The State of ‘Judenpolitik’ Before the Beginning of the War
Peter Longerich is Professor of Modern German History at Royal Holloway University of London and founder of the College’s Holocaust Research Centre. His book, Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, shows the steps taken by the Nazis that would ultimately lead to the Final Solution. He argues that anti-Semitism was not a mere by-product of Nazi political mobilization or an attempt to deflect the attention of the masses. Rather, from 1933 onwards, anti-Jewish policy was a central tenet of the Nazi movement’s attempts to implement, disseminate, and secure National Socialist rule. In the excerpt below Longerich analyzes the state of Jewish citizens of Germany right before the start of the war.
Once the third anti-Semitic wave had reached its peak, the National Socialist policy of total segregation of the German Jews had now been realized by extensive measures in all spheres of life. The Jews, excluded from economic life, led a wretched existence in complete social isolation: they lived on savings deposited in blocked accounts, from which sums for their immediate needs could be withdrawn only with permission from the Gestapo, Jewish welfare aid, or the minimal wages from Jewish work deployment. Jews could only be economically active for others Jews, for example as Rechtskonsulenten (legal advisers)…
According to the results of the May 1939 census, there were still 213,930 ‘faith Jews’ (i.e. members of synagogues) living in the Old Reich Territory. The concentration of Jews in cities had intensified. There was a disproportionately high level of old people among the Jews living in Germany: 53.6 percent were over 50, 21.6 per cent over 65…As a result of emigration there was a considerable surplus of women (57.5 percent). Only 15.6 percent of the Jews counted in May were in work, almost 71 percent of all Jews over 14 came under the category of the ‘unemployed self-employed’. There were also 19,716 people who did not belong to the Jewish religious community (more than half were Protestants), but who were graded as ‘racial Jews’, as well as 52,005 ‘half-breeds grade I’ and 32,669 ‘half-breeds grade II’.
At the instigation of the NS state the compulsory ‘self-administration’ of the Jewish minority had been rendered uniform: the religious associations became branches of the Reich Association…which also took over the whole of Jewish care, health, and schooling, as well as all still existing Jewish organizations. The Reich Association…thus became the organization that controlled the isolated Jewish sector. Apart from this, the only remaining autonomous Jewish organization was the Jewish Cultural Association.
If the Reich Deputation of the Jews in Germany, now dissolved, had been a holding organization of independent Jewish organizations and communities, in the new, hierarchical organization autonomy was as good as excluded…On the social level their task now no longer consisted of supporting needy Jews alongside state care; falling back entirely on their own resources, they now also had to undertake the care of the Jews who were completely excluded from the state social system. In this way the regime had not only discharged responsibility and expenses; it has also ensured that the Jewish minority was almost completely isolated from the rest of the population and it had at its disposal a compulsory organization that it made responsible for the execution of official orders.
This set-up, using a Jewish organization to control an isolated Jewish sector and making it responsible for the implementation of the regime’s anti-Jewish policies, marked the birth of a new and perfidious form of organization of Judenpolitik: the Judenrat or Jewish council. After the beginning of the Second World War, the regime was to create institutions with this title in the occupied territories, which were to become the executive organs of German policy…
At the same time the consequence of the total segregation of the Jewish minority and the total withdrawal of their rights,…was that the individual spheres of life affected by Entjudung, far beyond the exclusion of the Jews, were subjected to a new system of norms dictated by the National Socialists, the hegemony of racism. As a result of this complex process the engine of this policy, the NSDAP, was able to extend its influence into the most diverse spheres and consolidate its pre-eminent position.
Thus the exclusion of Jew, but also of Gypsies, ‘social misfits’, and other groups from the circle of those receiving state social services, went hand in hand with a new definition of social policy in terms of Volksplege (care for the Volk), which would only be available to gemeinschaftsfahige (those capable of being part of the community), meaning racially ‘valuable’ compatriots, while health care was subjected to the criteria of ‘racial hygiene’.
In parallel with the exclusion of Jews from the education system, racist paradigms found their way into school education as well as into university teaching and research. The extensive Entjudung of the whole of cultural life and journalism was the starting point for the implementation of an aesthetic defined by the National Socialists, which presented itself as uncompromisingly ‘German’, a dictatorship of taste which also affected such important areas of everyday life as advertising, fashion, and architecture…
The whole process of the exclusion of the Jews from the economy,…served, on the one hand, to finance rearmament, and, on the other, served the needs of a National Socialist clientele, proved to be a wide gateway for state interventions in the economic sphere, the starting point for the National Socialist command economy established during the war. By excluding the Jews from qualified profession and using the same circle of people for unskilled work in labour columns…the labour market was transformed into ‘labour deployment’ (Arbeitseinsatz), organized not least along racist lines; here important foundations were laid for the slave labour of ‘those of alien race’ during the war.
The strict prohibitions on everyday contact with Jews could only function with the help of an extensive system of espionage which, in view of the relatively small numbers in the Gestapo and the SD, depended upon the support of the population and in fact functioned so effectively that it inevitably tended toward an abolition of the private sphere. One other consequence of the gradual implementation of anti-Jewish policies was that the open terror of the Party activist was finally acknowledges and legitimized as an appropriate instrument for the implementation of a policy of exclusion.
…With the total exclusion of the Jewish minority from German society Judenpolitik had, by the start of the war, reached a certain end point. A further intensification of discrimination, a continuation of Entjudung was now no longer possible; after six years of active Judenpolitik it was hardly the time from a propaganda point of view to treat those Jews who had remained in the country as dangerous adversaries.
The war, however, was to provide entirely new possibilities for a radicalizing ‘Jewish and racial policy’…