The Path to Nazi Genocide, Chapter 3/4: From Citizens to Outcasts, 1933–1938

The Path to Nazi Genocide, Chapter 3/4: From Citizens to Outcasts, 1933–1938


Before the Nazis assumed power, Jews enjoyed
all rights of citizenship in Germany. After 1933, the German government gradually excluded
Jews from public life and public education. Newly established Jewish private schools provided
a safe learning environment for some. By 1938, German authorities had isolated and segregated
Germany’s Jews, expelling them from the professions and eliminating most opportunities
to earn a living. We felt so… why can’t we be part of it?
Why can’t we? Everybody said, “Heil Hitler,” like this. I did, too. What did I know? I
was eight years old. So my mother said to me, “You’re not supposed to do that.”
I said, “Why not?” She said, “Haven’t you been told that you are Jewish?” I said,
“Oh, I forgot.” Germany’s Jews would get plenty of reminders. This sense of isolation that came upon us
after 1933, gradual and increasing, it also affected us psychologically. We knew we were
in a hostile world. Between 1933 and 1939, the German government
enacted hundreds of laws to define, segregate and impoverish German Jews. My sister and I used to slink by those huge
banners that were all over the city. And we used to just try not to see them, thinking
if we didn’t see them, they weren’t there. But they were there. That just, little by
little, that really took over. The goal of Nazi propaganda was to demonize
Jews and encourage Germans to see Jews as dangerous outsiders in their midst. After
1935, everyday antisemitism was a regular part of carnival parades and floats. Public
displays of antisemitism reinforced a climate of hostility toward Jews in Germany, or at
the least, indifference to their treatment. In March 1938, German troops moved into neighboring
Austria. Germany shredded another provision of the Versailles Treaty, as Hitler’s homeland
was incorporated into Germany. It was a disaster for Austrian Jews. Within a year, the Nazis
achieved in Austria what had taken five years to carry out in Germany. On November 9th, the Nazi Party orchestrated
an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence throughout Greater Germany. It was a lawless onslaught
that outraged the world and provoked criticism of the regime by many Germans. Jewish businesses
that had already suffered antisemitic attacks were targeted for deliberate vandalism disguised
as spontaneous public action. Party officials directed the SA, SS and Hitler Youth to destroy
Jewish shops and torch synagogues. Over 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized. Germans
named the violent attacks Kristallnacht—Night of Broken Glass—for the shattered windows
of Jewish-owned stores that littered the streets. The nationwide violence damaged or destroyed
more than 250 synagogues. After Kristallnacht, I remember driving through
Berlin and seeing the synagogues in flames and all the glass on the streets, and the
people huddled and depressed. They walked around like the victims, like the hunted. German police filled the concentration camps
with thousands of Jewish inmates. The SS released them only if they agreed to emigrate. But
Jews faced increasingly restrictive immigration quotas in most countries and bureaucratic
hurdles in Germany. A new law issued in October 1938 required Jews to surrender their old
passports, which would be valid only after the letter “J” was stamped on them. Two
months later, another law prevented the flight of capital owned by Jews, when the Economics
Ministry froze all Jewish property and assets. Many who had the means and somewhere to go
tried to leave Germany. Some families sent their children alone to other, safer countries.
They could not know how soon the world would be at war.

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