaders were given light sentences also. This site details Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch.

While in prison, Hitler wrote volume one of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), which was published in 1925. This work detailed Hitler’s radical ideas of German nationalism, antisemitism, and anti-Bolshevism. Linked with Social Darwinism, the human struggle that said that might makes right, Hitler’s book became the ideological base for the Nazi Party’s racist beliefs and murderous practices. This site discusses many of the ideas contained within Mein Kampf.

After Hitler was released from prison, he formally resurrected the Nazi Party. Hitler began rebuilding and reorganising the Party, waiting for an opportune time to gain political power in Germany. The Conservative military hero Paul von Hindenburg was elected president in 1925, and Germany stabilised.

Hitler skillfully maneuvered through Nazi Party politics and emerged as the sole leader. The Führerprinzip, or leader principle, established Hitler as the one and only to whom Party members swore loyalty unto death. Final decision making rested with him, and his strategy was to develop a highly centralized and structured party that could compete in Germany’s future elections. Hitler hoped to create a bureaucracy which he envisioned as “the germ of the future state.”

The Nazi Party began building a mass movement. From 27,000 members in 1925, the Party grew to 108,000 in 1929. The SA  was the paramilitary unit of the Party, a propaganda arm that became known for its strong arm tactics of street brawling and terror. The SS  was established as an elite group with special duties within the SA, but it remained inconsequential until Heinrich Himmler  became its leader in 1929. By the late twenties, the Nazi Party started other auxiliary groups. The Hitler Youth , the Student League and the Pupils’ League were open to young Germans. The National Socialist Women’s League allowed women to get involved. Different professional groups–teachers, lawyers and doctors–had their own auxiliary units.

From 1925 to 1927, the Nazi Party failed to make inroads in the cities and in May 1928, it did poorly in the Reichstag elections, winning only 2.6% of the total vote. The Party shifted its strategy to rural and small town areas and fuelled antisemitism by calling for expropriation of Jewish agricultural property and by condemning large Jewish department stores. Party propaganda proved effective at winning over university students, veterans’ organisations, and professional groups, although the Party became increasingly identified with young men of the lower middle classes. 


The Great Depression began in 1929 and wrought worldwide economic, social, and psychological consequences. The Weimar democracy proved unable to cope with national despair as unemployment doubled from three million to six million, or one in three, by 1932. The existing “Great Coalition” government, a combination of left-wing and conservative parties, collapsed while arguing about the rising cost of unemployment benefits.Reich president Paul von Hindenburg’s advisers persuaded him to invoke the constitution’s emergency presidential powers. These powers allowed the president to restore law and order in a crisis. Hindenburg created a new government, made up of a chancellor and cabinet ministers, to rule by emergency decrees instead of by laws passed by the Reichstag. So began the demise of the Weimar democracy.

Heinrich Brüning  was the first chancellor under the new presidential system. He was unable to unify the government, and in September 1930, there were new elections. The Nazi Party won an important victory, capturing 18.3% of the vote to make it the second largest party in the Reichstag.

The Great Depression has a large impact on Germany

This is a description of the Nazi Party’s 1930 campaign for Reichstag seats.


Hindenburg’s term as president was ending in the spring of 1932. At age 84, he was reluctant to run again, but knew that if he didn’t, Hitler would win. Hindenburg won the election, but Hitler received 37% of the vote.Germany’s government remained on the brink of collapse. The SA brownshirts, about 400,000 strong, were a part of daily street violence. The economy was still in crisis. In the election of July 1932, the Nazi Party won 37% of the Reichstag seats, thanks to a massive propaganda campaign. For the next six months, the most powerful German leaders were embroiled in a series of desperate political manoeuvrings. Ultimately, these major players severely underestimated Hitler’s political abilities.

A more complete account of the complexity of German politics in 1932 is available.

Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about the rise of the Nazi Party are available here.Mobs broke into synagogues, vandalising their interiors, smashing everything they could find. View of the old synagogue in Aachen after its destruction on Kristallnacht.”


On November 9 to November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht”, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, also called the “Night of Broken Glass,” some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. German Jews had been subjected to repressive policies since 1933, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) became chancellor of Germany. However, prior to Kristallnacht, these Nazi policies had been primarily nonviolent. After Kristallnacht, conditions for German Jews grew increasingly worse. During World War II (1939-45), Hitler and the Nazis implemented their so-called “Final Solution” to the what they referred to as the “Jewish problem,” and carried out the systematic murder of some 6 million European Jews in what came to be known as the Holocaust.

Hitler and Anti-Semitism

1933 – 1938

Soon after Adolph Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in January 1933, he began instituting policies that isolated German Jews and subjected them to persecution. Among other things, Hitler’s Nazi Party, which espoused extreme German nationalism and anti-Semitism, commanded that all Jewish businesses be boycotted and all Jews be dismissed from civil-service posts. In May 1933, the writings of Jewish and other “un-German” authors were burned in a communal ceremony at Berlin’s Opera House. Within two years, German businesses were publicly announcing that they no longer serviced Jews. The Nuremberg Laws, passed in September 1935, decreed that only Aryans could be full German citizens. Furthermore, it became illegal for Aryans and Jews to marry or have extramarital intercourse.

The Nuremberg Race Laws

At the annual party rally held in Nuremberg in 1935, the Nazis announced new laws which institutionalised many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideology. The laws excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood.” Ancillary ordinances to the laws disenfranchised Jews and deprived them of most political rights.

The Nuremberg Laws, as they became known, did not define a “Jew” as someone with particular religious beliefs. Instead, anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents was defined as a Jew, regardless of whether that individual identified himself or herself as a Jew or belonged to the Jewish religious community. Many Germans who had not practiced Judaism for years found themselves caught in the grip of Nazi terror. Even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were defined as Jews.

For a brief period after Nuremberg, in the weeks before and during the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, the Nazi regime actually moderated its anti-Jewish attacks and even removed some of the signs saying “Jews Unwelcome” from public places. Hitler did not want international criticism of his government to result in the transfer of the Games to another country. Such a loss would have been a serious blow to German prestige.

After the Olympic Games (in which the Nazis did not allow German Jewish athletes to participate), the Nazis again stepped up the persecution of German Jews. In 1937 and 1938, the government set out to impoverish Jews by requiring them to register their property and then by “Aryanizing” Jewish businesses. This meant that Jewish workers and managers were dismissed, and the ownership of most Jewish businesses was taken over by non-Jewish Germans who bought them at bargain prices fixed by Nazis. Jewish doctors were forbidden to treat non-Jews, and Jewish lawyers were not permitted to practice law.

Like everyone in Germany, Jews were required to carry identity cards, but the government added special identifying marks to theirs: a red “J” stamped on them and new middle names for all those Jews who did not possess recognisably “Jewish” first names—”Israel” for males, “Sara” for females. Such cards allowed the police to identify Jews easily.

Key Dates

September 15, 1935
Nuremberg Laws are instituted                                                    

At their annual party rally, the Nazis announce new laws that revoke Reich citizenship for Jews and prohibit Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood.” “Racial infamy,” as this becomes known, is made a criminal offence. The Nuremberg Laws define a “Jew” as someone with three or four Jewish grandparents. Consequently, the Nazis classify as Jews thousands of people who had converted from Judaism to another religion, among them even Roman Catholic priests and nuns and Protestant ministers whose grandparents were Jewish.

October 18, 1935
New marriage requirements instituted

The “Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German People” requires all prospective marriage partners to obtain from the public health authorities a certificate of fitness to marry. Such certificates are refused to those suffering from “hereditary illnesses” and contagious diseases and those attempting to marry in violation of the Nuremberg Laws.

November 14, 1935
Nuremberg Law extended to other groups

The first supplemental decree of the Nuremberg Laws extends the prohibition on marriage or sexual relations between people who could produce “racially suspect” offspring. A week later, the minister of the interior interprets this to mean relations between “those of German or related blood” and Roma (Gypsies), blacks, or their offspring.