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This week in Jewish history | German Parliament passes Nuremberg Race Laws

15 Sep 2020

On 15 September 1935, the German Parliament (Reichstag) unanimously passed two race-based measures, infamously known as the Nuremberg Laws, depriving Jews of rights. 

The Nuremberg Laws, which consisted of the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, sought to define Jews as a race and differentiate them from so-called Aryans, despite the fact that there was no scientific basis  for the existence of such racial categories. The Reich Citizenship Law stated that German citizenship was reserved for those with “German or kindred” blood, declared that Jews were a separate race and demoted Jews from citizens to “subjects” of the state. Included in the definition were individuals who were born Jewish and had Jewish ancestry but had converted to another religion and those with three Jewish grandparents, who were deemed "racially” Jewish. The other component of the Nuremberg Laws outlawed marriage and sexual relationships between Jews and Aryans as a criminal offense.  

The discriminatory nature of the Nuremberg Laws was not entirely unprecedented in Germany. In 1933, Jewish immigrants were denaturalized, excluded from certain professions, and banned from holding public office. Forcing Jews out of lucrative and essential professions had a severe economic effect on Jewish communities. Moreover, Jewish athletes were banned from participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in a further attempt to marginalize and exclude. Such a policy not only pushed Jews out of the economy, but by taking away possibilities for employment, forced them into financial hardship. 

The passing of the Nuremberg Laws was especially significant as it marked the first time in history that Jews faced persecution not only for their religious beliefs but for their ethnic ancestry. While previously Jews could convert and be accepted—or at least attempt to be—the Nuremberg Laws stated that Jews were members of an inherently inferior and dangerous race. Although only Jews were explicitly mentioned, the laws were enforced to include members of any groups who were perceived as a threat to the purity of the Aryan race. 

 During World War II, many countries that were allied with Germany or under Nazi occupation adopted policies similar to the Nuremberg laws. By 1941, France, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia had all implemented similar legislation. In establishing such laws across Europe,  the Nazis created a legal system that institutionalized anitsemitism and marginalized Jews. This ultimately culminated in the Holocaust—the biological destruction of European Jewry.