The Aryan Master Race conceived by the Nazis graded humans on a scale of pure Aryan to non-Aryan (who were viewed as subhumans). At the top of the scale of pure Aryans were Germans and other Germanic peoples including the Dutch, Scandinavians, and the English, as well as other peoples such as some northern Italians and the French who were said to have a suitable admixture of Germanic blood.
The feeling that Germans were the Aryan Herrenvolk (Aryan master race) was widely spread among the German public through Nazi propaganda and among Nazi officials throughout the ranks, in particular when Reichskommissariat Ukraine Erich Koch said:
We are a master race, which must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here.
The Nazis considered the Slavs as Non-Aryan Untermenschen ("sub-humans") who were to be enslaved and exterminated by Germans. Slavic nations such as the Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Bulgarians and Croats who collaborated with Nazi Germany were still being perceived as not racially "pure" enough to reach the status of Germanic peoples, yet they were eventually considered ethnically better than the rest of the Slavs, mostly due to pseudoscientific theories about these nations having a considerable admixture of Germanic blood. In countries where these people lived, there were according to Nazis small groups of non-Slavic German descendants. These people underwent a "racial selection" process to determine whether or not they were "racially valuable", if the individual passed they would be re-Germanised and forcefully taken from their families in order to be raised as Germans. This secret plan Generalplan Ost ("Master Plan East") aimed at expulsion, enslavement and extermination of most Slavic people. Nazi policy towards them changed during World War II as a pragmatic means to resolve military manpower shortages: they were allowed, with certain restrictions, to serve in the Waffen-SS, in spite of being considered subhumans. Nazi propaganda portrayed people in Eastern Europe with an Asiatic appearance to be the result of intermingling between the native Slavic populations and Asiatic or Mongolian races as sub-humans dominated by the Jews with the help of Bolshevism. At the bottom of the racial scale of non-Aryans were Jews, ethnic Poles, ethnic Serbs and other Slavic people, Romani, and black people. The Nazis originally sought to rid the German state of Jews and Romani by means of deportation (and later extermination), while blacks were to be segregated and eventually eliminated through compulsory sterilization.
Volkisch theorists believed that Germany's Teutonic ancestors had spread out from Germany throughout Europe. Of the German tribes that spread through Europe, the theorists identified that the Burgundians, Franks, and Western Goths joined with the Gauls to make France; the Lombards moved south and joined with the Italians; the Jutes made Denmark; the Angles and Saxons made England; the Flemings made Belgium; and other tribes made the Netherlands.
Nazi racial beliefs of the superiority of an Aryan master race arose from earlier proponents of a supremacist conception of race such as Arthur de Gobineau, who published a four-volume work titled An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (translated into German in 1897). Gobineau proposed that the Aryan race was superior, and urged the preservation of its cultural and racial purity. Gobineau later came to use and reserve the term Aryan only for the "German race" and described the Aryans as 'la race germanique'. By doing so he presented a racist theory in which Aryans–that is Germans–were all that was positive. Houston Stewart Chamberlain's work The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1900), one of the first to combine Social Darwinism with antisemitism, describes history as a struggle for survival between the Germanic peoples and the Jews, whom he characterized as an inferior and dangerous group. The two-volume book Foundations of Human Hereditary Teaching and Racial Hygiene (1920–21) by Eugen Fischer, Erwin Baur, and Fritz Lenz, used pseudoscientific studies to conclude that the Germans were superior to the Jews intellectually and physically, and recommended eugenics as a solution. Madison Grant's work The Passing of the Great Race (1916) advocated Nordicism and proposed using a eugenic program to preserve the Nordic race. After reading the book, Hitler called it "my Bible".
Racist author and Nordic supremacist Hans F. K. Günther who influenced Nazi ideology, wrote in his "Race Lore of German People"(Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes) about the danger of "Slavic blood of Eastern race" mixing with the German and combined virulent nationalism with anti-semitism. Günther became an epitome of corrupt and politicized pseudo-science in post-war Germany Among the topics of his research were attempts to prove that Jewish people had an unpleasant "hereditary smell". While one of the most prominent Nazi writers, Günther still wasn't considered the most "cutting edge" by Nazis
The July 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring – written by Ernst Rüdin and other theorists of "racial hygiene" – established "Genetic Health Courts" which decided on compulsory sterilization of "any person suffering from a hereditary disease." These included, for the Nazis, those suffering from "Congenital Mental Deficiency", schizophrenia, "Manic-Depressive Insanity", "Hereditary Epilepsy", "Hereditary Chorea" (Huntington’s), Hereditary Blindness, Hereditary Deafness, "any severe hereditary deformity", as well as "any person suffering from severe alcoholism". Further modifications of the law enforced sterilization of the "Rhineland bastards" (children of mixed German and African parentage).
The Nazi Party wanted to increase birthrates of those who were classified as racially elite. When the Party gained power in 1933, one of their first actions was to pass the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage. This law stated that all newly married couples of the Aryan race could receive a government loan. This loan was not simply paid back, rather a portion of it would be forgiven after the birth of each child. The purpose of this law was very clear and simple: to encourage newly weds to have as many children as they could, so that the Aryan population would grow.
Discrimination against Jews began immediately after the national seizure of power in 1933. On August 25, 1933, the Nazis signed the Haavara Agreement with Zionists to allow German Jews to emigrate to Palestine. It offered a way to leave an increasingly hostile environment in Nazi Germany; by 1939, 60,000 German Jews had emigrated there. Thereafter, Nazi policy eventually changed to one of total extermination. The Nazi Party used populist anti-semitic views to gain votes. Using the "stab-in-the-back legend", they blamed poverty, the Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, unemployment, and the loss of World War I and surrender by the "November Criminals" all on the Jews and "cultural Bolsheviks", the latter considered to be in a conspiracy with the Jews. German woes were attributed to the effects of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1933, persecution of the Jews became active Nazi policy. This was at first hindered by the lack of agreement on who qualified as a Jew as opposed to an Aryan; this caused legislators to balk at an anti-Semitic law for its ill-defined terms. Bernhard Lösener described it "total chaos", with local authorities regarding anything from full Jewish background to 1⁄8 Jewish blood as defining a Jew; Achim Gercke urged 1⁄16 Jewish blood. Those of mixed descent (Mischlinge) were especially problematic in their eyes. The first anti-Semitic law was promulgated with no clear definition of a Jew. Finally, the criterion was set at three or four Jewish grandparents; two or one rendered a person a Mischling. Nazi doctrine culminated in the Holocaust, or so-called "Final Solution", which was made official at the January 1942 Wannsee Conference.
On April 1, 1933, the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses was observed throughout Germany. Only six days later, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, banning Jews from government jobs. It is notable that the proponents of this law, and the several thousand more that were to follow, most frequently explained them as necessary to prevent the infiltration of damaging, "alien-type" (Artfremd) hereditary traits into the German national or racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). These laws meant that Jews were now indirectly and directly dissuaded or banned from privileged and superior positions reserved for "Aryan Germans". From then on, Jews were forced to work in more menial positions, becoming second-class citizens or to the point that they were "illegally residing" in Nazi Germany.
Between 1935 and 1936, persecution of the Jews increased apace while the process of "Gleichschaltung" (lit.: "standardisation", the process by which the Nazis achieved complete control over German society) was implemented. In May 1935, Jews were forbidden to join the Wehrmacht (the armed forces), and in the summer of the same year, anti-semitic propaganda appeared in shops and restaurants. The Nuremberg Laws were passed around the time of the great Nazi rallies at Nuremberg; on September 15, 1935, the "Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor" was passed. At first this criminalised sexual relations and marriage only between Germans and Jews, but later the law was extended to "Gypsies, Negroes and their bastard offspring"; it became punishable by law as Rassenschande or racial pollution. After this, the "Reich Citizenship Law" was passed, and was reinforced in November by a decree; it included only people of "German or related blood", which meant that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were stripped of their citizenship and their official title became "subjects of the state". This meant that they were deprived of basic citizens' rights, e.g. the right to vote. This removal of citizens' rights was instrumental in the process of anti-semitic persecution: the process of denaturalization allowed the Nazis to exclude—de jure—Jewish people from the "Volksgemeinschaft" ("national community"), thus granting judicial legitimacy to their persecution and opening the way to harsher laws and, eventually, extermination of the Jews. Philosopher Hannah Arendt pointed out this important judicial aspect of the Holocaust in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), where she demonstrated that to violate human rights, Nazi Germany first deprived human beings of their citizenship. Arendt underlined that in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, citizens' rights actually preceded human rights, as the latter needed the protection of a determinate state to be actually respected.
The drafting of the Nuremberg Laws has often been attributed to Hans Globke. Globke had studied British attempts to "order" its empire by creating hierarchical social orders, for example in the organization of "martial races" in India.
In 1936, Jews were banned from all professional jobs, effectively preventing them from having any influence in education, politics, higher education, and industry. There was now nothing to stop the anti-Jewish actions that spread across the German economy.
Between 1937 and 1938, new laws were implemented, and the segregation of Jews from the "German Aryan" population was completed. In particular, Jews were punished financially for being Jewish.
From March 1, 1938, government contracts could not be awarded to Jewish businesses. On September 30, "Aryan" doctors could only treat "Aryan" patients. Provision of medical care to Jews was already hampered because Jews were banned from being doctors.
On August 17, Jews with first names of non-Jewish origin had to add "Israel" (males) or "Sara" (females) to their names, and a large letter "J" was to be printed on their passports on October 5. On November 15, Jewish children were banned from going to state-run schools. By April 1939, nearly all Jewish companies had either collapsed under financial pressure and declining profits, or been persuaded to sell out to the government, further reducing their rights as human beings; they were, in many ways, effectively separated from the German populace.
The increasingly totalitarian regime that Hitler imposed on Germany allowed him to control the actions of the military. On November 7, 1938, a young Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan attacked and shot German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the German embassy in Paris. Grynszpan's family, together with more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews, had been expelled by the Nazi government from Germany to Poland in the so-called "Polenaktion" on October 28, 1938. Joseph Goebbels ordered retaliation. On the night of November 9, the SS and SA conducted "the Night of Broken Glass" ("Kristallnacht"), in which at least 91 Jews were killed and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. After the start of the war, and the conquest of numerous European countries, the Jewish population was put into ghettos, from which they were shipped to death camps where they were killed.
After the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws, the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (Representation of the German Jews) announced the following:
The Laws decided upon by the Reichstag in Nuremberg have come as the heaviest of blows for the Jews in Germany. But they must create a basis on which a tolerable relationship becomes possible between the German and the Jewish people. The "Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden" is willing to contribute to this end with all its powers. A precondition for such a tolerable relationship is the hope that the Jews and Jewish communities of Germany will be enabled to keep a moral and economic means of existence by the halting of defamation and boycott.
The organization of the life of the Jews in Germany requires governmental recognition of an autonomous Jewish leadership. The Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland is the agency competent to undertake this.
The most urgent tasks for the "Reichsvertretung", which it will press energetically and with full commitment, following the avenues it has previously taken, are:
Our own Jewish educational system must serve to prepare the youth to be upright Jews, secure in their faith, who will draw the strength to face the onerous demands which life will make on them from conscious solidarity with the Jewish community, from work for the Jewish present and faith in the Jewish future. In addition to transmitting knowledge, the Jewish schools must also serve in the systematic preparation for future occupations. With regard to preparation for emigration, particularly to Palestine, emphasis will be placed on guidance toward manual work and the study of the Hebrew language. The education and vocational training of girls must be directed to preparing them to carry out their responsibilities as upholders of the family and mothers of the next generation.
Nazi Germany began persecution of the Romani as early as 1936 when they began to transfer the people to municipal internment camps on the outskirts of cities, a prelude to the deportation of 23,000 Gypsies to concentration camps. "Pure-blooded" Gypsies were considered by the Nazis to be Aryan, however, only about 10% were categorized as such. Heinrich Himmler suggested creating a "Gypsy Law" to separate Gypsies from the German people:
The aim of measures taken by the State to defend the homogeneity of the German nation must be the physical separation of Gypsydom from the German nation, the prevention of miscegenation, and finally, the regulation of the way of life of pure and part-Gypsies. The necessary legal foundation can only be created through a Gypsy Law, which prevents further intermingling of blood, and which regulates all the most pressing questions which go together with the existences of Gypsies in the living space of the German nation.
A "Gypsy Law" to the liking of Himmler was never passed.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler described children resulting from marriages to African occupation soldiers as a contamination of the white race "by Negro blood on the Rhine in the heart of Europe." He thought that "Jews were responsible for bringing Negroes into the Rhineland, with the ultimate idea of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate." He also implied that this was a plot on the part of the French, since the population of France was being increasingly "negrified".
The number of black people in Germany when the Nazis came to power is variously estimated at 5,000 to 25,000. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., "The fate of black people from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and in German-occupied territories ranged from isolation to persecution, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality, and murder. However, there was no systematic program for their elimination as there was for Jews and other groups."
Prior to Hitler coming to power, black entertainers were popular in Germany, but the Nazis banned jazz as "corrupt negro music".
However, contrary to popular myth, black American sprinter Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in beating German athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, faced less segregation there than in the USA, and felt snubbed by Roosevelt rather than by Hitler.
Of particular concern to the Nazi scientist Eugen Fischer were the "Rhineland Bastards": mixed-race offspring of Senegalese soldiers who had been stationed in the Rhineland as part of the French army of occupation. He believed that these people should be sterilized in order to protect the racial purity of the German population. At least 400 mixed-race children were forcibly sterilized in the Rhineland by 1938. This order only applied in the Rhineland. Other African Germans were unaffected. Despite this policy, there was never any systematic attempt to eliminate the black population in Germany, though some blacks were used in medical experiments, and others mysteriously disappeared.
According to Susan Samples, the Nazis went to great lengths to conceal their sterilization and abortion program in the Rhineland. Hans Massaquoi describes his experience as a half-African in Hamburg, unaware of the Rhineland sterilizations until long after the war. Samples also points to the paradoxical fact that African-Germans actually had a better chance of surviving the war than the average German. They were excluded from military activity because of their non-Aryan status, but were not considered a threat and so were unlikely to be incarcerated. Samples and Massaquoi also note that African-Germans were not subjected to the segregation they would have experienced in the United States, nor excluded from facilities such as expensive hotels. However, they both state that downed black American pilots were more likely to become victims of violence and murder from German citizens than white pilots.
As early as 1925, Hitler suggested in Mein Kampf that the German people needed Lebensraum ("living space") to achieve German expansion eastwards (Drang nach Osten) at the expense of the inferior Slavs. Hitler believed that "the organization of a Russian state formation was not the result of the political abilities of the Slavs in Russia, but only a wonderful example of the state-forming efficacity of the German element in an inferior race."
After the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler expressed his future plans for the Slavs:
As for the ridiculous hundred million Slavs, we will mould the best of them as we see fit, and we will isolate the rest of them in their own pig-styes; and anyone who talks about cherishing the local inhabitants and civilising them, goes straight off into a concentration camp!
Nazi ideology viewed the Slavic peoples as non-Aryan Untermenschen ("sub-humans"), who were targeted for enslavement, expulsion and extermination. Hitler viewed the Slavs as "a mass of born slaves who feel the need of a master". Nazi propaganda portrayed the Germanic peoples as "heroes" in contrast to the Jewish and Slavic "sub-humans". Nazi propaganda depicted Eastern Europe as racially mixed "Asiatic" that was dominated by the Jews with the aid of Bolshevism. The Nazis considered some people in Eastern Europe to be suitable for Germanization (they were presumed to be of German descent); if they were considered racially valuable they were to be re-Germanized and forcefully taken from their families to Germany and raised as Germans.
The final version of Generalplan Ost, essentially a grand plan for ethnic cleansing, was divided into two parts: the Kleine Planung ("Small Plan"), which covered actions which were to be taken during the war, and the Grosse Planung ("Big Plan"), which covered actions to be undertaken after the war was won (to be carried into effect gradually over a period of 25–30 years). The Small Plan was to be put into practice as the Germans conquered the areas to the east of their pre-war borders. The individual stages of this plan would then be worked out in greater detail. In this way, the plan for Poland was drawn up at the end of November 1939. The plan envisaged removal of the majority of the population of conquered counties, with very small and varied percentages of the various conquered nations undergoing Germanisation, expulsion into the depths of Russia, and other fates, the net effect of which would be to ensure that the conquered territories would be Germanized. Himmler declared during the Germanization process that no drop of German blood would be lost or left behind to mingle with any "alien races". The Wehrbauer ("soldier-peasants") would settle in a fortified line to prevent civilization arising beyond and threatening Germany.
The Nazis issued the Polish decrees on 8 March 1940 which regulated the working and living conditions of Polish laborers (Zivilarbeiter) used during World War II in Germany. The decrees set out that any Pole "who has sexual relations with a German man or woman, or approaches them in any other improper manner, will be punished by death." The Gestapo were extremely vigilant about sexual relations between Germans and Poles and pursued any case relentlessly where this was suspected. There were similar regulations used against the other ethnic groups brought in from Eastern Europe, including the death penalty for sexual relations with a German person. During the war, hundreds of Polish and Russian men were executed for their relations with German women.
Heinrich Himmler, in his secret memorandum "Reflections on the Treatment of Peoples of Alien Races in the East" dated 25 May 1940, expressed his own thoughts and the future plans for the populations in the East. Himmler stated that it was in the German interest to discover as many ethnic groups in the East and splinter them as much as possible, find and select racially valuable children to be sent to Germany to assimilate them and restrict non-Germans in the General Government and conquered territories to four-grade elementary school which would only teach them how to write their own name, to count up to 500 and to obey Germans. Himmler believed the Germanization process in Eastern Europe would be complete when "in the East dwell only men with truly German, Germanic blood".
Though the laws were primarily directed against Jews, other "non-Aryan" people were subject to the laws, and to other legislation concerned with racial hygiene. The definition of "Aryan" was never fully defined as the term was too imprecise and ambiguous, it was attempted to be clarified over time in a number of judicial and executive decisions. Jews were by definition non-Aryan, because of their Semitic origins. Outside of Europe in North Africa, according to Alfred Rosenberg's racial theories (The Myth of the Twentieth Century), some of the Berbers, particularly the Kabyles, were to be classified as Aryans. The Nazis portrayed Swedes, the Afrikaaners who are white European descendants of Dutch-speaking Boers in South Africa and higher-degree Northern/Western Europeans of South America (mainly from Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina) as ideal "Aryans" along with the German-speaking peoples of Greater Germany and Switzerland (the country was neutral during the war). The Roma (Gypsies), who while considered Aryan were deemed a threat to the Aryan race because of their racial mingling.
About 10,000 Japanese nationals (mostly diplomats and military officials) residing in Nazi Germany were given status of "Honorary Aryan" which allowed them to have more privileges than any other "non-Aryans". In Norway, the Nazis favored and promoted children between Germans and Norwegians, in an attempt to raise the birth rate of Nordic Aryans. Around 10,000–12,000 war children (Krigsbarn) were born from these unions during the war. Some of them were separated from their mothers and cared for in so-called "Lebensborn" clinics ("Fountain of Life" clinics).
Nazi policy stressed the superiority of the Nordic race, a sub-race of the white European population defined by the measurement of the size and proportions of the human body models of racial difference. From 1940 the Nazis in General Government (occupied Poland) divided the population into different groups. Each group had different rights, food rations, allowed strips in the cities, separated residential areas, special schooling systems, public transportation and restricted restaurants. Later adapted in all Nazi-occupied countries by 1942, the Germanization program used the racial caste system of reserving certain rights to one group and barred privileges to another. Ethnic Poles were believed by Hitler to be "biologically inferior race" that could never be educated or elevated through Germanization. In 1940, Hitler approved of a plan regarding the Germanization of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, he estimated around half of the Czech population were suitable for Germanization but made clear that the "mongoloid" types and Czech intelligentsia were not allowed to be Germanized.
During the occupation of Poland, the Nazis kept an eye out for children with Nordic racial characteristics, those among them found to be classified as "racially valuable" were sent from here to the German Reich for adoption and to be raised as Germans, those who failed the tests would be used as slaves or murdered in medical experiments.
Nordicist anthropometrics was used to "improve" the racial make-up of the Germanized section of the population, by absorbing individuals into the German population who were deemed suitably Nordic.
Germanization also affected the Sorbs, the minority Slav community living in Saxony and Brandenburg, whose Slavic culture and language was suppressed to absorb them into German identity. Tens of thousands suffered internment and imprisonment as well, to become lesser-known victims of Nazi racial laws.