In 1933 Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) became chancellor of Germany. This was the start of a slowly unfolding tragedy for Jews throughout the world. Hitler’s right-wing Nazi Party was driven by its program of hate the elimination of Jews. Step by step, the Nazis put this policy into practice. A campaign of lies (propaganda) was launched against Jews. Schoolchildren were taught Nazi policies, while their parents were told to boycott Jewish shops. Anti-Jewish laws were passed, and many Jews were attacked or murdered. By 1937 over a hundred thousand Jews had fled from Germany, while Hitler marched into neighboring countries, signaling the same fate for their Jews.
The poster above was one of many issued by the Nazis. It reads, “One Europe’s freedom,” promoting the idea that Nazi rule was the only answer for Europe.
In April 1933, a one-day boycott of Jewish shops was organized by the Nazis. The people were led to believe that Jews were greedy capitalists, and the best way to strike back was not to buy from them. Nazi guards stood outside some Jewish shops, and signs were also placed outside warning people not to enter. The sign above reads, “Germany! Resist! Do not buy from Jews!”
Propaganda played a crucial part in the success of the Nazi regime. All forms of media, such as leaflets, radio, films, and posters, were used to show Jews as an inferior race and the cause of Germany’s economic problems. A minister of propaganda was also appointed to promote the lies. By changing the minds of the people, the Nazis believed that they could then put their policies into action with very little resistance.
In 1933 and 1936, the Nazis raided libraries and bookshops. Thousands of books were taken away. Many were written by Jews, but there were also books by non-Jewish writers, such as US author Ernest Hemingway, who did not agree with Nazi policies. The German people were encouraged to show their anti-Semitic feelings by burning the books.
THE J STAMP
By the end of 1933, nearly 38,000 Jews had left Germany, mainly bound for En gland or the US. Between 1934 and 1939 a further 210,000 left, all having to pay large sums of money for their freedom. Their travel documents were stamped with the letter J. The Hebrew name of Israel was added to every Jewish man and Sarah to every Jewish woman in an attempt to humiliate them. But these people were the lucky ones. After 1939, Jews were not able to leave Germany.
ANTI-SEMITISM IN SCHOOLS
The Nazis realized that it was important to win the minds of young children for the future survival of the Nazi Party. In schools, books were rewritten to further the cause of anti-Semitism. German children were taught that they belonged to the Aryan race (the superior fair-skinned, fair-haired race). By 1939, all children under the age of 18 years had to join the Nazi Youth Organization. Eventually, both Jewish teachers and children were forced out of German schools.
THE NUREMBERG LAWS
During Nazi rule, laws were introduced to restrict the freedom of Jews. The worst of the anti-Jewish laws were known as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Jews were barred from marrying non-Jews and from taking up professional jobs such as teaching. The aim was to isolate Jews from all walks of German life, socially and economically. These laws were also introduced in countries occupied by the Nazis.
In 1938, the Nazis launched their first full-scale attack on Jewish communities. Synagogues were set on fire, and Jewish homes were vandalized, as were Jewish shops and factories. This destruction was known as Kristallnacht (meaning “night of the broken glass”). Thousands of Jews were arrested and many were murdered. Soon, neighboring countries were invaded by the Nazi army. Jews in these countries were subjected to the same brutality and persecution faced by German Jews. The 1939 invasion of Poland, home to nearly 3 million Jews, sealed the desperate fate of European Jews.