As promised on Monday, this post is a follow up to my visit to the National Archives where the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 Nazi Germany are now on display. (To see the remarkable story behind this exhibition check out the previous post.) There are three laws that make up the Nuremburg Laws, but the one that is most important to the subsequent history is the final law seeking to establish the purity of German blood. What follows, are two points of view regarding the context under which these laws come about. One view, that of author and scholar Robert Gellately, focuses on a political origin, while the other view, that of scholar Henry Friedlander, focuses on the authority of the cultural elite. These points of view are not mutually exclusive, simply different in both their emphasis and the end goal of their publications (Gellately writing about “the era of social catastrophes,” and Friedlander writing about “euthanasia to the final solution”).
The political environment.
Following the conclusion of the First World War, on November 9, 1918, the Kaiser abdicated and Chancellor Prince Max of Baden resigned, leaving the returning soldiers, young Adolf Hitler among them, feeling betrayed. In this vacuum an active socialist political movement stepped up: by noon Philipp Sheidemann of the Majority Socialists Party declared the formation of a “German Repubic,” followed within hours by Karl Liebknecht, of the more radical Independent Social Democratic Party, proclaiming a “Free Socialist Republic of Germany.” These events would feed into the military’s myth that the “homefront let down the battlefront” during World War I and will become an “article of faith,” to Hitler, still recovering from a gas attack at the end of the war, and millions of other Germans. The nickname, “November criminals,” will come to represent everything they hate: Marxists, Jews, Bolsheviks. (83)
Bavaria’s monarchy in Munich was replaced by a radical Council Republic, despite its traditional and religious demeanor. Hitler and many others tied the Jews with Communism and Bolsheviks because of prominent Russian and German Socialist and Communist leaders who were Jewish, though not necessarily religious. They “become synonymous with Bolshevism and entangled with anti-Semitism.” (84) Although some of the leading left politicians would preferred Germany to follow the way of Russia–as Lenin deeply desired–the people of Germany were not overwhelmingly sympathetic:
Germany was a land of property owners, where millions had investments in stocks, bonds, and savings. The country also had a pension and welfare system that helped integrate state and society. Most workers were opposed to Communism, and even radical left-wingers were not anxious to emulate the Bolsheviks. (84)
The concern, nonetheless, remained relevant as the majority of Russians had also not desired the Revolution Lenin orchestrated. Lenin wanted to penetrate the west through Germany and Austria and sent emissaries who worked with the newly founded German Communist Party from 1918-1919, discussed the use of terror and attempted a coup. (85-87) The presence of the Socialists caused a great deal of instability and violence; the new Bavarian government would ultimately have to lay siege to Munich to wrest it from a Leninite. But, by this time, the socialists parties in Germany, Austria and Hungry were waning. (89) Yet, the damage was done and the stage had been set for Hitler. Most Germans firmly associated the Jews with the Bolsheviks and, thus, with destabilization and international threat. Anti-Semitic organizations achieved membership in the hundreds of thousands during this post-war period. (91)
German economists will later blame the failing economy on international Jewry, labeling it a cancer besetting the economy, “Breaking the ‘slavery of interest’ became code for ending the economic power of the Jews.” (91-2) Hitler finally finds his calling in life, politics, and helps to further the interests of the German Workers’ Party, an organization well to the right of the soviets, interested in moderate government regulation on capitalism. He makes his mark quickly, shrewdly competing with the socialists for workers in the ranks of the party by changing the name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and, in 1920, establishing the swastika on the white circle on the red background as the flag. The red was meant to symbolize the “social idea” (and steal the attractive color from the soviets), the white nationalism and the swastika the “mission and struggle of Aryan man.” (95-6)
After setbacks and then a sweeping rise to power, Hitler was elected Chancellor, with jobs and the economy being important campaign issues. He initially says little pubically about the Jews, although the party boycotts and physically intimidates them, (315), but he does start his camp-system, some 160 such sites established by 1933, for torture and imprisonment (302). Criminals, such as sex offenders, and communists are targeted–with German socialist support! In the press, the camps are described as anti-Communist institutions to ease them into the culture, playing off the genuine fears of Communist disintegration of laws and order. (303)
While the boycott of Jewish businesses fails to catch on, anti-Semitic policies were argued for in support of transferring Jewish professional success to Germans. (317) From the time of the boycott, “individual actions” were taken steadily against Jews–euphemism for violence and damage of property–without instigation from Berlin, acted entirely on local initiatives, though never without controversy. But, despite this uneasiness with unsanctioned, but nevertheless unpunished, violence, the tenor was against the Jews and by 1935 Hitler believed he had the popular support he needed to start passing legal restrictions based on race. And so, the Nuremburg Laws were passed forbidding the mixing of Jewish blood with German or German-related blood: banning marriages, sex and even the employ of a German woman under the age of 45 in a Jewish household. Gellately reports on, “[a] Gestapo report for Berlin [that] said Jews were now shut out of the ‘community of the people.’” (319)
The authority of the cultural elite.
Origins of Nazi genocide are in the misappropriated biological theory of Darwin as applied to society:
Nazi genocide did not take place in a vacuum. Genocide was only the most radical method of excluding groups of human beings from the German national community. The policy of exclusion followed and drew upon more than fifty years of scientific opposition to the equality of man. (1)
The would-be science of eugenics was advanced by German and other western scholars that “merged [eugenics] with the racist doctrine of ultra-nationalists to form a political ideology based on race.” Scientists created constructs and scales on human intelligence, turning “popular prejudices” into scientific and academic theory, such as sexism based on brain size. Nazi academics and doctors looked back and drew from a long tradition of academic authorities, as they so chose. (1)
With his rise to the chancellorship, Hitler and his cadre of scientists began with sterilization, in 1933 and serving “as the model for all eugenic legislation” throughout Nazi control. It forced sterilization on individuals with any of a variety of mental and physical disabilities. The later Marriage Health Law, passed in the same year as the Nuremberg Laws,
mandated screening the entire population to prevent marriages of persons considered carriers of hereditary degeneracy, particularly those covered by the sterilization law. (23)
As race hygiene had always linked disability to criminal activity, criminal traits believed to be hereditary were also targeted in 1933, often with the sympathy of law-abiding citizens. (23) A book compiling all the Nazi laws written against Jews fills a four-hundred-page tome. While the first is written in 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service,
the centerpiece of the anti-Jewish legislation was enacted in September 1935 as the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, together known as the Nuremberg racial laws. (24)
This same law will be extended to include “other racially alien blood,” especially “Negroes and Gypsies.” And, Jews will be eliminated from eligibility, though they are not originally, from German citizenship because German blood is a prerequisite. (25) Not only that, Jewish patients would be banned from hospital care under the same pretense. (268)
The Nuremberg Laws will be on display at the National Archives for most of October, positioned opposite the Magna Carta and after the arc of the Hall of the Charters of Freedom. I recommend the trip if it is possible. The documents are profound not because of the words on the pages, nor even the signatures that passed them into law, but because they represented the next step, the one that set the legal course for the Holocaust.
For more information about the documents and how they came to be at the National Archives, or to see what they said exactly, refer to the previous post which has many useful links.