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The Nazi Racial State

A racist Utopia
The Nazi regime attempted, in an unprecedented manner, to establish a system of rule based upon race. The National Socialists saw themselves as a revolutionary movement and their goal was a radical reshaping of existing society into a racially homogenous, 'Aryan' national community (Volksgemeinschaft). But this goal remained an unrealisable utopian ideal, not least because the 'races' existed only in the fantasy world of the Nazis. The racial homogeneity they desired could only be created negatively, through discrimination, exclusion and eradication - and ultimately by killing those who did not fit into their perfect 'Aryan' society. These included, on the one hand, members of their own 'Aryan race' who they considered weak or wayward (such as the 'congenitally sick', the 'asocial', and homosexuals), and on the other those who were defined as belonging to 'foreign races'. Among the latter, the Jews were considered to be the chief enemy. They were represented by the National Socialists as an 'anti-race' that had come into being through negative selection, and that had, through assimilation, deeply penetrated the German 'national body'. The goal of the Jews, according to the Nazis, was to prevent the construction of the national community the Nazis were striving for. This racist anti-Semitism was able to build on a centuries-old Christian hostility to Jews that had, over time, become a social convention. 'Gypsies', including Roma and Sinti, were also viewed by the Nazis as a dangerous 'foreign' race.

Legalised persecution
By examining the persecution of the Jews between 1933 and 1939 - the years that saw the formation of the core of Nazi racism - three distinct phases can be discerned. During the first phase, in 1933 and 1934, the focus was on the exclusion of Jews from public life. Immediately after taking power the Nazis organised an aggressive boycott of Jewish businesses, but very quickly also began to introduce anti-Jewish laws. Jews were not longer permitted to be civil servants or to practice law. Neither could they occupy any sort of public position. Anti-Jewish legislation covered almost all aspects of life.

At the same time, the Nazis quickly made clear that their racist policies were not exclusively aimed at Jews. As early as the summer of 1933 they passed a law that allowed the forced sterilisation of people who were considered 'congenitally sick'. By the end of the 'Third Reich' more than 300,000 Germans had fallen victim to this legislation. In the spring of 1935, the Nazis began a new phase in the persecution of the Jews. The goal was now to bring about their biological segregation through a process of 'legal' discrimination. As in 1933 this phase began with anti-Semitic rioting organised by supporters of the Nazi party. Again the regime reacted by imposing measures 'from above'. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws, defining who was to be considered Jewish, were announced. The equal rights of Jews as German citizens - in place in Germany since 1871 - was ended. Marriages and extramarital sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews were forbidden. In the years that followed, comprehensive anti-Jewish legislation was introduced which covered almost all aspects of life. Following Heinrich Himmler's appointment as head of the German police in 1936, the persecution of other stigmatised groups also intensified. The Nuremberg Laws were extended to 'Gypsies', whose freedom of movement was restricted in 1936 through the introduction of special camps. Social outsiders were branded 'asocial', and accused of carrying defective genes. They were frequently sterilised and imprisoned. Male homosexuality was declared a critical threat to the very existence of the German people and homosexuals were persecuted as a consequence. Children known as 'Rhineland bastards' - born to German mothers, but fathered by FrenchAfrican soldiers stationed in Germany after World War One - were forcibly sterilised in a comprehensive campaign in 1937. A third, yet more radical phase in the persecution of Jews followed. From the spring of 1938, Nazi party workers organised demonstrations and riots which lasted through the summer and led to the pogrom of 9 November. Following the so-called 'Night of Broken Glass' (Kristallnacht), the Jews in Germany were stripped of all rights through the introduction of further anti-Semitic laws. Around 5,000 'malformed' children were transferred and murdered. The step-by-step process, begun in 1933, through which Jewish property was forcibly removed, was now brought to a rapid conclusion. The expulsion of Jews from Germany was to be forced through by the threat and use of violence. The Nazis' conquest of Europe from 1939 opened the way for them to subject the whole continent to their racist policies. From the outset, mass murder was a part of this process.

As early as August 1939 the regime ordered all 'malformed' children in Germany to be registered. In the years that followed, around 5,000 such children were transferred to special 'children's departments' and murdered. Shortly after the start of World War Two, this programme of so-called 'euthanasia' - dubbed 'T4' - was extended to include adult patients in mental institutions. More than 70,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals were murdered, mostly in gas chambers set up in six special killing centres. This programme was cancelled in August 1941, but such patients continued to be killed in great numbers through local, decentralised action. Moreover, soon after the start of the war special SS units murdered thousands of institutionalised patients in the occupied Polish territories, shooting them or killing them in mobile gas chambers.