‘Nazi anti-Semitism: Extension of European anti-Semitism or grotesque materialization of a new phenomenon’
To what extent did Nazi anti-Semitism stem from historical European anti-Semitism?
Word Count: 3989
Anti-Semitism has existed in Europe since the medieval period. It has taken on a variety of forms over the past centuries and reached its zenith during the Nazi Holocaust in 1944 and 1945. This essay will answer the question of: To what extent did Nazi anti-Semitism stem from historical European anti-Semitism?
The research has been divided into two areas: the features of European anti-Semitism; and the features of Nazi anti-Semitism. Research in each form of anti-Semitism was further divided into: social/religious anti-Semitism; racial/pseudoscientific anti-Semitism; economical roots of anti-Semitism; and political anti-Semitism. The analysis of this essay compares and contrasts the different aspects of each type of anti-Semitism. The majority of the research was based on history books that explain the periods of anti-Semitism before and after the Holocaust. Minutes of the Wannsee Conference were also used in the research. Electronic resources were used to identify dates or confirm factual information.
Upon finishing the research, it was concluded that Nazi anti-Semitism did stem from historical European anti-Semitism, but eventually developed into phenomenon of its own. In the early years of Nazi Germany, acts of anti-Semitism bore semblance to forms of European anti-Semitism. However, towards the final years of the Nazi regime Nazi Jewish-hatred took an unprecedented path. Nazi Germany’s embodiment of a racist ideology and the sheer magnitude as well as the organization of the Holocaust makes Nazi anti-Semitism different from its predecessor.
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Since its infancy in 1920 when party funds were raised by selling “a brand of tobacco called Anti-Semit”, till its downfall on April 29th 1945 when Hitler blamed the war on “international statesmen … who worked for Jewish interests”, anti-Semitism had always been a vital part of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Nazi anti-Semitism, due to its temporal proximity to the present, exceptionally systematic approach towards the “Jewish Question”, and the horrendous brutality of the Holocaust, is often viewed as a new aberration from the traditional forms of European anti-Semitism. Many, however, perceive this as an ill-advised interpretation of Nazi anti-Semitism. Although Nazi anti-Semitism was certainly unique for its unprecedented violence against the Jews, there is no doubt that the Nazis drew immensely from the rich and historic sources of European anti-Semitism which had prevailed in Europe since the medieval period. The revival of the medieval “Jew badge” on September 1st 1941 and the use of pseudoscience to justify anti-Semitism in terms of racial and psychological features, for example, are only a few of the many methods that the Nazis adopted from European anti-Semitism. This essay will explore whether Nazi anti-Semitism simply represented a radical extension of the historical European discrimination of the Jews or whether it was a grotesque manifestation of a totally new phenomenon.
Social/Religious Roots of European Anti-Semitism:
The religious roots of modern European anti-Semitism can be traced back to the dawn of Christianity. Christianity’s persecution of the Jews was based upon two main factors. The first was because early Christians believed that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. The second reason was because Judaism challenged the integrity of Christian beliefs. While Christianity viewed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, Judaism argued that the Messiah was yet to come. The argument of the Jews posed a threat to Christianity because it partially owed its existence to Judaism and also because Jesus of Nazareth himself was a Jew. Jews were, therefore, castigated to fully legitimize the beliefs of Christianity.
Christianity slowly made its way to Europe and eventually became one of the dominant religions in Europe. Once it became the dominant religion of Europe, anti-Semitic acts in Christian nations began to happen in earnest. One of the most notable incidents was the massacre of Jews in France and Germany during the First Crusade of 1096. Crusaders, who became bankrupt after buying expensive weaponry for the crusade on the Middle-East, decided to plunder rich Jewish households. The Crusaders justified their acts by saying that the purging of Jews, along with the Arabs, was necessary to fully cleanse the world of non-believers.
The Christians discriminated the Jews also by creating the myth of the blood libel, forcing them to wear the “Jew badge” and removing them from civil service professions, expulsing them from countries, and placing them in ghettos. The blood libel was a false claim that accused Jews of murdering Christian children and used the children’s blood for baking matzos for Passover. In 1215, the Lateran Council announced that Jews should wear conical hats and the Jew badge for identification purposes in public. The Church also issued regulations that limited Jews from working in the government or serving the military. When these regulations did not suffice in separating the Jews, governments expelled the Jews from their countries. The Jews were officially expelled from “England in 1291, France in 1394, and Spain 1492.” Ghettos became to be officially institutionalized after Pope Paul IV in 1555 issued a papal decree calling for the separation of Jews into a specified area in a town or a city. As a result, ghettos began to rapidly spring up in cities all across Europe. In 1791 Catherine the Great of Tsarist Russia demarcated a whole province, known as the Pale of Settlement, for the habitation of Russia’s Jews.
Racial/Pseudoscientific Roots of European Anti-Semitism:
The phrase anti-Semitism was first used by the Austrian scholar Moritz Steinschneider in 1860 to describe the idea about how Semites were inferior to the Aryans. The term was originally created to differentiate the discrimination of Jews based on irrational religious reasoning from the discrimination of Jews based on “scientific claims.” However, the phrase has evolved to imply all forms of discrimination against followers of Judaism.
The term Aryan and Übermensch were also introduced in this period. Similar to the term anti-Semitism, the words Aryan and Übermensch were originally not attached to the notion of a ‘master race.’ The phrase Aryan was simply used to refer to the ‘Indo-European’ race which was supposedly one of the superior races in Europe. The figure Übermensch was used in German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra to represent the idea of an ‘overman.’ Nietzsche believed that the Übermensch represented the next stage in humanity in which a single individual will be able to possess superhuman intellect. In this regard, his ideology may appear similar to the idea of individualism of the Enlightenment movement. However, Nietzsche’s idea was revolutionary because it denied the necessity of God. He argued that the Übermensch, with his ‘overman’ understanding of the world, will render God as useless, and instead will be able to decree his own morality and law.
The use of pseudoscience and the idea of race became prominent in the nineteenth century. Up until the advent of scientific development and the Industrial Revolution, the differences between people had been judged through their cultural background and economical status. In the nineteenth century, the popular belief was that intellectual capability was inherently tied to the individual’s “race”. In an era in which rapid technological advancements were made in the Western world, the argument of physical features being directly related to intellect seemed plausible to the literate population of Europe. Racial determinism, as this ideology became to be called, spread rapidly in Europe and was soon accepted by the general population. Initially, the idea of racial determinism had no anti-Semitic connotations attached to it. In fact racial determinism was also embraced by Jews who had assimilated into society. They believed that they were “Jewish by race not religion.” Jews also utilized racial determinism to venerate themselves as the one of the “purest” races. They argued that the Jewish race was able to maintain their purity due to Judaism’s prohibition of intermarriages.
Another prominent ideology of this era was social Darwinism. Social Darwinism advocated the survival of the fittest. Social Darwinism, much like racial determinism, was accepted by the general public and initially was not used for promoting anti-Semitic ideas. The Jews were viewed as one of the fittest races by advocates of this theory. Advocates of this belief found their reasoning in the fact that the Jews managed to survive through all the persecution that they were exposed to since Biblical times. Although both racial determinism and social Darwinism at first had minimal attachments to anti-Semitism, they provided fertile grounds for future anti-Semitic arguments that were to be developed during the Great Depression of 1873.
Economical roots of European anti-Semitism:
Traditionally, Jews have been often described as “miserly, manipulators of money, ultra-materialist, and possessors of extraordinary wealth.” This was largely due to claims made by elements of Christianity. In 1139 the Lateran Council condemned usury, the act of lending money with excessive interest rates, and decided that anyone who practiced it would be denied a Christian burial. This legislation was purposefully targeted at the Jews. The Church denounced the Jews for illegally lending money to the financially disaffected peasantry. However, the reason many Jews took up the job of moneylending was partially due to the influence of the Church. In many countries, the Church limited the occupations that Jews could work. Therefore, a large majority of the Jewish population naturally took up petty jobs. For example, Jews were not allowed to sell important and lucrative merchandise such as metal-work, silk, and glass-work. Moneylending was one of the jobs that the Jews were allowed to work. Jews were also not allowed to farm land because they could not own private property. In the Medieval period private property, especially land, was considered a sign of wealth and power. Having land meant having power over the serfs who worked the land. The Church, in order to limit the potential influence of Jews, issued a regulation that made it illegal for Jews to own private property. These reasons, therefore, gave many Jews no choice but to pursue the business of moneylending which was one of the more lucrative among the petty jobs that they worked. Another aspect that linked Jews and moneylending was the way the Jews interpreted the Old Testament. In the Bible usury is listed down as a sin that one must not commit. In the Torah usury was also prohibited, but it was only prohibited between Jews. This meant that Jews were allowed to charge interest on others as long as they were not a Jew.
In the midst of the Great Depression of the nineteenth century, economic Jewish-hatred took a different form from its past. The 1870s, unlike the past two decades, was a time of financial crisis. In 1873 the Great Depression began with stock markets crashing in Berlin and Vienna. The stock market crashes were followed by two decades of unemployment, poor production, and famines in all areas of Europe. A great majority of the people who were economically affected by the Great Depression blamed the Jews for their sufferings. There were many reasons to why the Jews were blamed for the economic crisis. The first and most prominent reason was because many Jews played a key role in the stock markets of most countries. Therefore, when the economy failed in 1873 many people vehemently criticized the Jews. Another reason was the economical and social growth of the Jews. In the nineteenth century, many countries in Europe experienced a rapid growth in the Jewish population. The growth of Jews, which was greatly influenced by the emancipation of the Jews during the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, allowed them to take up important positions in governments and urban areas. This was also the period in which the term “Court Jew”, Jews that worked as financial advisers and estate managers of monarchs, was first used. The exponential growth, coupled with the traditional image of Jews as the moneylender, gave ample reasons for anti-Semites to launch a series of attack on the Jews in the 1870s. Christian elements of society were shocked by the fact that Jews who constituted less than one percent of the population were taking up important roles in society. In some radical cases, Jews were allegedly charged for using their newly gained economic and social power to manipulate the domestic and foreign policies of the nation.
Political Roots of Anti-Semitism:
Political Jewish-hatred is most often identified with the notion of the “Jewish world conspiracy” advocated in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion of 1903. The Protocols is a forgery comprised of alleged minutes of conferences of Jewish leaders, or “the Elders of Zion”, in which they discuss ways to dominate the world. Studies have revealed that the documents proposed in the text and the supposed “Elders” listed in the Protocols are entirely fictional. In the early twentieth century, however, the text was considered legitimate by many. The “Jewish world conspiracy” was allegedly a Jewish plan to bring political, religious, and social equality to the oppressed Jewish population through the domination of the world. This wild speculation was backed up by the “obvious” social influence that the “Court Jews” seemed to possess. Proponents of the theory also substantiated their argument by referring the ubiquity of the Jewish population in Europe, Russia, and the Middle-East. Anti-Semites of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century linked the “Jewish world conspiracy” to the rise of socialism and communism, namely the Bolshevik Revolution. Jew-haters argued that the Jews were trying to realize and legitimize their goal of world domination through communism which called for a worldwide revolution of the proletariat. Anti-Semites also argued that there was an inherent pro-Jewish rhetoric since Karl Marx, one of the founding fathers of communism, had a Jewish family history.
The “Jewish world conspiracy” was greatly propagated by extreme nationalists in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Nationalists utilized the idea of a Jewish conspiracy and the traditional alien status of the Jew to instigate xenophobia. One of the prime examples of this is the Dolchstoßlegende also known as “the stab-in-the-back legend”. This legend was widely spread in Germany by right-wing parties. Propagators argued that Socialists, Republicans, and Jews had stabbed the triumphant German army in the back by signing the Armistice with the allies on 11th November 1918, and the Treaty of Versailles on October 21st 1919. In Germany and the other European countries, there was a general rise in the number of active political programs against the Jews. However, due to internal factionalism the efforts to politically persecute the Jews were often ineffective.
Analysis of Nazi Anti-Semitism and European Anti-Semitism:
The Post-Enlightenment Period and Nazi anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism was an essential part of Nazism. Anti-Semitism along with the notion of the “Aryan Master Race” formed the ideological justification for the aim to create a New World Order under Nazi Germany. The Nazis believed that the Jews had to be removed in order to prevent further racial degeneration of the superior Aryan race. There is ample evidence that the Nazis were inspired by the pseudoscientific racial ideologies of the nineteenth century. One of the more obvious pieces of evidence is the Nazi’s use of the terms Übermensch, Aryan, and anti-Semite. Although the meaning of these terms were significantly distorted, it is difficult to deny that this was partly due to the potential racially anti-Semitic ideas that were embraced within these ideologies. For example, the Nietzsche’s denial of God through the intellectually and physically supreme Übermensch could be easily applied to the Nazi’s reverence of a master race and antipathy towards Judaism. Similarly, the idea of the Semites being racially inferior to the Aryan race also fits into the argument of the Nazis. Also there is evidence that the Nazis used aspects of social Darwinism and racial determinism to formulate the notion of racial degeneration and supremacy. The Nazis manipulated the theory of the survival of the fittest and racial characteristics determining intellect to reinforce their concept of a master race.
Propaganda: Jewish Conspiracy & the Blood Libel
Another idea that was exploited by the National Socialists was the “Jewish world conspiracy.” The conspiracy was very convenient for the Nazis as it perfectly complemented their anathema towards the Jews. Hitler personally had great conviction in the international conspiracy of the Jewry. He believed that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a work of “absolute authenticity.” Hitler argued that the conspiracy of the Jews was not a “fixed programme”, but a result of racial instincts. Jews, according to Hitler, “would instinctively follow the same aims and use the same methods without the need to work” out a set program for overthrowing the world order. The Nazis, under the orders of Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, used the myth of the blood libel, along with the idea of a conspiracy, to propagate anti-Semitism. Posters of malicious looking Jews slitting the throat of Aryan Germans and tables explaining the “racial instincts” of Jews could be commonly seen in the streets of Germany. Other forms of propaganda included anti-Semitic journals. For example, in the journal Der Strumer the front page of every issue would be marked with the words “The Jews Are Our Disaster” and regularly published alleged stories of Jewish ritual murder.
The Jew badge
The distribution of the medieval Jew badge was also revived under the rule of the Nazis. Ways of distinguishing Jews in public were first introduced in the General Government. However, the signs differed according to the locality. The mark was introduced into Germany on September 1st 1941. The police decree made it mandatory that all Jews over the age of six had to wear a yellow Star of David inscribed with the words Jude. This mark eventually became the official insignia for all Jews in Nazi occupied-territories. The institution of the Jew badge allowed the Nazis to effectively identify and enforce restrictions on the Jewish population.
Jews and Civil Service Rights
The first anti-Semitic legislation that was issued by the Nazi regime was the ‘Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service.’ This law was passed by the regime on April 7th 1933. The law, which was almost identical to the decision made by the Lateran Council in 1215, restricted people who were of ‘non-Aryan descent’ or suspected ‘enemies of the state’ from working as professors, government officers, judges, and other civil service professions. As a result, many Jews who had been playing a prominent role in the area of civil service lost their jobs. Later on, this law was amended to also include doctors, lawyers, tax consultants, and notaries.
Expulsion of Jews
In the past there have been numerous cases of large numbers of Jews being “legally” expulsed from a country, most notably in England, France, and Spain. The Jews were expelled from England when King Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in 1290. In France, the Jews were expelled in 1394 by Charles VI. In Spain, the Jews were expulsed under the Alhambra Decree in 1492 issued by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.
Prior to the Holocaust, similar efforts had been made in Nazi Germany to “cleanse German living space of Jews in a legal manner.” In order to legally deport the Jews out of Germany a Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration was created in 1939. This new government office was established to: “make all necessary arrangements for the preparation for an increased emigration of the Jews”; “direct the flow of emigration”; and “speed the procedure of emigration in each individual case.” According to the statistics documented in the minutes of the Wannsee Conference a total of 537,000 Jews had been legally deported out of the country by October 31st 1941.
Physical attacks and massacres of Jews have happened in medieval and modern Europe. However, there was never a time in which the physical persecution of Jews happened to the extent of the Holocaust. The Nazi approach of the Jewish Question was highly organized and systematic. Special task forces, known as the Einsatzgruppen, were organized to effectively execute or deliver the local Jews of occupied territories to the concentration camps set up in the General Government.
The abhorrence of the Holocaust itself suffices to render Nazi Jewish-hatred into something outlandish. The death toll of Jews during the Holocaust amounted to approximately 6,000,000. The death toll of Jews during the Holocaust was higher than the cumulative military deaths of the Entente Powers during World War I which amounted to approximately 5,700,000.
Jews and Racial Degeneration
One of the key features that differentiate Nazi anti-Semitism is its emphasis on race and the contingency of racial degeneration through intermarriage with individuals of inferior races. Although notions of racial degeneration have pre-existed in other places, their impact on the issue of intermarriage proved to be superficial. However, in Nazi Germany, the idea of preventing racial pollution was realized through a series of government legislations. These laws called for the sterilization of racially inferior individuals, and the restriction of marriage or sexual intercourse with Jews. Through these decrees, the Nazis tried to make the ideological and arbitrary differences between an Aryan and a Jew more tangible. For example, in the Nuremberg Laws the Nazis attempted to formulate a biological definition of what it meant to be a Jew.
The texts, “Anti-Semitism before the Holocaust” by Albert S. Lindemann and “Nazi Germany and the Jews” by Saul Friedländer, have been extensively used to aid this investigation. In his work, Lindemann tries to answer “the question of whether anti-Semitism can be understood” and also the question of whether “one can understand the anti-Semite of all anti-Semites, Hitler.” To answer this question, Lindemann explores the different types of anti-Semitism that have existed since the ancient times to the twentieth century in chronological order. However, due to the encompassing nature of the question the text lacks in detail in some areas. Lindemann manages to compensate for this flaw by pointing out and succinctly describing the essential characteristics of the different types of anti-Semitism in an unbiased way. Lindemann substantiates the arguments made in his book by providing short analyses and an appendix of the important documents that have been referenced in the work. The book’s most significant value is that it shows how anti-Semitism has evolved from ancient religious hatred to the racial/political form of anti-Semitism supported by fascist nations of the twentieth century. Understanding the chronology of how anti-Semitism became what it was in the 1900s is extremely significant for this essay as it provides insight into Nazi anti-Semitism and the possible links it shares with European anti-Semitism.
“Nazi Germany and the Jews” by Saul Friedländer describes Nazi persecution of the Jews between the years 1933 and 1939. Unlike many other texts that explain the relationship between the Nazis and Jews, this book narrows its scope of research by excluding the Holocaust. This source is valuable as it provides a very detailed account of the variety of methods the Nazis used to persecute the Jews. The work is thoroughly supported with insightful citations of primary sources. Friedländer provides valuable information on a variety of aspects which range from local cultural anti-Semitism to grandiose ideological anti-Jewish objectives. There are very few limitations for this source. One could make a dubious claim that the source is limited because it does not cover the periods between 1939 and 1945. However, when considering the thoroughness of the source and also the fact that there has already been a superfluous amount of research done on the extermination of Jews it is evident that this is an excellent source.
The Nazi Jewish-hatred was clearly different from the other European anti-Semitic cases of the past. In the history of anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany represents the first and only nation to establish itself on an ethnically discriminatory ideology. They were also different in the sense that their moves against the Jews were often initiated from the government level. The Nazis, through the Holocaust and anti-Semitic laws, were the first ones to fully realize the anti-Jewish ideologies of Europe.
However, in many aspects Nazi anti-Semitism was similar to its predecessor. For example, the Nazis used historic forms of discrimination against Jews such as the Jew badge, mass expulsion of Jews, the Jewish conspiracy, the blood libel, and Post-Enlightenment anti-Jewish ideologies.
But are these outward resemblances between Nazi anti-Semitism and European anti-Semitism significant enough to have dominance over the Holocaust and the fact that Nazi Germany was the first modern nation to embrace and internalize a racist ideology? Did Nazi anti-Semitism stem from European anti-Semitism? The answer to the latter seems to be yes. Although Nazi anti-Semitism ultimately transmogrified itself into something that had never existed before, its roots can be traced back to the various forms of anti-Semitism that existed in Europe. The answer to the first question is more complicated and would depend on whether one believes that the process is important or the actual result. This question is, however, beyond the scope of this research and requires more extensive investigation.
In essence, the aim of this research was to identify what Nazi anti-Semitism truly represented. This is significant because it greatly impacts how we define modern anti-Semitism, and provides invaluable insight into how our society must react to prevent further acts of senseless discrimination. Understanding the true nature of Nazi anti-Semitism and its relationship to European anti-Semitism is a necessary step that we, as responsible individuals of society, must collectively take to eradicate the remaining roots of Jewish-hatred.
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 (Kershaw, 2008, p. 763)
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 Nazi-occupied territory in Eastern Europe largely comprised of Poland.
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 The ‘sterilization law’, officially known as the ‘Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring’, was issued on July 14th 1933. It is said that after the enactment of this decree approximately 400,000 ‘racially inferior’ individuals were forcefully castrated. (Kershaw, 2008, p. 295)
 “Three-quarter Jews were counted as Jewish. Half-Jews (with two Jewish and two ‘aryan’ grandparents) were reckoned with a Jewish partner, or the illegitimate child of a Jew and ‘aryan’.” (Kershaw, 2008, p. 347)
 (Lindemann, 2000, p. 95)