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Jewish Life Under the Nazis

Antisemitism and the persecution of Jews were central tenets of Nazi ideology. In their 25-point party program published in 1920, Nazi Party members publicly declared their intention to segregate Jews from “Aryan” society and to take away their political, legal, and civil rights. During the first six years of Hitler’s dictatorship, this goal was quickly realized. 

Between 1933 and 1939, more than 400 antisemitic decrees and regulations restricted all aspects of Jews’ public and private lives. Jews found themselves expelled from jobs, schools, and even their own businesses, which were seized and “Aryanized,” or transferred to non-Jewish ownership. Other laws, like being forced to wear a yellow star,made Jews more easily identifiable, and thereby easier to monitor and segregate from the rest of the population. As they began annexing other European countries, the Nazis’ antisemitic legislation was expanded from Germany to the increasingly large territory occupied by the Third Reich.

The goal of such legislation was to make Germany and German-occupied territories judenrein (cleansed of Jews) by making life so difficult for Jews that they would be forced to leave the country. Yet, because of restrictive immigration policies of other countries, especially the United States, it was difficult to actually do so. While many Jews did flee Germany, the majority went to other European countries that were taken over by the Nazis a few years later, and, ultimately, found themselves prey to the policies they had tried to escape. After July 1941, with the onset of World War II, emigration from Nazi-occupied territory was virtually impossible.