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The racial policy of Nazi Germany is the set of policies and laws implemented by Nazi Germany, asserting the superiority of the "Aryan race," and based on a specific racist doctrine which claimed scientific legitimacy. It was combined with a eugenics programme that aimed to achieve "racial purity" of the "Aryan race" by using compulsory sterilizations and extermination of specific minorities, which eventually culminated in the Holocaust. These policies targeted, first of all, Jews, who were considered as the most "inferior race" of all on a hierarchy that included Jews at the bottom and the Herrenvolk (or "master race") of the Volksgemeinschaft (or "national community") at the top.

Hitler and the origin of racial policy ideas

Scientific racism became popular at the end of the 19th century in Europe, and had a direct influence on the pan-Germanism movement, including the Alldeutscher Verband (Pangermanic League). Adolf Hitler, who lived as a youth in Vienna, Austriamarker, administrated until 1910 by the anti-semitic mayor Karl Lueger, admired the latter and was exposed to anti-Semitic and racially-charged books and literature. He developed these concepts in Mein Kampf (1925). He concluded that the Northern European people belonged to the "Aryan race", believed to be superior to all other ethnic groups and races. This belief system, fundamental to the Nazi ideology, held that "Aryans" had been responsible for all advances in civilisation and morality in world history, and that Jews wanted to destroy it. Hitler also theorized the Lebensraum space, claiming that Eastern Europe should be submitted to the Reich in order to give "living space" for the expansion of the "Aryan race." This would be implemented during the war under the name of the Generalplan Ost.

Racial policies regarding Jews between 1933 to 1940

Between 1933 and 1934, Nazi policy was fairly moderate, not wishing to scare off voters or moderately-minded politicians (although the eugenics program was established as early as July 1933). The Nazi Party used popular anti-semitism to gain votes. They blamed poverty, unemployment, and the loss of World War I all on the Jews and the left-wing. German woes were attributed to the effects of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1933, persecution of the Jews became active Nazi policy. It only became worse with the years, culminating in the Holocaust, or so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, which was decided by Hitler during World War II and made official at the January 1942 Wannsee Conferencemarker.

On April 1, 1933, Jewish doctors, lawyers, police, teachers and stores were boycotted. Only six days later, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, banning Jews from government jobs. It is notable that the proponents of this law, and the several thousand more that were to follow, most frequently explained them as necessary to prevent the infiltration of damaging, "alien-type" (Artfremd) hereditary traits into the German national or racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). These laws meant that Jews were now indirectly and directly dissuaded or banned from privileged and superior positions reserved for “Aryan Germans”. From then on, Jews were forced to work at more menial positions, becoming second-class citizens or to the point they are "illegally residing" in the German Reich.

The July 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, written by Ernst Rüdin and other theorists of "racial hygiene," established "Genetic Health Courts" which decided on compulsory sterilization of "any person suffering from a hereditary disease." These included, for the Nazis, those suffering from "Congenital Mental Deficiency," schizophrenia,"Manic-Depressive Insanity," "Hereditary Epilepsy," "Hereditary Chorea" (Huntington’s), Hereditary Blindness, Hereditary Deafness, "any severe hereditary deformity," as well as "any person suffering from severe alcoholism". Further modifications of the law enforced sterilization of the "Rhineland bastards" (children of mixed German and African parentage).

After the Night of the Long Knives on June 30-July 1, 1934, during which the SSmarker attacked the SAmarker, considered by Hitler to be “too revolutionary”, the SS became the dominant policing power in Germany. Heinrich Himmler was eager to please Hitler, and so willingly obeyed his orders. Since the SS had been Hitler's personal bodyguard, they were even more obedient and loyal to Hitler than the SA had been. They were also supported by the army, which was now more willing to comply with Hitler's decisions than when the SA had still existed.

On August 2, 1934, President Paul von Hindenburg died. No new President was selected; instead the powers of the Chancellor and President were combined. This change, and a tame government with no opposition parties, allowed Hitler full control of law-making. The army also swore an oath of loyalty personally to the “Führer” (“Leader”), giving Hitler complete power over the army. The Nazi ideologues would theorize the “Führerprinzip”, which granted preeminence to Hitler’s words over the law. Hitler now had more direct control over the government and political attitude to Jews in Nazi Germany.

The Nuremberg Laws

Between 1935 and 1936 persecution of the Jews increased apace while the process of "Gleichschaltung" (lit.: "standardisation", the process by which the Nazis achieved complete control over German society) was implemented. In May 1935, Jews were forbidden to join the Wehrmacht (the army), and in the summer of the same year, anti-semitic propaganda appeared in shops and restaurants. The Nuremberg Laws were passed around the time of the great Nazi rallies at Nuremberg; on September 15 1935 the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor" was passed, preventing marriage between any Jew and Gentile. At the same time, the "Reich Citizenship Law" was passed and was reinforced in November by a decree, stating that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens of their own country (their official title became "subjects of the state"). This meant that they were deprived of basic citizens' rights, e.g., the right to vote. This removal of citizens' rights was instrumental in the process of anti-semitic persecution: the process of denaturalization allowed the Nazis to exclude, de jure, Jewish people from the “national community” (“Volksgemeinschaft”), thus granting judicial legitimacy to their persecution and opening the way to harsher laws and, eventually, extermination of the Jews. Philosopher Hannah Arendt had pointed out this important judicial aspect of the Holocaust in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), where she demonstrated that to violate human rights, Nazi Germany first deprived human beings of their citizenship. Arendt underlined that in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, citizens’ rights actually preceded human rights, as the latter needed the protection of a determinate state to be actually respected.

The drafting of the Nuremberg Laws has often been attributed to Hans Globke. Globke had studied British attempts to 'order' its empire by creating hierarchical social orders, for example in the organization of “martial races” in India.

In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them from having any influence in education, politics, higher education, and industry. There was now nothing to stop the anti-Jewish actions that spread across the German economy.

Between 1937 and 1938, new laws were implemented, and the segregation of Jews from the “German Aryan” population was completed. In particular, Jews were punished financially for being Jewish.

On March 1, 1938, government contracts could not be awarded to Jewish businesses. On September 30 of the same year, "Aryan" doctors could only treat "Aryan" patients. Provision of medical care to Jews was already hampered by the fact that Jews were banned from being doctors.

On August 17, Jews had to add "Israel"(males) or "Sarah" (females) to their names, and a large letter "J" was to be printed on their passports on October 5. On November 15, Jewish children were banned from going to state-run schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or had been persuaded to sell out to the government, further reducing their rights as human beings; they were, in many ways, effectively separated from the German populace.

The increasingly totalitarian regime that Hitler imposed on Germany allowed him to control the actions of the SS and the army. On November 7, 1938, a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan attacked and shot German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the Nazi-German embassy in Paris over the treatment of his parents by the Nazi-Germans. Joseph Goebbels ordered retaliation. On the night of November 9 the SS conducted the Night of Broken Glass ("Kristallnacht"), in which the storefronts of Jewish shops and offices were smashed and vandalized. Approximately 100 Jews were killed, and another 20,000 sent to concentration camps. Collectively, the Jews were made to pay back one billion RM in damages; the fine was collected by confiscating 20% of every Jew's property.

Jewish responses to the Nuremberg Laws

A Gymnastics lesson from 1936 in a Berlin Jewish school
After the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws the Reichsvertretung* der Juden in Deutschland (Representation of the German Jews) announced the following:

The Laws decided upon by the Reichstag in Nuremberg have come as the heaviest of blows for the Jews in Germanymarker. But they must create a basis on which a tolerable relationship becomes possible between the German and the Jewish people. The "Reichsvertretung der Juden" in Deutschland is willing to contribute to this end with all its powers. A precondition for such a tolerable relationship is the hope that the Jews and Jewish communities of Germanymarker will be enabled to keep a moral and economic means of existence by the halting of defamation and boycott.

The organization of the life of the Jews in Germany requires governmental recognition of an autonomous Jewish leadership. The Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland is the agency competent to undertake this.

The most urgent tasks for the "Reichsvertretung", which it will press energetically and with full commitment, following the avenues it has previously taken, are:

Our own Jewish educational system must serve to prepare the youth to be upright Jews, secure in their faith, who will draw the strength to face the onerous demands which life will make on them from conscious solidarity with the Jewish community, from work for the Jewish present and faith in the Jewish future. In addition to transmitting knowledge, the Jewish schools must also serve in the systematic preparation for future occupations. With regard to preparation for emigration, particularly to Palestine, emphasis will be placed on guidance toward manual work and the study of the Hebrew language. The education and vocational training of girls must be directed to preparing them to carry out their responsibilities as upholders of the family and mothers of the next generation.

Other "non-Aryans"

Though the laws were primarily directed against Jews, other "non-Aryan" people were subject to the laws, and to other legislation concerned with racial hygiene. The definition of "Aryan" was imprecise and ambiguous, but was clarified over time in a number of judicial and executive decisions. Jews were by definition non-Aryan, because of their Semitic origins, but most European peoples were automatically included under the definition of Aryan as "Indo-European". The fact that Aryan is essentially a linguistic rather than a racial category led to some difficulty reconciling Nazi-supported racial typologies with the Aryan concept. There was some dispute about the position of the Roma, who were Indo-European in origin, speaking an Indo-Aryan language. However, they were thought to "share certain racial characteristics with Jews." Roma were eventually declared to be non-Aryan, sometimes lower than Jews or more racially comparable to Africans, and the Nazis exterminated at least 200,000 Roma during Porrajmos (extermination of Gypsies). Non-Indo-European Africans and Asians were automatically excluded. In Africa, only the Berbers from North Africa, particularly the Kabyles, were classified as Aryans. The Nazis portrayed Swedes, the Afrikaaners who are white European descendants of Dutch-speaking Boers in South Africa and higher-degree Northern/Western Europeans of South America (Mainly from Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina) as ideal "Aryans" along with the German-speaking peoples of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (the country was neutral during the war).

German Mulattoes

Of particular concern to the Nazi scientist Eugen Fischer were the "Rhineland Bastards": mixed-race offspring of Senegalesemarker soldiers who had been stationed in the Rhineland as part of the French army of occupation. He believed that these people should be sterilized in order to protect the racial purity of the German population. At least 400 mixed-race children were forcibly sterilized in the Rhineland by 1938. This order only applied in the Rhineland. Other African Germans were unaffected. Despite this policy there was never any systematic attempt to eliminate the (very small) black population in Germany, though mixed marriage and interracial sex was illegal. According to Susan Samples the Nazis went to great lengths to conceal their sterilization and abortion program in the Rhineland. Hans Massaquoi describes his experience as a half-African in Hamburg, unaware of the Rhineland sterilizations until long after the war.. Samples also points to the paradoxical fact that African-Germans actually had a better chance of surviving the war than the average German. They were excluded from military activity because of their non-Aryan status, but were not considered a threat and so were unlikely to be incarcerated. Samples and Massaquoi also note that African-Germans were not subjected to the segregation they would have experienced in the United States, nor excluded from facilities such as expensive hotels. However, both she and Massaquoi state that downed black American pilots were more likely to become victims of violence and murder from German citizens than were white pilots.

Other groups

About 10,000 Japanese nationals (mostly diplomats and military officials) residing in Germany were given "Honorary Aryan" citizenship with more privileges than any other "non-Aryan" ethnonational group.In Norway, the Nazis favored marriages between Germans and Norwegians, in an attempt to spawn a new “Aryan” generation of Nordics. Around 10,000 to 12,000 war children (Krigens Barn) were born from these unions during the war. Some of them were separated from their mothers and cared for in so-called "Lebensborn" clinics ("Fountain of Life" clinics).

Policies regarding Slavs

Generalplan Ost (GPO) was a Nazi plan to realize Hitler's "new order of ethnographical relations" in the territories occupied by Germanymarker in Eastern Europe during World War II. It was prepared in 1941 and confirmed in 1942. The plan was part of Hitler's own Lebensraum plan and a fulfilment of the Drang nach Osten ("Drive towards the East") state ideology. The final version of Generalplan Ost, essentially a grand plan for ethnic cleansing, was divided into two parts; the Kleine Planung ("Small Plan"), which covered actions which were to be taken during the war, and the Grosse Planung ("Big Plan"), which covered actions to be undertaken after the war was won (to be carried into effect gradually over a period of 25–30 years). The Small Plan was to be put into practice as the Germans conquered the areas to the east of their pre-war borders. The individual stages of this plan would then be worked out in greater detail. In this way the plan for Polandmarker was drawn up at the end of November, 1939. The plan envisaged differing percentages of the various conquered nations undergoing Germanisation, expulsion into the depths of Russiamarker, and other fates, the net effect of which would be to ensure that the conquered territories would be Germanized.

Generally, Slavic people or the "masses of the east" were viewed as untermenschen by Germans because of their supposed mixed races, particularly the East Slavs like Russians and Ukrainians compounded by ideological differences. Some numbers of Slavic peoples were to be Germanized , after large number of Slavs were culled to provide more room for Germans (Lebensraum). The remainder would serve the Germans in a subservient role, though the policy was by no means definitive. Slavs were considered Indo-European Aryans, but subservient and "less perfect" than Germans, and as such were not a priority, with the exceptions of Russians . A more detailed policy was likely to be made after the war. Decisions would be made variously depending on specific Slavic groups, with certain Slavs (such as Croatians, due to their cooperation with Nazis) being given a greater degree of freedom than, plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan losses. Civilian deaths totaled 15.9 million which included 1.5 million from military actions; 7.1 million victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 1.8 million deported to Germany for forced labour; and 5.5 million famine and disease deaths. Additional famine deaths which totaled 1 million during 1946-47 are not included here. The official Polishmarker government report of war losses prepared in 1947 reported 6,028,000 war victims out of a population of 27,007,000 ethnic Poles and Jews; this report excluded ethnic Ukrainian and Belarusian losses.

Germanization between 1939 and 1945

Nazi policy stressed the superiority of the Nordic race, a sub-section of the white European population defined by anthropometric models of racial difference. From 1940 the General Government in occupied Poland divided the population into different groups. Each group had different rights, food rations, allowed strips in the cities, separated residential areas, special schooling systems, public transportation and restricted restaurants. Later adapted in all Nazi-occupied countries by 1942, the Germanization program used the racial caste system of reserving certain rights to one group and barred privileges to another. In addition with their predominant religion and ethnicity per individual of that ethnic group or nationality. Listed from the most privileged to the least:

  • Germans from Germany (Reichdeutsche) - Nordic Germans are said most favorable, but all German citizens are in the top category.
  • Germans from outside, active ethnic Germans, honorary "Aryans" from axis European countries in Volksliste category 1 and 2 (see Volksdeutsche).
  • Germans from outside, passive Germans and members of families, handicapped, political dissidents, common criminals in Volksliste category 3 and 4.
  • Other Germanic peoples closely related to Germans (Norwegiansmarker, Danesmarker, Swedesmarker, Finland-Swedes , Estonia-Swedes, Faroese, Flemings, Icelandersmarker, English and the Dutchmarker) but treated as categories 1 and 2 in most privileges, especially pro-Nazi sympathizers. Until 1942, the Greeks were included in this category by virtue of their being descendants of the ancient Greeks.
  • Italians (particularly from regions north of Rome, e.g. Tuscany, Lombardy, etc.), Spaniards (particularly Basques) and Portuguese were treated as category 1 and 2, especially pro-Nazi sympathizers (e.g. Fascist Italy and Francoist Spainmarker diplomats). Some southern Italians were treated as least (Suspicion of miscegenation with African and Semitic peoples), but within the same category. The Greeks are included in this category after 1943, due to their strong anti-Nazi resistance movement.
  • Celtic/Gaelic peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  • French people in France (except German speaking Alsatiansmarker, and pro-Nazi French supporters in categories 1 and 2).
  • Highlanders (Goralenvolk): an attempt to split the Polish nation by using local collaborators.
  • Hungariansmarker, Estoniansmarker, and Finns (despite their non Indo-European origins), Baltic peoples (Lithuaniansmarker and Latviansmarker) and Romaniansmarker, Bulgariansmarker and Croatsmarker.
  • Ukrainians: Many were part of Waffen SS divisions (Galicia), while others were exterminated as partisans suspected in supporting the Red Army.
  • Russians, Belarusians (from East Slavic group), Serbs (from South Slavic group), mostly due to strong Nazi opposition.
  • Poles
Enemy nationals who happened to fall under the white "Aryan" racial category (i.e. the United States of Americamarker and Canadamarker), but were living in Germany at the time, were treated with suspicion by legal restrictions. But enemy nationals of non-European "Aryan" racial categories (i.e. Ethiopiamarker and Argentinamarker) are treated much differently.

The categories of "races" deemed unworthy and subject to discrimination.
  • Jews-divided into various degrees of religious denomination, Mischlinge or of half/part-Jewish ancestries (esp. of one Jewish parent, highly illegal under the race laws) and Rassenschande or "Aryan" Germans found as converts into Judaism.
  • "Untermenschen" (lit. "Under-human"). It included the Gypsies/Roma, also subject to extermination during Porrajmos. Includes minuscule numbers of darker-skinned German nationals: non-whites from colonial African, Middle Eastern. Homosexuals and disabled people (based on physical and mental illnesses) were also considered to be part of this category, and subject to eugenics policies, including compulsory sterilization, internment and deportation. Also Slavic and non-Slavic Russians (i.e of Turkic/Caucasian/Mongol ) were listed.

Nordicist anthropometrics was used to "improve" the racial make-up of the Germanised section of the population, by absorbing individuals into the German population who were deemed suitably Nordic.

Germanization also affected the Sorbs , the minority Slav community living in Saxonymarker and Brandenburgmarker, whose Slavic culture and language was suppressed to absorb them into German identity. Tens of thousands suffered internment and imprisonment as well, to become lesser-known victims of Nazi racial laws.

See also



  • Bauer, Yehuda A History Of The Holocaust, New York : F. Watts, 1982 ISBN 0-531-09862-1.
  • Burleigh, Michael & Wippermann, Wolfgang The Racial State : Germany 1933-1945, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1991 ISBN 0-521-39114-8.
  • Ehrenreich, Eric. The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, Racial Science, and the Final Solution. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-253-34945-3
  • Friedländer, Saul Nazi Germany and the Jews Volume 1 The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, New York : HarperCollins, 1997 ISBN 0-06-019042-6
  • Peukert, Detlev Inside Nazi Germany : conformity, opposition and racism in everyday life London : Batsford, 1987 ISBN 0-7134-5217-X.
  • Weindling, Paul Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945. Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-521-42397-X


  1. Eric Ehrenreich, The Nazi Ancestral Proof, 2007, pp.1, 165-167
  2. The law for the prevention of hereditarily diseased offspring. (Approved translation of the "Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses"). Enacted on July 14th, 1933. Published by Reichsausschuss für Volksgesundheitsdienst. (Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1935). (Official translation of the law into English)
  3. The Concept "Jew" in Nazi German "Race" Legislation
  4. Günther Lewy, The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, 2000, p.141
  5. (a)"The Berbers, among whom even today one finds light skins and blue eyes, do not go back to the Vandal invasions of the fifth century A.D., but to the prehistoric Atlantic Nordic human wave. The Kabyle huntsmen, for example, are to no small degree still wholly Nordic (thus the blond Berbers in the region of Constantine form 10 % of the population; at Djebel Sheshor they are even more numerous).", Alfred Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, 1930; (b) "Among the Berbers, particularly the Kabyles in the Riff and in the Aures range, a Nordic strain shows itself clearly", Hans F.K. Günther, The racial elements of European History, 1927
  6. Samples, S., "African Germans in the Third Reich", The African German Experience, Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay ed.
  7. Massaquoi, Hans J., Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, Harper Perennial, 2001. He mistakenly states that they were later murdered in the Holocaust, p.2
  8. BBC, 4 February 2003, Norway's Nazi legacy
  9. Le Figaro, 8 March 2007, Les enfants des nazis traînent la Norvège devant les tribunaux (Children of Nazis bring Norway before the Courts)
  10. | Finns were not originally consider to be of Nordic race. Therefore the goal of the SS recruiment office was to recruit Swedish-speaking Finns (preferably National Socialists), whom they regarded as Nordic.
  11. Hitler's plans for the East

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