Germany's Anti-Jewish Campaign

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Germany's Anti-Jewish Campaign

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By: Sidney B. Fay

Date: May 1933

Source: Fay, Sidney B. "Germany's Anti-Jewish Campaign." Current History (May 1933): 142-145

About the Author: Sidney B. Fay (1876–1967), educated in Germany, was a historian specializing in eighteenth-century Prussia. He wrote about the origins of World War II and served as the president of the American Historical Association in the 1940s.


Persecution of Jews dates back to medieval times. It was not a creation of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, although the Nazis took anti-Semitism to extremes. Nazi harassment of Jews prompted some to emigrate but many did not take the opportunity to flee in time to avoid the Holocaust.

The Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler was founded on a hierarchical notion of races. Among its principles was the belief that one race, the Jews, was irredeemably evil and so dangerous as to be potentially deadly to the German race. In consequence, all the power at the disposal of the state and all the energies of society had to be directed toward the elimination of this threat.

As soon as the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933, they began to harass the Jews. One of the first acts of the Third Reich was to expel Jews from public employment. There were exceptions, for those who were only partly Jewish, those who were war veterans, and for those married to Aryans (people of northern European descent). In 1935, these people were forced out of office too. The restrictions against Jews increased throughout the entire Nazi period. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 deprived Jews of full citizenship and prohibited sexual relations with Aryans. Eventually, Jews were banned from using public transportation, from library reading rooms, from public parks, from the streets bordering on public parks, from restaurants, and from theaters. They were confined to their homes after 9 p.m. and forced to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews. In 1936, Jews were forced to give up their telephones. In 1940, Jews were limited to one hour of shopping, between three and four in the afternoon.

Some Jews, especially academics and professionals in fields or with qualifications that would be welcomed in other countries, fled from Germany. Only a minority of Jews were able to get out of Germany, though. While women often read the writing on the wall, many Jewish men wanted to stand firm in the face of harassment. The possibility of emigration for those Jews who remained after 1935 was restricted by a series of ever more stringent decrees. Emigration was eventually banned entirely on October 23, 1941. In that same year, the Germans began to construct death camps on occupied territory in Poland. Stripped of their position as human beings, Jews were then systematically killed, either outright or as a result or hard labor and starvation rations in concentration camps or grotesque medical experiments. The goal of eliminating all Jews was called the "Final Solution" by the Nazis, and the resulting murder of millions came to be known as the Holocaust.


In the rise of the Hitler party to power in Germany his spokesmen continually uttered dire threats as to what it would do to the Jews if once it controlled the government. To appeal to racial and religious animosities was an easy way of getting votes. The Nazis capitalized all sorts of hatred against the Jews. They revived the medieval religious prejudice against a downtrodden people. They urged that Jews, because they were not "Nordic" or "Aryan," were not good Germans. Jews were accused of not being patriotic because of their economic and other affiliations with people of their own race in other countries. The Nazis declared that many of the great banks, newspapers and department stores in Germany were controlled by Jews, who sucked up the money of the poor people in the interests of international Jewry, that the leading war profiteers had been Jews, and that Jews had far more than their share, on the basis of populations, of the positions in the professions, especially in law and in medicine.

With this long preparation of propaganda dinned into the ears of the Nazis at their mass meetings, it is not surprising that the Hitler victory in the Reichstag elections, with its natural feeling of exultation and excitement, should have led to a widespread series of outrageous attacks upon Jews by undisciplined Nazis. It is not necessary to suppose that the attacks were deliberately ordered by Hitler or his immediate agents. It is true, however, that in the first days after the election Nazi brown shirts picketed Jewish stores and in some cases broke windows or caused the stores to close, while the government and police took no steps to prevent such injustice. It also appears to be true that innumerable little groups of unauthorized armed Nazis for two or three days carried on a regular campaign calculated to terrorize the Jewish population. Jews in cafes were beaten up. Jewish houses were broken into at night and their inmates dragged out and maltreated. Under the influence of this terror many Jews fled abroad.

Naturally enough the stories told by those who fled were greatly exaggerated. Sensationalist newspapers abroad magnified the horrors with tales of eyes gouged out and Jews murdered at the gates of Jewish cemeteries. Fear, credulity and racial and religious hatred combined to produce stories of "atrocities" such as were once alleged to have been practiced by the Germans in Belgium and France during the World War. How much truth there was in the stories of Nazi outrages against the Jews it is impossible at this time to ascertain. Granting, however, that most of the stories were much exaggerated, there can be no doubt that where there was so much smoke there was some fire. Even Hermann Goering, who is one of the most ruthless of the Nazi leaders, in denouncing the barrage of "foreign defamation," admitted that the national revolution accomplished by Nazis had been marked by "unavoidable" blemishes in the form of irresponsible acts of lawlessness. Such an admission by him means as much.

The reports of outrages against Jews in Germany quickly stirred up a feeling of indignation and a wave of protest from Jews abroad, especially in Great Britain and the United States. Jewish societies urged their governments to protest to the German Government. They urged retaliation in the form of a movement to boycott German goods. At first sight these protests seemed to have a beneficial effect in touching a sensitive spot in the Nazi government's armor. Its official spokesmen were profuse in indignantly denying most of the charges as being grossly exaggerated and as manufactured simply to discredit the new National government which had come into power. Hitler announced that strict orders had been given to the Nazi organizations that there should be no more such acts of violence; that no one should act against individual rights except upon orders issued from above.

And editorial in the Frankfurter Zeitung summed up the situation in an editorial on March 23, saying:

"Just as the outside world has failed, with the fewest exceptions, to form a true conception of the German state of mind since the war—otherwise the policy pursued toward Germany would have been the opposite of what it was—just as it has completely misunderstood the German youth, so now it has interpreted the recent overturn under the distortion of preconceived opinions and thus misunderstood it.

"Excesses there have been, but to generalize such bad isolated cases into a general picture of Germany does not express the truth. This also applies to the Jewish problem. The un-bridled anti-Semitism of National Socialism during the period of agitation is fraught with danger of sudden explosions and appeared indeed to create a threatening situation for German Jews after the overturn. From the demands raised in the outside world—not only in Jewish but also in Christian circles—for succor for German Jews by international action, one would infer that pogroms were the order of the day in Germany.

"We should fail in our journalistic duty if we did not state emphatically that such generalizations do not correspond to the situation in Germany. Since assuming power, the men in authority, at all events, have refrained from anti-Semitic utterances, and it should be remembered that Hermann Goering has assured the Central Jewish Federation that all Jewish citizens loyal to the government would have the protection of the law for person and property.

"Just as one must emphasize that this 'revolution' has been a bloodless one, so the idea that there are any pogroms in Germany must be repudiated. Those circles outside Germany that are propagandizing for international action for the protection of German Jews should, therefore, be made to understand that their activity, however well intentioned, misses the mark.

"National Socialist anti-Semitism is an internal German problem. The intervention of non-German circles distorts the whole question, implies a supererogatory vote of non-confidence in German public opinion, and puts the burden just on those German Jews who, through birth, speech, education and disposition, have felt and still feel themselves united with the German State."

Nevertheless, in spite of this hint from the Frankfurter Zeitung that protests from abroad would hurt the German Jews whom it was intended to help, in spite of telegrams from numerous German Jewish organizations that the stories of the anti-Semitic attacks were greatly exaggerated and that they did not welcome foreign interference in the question, in spite of a report from the United States Department of State gathered from its Consuls in Germany indicating "that whereas there was for a short time considerable physical mistreatment of Jews, this phase may be considered terminated," the foreign campaign of protest increased in vehemence, culminating in a gigantic mass meeting in Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. And the dangers from such a foreign agitation began to be more apparent than the benefits which had appeared at first sight….

The National Socialist party's proclamation of a boycott against Jewish stores and business establishments was announced from the Nazi Brown House at Munich on March 28. It was declared to be the answer of nationally minded Germany—"tolerated but not supported by the government"—to the demonstrations of protest in Great Britain, and the United States. The boycott, it was announced, would start universally throughout Germany on Saturday, April 1, at 10 A.M., and would continue until lifted by the party management. It was to be "a measure of defense against the lies and defamation of hair-raising perversity being loosed against Germany" from abroad. The details of the execution of the boycott were carefully laid down in eleven articles, the wording of which suggested that Dr. Goebbels may have had a hand in it.

According to these eleven articles, committees of action were to be formed in every local group and organization of the National Socialist party. These committees were to carry out a systematic boycott against Jewish business establishments, goods, physicians and lawyers. The committees were to be responsible for not having the boycott hit the innocent, but were to see to it that it hit the guilty all the harder. They must popularize the boycott through propaganda and public enlightenment and watch the newspapers carefully to see that they participated in the intelligence campaign of the German people against Jewish atrocity propaganda abroad. Newspapers not doing so were to be removed from every house and no German business concern was to advertise in such papers. The committees must be formed in the smallest peasant villages in order to hit Jewish tradesmen in the rural districts.

"The committees shall also take care," the boycott plan read, "that every German having connections abroad shall use these for disseminating the truth—by letter, telegraph and telephone—that quiet and order may reign in Germany; that the German people has no more ardent wish than peaceably to do its work and live in peace with the outside world, and that it conducts its fight against Jewish atrocity propaganda as a purely defensive measure. The committees are responsible for having the whole campaign run off in complete orderliness and with the strictest discipline. Do not hurt a hair on a Jew's head. We shall settle this drive by the mere weight of these measures."

Though the boycott program was the work of the Nazi party organization and not of the Hitler government, and though it was not to begin until April 1, it was broadcast over the government-controlled radio on March 29 and at once began to go into effect in may places. Nazi pickets placed themselves in front of Jewish stores so effectively that many had to close. The municipal authorities of Berlin and many other cities announced that they would buy no supplies except from Nazi-Nationalist business institutions. Later statements by the government limited the boycott to only April 1, with the threat that it would be resumed if foreign agitation did not cease. It soon became clear that because of pressure upon the Cabinet, both from without and within, the boycott would not be repeated. The fate of the Jews of Germany, however, continued to distress the world. Such was the situation when these lines were written. For the outcome we must wait until the record is continued in next months' issue of this magazine.


When World War II ended, only a small fragment of Europe's six million Jews had survived. Many of the survivors sought to emigrate to Palestine, a protectorate of Great Britain. Through the war, the British government had limited emigration to Palestine. After the war, the British continued to tightly restrict Jewish emigration. In response, illegal immigration was organized by Zionist underground sources. The foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 brought an open door policy on Jewish immigration to the former Palestine.

Many of the Jews who sought to remain in continental Europe changed their minds after the Kielce progrom in Poland in 1946 and other episodes of anti-Semitism. Of the remaining Jewish Displaced Persons in Europe, about 40,000 emigrated to North America, Australia, and Latin America while only 2000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust gained admission to Britain. Migration has been one of the constants in Jewish history as the Jews react to the other constant of anti-Semitism.



Breitman, Richard, and Alan M. Kraut. American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933–1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Dawidowicz, Lucy. The War Against the Jews, 1933–1945. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.

Wyman, David S. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938–1941. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1968.

Zucker, Bat-Ami. In Search of Refuge: Jews and US Consuls in Nazi Germany, 1933–1941. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2001.

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Germany's Anti-Jewish Campaign

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