My understanding is that there were a large number of Polish Jews in Germany up to around the beginning of WW2 and they bore the brunt of nazi oppression at least at first (as opposed to Jews who were German citizens although I know that even citizens considered Jews were discriminated against). Were these Polish Jews treated even worse than German Jews simply because they were illegal immigrants and if so, was Germany doing worse to them than any other nation at the time to people they would have considered illegal?

EDIT: Many of the Polish Jews were resident foreigners so what was the justification for not expelling them?

EDIT: Simple question is were the Polish Jews expelled from Germany prior to WW2 citizens of Germany? And if not, why was it wrong to expel them and why did Poland not take them back?

  • Are you referring to the legal status specifically or societal status or something else? – American Luke Aug 15 '17 at 3:11
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    I am interested in the legal status -- afaict these Polish Jews were legally not Germans. – Jeff Aug 15 '17 at 3:34

I think your question is based on false assumptions. Not all immigrants are illegal and nothing was "simple" about citizenship, anyway.

Look at the map of Europe at the beginning or the end of World War One. Poland was split between her major neighbours. The Treaty of Versailles recreated Poland with aftershocks for many decades.

Many ethnic Poles had migrated to big cities and industrial areas of Germany at the end of the 19th century.

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  • I am not saying they were illegal immigrants but i wonder if they had German citizenship or what. – Jeff Aug 14 '17 at 5:13
  • A substantial number had German citizenship. Depends on when they migrated from where. I can't tell you percentages right now. – o.m. Aug 14 '17 at 5:19
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    The event I am thinking of was when a bunch of Jews were basically stranded between Germany and Poland. I am assuming they were of Polish origin and if they had German citizenship they had not fought in WW1 on the German side. – Jeff Aug 14 '17 at 5:42

Your understanding of the factual situation is essentially correct.

Here is an excerpt from a (multi-)book review by Timothy Snyder, a leading historian of the era:

After the German annexation of Austria (or Anschluss) in March 1938, some twenty thousand Jews with Polish citizenship living in Austria tried to return to Poland. After humiliating pogroms, Austrian Jews were subjected to a systematic policy of expropriation and forced emigration devised by Adolf Eichmann. As these methods were then applied to German Jews, Polish diplomats feared that the tens of thousands of Polish Jews living in Germany would also seek to return. The foreign ministry decided to exclude Polish Jews abroad from the protection of the Polish state.

Right after the Anschluss, the Polish government demanded that all of its citizens living abroad register with embassies—and in October, right before the deadline, instructed its ambassador in Berlin not to stamp the passports of Jews. The Germans could see where this was headed, and responded by deporting about 17,000 Polish Jews to Poland in late October. Very often these were people whose entire lives had been spent in Germany and whose connection to Poland was quite limited. Grynszpan’s parents, for example, had moved to Germany in 1911, before an independent Poland had been established. Their children had been born in Germany.

Grynszpan’s parents had sent their son, then fifteen years old, to an aunt and uncle in Paris in 1936 to spare him from Nazi repression. By 1938, both his Polish passport and his German visa had expired, and he had been denied legal residency in France. He faced what his biographer Jonathan Kirsch perceptively calls the “existential threat of statelessness.” His aunt and uncle had to hide him in a garret so that he would not be expelled. They shared with him a postcard from his sister, mailed right after the family was deported from Germany to Poland: “Everything was finished for us.”

However, I submit that the lens of "illegal immigration" is a completely anachronistic one for the pre-WWII era.

I presume you are trying to draw some contemporary insights but there are probably none to be had except that the Nazis were monsters and far too many people and countries were indifferent bystanders who did nothing to stop them. Standard fare.

As far as I know, most countries - with the insalutary exception of the US -did not place limits on immigration back then; it was just not that much of an issue.

Moreover, the question is not really - and has never been - whether the German policy towards the Jews (and others) was legal (I guess in a narrow sense it was - there was no UDHR back then, for example). Rather, whether it was cruel and inhumane.

For example, were the Nuremberg Laws illegal as such? Probably not, as they were duly voted in by the Reichstag etc. But they sure were evil, cruel, and inhumane. And they should have been stopped in time by those who could have done so.

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  • I am not arguing that nazis were in any way nice people or even people who observed the laws that they themselves created -- they seem very selective in this. However, in this one instance, I would suggest that even non-nazis might think about expelling a large population of foreign nationals and other countries would have no particular reason to question this action. Additionally, your post makes clear that the Polish government was also to blame, even more to blame than the Germans. – Jeff Aug 14 '17 at 15:44
  • Jews couldn't "move to Germany from Poland in 1911" because there was no Poland. I do not see why they would have polish passports after 1918 if they were in Germany or Austria at that time - even if born in areas that turned into Poland. This is a complicated matter. – Bregalad Aug 14 '17 at 18:57
  • @Bregalad Well, there was a Kingdom of Poland, in personal union with the Russian Empire, so its subjects did have a separate political affiliation to fall back on once the Empire crumbled. – Felix Goldberg Aug 15 '17 at 3:00
  • @FelixGoldberg 1875-1915 it was a Vistula Land officially a general-governorate, so formally less autonomous than a kingdom or namestnichestvo, but more than a normal gubernyia. But it's plausible that after 1918 even former residents could have been issued Polish passports. – kubanczyk Aug 18 '17 at 9:29

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