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HolocaustNovember 1939

The Nazis and the Jews: Part One

What was the attitude of the Nazis towards the Jews? Part One
German Jews were persecuted from the moment the Nazis came to power in 1933. But the German invasion of Poland resulted in a radicalization of Nazi persecution.

Video Transcript

Commentary: On April 1st 1933, just a month after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the Nazis organised a day-long boycott of shops owned by German Jews.

Words of Arnon Tamir (German Jew, 1930s): That was when I intuitively realized for the first time that the existing law did not apply to Jews. You could do with Jews whatever you liked.

Professor Sir Ian Kershaw: The aim of destroying the power of the Jews, shall we say, was there right from the very beginning. How this would be undertaken nobody knew, not even Hitler, but obviously during the 1930s the big aim was to expel the Jews from Germany as far as possible.

Words of Arnon Tamir (German Jew, 1930s): The entire anti-Semitism of the Nazis is actually encapsulated in the words: ‘The Jew is guilty. Always. For everything.’

Professor David Cesarani: What made the Nazis’ hatred of the Jews so different is that they believed that the Jews were biologically and racially distinct and that there was a kind of biological struggle for dominance over the entire human race between the Jews and everybody else.

Commentary: These Nazis blamed the Jews for Germany losing the First World War, they blamed the Jews for Communism, they blamed the Jews for the abuses of international capitalism. Their anti-Semitic prejudice knew no bounds. The Nazis so persecuted the German Jews in the 1930s that half of them had been forced out of the country by 1939. But alongside this persecution Hitler tried to create for non-Jewish Germans an atmosphere of optimism and hope.

Professor Christopher Browning: Much of what Hitler brings in the ‘30s in a sense can be offered as beneficial to the vast majority at extreme cost to vulnerable and isolated minorities. So if you’re an asocial, or if you’re a gypsy, or if you’re Jewish, or if you’re Communist, you’re going to suffer greatly. But the vast majority of Germans benefit and don’t feel threatened in any way by these things.

Words of Erna Kranz (German schoolgirl, 1930s): An elite race was being promoted. Well, I have to say it was somewhat contagious. You used to say that if you tell a young person everyday, ‘You are someone special,’ then in the end they will believe you. 

Commentary: Hitler led the Germans into war against Poland on the 1st September 1939. And once in Poland, the Nazis were to increase the ferocity of their attack on the Jews.

Professor Sir Ian Kershaw: Once you were into the war, once you attacked Poland, then at one fell swoop another two and a half million Jews were in the hands of the Nazis. And they had to devise policies to deal with those. Those policies became more extreme, more radical, and more genocidal as the 18 months went on between the invasion of Poland in September ‘39 and the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. So in those 18 months an immense radicalisation in the direction of genocide had already taken place on Polish soil. 

Commentary: The Nazi rule of Poland was brutal in the extreme. Arbitrary arrests and executions were commonplace. Hundreds of thousands were thrown out of their homes to make way for German settlers. But it was the Jews of Poland who were to suffer most. What was being created here in Poland by the Nazis was a slave state to be ruled by a German master race. A state in which the Polish Jews were uniquely vulnerable.

Professor Mary Fulbrook: What shocks me in the kind of primary sources on people’s reactions - diaries, letters home, that kind of stuff - is the extent to which young people who had been exposed to Nazi ideology in the 1930s but didn’t fully believe it suddenly, naively coming to see Jews in ghettos, eastern Jews, Jews who are in rags and starving and clearly carriers of disease, suddenly believed that the propaganda was true without recognising that it has been put into effect and made true by the Nazi treatment of these populations. And then become more anti-Semitic as a result of exposure to this.

Commentary: Fueled by their violent anti-Semitism the Nazis forced Polish Jews into ghettos like this one in Warsaw, where thousands starved to death. But horrendous as conditions here became, the Nazis were to develop a method of treating the Jews that was to murder them on an even greater scale.