The Nuremberg Laws

The Nuremberg Laws remained in effect until the end of the Third Reich, and were also implemented in Austria after it joined Germany in 1938, as well as in all of the territories occupied by Germany during WWII

One of the first editions of the Nuremberg Laws first editions, includes legal interpretation

From the moment of their appearance on the stage of history, the National-Socialist Movement, its leader Adolph Hitler, and his immediate associates, left no room for doubt regarding their racist views, mainly concerning Jews. The anti-Semitic assassinations carried out by the Nazis already in the days of the Weimar Republic were not exceptions, and Hitler himself often referred both in his speech and his writings to Jews, who, in his own view and in that of his supporters, were responsible for a long succession of ailments in German society particular, and in human society overall. These crude and unsophisticated thoughts were fed by old anti-Semitic prejudices that had existed in various European societies from as early as the Middle Ages. Beginning in the last years of the 19th century, anthropologists in the West accepted race theories, and many believed that the health of the human race depended upon the preservation of “racial purity.” The same applied to Germany. When this thinking even became a field of academic research, Nazi hatred of “the non-German races” found very fertile ground in which it could take root.

Antisemetic sighn in a German town, Fall 1935

With the Nazi rise to power on January 30, 1933, aggressive anti-Semitism became a guiding principle for the official policy of the German authorities towards Jews. Already in April 1933, a law was passed enabling the termination of employment of all state employees of Jewish origin. The new rulers of Germany, and the inhumane steps they took, caused many German Jews to immigrate to other countries, including Eretz Israel.

Beginning in 1927, members of the National-Socialist Party started convening in Nuremberg for their annual assemblies. Over time, Nuremberg became the permanent site of the party’s assemblies, which was held there consecutively from 1933-1938. For the seventh assembly of the Nazi Party, in September 1935, thousands of supporters of the regime gathered as usual, and at the last moment, all members of the Reichstag – the German parliament, or, more precisely, the grotesque form that remained after the Nazis took care to fill all the mandates from their own ranks – were also invited. In a supposedly democratic move, the heads of the Nazis introduced three laws for a vote in the Reichstag: the law concerning the German flag, the Reich Citizenship Law, and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor.

The three laws were brought up for vote with the national scenery in the backdrop, at a mass, showcase event. The members of the Reichstag, needless to say, approved the three laws unanimously. The new laws received the status of Basic Laws, i.e. laws with a fundamental and special significance in terms of the constitutional structure of the country. For those living at the time in Germany – German-Jewish and non-Jewish citizens – the significance of the new legislation was not sufficiently clear. It quickly transpired, however, that the laws passed at Nuremberg, which later were named after the city, in effect brought an end to the process of the emancipation of German Jewry and relegated them to the lowly status of second-class citizens.

Another antisecmitic sigh in Germany, Fall 1935

The practical significance was that the laws derogated the basic rights of Jews, such as the right to vote in political elections, and prohibited marital and extra-marital relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. Persons caught in such relations with a Jew were subject to punishment, and new marriages between Jews and German became impossible. Any new couple of this type was considered guilty of “blood defilement” (Blutschande). Later, terminology was devised for various gradations of “Jewish blood” based on one’s family tree, and categories were established such as “full Jew” (Volljude), “half Jew” (Halbjude) and “quarter Jew” (Vierteljude), in order to define to whom exactly the Nuremberg Laws applied. During the years of the Nazi regime, these categories determined who would live and who would die, and tremendous numbers of people were influenced by them since they were dependent on the legal status accorded to them by the laws, Understandably, within Nazi Germany no voice of protest against the Nuremberg Laws was sounded, but also outside of Germany, the laws and their ramifications aroused no outcry or noteworthy public response. As is known, less than one year after the Nuremberg Laws went into effect, most of the world did not see cause to refrain from participating in the Berlin Olympic Games, and today, it is known that many of the delegations adhered to the racist German policy: not only did Germany prevent Jewish athletes from participating in the competitions, but even the American delegation hesitated to permit Jews to appear in the games.

The Nuremberg Laws remained in effect until the end of the Third Reich, and were also implemented in Austria after it joined Germany in 1938, as well as in all of the territories occupied by Germany during WWII. In September 1945, these laws were annulled by the Allied Powers while they were administering occupied Germany. Both the Nazi assemblies in Nuremberg and the demonstrative act of legislating the Nuremberg Laws in the same city, served as criteria for the selection of Nuremberg as a symbolic site for the foundational event at the end of the war: the trials against the heads of the Nazi regime and its chief criminals, which began in November 1945, held in the city whose name signified the race laws. Now, the city would be forever branded by the expression “Nuremberg Trials.”

Wilhelm Stuckart and Hans Globke’s interpretation of the race laws, 1936. This copy was part of the chief prosecutor’s library in Vienna, even before Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, as can be seen by the seal.

In this context, it is fitting to tell the story of one Dr. Hans Globke, a legal expert who was among those quick to praise the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, yet when they were cancelled with the defeat of Germany, his legal career did not end. As a senior official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, Globke was one of the first lawyers who published a scholarly interpretation of the Nuremberg Laws. In 1936, together with Wilhelm Stukart, he published a detailed commentary with a long introduction, a text that exuded Nazi ideology. However, with the end of WWII, his great legal knowledge opened new horizons for him in the “new Germany.” After 1949, he became a close associate of Chancellor Adenauer and ultimately, even to the director of the Office of the Chancellor of West Germany. Until Adenauer’s resignation in 1963, Globke continued filling a key role in West Germany. The burgeoning career of a person who had been an ardent supporter of the Nazi race laws aroused grave doubts among many in Germany and the world as to the reliability and validity of the “new Germany” that emerged after WWII and the Third Reich.

The Book That Survived Kristallnacht and Made It to the Land of Israel

A battered copy of “In the Heart of the Seas,” rescued from anti-Semitic riots in Germany, was returned to its author, S.Y. Agnon, with a letter telling the incredible story of its survival

The day after Kristallnacht, November 11, 1938

In the cultured, sophisticated environment of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s and early 1930s, Jews made up an integral part of German society, experiencing the best that the country had to offer. When the Nazi Party took control of Germany in 1933, life as the Jewish community knew it was quickly brought to an end.

On November 3rd, 1938, a young Jewish man named Herschel Grynszpan, in an apparent reaction to his family’s deportation from their home in Germany to Poland, shot a German diplomat in Paris where he was living at the time.

The Palestine Post, November 8th, 1938

The death of the diplomat sparked rage in the Nazi party, which decided to use this incident as an excuse to carry out a widespread pogrom against the Jews of Germany.  Testimonies that came forth following the events told of how the press was instructed to push the story and to exaggerate the details of the incident to inspire anger among the public while the Nazis prepared for a carefully orchestrated night of violence against the Jews.

November 9th, 1938. Kristallnacht. Some 90 Jews were murdered, more than 30,000 were arrested. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses, so carefully grown and cultivated, were trashed, looted, and burned to the ground along with more than 1400 beloved synagogues.

On that fateful night, Felix Pinczower, a resident of Berlin at the time, found himself in the streets, amid a maelstrom of anti-Semitic violence. He was pushed into a large crowd and witnessed a mob looting a Jewish book store. The vandals had shattered the store windows and were systematically throwing the books out into the street for the pages to be torn out and stomped on before being discarded into a large trash heap.

As he watched the violence unfold, Piczower noticed a copy of “In the Heart of the Seas,” a book by the famed author, S. Y. Agnon, in the original Hebrew, lying on the ground. The book tells the story of a group of Hasidim on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This particular book was spared the fate met by thousands of other volumes which were destroyed that night. This copy of “In the Heart of the Seas,” with its simple white cover, was saved by Felix Pinczower on the terrible night of bloodshed and cruelty which shattered Germany’s Jewish community.

The cover of the rescued copy of “In the Heart of the Seas,” by S.Y. Agnon, from the personal archive of S.Y. Agnon at the National Library.

As the mob around the book store was broken up, Pinczower was arrested along with thousands of others who were rounded up on Kristallnacht. He was taken to a concentration camp where he stayed for six long weeks. Pinczower was eventually released from the camp once his official request to leave Germany was approved.

On May 8th, 1939, he sent the rescued book along with a descriptive letter of the violence he had experienced to S.Y. Agnon, the book’s author, after immigrating to the Land of Israel and establishing his new home in Tel Aviv.

In his heartfelt letter, Pinczower described how, upon witnessing the scene at the Jewish bookstore, he had become consumed with rage.  Just as he was about to take action, something that could have cost him his life, a gust of wind picked up and a small, simple-looking book landed at his feet. He quickly picked it up, brushed off the cover, and took it home.

“The little book eluded my memory,” wrote Pinczower.  “Only when my belongings was being packed beneath the eyes of the customs clerks, did it reemerge. ‘Do you want to take this dirty book with you?’ the customs man asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘It’s an interesting book that contains a special story.’ He nodded and examined it again. Suddenly, he had an idea. I saw how his face was contorting into a devilish smile. He uttered not a word, but flipped through the book, page by page, checking it against the light, apparently with the thought that foreign currency was hidden among its pages. And then, when the inspection yielded nothing, he returned the book to me. I expressed my preference to place the book in my carry-on luggage, rather than stowing it in the baggage compartment, so that I might read it on the voyage.”

The letter sent to S.Y. Agnon from Felix Pinczower on May 8, 1939, from Agnon’s personal archive at the NLI

It was only once he had boarded the ship to take him to safety that Pinczower finally had the opportunity to properly examine and read the book. He was amazed at what he found between the stained covers: the story of a group of Hassidim who set out on a sea voyage lasting several months before finally arriving at their destination – the Land of Israel.

“Was it not a direct sign from heaven that this, of all books, fell into my hands, truly in the literal sense of the expression? I do not believe in coincidence in life,” wrote Pinczower.

“Is it not true that today, as well, ships set sail and make their way over months at sea in order to bring refugees to Eretz Israel? People waiting in anticipation for the land of their longing, with the same sentiment.”

The book became Pinczower’s companion, a constant reminder of what awaited him on the other side of his journey. Once he had arrived safely in Mandatory Palestine and settled into his new home, Pinczower felt the time had come for the book to return to its author and to tell the story of its incredible journey.

He concluded his letter with a simple request of Agnon, “to integrate the book into your library as an anecdotal item – a book that has its own story, like that of any human being.”

“If only this book, which came out of Zion and returned to Zion, might serve as a symbol of the ingathering of our dispersed writings, which are held in unworthy hands.”

Today, the letter and book sent by Felix Pinczower to S.Y. Agnon, can be found in the personal archive of S.Y. Agnon, housed at the National Library of Israel.

If you liked this article, try these:

These Currency Bills Were Used in the Theresienstadt Ghetto

Meet the Oldest Printed Book in the National Library!

All that Remains of “The Great Unknown”

These Currency Bills Were Used in the Theresienstadt Ghetto

The alternative currencies set up by the Nazis in ghettos and concentration camps across Europe served to establish a false sense of "normalcy".


A bill (formally, a "receipt") from the Theresienstadt Ghetto, representing 100 Czechoslovakian crowns, the National Library of Israel collections.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in January 1933, they began persecuting all opponents of the new regime, with the Jews of Germany automatically included in that category. Within just a few weeks of the National-Socialist political victory, thousands were arrested: social-democrats, communists, other members of the opposition, and Jews. These people were imprisoned in jails and concentration camps that had been established at an earlier stage. Among the first camps were Dachau, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald and Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen. At the Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen Camp, located near Berlin, the Nazis for the first time minted currency for use within the camp – bills that had no value beyond its fences. This arrangement was replicated in a few other concentration camps and ghettos, first in Germany, and subsequently in other occupied European countries.

Bills ("receipts") from the Theresienstadt Ghetto: The two upper bills show signs of use. From the National Library collections.
Bills (“receipts”) from the Theresienstadt Ghetto: The two upper bills show signs of use. From the National Library collections.

There were several reasons behind the production of these special bills – in most cases at a low denomination. First, all camp prisoners – and later, all ghetto residents – were forced to convert their money and some of their property into the currency of the camp or ghetto where they found themselves imprisoned. In this manner, the Nazis could immediately place their hands on the personal property of prisoners and use it for their own purposes. Secondly, owners of the currency were unable to purchase anything with local currency outside the borders of the camps or ghettos. This was important in the interest of preventing escape: The moment prisoners succeeded in fleeing the camps, they had no means of acquiring food or clothes, posing significant obstacles to escape plans. In addition, the conversion of ordinary currency into alternate bills gave the prisoners a sense of being disconnected and marginalized from the general society. Moreover: the bills for the various camps were not uniform. Each camp had different modes of payment and there were also camps where bills or other alternate means of payment were never issued. It is no secret that the Nazis well knew how to use psychological means of this type to humiliate their victims.

Bills of a high nominal value. These show no signs of use. In this image we see the back side of the bills, featuring an illustration of Moses with the tablets of the covenant. Tellingly, "Thou shalt not kill" and the other ethical commandments are hidden from view.
Bills of a high nominal value. These show no signs of use. In this image we see the back side of the bills, featuring an illustration of Moses with the tablets of the covenant. Tellingly, “Thou shalt not kill” and the other ethical commandments are hidden from view.

Some camps invested in the design of the currency and even printed double-sided bills. Examples include Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen, Westerbork (in Holland) but also the Lodz Ghetto (which also minted coins) and Theresienstadt (Terezin). Naturally, in the ghettos, all of the prisoners were Jews, and ironically, this was reflected in the bills. The bills from the Lodz Ghetto depicted a Star of David. The same symbol appears on bills printed for use in the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia (most of which was occupied by the Nazis prior to the outbreak of WWII). The denomination of the bills was not the German mark, but rather Czechoslovakian crowns (koruna). The Nazis issued and printed bills, formally called “receipts” (Quittungen), which were attributed different values: one, two five, ten, twenty and even one hundred crowns. It is known that these bills were printed in relatively large quantities – sometimes even millions of copies – but there are many “receipts” that show no signs of use whatsoever, mainly those with a high nominal value.

Apparently, large quantities of these bills never entered into circulation. In any case, the local bills of high denominations had no real use, since in the ghetto, there were no high-value goods available that prisoners could purchase. These bills feature an illustration of Moses holding the ten commandments. Tellingly, the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is hidden from view – a subtle, and likely intentional effort on the part of a Jewish artist to express a measure of protest at what was taking place across Europe.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library's Judaica Collection, reviews bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto donated to the Library by Mrs. Ruth Brass in memory of her late father, Lionel Schalit.
Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the National Library’s Judaica Collection, reviews bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto donated to the Library by Mrs. Ruth Brass in memory of her late father, Lionel Schalit.

There was even an active bank in Theresienstadt which was responsible for the bills, and these bore the signature of the local “Jewish committee”. It seems that the bank, the bills and the “wages” received by many prisoners during imprisonment in the ghetto had an additional role: they gave the impression of “normalcy,” of an orderly and routine everyday life that the Nazis indeed tried to present to the official representatives of the Red Cross who visited Theresienstadt. A number of these bills from the Theresienstadt Ghetto are preserved today in the Archives Department of the National Library of Israel. The Library recently expanded its collection with an additional six bills in excellent condition. The currency was donated by Ruth Brass in honor of her father, the late Lionel Schalit, a prominent Zionist and community activist and a leader in the European Maccabi Movement.

We have examples of all the various nominal values; some of them show signs of wear, but most seem completely new. These bills serve to document one of the chilling realities of the Holocaust – the efforts invested in hiding the evils of the Nazi regime behind a façade of order and reason. These bills are symbols of an imaginary “normalcy” that never existed, during a period of persecution and eradication.


If you liked this article, try these:

How Bergen-Belsen Survivors Celebrated Independence

Learning the Value of a Potato in the Holocaust

When Buchenwald Was Liberated: A First Glimpse of the Holocaust

Else Lasker-Schüler’s Drawing: “The Banished Poet”

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler's artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel

“The Queen of Expressionism”: That is how Else Lasker-Schüler is known to this day. Her place in this artistic stream, which reached its peak some 100 years ago, has remained uncontested and unique, both since she was a woman (almost the only woman among the prominent representatives of this style) and because she was a poet, playwright and painter all in one. The multi-disciplinary nature of Lasker-Schüler’s work characterizes her as an outstanding representative of Expressionism, since the boundaries of her various genres of expression (writing, theater and drawing) within this stream were quite blurred. Among her outstanding works were love poems, some of which were translated into Hebrew by Yehudah Amichai, Natan Zach and others.

Photo of Else Lasker-Schuler as a young woman in Berlin

Else Lasker-Schüler was born in 1869 in the city of Elberfeld, Germany, today a neighborhood of the city of Wuppertal, to a family of Jewish bankers. She was trained in painting in Berlin, and from the early 20th century, began publishing poems, and later, also plays, only a few of which were staged during her lifetime. Despite this, Else Lasker-Schüler is considered to this day one of the most important poets in the history of German literature in the 20th century. In 1932, she was even awarded the most prestigious literary prize in Germany at the time, the Kleist Prize.

With the rise of the Nazis to power in 1933, the poet was forced to leave Germany. Until 1939, she lived in Switzerland, but she visited Eretz Israel in 1934 and 1936. During her third visit, the outbreak of World War II caught her by surprise, and at the same time, the Swiss authorities forbade her return to Switzerland. In Eretz Israel, Lasker-Schüler settled in Jerusalem, where she continued writing in German. One of the last works she wrote is a play entitled, “I and I” (Ichundich), in which she describes the fall of the Nazi regime. And yet, her death in January 1945 prevented her from carrying on with her work and witnessing the turning point in European history.

Since 1974, Lasker-Schüler’s artistic estate has been preserved at the National Library of Israel. The poet’s personal archive contains manuscripts of her works, drawings and correspondence with her contemporaries, including S.Y. Agnon, Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Gottfried Benn, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt, Salman Schocken and Akiba Ernst Simon.

Among the artist’s drawings is a chalk drawing mounted on a piece of cardboard (142X225 mm), entitled “Die verscheuchte Dichterin” (“The Banished Poet”).

Drawing by Lasker-Schüler: “The Banished Poet”

The picture – combining poetry and drawing – might be seen as a synopsis of Else Lasker-Schüler’s fate: On the drawing’s cardboard base, the poet wrote out an excerpt of a poem she had published in her first poetry collection of 1902: “If I knew of a stream as deep as my life, I would flow with its waters.”

In addition, Lasker-Schüler scribbled the words “Drawn in 1935 in the hospital due to my injuries caused by the Nazis.” And yet, on the drawing itself, she wrote “in 1942” and by way of summary, also “1935-1942.” At the center of the drawing one can make out two human forms; a woman is sitting, her gaze case downwards, arms linked with another figure that is standing next to her. The woman in the drawing is apparently Lasker-Schüler herself, and indeed, the contours of the woman’s profile recall her other self-portraits. The second figure, apparently a man in Oriental dress including a head covering, is soothing the woman, whose body language powerfully suggests weariness and mourning.

Art experts believe that the drawing was created at least partially in the mid-1930s, but it is likely that Lasker-Schüler added details and the caption only later, apparently some time before 1942. In this work, the artist demonstrates all of her drawing ability: the composition conveys Lasker-Schüler’s desperate mood using simple lines and a refined technique. The five chalk colors and the basic tone of the paper were sufficient for the artist to draw one of her last works, characterized by a richness of artistic expression.