On 1 September 1941, SS General Reinhard Heydrich decreed that all Jews over six years of age in the Reich, Alsace, Bohemia-Moravia and the German–annexed territory of western Poland were required to wear a yellow Star of David with the word “Jew” inscribed on it on their outer clothing in public at all times.
The badge was initially used by Muslim rulers in the 8th century CE to identify Jews and Christians within the Muslim population. However, these marks of identification were not intended to be punitive to the Jewish and Christian minorities, but rather were intended to reinforce their protected religious status while at the same time publicly branding them as socially inferior to Muslims.
German authorities introduced the yellow Star of David as a key element of their larger plan to persecute and eventually annihilate European Jewry, as it was used to stigmatize and humiliate Jews, segregate them, and control and monitor their movements prior to their deportation.
The badge was first suggested by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who described it as a "general distinguishing mark" for German Jews in a memorandum in May 1938.
In the first official mandate of its kind, German authorities imposed the Jewish badge in certain Polish towns and villages following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Similar mandates were soon implemented across the General Government, a German zone of occupation in Poland on 23 November 1939.
If a Jew was caught without the badge, he was fined, imprisoned, or even shot. In some ghettos, certain Jews were given distinct badges to identify them as unique , since they were policeman, doctors, Judenrat employees, or factory workers.
Attempts to introduce the badge were met by varying degrees of opposition by the local population, officials, and even the German military across German-occupied western Europe. Overall, varying forms of the mandate with different levels of success were implemented in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France Hungary, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and the Netherlands.