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The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Under the Swastika: Nazi Germany



see also: National Socialist Art
collection: John Heartfield


With Hitler's takeover of power, a twelve-year totalitarian regime began in Germany. In 1939 it brought war and racist terror to the world. The "Fihrer"-led dictatorship attempted to reform state and society to conform to National Socialist ideology. Despite the Nazis' brutal suppression of the opposition and single-minded removal of the Jewish population from national life, the world underestimated the nature of the regime and its contempt for human life, and thus World War II erupted.


The Persecution of European Jewry

Through a gradual progression of steps up to 1939, German Jews lost their rights, were dispossessed, and were forced to emigrate.



"The Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end.......spying on the unsuspicious German girl he plans to seduce..........He wants to contaminate her blood and remove her from the bosom of her own people. The Jew hates the white race and wants to lower its cultural level so that the Jews might dominate."

"Was there any form of filth or crime...without at least one Jew involved in it. If you cut even cautiously into such a sore, you find like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light - a Jew."
Adolph Hitler



After the takeover by the Nazis, there were uncontrolled outbreaks of violence in many places against the Jewish population by gangs of SA thugs incited by the anti-Semitic newspaper Dei" Stiirmer. In response to protests from business and the old elite, the Nazi leadership tried to steer the persecution of the Jews onto a more regulated track through centrally directed actions and sham legislation.

In April 1933 Propaganda Minister Goebbels organized a 1 nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses.

1 SA men hang up posters appealing to Germans to boycott Jewish businesses, April 1, 1 933

The "Law to Restore Career Civil Service" of April 7, 1933, launched a flood of discriminatory decrees that forced Jewish people out of their professions and by 1939 had completely isolated them socially.

Along with government service, the Jews were banned from cultural professions and forbidden to work as physicians or lawyers.

Eventually every contact with the "Aryan" population was forbidden.

The 4 race laws of 1935 deprived Jews of all political rights.

4 (left) Chart purporting to show genetic relationships between the races;

4 (right) Chart from Nazi Germany used to explain the Nuremberg Laws. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 employed a pseudo-scientific basis for racial discrimination against Jews. People with four German grandparents (white circles) were of "German blood," while people were classified as Jews if they were descended from three or more Jewish grandparents (black circles in top row right). Having one or more Jewish grandparents made someone a Mischling (of mixed blood). In the absence of discernible external differences, the Nazis used the religious observance of a person's grandparents to determine their race.

Nazism and race (Aryan race)


Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor
                    September 15, 1935

Thoroughly convinced by the knowledge that the purity of German
blood is essential for the further existence of the German people
and animated by the inflexible will to safe-guard the German
nation for the entire future, the Reichstag has resolved upon the
following law unanimously, which is promulgated herewith:

SECTION 1 1. Marriages between Jews and nationals of German or kindred blood are forbidden. Marriages concluded in defiance of this law are void, even if, for the purpose of evading this law, they are concluded abroad. 2. Proceedings for annulment may be initiated only by the Public Prosecutor.

SECTION 2 Relation outside marriage between Jews and nationals for German or kindred blood are forbidden.

SECTION 3 Jews will not be permitted to employ female nationals of German or kindred blood in their households.

SECTION 4 1. Jews are forbidden to hoist the Reich and national flag and to present the colors of the Reich.
2. On the other hand they are permitted to present the Jewish colors. The exercise of this authority is protected by the State.

SECTION 5 1. A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of section 1 will be punished with hard labor.
2. A person who acts contrary to the prohibition of section 2 will be punished with imprisonment or with hard labor.
3. A person who acts contrary to the provisions of section 3 or 4 will be punished with imprisonment up to a year and with a fine or with one of these penalties.

SECTION 6 The Reich Minister of the Interior in agreement with the Deputy of the Fuehrer will issue the legal and administrative regulations which are required fro the implementation and supplementation of this law.

SECTION 7 The law will become effective on the day after the promulgation, section 3 however only on 1 January, 1936.

Nuremberg, the 15th day of September 1935 at the Reich Party Rally of Freedom.

The Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler
The Reich Minister of the Interior
The Reich Minister of Justice
Dr. Goertner
The Deputy of the Fuehrer
R. Hess


Every citizen of the Reich had to prove his or her "German-bloodedness." A Jew was defined as anyone who was "descended from, according to race, three full-blooded Jewish grandparents." The whole absurdity of the Nazi race ideology is shown by the criterion for being a "full-blooded Jew" as membership in the Jewish religion.

The Nazi leadership used an attempt to assassinate a German diplomat as a pretext to stage a full-scale 5 pogrom against the Jews in November 1938.

5 Reichskristallnacht 1938: a burning synagogue

All across Germany on the night of November 9-10,1938, synagogues were set afire and 6 Jewish businesses destroyed.

6 The day after: passersby in front of a vandalized Jewish shop


German history, also called Night of Broken Glass or November Pogroms
(German: “Crystal Night”)
The night of November 9–10, 1938, when German Nazis attacked Jewish persons and property. The name Kristallnacht refers ironically to the litter of broken glass left in the streets after these pogroms. The violence continued during the day of November 10, and in some places acts of violence continued for several more days.

The pretext for the pogroms was the shooting in Paris on November 7 of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Polish-Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan. News of Rath’s death on November 9 reached Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany, where he was celebrating the anniversary of the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. There, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, after conferring with Hitler, harangued a gathering of old storm troopers, urging violent reprisals staged to appear as “spontaneous demonstrations.” Telephone orders from Munich triggered pogroms throughout Germany, which then included Austria.

Just before midnight on November 9, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them that “in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” Rather, the police were to arrest the victims. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent “Aryan” properties.

In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or otherwise damaged. Rioters ransacked and looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses, killed at least 91 Jews, and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbours. Some 30,000 Jewish males aged 16 to 60 were arrested. To accommodate so many new prisoners, the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen were expanded.

After the pogrom ended, it was given an oddly poetic name: Kristallnacht—meaning “crystal night” or “night of broken glass.” This name symbolized the final shattering of Jewish existence in Germany. After Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime made Jewish survival in Germany impossible.

The cost of the broken window glass alone came to millions of Reichsmarks. The Reich confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. The rubble of ruined synagogues had to be cleared by the Jewish community. The Nazi government imposed a collective fine of one billion Reichsmarks (about $400 million in 1938) on the Jewish community. After assessing the fine, Hermann Göring remarked: “The swine won’t commit another murder. Incidentally…I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”

The Nazi government barred Jews from schools on November 15 and authorized local authorities to impose curfews in late November. By December 1938, Jews were banned from most public places in Germany.

Michael Berenbaum

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Almost 100 persons were murdered and about 30,000 were carried off to 7 concentration camps.

7 Jews arrested during Kristallnacht line up for roll call at Buchenwald, 1938; Arrested Jewish men in Baden-Baden, November 9, 1938

An "atonement payment" of a billion reichmarks ($400 million) was imposed on the German Jews. All Jewish capital assets were confiscated; real estate, stocks, and jewelry were sold under duress. The liquidation of all Jewish businesses and enterprises followed. The economy was thus forcibly Aryanized.

The Nazi leadership next moved on to a program of forced emigration and established a Head Office for Jewish Emigration in 1939. However, financial straits and the restrictive immigration regulations of foreign nations made leaving the country difficult. Emigration was finally banned in 1941 after the new strategy of exterminating the Jews was adopted. The organized mass murder of Jews—along with Sinti and Roma (gypsies), homosexuals, and other minorities—began in Poland.




A total of almost a million people, the vast majority of them Jewish, were forced or went voluntarily into exile from Germany after 1933. However, the formation of a united, powerful opposition was unsuccessful.

The writer
THOMAS MANN  put a face to "the other Germany" with his critical speeches from the United States.

Many exiles joined the armies of their host countries during World War II.

THOMAS MANN (left) with his family
in American exile, 1940



German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939


German Jews crowd the Palestine Emigration Office in an attempt to
leave Germany. Berlin, Germany, 1935.

Arrival of Jewish refugees from Germany. The Joint Distribution
Committee (JDC) helped Jews leave Germany after the Nazi rise to power.
France, 1936.

A Jewish passenger prays on board a refugee
ship from Germany bound for Argentina in 1938.

Jewish refugee children from Nazi Germany.
The Netherlands, February 12, 1938

Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria arrive at the port of Shanghai.
China, 1938-1939

Jews from Germany are transported to a refugee camp in Shanghai.
China, 1938-1939

German Jews try to emigrate to Palestine; long lines in front of the
Palestine and Orient Travel Agency. Berlin, Germany, January 22, 1939.

A group of German Jewish refugee children arrives in New York.
New York, United States, June 3, 1939

German Jewish refugees look through the windows of the "St. Louis,"
in Havana harbor. Cuba refused to let the passengers disembark.
Cuba, May or June, 1939

Passengers aboard the "St. Louis." These refugees from Nazi Germany
were forced to return to Europe after both Cuba and the U.S.
denied them refuge. May or June 1939

Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, passengers on the "St. Louis,"
disembark in the port of Antwerp. Cuba and the United States denied
entry to these refugees. Belgian police guard the gangway.
Antwerp, Belgium, June 17, 1939.



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