I'm in the middle of a movie about Nazi Germany. I can't tell if a particular character, a concentration camp survivor, is supposed be Jewish or a Jewish sympathizer. It is said in the movie she was denounced by a neighbor in 1943, but it is implied she was living openly before then.

I am sure I will find out by the end of the movie who this character is. But this brings up some questions for me. Did the Nazis imprison all German Jews well before 1943 or could they have missed some? I don't mean the ones who were hiding--I mean people who were living openly, who were Jewish but perhaps didn't have a look or birth certificate that allowed the Nazis to identify them? When the word "denounce" is used, as in "person X denounced person Y," was that only used with Jews, with those who hid Jews, or both?


2 Answers 2


You are asking at least two different questions. As to whether you could be Jewish and "get away with it", at least until someone denounced you, I don't think it worked like that. Your ethnicity was known to the state, via your birth certificate and other essential documents. There were borderline cases involving people who were fractionally Jewish, and there were rules laid down for those. In the event of a dispute, I suppose your case went to judicial review/appeal. See also the Ahnenpass.

Your other question involves the status of German Jews in Germany around 1943. No the authorities didn't imprison or expel all Jews even as late as 1943. Your status and treatment depended on a number of tests. Far and away the best guarantee of your "safety" was to have a non-Jewish spouse. Also helpful was to have served in the German Army in WW1. I imagine financial means and influential connections also came into it.

So a Jew who could tick some of those boxes could still be technically "at liberty" in Germany in 1945 (as the diarist Victor Klemperer was). At liberty, in Victor Klemperer's case, meant being confined to a "Jew House" (extremely cramped communal housing), very reduced rations compared to other Germans, unable to work (except for humiliating work duties such as road sweeping and snow clearing which he was required to perform), and constantly in fear of arrest. But not necessarily actually imprisoned.

Being denounced to the gestapo need have nothing to do with being Jewish. Favourites included black marketeering, not complying with blackouts, listening to foreign radio, defeatist talk. Could it be your character was denounced for one of these "crimes"? If you faced one of these charges and were also Jewish, then you faced far graver consequences of course.

Then there were all the things that Jews weren't allowed to own or use (e.g. bicycles 1936, radios 1939). Your concentration camp survivor could have been denounced, not for being a Jew per se, but for flouting one of those anti-Jewish laws.

  • Thanks for the thorough answer. The character had a non-Jewish spouse, so that's probably why she wasn't imprisoned before 1943. The movie implies her husband was arrested, then denounced her to save his skin. It's scary to think what power demagogues and propaganda have. I always felt somewhat removed from such times and places until now in the U.S. Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 2:26

The Nazis tracked Jews, and confined them to ghettos or other Jewish quarters, in preparation for rounding up and the "Final Solution."

To try to escape this, some Jews "hid." That is, their identities were known, but not their whereabouts. The story told in "The Diary of Anne Frank" is a classic in this regard.

Some Jews hid their identities, using false papers e.g. describing someone who was actually deceased. That's the way countries protect their spies, and these Jews lived like "spies," fearing exposure and arrest.

To "denounce" such a person was to report or to "out" them in today's terms. This could be for any violation of the law, but being Jewish was basically "illegal" in Nazi Germany. Most people in occupied countries followed a "live and let live policy, but there were some "snitches." Either someone who was strong pro-Nazi or someone who hated one of these hiders from the past life. Anne Frank was "denounced."

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