Living as a Jew during the early years in Nazi Germany was a challenge on every level. Jews listened in anxiety as Hitler and the top Nazi brass railed against the "Jewish/ Communist conspiracy" against the German nation. Hitler blamed them for selling out Germany to the Allies during WWI. They were blamed for the economic collapse. They were even blamed for corrupting German culture and values. Of course, so was modern art and jazz music which Hitler banned too. Author's note: We find it a bit ironic that the same guy who wanted so badly to be an artist would not tolerate artistic freedom.
After the Nazi's came to power in 1933, thousands of Jewish leaders were rounded up by the SS and shipped off to concentration camps like Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen. These were labor camps meant to break the prisoner’s will to fight but weren't death camps (not yet, anyhow).
Of course, no one could have imagined the horrors that Hitler had planned for the European Jews. Some historians claim that even Hitler didn’t know what he planned to do with the Jews but instead made it up as Nazi Germany conquered Europe.
Starting in 1933, Jews were fired from their jobs in government, teaching, medicine, law, arts, and journalism. During this first phase Jews were harassed at their workplaces and on the streets. Neighbors and colleagues who had once been friendly suddenly turned hostile. Some 37,000 German Jews fled the country but most chose to stay because they believed that the worst had passed.
In 1935, the Nuremburg Laws were passed. Jews, Gyspies, Slavs and other non-Aryan people were labeled as sub-humans. Those with physical handicaps, mental illnesses, or homosexuals were sterilized to" preserve the purity" of German blood. Signs on public facilities read “No Jews Allowed”. Anti-Semitic graffiti was freely sprayed across the windows of Jewish homes and businesses. Average Germans avoided their Jewish neighbors out of fear of the Gestapo ––who had spies everywhere. Helping Jews was a criminal offense in the fascist state. For the first time, wearing the yellow star of David became mandatory for Jews to physically separate them from the rest of the German population. Jews literally became walking targets for hate crimes.
The Jews of Lodz, Poland would be the first ones required to wear the "Jewish Star" in November 1939 after the invasion of Poland.
The next step for the Nazi government was to confiscate Jewish owned businesses and homes. The money from the sale of these stolen properties went directly to support the Nazi war machine. To raise additional cash, the government encouraged Jews to pay a flight tax of about 25% of their assets in order to get out of the country.
If any Jews believed that things really couldn't get any worse, they were in for suprise on November 6, 1938. A German diplomat had been assassinated by a Jewish youth who took revenge on the way his family had been treated. The Nazi’s leapt at this chance to unleash a night of terror throughout Germany. Armed thugs of Brownshirts, SS, and Gestapo roamed the streets of German towns smashing the windows of Jewish stores and synagogues. Homes and businesses were looted and burned. Jews caught in the street were beaten and thousands were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Because the streets were littered with broken glass, the attack became known as Kristallnacht.
The Nazi’s conducted an official investigation into the riots and came to an open and shut verdict. The Jews were responsible for the riots that caused so much damage. The Jewish community was required to pay a billion Marks (the currency of Germany) in fines. After Kristallnacht 100,000 Jews realized which way the wind was blowing and fled Germany. But millions more were trapped. Either too poor or unable to get a visa, many had no choice but to stay put and wait out the Nazi terror.
The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end. The breakthrough of the German revolution has again cleared the way on the German path...The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death - this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed - a deed which should document the following for the world to know - Here the intellectual foundation of the November Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise.
— Joseph Goebbels , Speech to the students in Berlin