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1935: Steps Toward Destruction
 pg. 87 
Otto Hirsch, chairman of the National Representation of Jews in Germany.
Photo: Bildarchiv Abraham Pisarek, Berlin
An Aryan child is singled out by a teacher for having especially desirable physical characteristics.
Photo: SYddeutscher Verlag Bilderdienst/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive
The three laws proclaimed at Nuremberg on September 15, 1935, advanced those policies. Yet Hitler had correctly called them a "framework." By themselves they remained inadequate to reach the goals they were intended to achieve. Some of their paragraphs, for example, used the word "Jew" but did not define it. Who, then, counted as a Jew? Establishing that definition was no trivial matter for Germans and Jews alike, because these laws, which aimed to bring about a thorough racial separation, could not be systematically implemented unless one knew to whom they applied.

Back in April 1933, a vague formula had defined a "non-Aryan" as any person who had a Jewish parent or grandparent. Later, a draft of the Reich Citizenship Law contained the provision that the law applied "only to full-blooded Jews," but that phrase was absent from the text read to the Reichstag on September 15, 1935. A sensitive problem in a society where there had been considerable intermarriage, the crucial questions persisted: Who was affected by these laws? How should "Jew" be defined? After lengthy debate within the Nazi leadership, the First Implementation Order to the Reich Citizenship Law decided the issue on November 14.

This order restated that no Jew could be a citizen of the Reich, decreed that Jews had no right to vote on political issues, specified that Jews could not hold public office, and required the retirement of Jewish civil servants. Then its decisive fifth paragraph defined the word "Jew" in a way that distinguished between full Jews and part-Jews. A person was fully Jewish if he or she had at least three Jewish grandparents. If a person had two Jewish grandparents but did not practice Judaism or have a Jewish spouse, then he or she was a part-Jew--specifically a Mischlinge (crossbreed).

The Mischlinge category was eventually refined to distinguish between Mischlinge of the first or second degree, the latter classification referring to persons who had only a single Jewish grandparent and who did practice Judaism or have a Jewish spouse. From the Nazi perspective, it was much worse to be a full Jew than, say, a Mischlinge of the second degree.

Detailed though it was, however, this racial classification rested on a paradoxical foundation. Nazi science could not identify a specifically Jewish blood type because no such thing exists. The identity of Jewish grandparents was not determined by "blood" but by membership in the Jewish religious community instead.

For the Nazis, logical consistency was less important than the fact that the Nuremberg Laws, now buttressed by the November definitions, had established race as the fundamental legal principle in German life. The definitions themselves were important steps in the process that destroyed Jewish life. They were used to identify who the targets for persecution--and eventually death--would be. The Reichsvertretung's hopes notwithstanding, the actions taken at Nuremberg in September 1935 meant that there could be no "tolerable relationship" between "the German and the Jewish people" as long as Nazi rule prevailed.

1935: Steps Toward Destruction
 pg. 87 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.