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1933: The Nazi State Begins
 pg. 54 
  Hindenburg and his conservative advisers hoped Hitler could restore social order and yet be controlled. The plan backfired disastrously. Six months after Hitler's appointment, democracy was dead in Germany. Hitler's decrees had the force of law, civil rights had disappeared, and the Nazis were the only legal political party.

As the terror tactics of the Nazi state became ever more obvious, thousands of the Third Reich's suspected political opponents were sent to concentration camps, such as the one established at Dachau, Germany, on March 20. In 1933 50 concentration camps were opened in various parts of Germany. By July more than 25,000 Socialists, Communists, and Jews had been sent to concentration camps or to prison.

Jews were especially hard hit by the Nazi takeover, for Hitler and his followers had long been convinced that Jews posed the most deadly threat to German life. According to the Nazi worldview, Jewish "blood" was indelibly different and inferior to that of the German "master race." Although the Jewish population of Germany--it numbered about 565,000--was less than one percent of the nation's total when Hitler became chancellor, Nazi ideology required the elimination of Jews from German life. Soon after taking power, Hitler began to implement the racial antisemitism that stood at the center of his party's policy.

During the first two months of Nazi rule, anti-Jewish violence mostly hit individuals. Those circumstances changed irrevocably on April 1, when the Nazis took their first nationwide, planned action specifically against German Jewry as a whole. It was a boycott of Jewish businesses. All across the country, Nazi Storm Troopers and SS men posted signs that advised "Don't Buy from Jews" and "The Jews Are Our Misfortune." They smeared the word Jude (Jew) and painted the six-pointed Star of David in yellow and black across thousands of doors and windows. They stood menacingly in front of the homes of Jewish lawyers and doctors as well as at the entrances of Jewish-owned businesses. Germans were "encouraged" not to enter, while Jews were arrested, beaten, harassed, and humiliated.

The boycott was not a complete success. It caused too much economic and emotional turmoil within Germany and provoked negative international reactions as well. Nevertheless, the boycott marked the beginning of an unrelenting nationwide campaign against all of Germany's Jews.

If the 1933 German economy was too fragile to withstand a boycott's disruptions, other measures could be taken to deprive and isolate the nation's Jews. Within a week of the boycott, the Nazis enacted the first of hundreds of national laws that would define, segregate, and impoverish the Third Reich's Jews from 1933 through 1939. The first instance of this "paper violence" was the April 7 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. Affecting more than two million state and municipal workers, it was intended to ensure that government employees would be firmly controlled by and loyal to the Nazi regime. Paragraph 3, which came to be known as the "Aryan paragraph," targeted Jews by requiring that "civil servants of non-Aryan descent must retire." On April 11 a supplement to this law clarified that any person who had a Jewish parent or grandparent was "non-Aryan," a definition that would later be refined.

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German students eagerly participate in the public torching of "un-German" books.
Photo: National Archives/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

The Nazis opened 50 concentration camps in 1933, including this one at Dachau, Germany.
Photo: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

1933: The Nazi State Begins
 pg. 54 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.