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The First Steps Leading
to the Final Solution


Once he became head of state by legal means, Hitler consolidated his power by neutralizing
all political opponents and democratic institutions. As dictator, he began a campaign of
terror to rid Germany of Jewish influence. The Nuremberg Laws negated civil liberties for
Germanys Jews, many of whom fled to safer lands.

Hitler Rises to Power

In the July 1932 elections, the Nazis had increased their strength in the Reichstag to 230
seats, but lost 34 of them in the November elections. Radical Nazis wanted to seize power,
but Hitler insisted that he would come to power legally and that he would accept nothing
less than the chancellorship. The internal political situation, meanwhile, was very unstable
and many Germans were revolted by the brutal street fighting of the Stormtroopers. In the
summer of 1932, Franz von Papen destroyed the last bulwark of German democracy, the
federal state of Prussia, by charging that Prussia could not maintain law and order. In the
process, von Papen became the Reich Commissioner for Prussia, gaining control of all of
Prussias resources and a police force of 90,000, which Hitler later absorbed into the Nazi
Early in January 1933, von Papen and Hitler met in the home of a Cologne banker, Kurt von
Schroder, who pledged funds needed by the Nazi party, and a group of industrialists
reassured Hindenburg to let Hitler form a cabinet. Von Papen reassured Hindenburg that he
as vice-chancellor would always accompany Hitler in his talks with the president.
Reluctantly, Hindenburg agreed, and on January 30, 1933, Hitler became chancellor at the
age of 43. He had indeed come to power legally.
Among the first actions of the new Chancellor was enactment of an Emergency Decree
directed at eliminating political opposition from the Communists. This decree was passed
just six days into the Hitler Administration, and it called for the dismantling of leftist
organizations. All Communist party buildings were expropriated.

Reichstag Fire
A fire destroyed the Reichstag Building on February 27, 1933. Hitler blamed the fire on the
Communists. The fire symbolically destroyed the only remaining institution capable of
placing reins on Hitlers grab for dictatorial power. Although the case is still somewhat
disputed, the fire was very likely instigated by the Nazis and blamed on a Dutch Communist
who had committed arson, Marinus van der Lubbe. There was no sign whatsoever of a
revolution, but van der Lubbe gave the Nazis the excuse they needed and the pretext for
new emergency measures.

Protective Custody Rules

Hitler induced a confused and frightened Hindenburg to sign a decree euphemistically

called, For the Protection of the People and State, suspending all of the basic rights of
citizens and imposing the death sentence for arson, sabotage, resistance to the decree, and
disturbances to public order. Arrests could be made on suspicion, and people could be
sentenced to prison without trial or the right of counsel. The suspension was never lifted
throughout the entire period of Nazi rule, and the decree of February 28th destroyed
fundamental guarantees under the Weimar democracy.

The Enabling Act

During the next few days, up to elections on March 5th, the Nazi Brown Terror broke loose.
By making the trumped-up Communist threat official, Hitler threw millions of Germans into
panic. Arbitrary arrests multiplied while truckloads of Stormtroopers rampaged through the
streets, broke into homes, rounded up victims, including many Jews, and took them to the
S.A. barracks where they were beaten and tortured. The Nazis received 44 percent of the
vote in the March elections.
On March 23rd, the last Reichstag met in an opera house, surrounded by S.S. forces and
filled with Stormtroopers inside. Most of the Communist and a number of Socialist deputies
had already been arrested. The votes of the Center Party were crucial for Hitler in getting
the necessary two-thirds majority to pass an Enabling Act, and this they supplied, thus
giving him the arbitrary power he craved. He could now use this power without the
Reichstag, and ignore the Constitution. All opposition political parties were destroyed or
dissolved themselves. Trade unions were liquidated. Opposition clergy were arrested. The
Nazi party had, in Hitlers words, become the state. By August 1934, when Hindenburg died,
Hitler also became commander-in-chief of the armed forces as well as President and Fhrer

of the German Reich to whom every officer and individual in the armed forces pledged
unconditional obedience.

The Nazi Boycott of Jewish

Stores, April 1933

After the Enabling Act was passed, violence against Jews escalated and Julius Streicher,
editor of the vehemently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Strmer, was told to form a boycott
committee. Lists of specific businesses and individuals to be boycotted were published. On
April 1st, Nazi pickets were posted in front of stores and factories belonging to Jews and in
front of Jewish professional offices to prevent anyone from entering. Hermann Gring,
meanwhile, had ordered German Jewish leaders to deny reports of Nazi atrocities
committed against Jews. Germans who tried to buy from Jews were shamed and exposed
The boycott lasted only three days but it had important implications and consequences.
Moreover, it revealed the completeness and efficiency of Nazi information on Jewish
economic life. It also strengthened the idea that it was permissible to damage and even
destroy that life with impunity. Later measures were based on this assumption.

On April 7th, the German government issued an order firing all civil service workers not of
Aryan descent. This was the first instance of discrimination on the basis of race which
was consistent with German law. City governments responded by passing other laws
discriminating against Jews. In Frankfurt, Jewish teachers were excluded from universities,
and Jewish performers were barred from the stage and concert halls. In other cities, Jews
were excluded from admission to the legal profession. These actions created thousands of
jobs for Aryans. A decree was issued on April 11th defining non-Aryans as those who
were descended from non-Aryan parents or grandparents, even if only one grandparent
was non-Aryan.
The slaughter of animals for food under Jewish kosher laws was banned on April 21st. On
April 25th, a numerus clausus, or quota law, limited admission of Jews to institutions of
higher learning to 1.5 percent of the total. On September 28th, Jews were excluded from all
artistic, dramatic, literary and film enterprises. On September 29th, Jews could no longer
own farmland.

Eventually, 400 specific anti-Jewish laws and decrees were passed, each based on the Nazi
racist definition of a non-Aryan.
Terror, much of it state-condoned, continued against Jews and leftists. Many were beaten to
death for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some in despair committed suicide.
Many others fled to Palestine or to other countries where they perceived they would be safe.

Nazi Concentration Camps

In 1933, ten concentration camps were set up in Germany the first at Dachau at first for
the purpose of imprisoning political opponents of the regime and then for specific victims,
such as Jews and homosexuals. The concentration camps were intended not only to break
the prisoners as individuals and to spread terror among the rest of the population, but also
to provide the Gestapo with a training ground, a way of conditioning them so that they would
lose all familiar human emotions and attitudes. In talks with a Nazi leader even before he
became chancellor, Hitler had said:
We must be ruthlessOnly thus shall we purge our people of their softnessand their
degenerate delight in beer-swillingI dont want the concentration camps transformed into
penitentiaries. Terror is the most effective political instrumentIt is my duty to make use of
every means of training the German people to cruelty, and to prepare them for warThere
must be no weakness or tenderness.

The Instruments of Nazi Terror

There were three organizations of terror in the Nazi hierarchy: the Gestapo, the S.S. or Elite
Guard, and the S.D. or Security Service. They overlapped and often feuded with one
another over power and booty. The Gestapo was organized by Gring, who, as Minister of
the Interior of Prussia, administered two-thirds of Germany and controlled the Prussian
police. After purging the regular police and replacing them with Nazis, he added a small unit
of his own, the Secret State Police, or Gestapo. The Gestapo was first used against
Grings political opponents, but was then aimed at any so-called enemies of the regime
and could seize and arrest anyone at will without regard for court or law. Under Heinrich
Himmler, it quickly expanded as an arm of the dreaded black-shirts, S.S.
Himmler had been a chicken farmer and fertilizer salesman before the war. In 1923, he
participated in the attempted putsch of 1923 (see Chapter 6) and for a time worked in the
party office in Landshut. In this job, he began to collect confidential reports on Party
members made by his spies, thus building up secret files later used by Reinhard Heydrich in

the Security Service (S.D.). The S.S. was originally set up under Himmler in 1929 as a
protective guard for Hitler and other leading Nazis, but Himmler ultimately developed it into
a vast empire of terror. He had helped to secure Bavaria for the Nazis and fell under the
spell of those who wanted to breed a future race of blond Nordic leaders as world overlords.
For a few years, the S.S. was subordinate to the S.A. (Stormtroopers), but Himmler steadily
built up his force into a combination private army and police force, enlisting only the most
loyal followers of Hitler and racial fanatics like himself. The open membership of the S.S.
reached 52,000 by 1933. In addition to this complement, Himmler recruited a shadow corps
of S.S. officers who kept their affiliation secret until Hitler fully controlled the state as well as
the party, but who then filled huge parts of the government machinery.

Night of the Long Knives

Himmlers ascendancy came after the purge of the S.A. under Ernst Rhm. In 1933, Rhms
troops numbered over four million men, arousing fears among army leaders that they might
replace the regular army (Wehrmacht). Rhm also wanted radical social and economic
changes which were unacceptable to industrialists and other conservative groups whose
support Hitler needed. A power struggle brought Himmler and Gring together against
Rohm. They told Hitler that Rohm was plotting against him and urged drastic action. It came
on June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, when Rhm and several hundred men in
the S.A. and a number of marked men, branded as traitors, were murdered. Hitler made
much of the depraved morals of the men who were killed and the danger they posed to the
state. The cabinet legalized this slaughter as a necessary measure for the defense of the
state, and Hitler and Gring were thanked by Hindenburg. The army, of course, was pleased
with the elimination of the S.A. as its rival, but showed itself unwilling or incapable of
challenging the gangster-like powers under Hitlers control.
As a reward for carrying out the executions on June 30th, Himmler advanced in rank and
prestige. Gring named him chief deputy of the Prussian Gestapo, and he immediately
began to build a police empire of his own, the terrible machine of terror that was to become
the scourge of the continent and the annihilator of Jews. After the Rhm purge, the
concentration camps were turned over to S.S. control.
Guard duty was given to the S.S. Death Head units, whose members were recruited from
the toughest, most sadistic Nazi elements. By 1936, the Gestapo was absorbed into the
S.S. and in the same year, Himmler gained control of the entire police force in Germany,
which he pushed into the framework of the Nazi party. Later, Himmler created an S.S.
Supreme Command, consisting of twelve departments which duplicated many of the

departments of the government, including a huge army and a department that organized
huge population upheavals after the war started.

Security Service (S.D.)

A third system of terror during the Third Reich was the S.D. or Security Service. This substructure was also within the S.S., and did not number more than 3,000, but its intelligence
and counterintelligence systems pried into the lives of all Germans through the use of
thousands of part-time informers. Under Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the S.D., security
and terror were brought to murderous effectiveness. After the purge of the S.A., Heydrich
began to penetrate the political police with personnel and build up dossiers on powerful as
well as inconsequential Nazis, including Hitler himself, for blackmail purposes. Many of his
recruits were bright, university-trained men who were unable to find jobs, but their civilized
backgrounds were no barrier to later assignments carrying out orders in the murderous
Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing squads, that accompanied the German army into Russia
(see Chapter 10).
Toward the end of 1934, a so-called Nazi expert on the Jews, Adolf Eichmann, was hired
by the S.D. to work in its department for Jewish affairs. This department gathered
information about prominent Jews in Germany and abroad and monitored the Jewish press.
It also made studies of Jewish organizations and books about Judaism. Jewish
organizations in Germany, their meetings and members came under close S.D.
surveillance, and agreements were worked out between the S.D. and the Gestapo. By
1936, Himmler turned over the administration of the Gestapo to Heydrich, and the line
between the Gestapo and S.D. became extremely blurred after that time.

Book Burnings

Book burnings became commonplace in pre-war Germany. The Nazis denigrated much of
the Western cultural heritage of Europe and liberal, humanistic values. On May 10, 1933, in
Berlin, the first of a series of book burnings took place. The works of world-class authors
such as Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Jack London, H. G. Wells, and Emile Zola
as well as those of Jewish writers were burned in huge bonfires under the approving eye of
Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister. While the books burned, Goebbels declared:
The soul of the German people can again express itself. These flames not only illuminate
the final end of an old era; they also light up the new. Goebbels henceforth nazified
German culture, forcing all of the arts to serve the new regime. Many great writers,
musicians, artists and actors fled Germany or were silenced.

Anti-Semitism in the German


Anti-Semitic hate spewed out of the press and government information offices during this
period. Julius Streichers Der Strmer, a German newspaper, carried a 14-page special
issue which included the age-old charge that Jews used Christian blood to bake their
Passover matzoh. The newspaper documented two thousand years of Jewish ritual
murders. More than 100,000 copies of the issue were printed and distributed. Nazi
propaganda beamed to Palestine exacerbated Arab hostility toward German Jews who had
settled there, and sparked anti-Jewish riots.

Hitler as Head of State

With the death of President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Hitler became the Head of
State. He issued a new law combining the offices of Chancellor and president, and
pronounced himself Reichsfhrer (Leader of the Reich).

Nuremberg Laws (September

On September 15, 1935, comprehensive new laws codified the racial policies which Hitler
envisioned in Mein Kampf. Under the Reich Citizenship Law, the status of German
citizenship was conveyed only to those belonging to a national of German or related blood.
The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor forbade marriage and sexual
contact between Jews and Aryans. Jews were forbidden to fly the German flag. This law
stripped Jews of all basic civil rights, classifying them as state subjects rather than as
citizens. Jews were defined as a separate race. Thirteen supplementary laws were passed
during the next eight years. Jews were further defined as persons having three Jewish
grandparents, two Jewish grandparents if they belonged to the Jewish religious community
before September 15, 1935, or if they were married to a Jew as of that date.
No one at this time could envision the ominous Nazi decision to physically destroy all Jews,
but the Nuremberg Laws were an important step toward that end. The Nazis now had a
definition that was the first of a chain of measures, one leading to another, escalating in
severity and leading ultimately to the physical destruction of European Jewry. Once Jews
could be defined and identified, they now could be and were segregated socially, politically,
and economically from other Germans. Their property could be and was confiscated. They

had become pariahs, outside the protection of the state they had placed their confidence in
for generations.
By the time that the Nuremberg Laws had been proposed, more than 75,000 German Jews
had fled the country. Many thousands of others who left were not Jews at all in their own
minds, but were defined as Jews or Christian non-Aryans by the ideological dogma of the
Nazi party. As such, they were subject to the same harassment, social and economic
isolation, and physical and emotional intimidation and discrimination as the Jews. Many of
these non-Aryans were baptized Christians, were regular church-goers, were the sons and
daughters of Christians, and thought and acted no differently than their friends and
neighbors who were accepted as true Germans. The only thing which distinguished them
from their neighbors was that they had some Jewish blood in their veins, perhaps going
back two generations, which made it impossible for them to be considered German under
Nazi doctrine.
About 40% of those Jews who emigrated chose Palestine as their destination. Almost
10,000 went to the United States. Thousands of others found a haven in Canada and South
Africa. Others settled in other European countries. As thousands of Jewish professionals
found that they could no longer earn a living, emigration as a response gained more and
more credence. Jews, once virtually totally assimilated into the social tapestry of Germany,
began to realize that they had no future there. The optimism that the Nazi era was just an
ephemeral phase faded. When the Nuremberg Laws were announced, it was one more
death knell for the Jews of Germany.

Why Many Jews Remained in


Until 1935, when the Nuremberg Laws were passed, Nazis differed on what to do with
German Jews. Jewish cultural as well as physical survival in Germany seemed possible.
The Jdische Kulturbund was organized in 1933 and provided purposeful work for
professional Jewish musicians, actors, and artists who had been expelled from German
cultural fields. The Jewish community as a whole, in its organized form, the Representative
Council of German Jews, was not threatened until 1938, and between 1933 and 1935, there
was a lull in anti-Jewish persecution. A false optimism was induced by the S.A. purge of
June 30, 1934, and some Jews who had left Germany, believing that the most dangerous of
the Nazis had been removed, returned to Germany after the purge.

In the early 1930s, there was also general belief that the Nazi regime would be short-lived.
Although 37,000 Jews left Germany in 1933, many who remained believed that they could
hold on and hold out. Jewish attachment to Germany was particularly strong, and they
hoped for support and protection from the non-Nazis in the Cabinet and hold-over civil
servants from the Weimar Republic.
Rabbi Leo Baeck, the acknowledged intellectual and spiritual leader of German Jewry, was
one of the few German Jews who was fundamentally pessimistic about the future. Soon
after Hitler came to power, while addressing a meeting of Jewish communal organizations,
Rabbi Baeck said, The thousand-year history of German Jewry has come to an end. But
he did not remain passive. As rabbi, he urged Jews to maintain faith in the ultimate triumph
of justice. He tried to create a sense of inner freedom among Jews that could sustain them
through the persecution. He also agreed to serve as the spokesman for all German Jews
and became head of the Representative Council of German Jews in September 1933. The
Council tried to be the political voice for all German Jews in relation to the government and
in the early months of its existence tried to appeal for a redress of grievances on the basis
of law. These appeals were ignored, and the Council soon began to concentrate on the
urgency to emigrate, particularly for young people.
The Council also negotiated with Jews abroad for political support that would not expose
them to retaliation and for funds. One of its most important tasks, after Jewish children were
removed from schools, was to provide a network of special schools for Jewish children who
were shocked by their sudden rejection and isolation. In the meantime, racial science
became compulsory in German schools, and all courses were nazified.