I'm trying to compare the treatment of Jews in Europe before the rise of the Nazis with their treatment under the Nazis (before the concentration camps).

Did Jewish communities feel that their oppressive treatment in say, 1938, was similar to oppression that occurred before the Nazis, or did they feel that the Nazi oppression was exceptional?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a reference request for trivium. Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 3:21
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    It might be worth looking up Joseph Goldstein - Jewish History in Modern Times (ISBN 978-1-898723-06-6)
    – Kobunite
    Commented Jun 28, 2013 at 8:36
  • I understand that my question is subjective, but it is amenable to objective evidence. This is the evidence I seek. I am not quite sure how it can be off-topic =P
    – josinalvo
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 15:31
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    @josinalvo, I've substantially reworded your question to try and make its core clearer. Feel free to roll back the change or edit it further if I've changed your meaning.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 5:42
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    I would recommend reading biographies of Sigmund Freud. You would think if anyone could define "exceptional oppression" Freud would be your go to guy. Nope. Not until he miraculously made it out alive and arrived in Great Britain did he realize just how "exceptional" the 3rd Reich truly was. And then he died a year later. He along with Charlie Chaplin who was blacklisted from Hollywood for speaking out against Hitler are both buried in London I believe. Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 1:00

4 Answers 4


There is a problem with the phrase "in Europe" in your question--given that in 1938, Germany had not yet conquered much of Europe, Nazi oppression was only being felt in Germany and Austria (the latter of which Germany annexed in March 1938 in what is known as the Anschluss).

In Germany and Austria, by all means, Jews knew full well that there had been a drastic break from the years before 1933, when Hitler came to power. After Hitler took Austria, an astounding 117,000 Austrian Jews (out of a 1938 population of only 192,000) emigrated in under two years after the Anschluss. Jews in Austria were targeted in the Kristallnacht pogroms as well, and a regimen of forced deportation was imposed by the Nazis, while thousands of Austrian Jews, who could previously do business and live openly and fairly peacefully, were sent to concentration camps (and concentration camps such as Mauthausen were new to Austria too). See Holocaust Encyclopedia: Austria for all the above facts.

In Germany's "Altreich" (i.e., encompassing the borders of pre-World War II Germany), the Nuremberg Laws against Jews were absolutely a break with the pre-Hitler years, and Jews of the time were forbidden from many professions (where, again, they had previously been allowed to live relatively peacefully and do business) and were later excluded entirely from public life. See Holocaust Encyclopedia: The Nuremberg Race Laws.

In Germany, too, rioting, looting, and beatings of Jews followed the Kristallnacht in late 1938, on a scale that pre-Hitler Germany's Jews had never seen (and, more importantly, this was done with full and open cooperation of police authorities, not only the SS and stormtroopers).

The Jews under the Nazis definitely knew that there was a big difference between 1938 and 1932.


Nope, this was certainly not business as usual. By the time of the Nazi oppression the Jews had been enjoying full civil rights in Western Europe for about a century.


  • That technically doesn't answer the question as no timeframe prior to the NSDAP rule in Germany is given for consideration.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 10:41
  • @jwenting But I take it that you do agree the answer answers the question substantially, right? Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 20:46
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    it probably answers the intent of the question, yes. Would like @josinalvo to clarify what he means though.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 4, 2013 at 5:10
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    Well, I wasn't there but certainly the back-stab legend indicates that at least post ww1, German Jews so clearly they were thought of differently by at least some fellow Germans. At very high levels in the government and military. I am not sure if they felt more German than American Jews felt American -- it is pointed out that while no Jew has ever been leader of the USA, for how ever briefly, a Jew was head of at least part of Germany so maybe Jews in Germany were more assimilated than American Jews.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 8:49
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    I would like to clarify my comment which I can't edit anymore: I said "Perhaps Germany was less discriminatory than Germany in 1920..." I meant, 'Perhaps Germany (in 1920) than the USA was in 1920 against Jews which is ironic and scary."
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 0:46

Nazi Germany employed various elements in their oppression of Jews, which were borrowed from different other countries, so that their policy not to seem exceptional for Germans.

  • They used elements of Medieval Europe

  • They used measures implemented in Tsarist Russia (not too far from the Nazi epoch)

  • They cited the US and British segregation policy as a justification

  • They provided parallels with the treatment of American Indians, especially, the reservations

As you know, Germany justified their pursuit for Liebensraum (living space in Eastern Europe) by comparing themselves with established colonial powers, that is Britain and France and claiming that Germany deserves similar rights. The practice of comparing Germany with the US, Britain and France was very widely used.

At the time, racial segregation was common in the US and in British colonies, so Germans thought such segregation would be justified for Germany as well.

Notice also the following. Germans used various legal tricks against the Jews, sometimes reaching the desired effect even without explicit racist legislation.

For example, they claimed that at the proclamation of the German Empire in 1871 there was a legal mistake, and the people of Jewish faith were not granted the citizenship. As such, all people who (or whose ancestors) had Jewish faith by 1871 were stripped of their citizenship. The legislation did not look racist at the surface because people of known Jewish ancestry whose ancestors converted to Christianity before 1871 were kept with full rights.

Note that the Baltic states currently use a similar legislation against Russians, that is all people who gained citizenship after 1940 were stripped of their citizenship, because in their view the incorporation in the USSR was illegal. (The Universal Declaration of Human rights in Article 15 forbids stripping people from citizenship, so one needs to find some "legal mistatke" in the past so to deprive a mass of people from their citizenship).

The marriages of Germans with Jews were forbidden but this also did not seem racist at the surface, because the agency which oversaw it also forbade marriages of say thin and thick, tall and short and so on - they justified it with a claim that marriages between too distant genes are detrimental, even within one race.

As to the ghettos, they were not implemented in 1938 yet, but when they were they were seen as a means of national self-determination for the Jews. Initially the ghettos were just Jewish districts where Jews enjoyed a high level of autonomy and self-government, up to law enforcement. This level of Jewish autonomy was not seen in Europe ever. This was quite in line with various projects for national self-determination in the USSR, say the recently-created Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Far East in the USSR.

Note that the ghettos were officially called "Jewish districts", which was not seen as suspicious by many because Germans instituted similar ethnic districts for other people as well in many occupied areas, including the "German districts".

Only later the ghettos were sealed under various pretexts, mostly being claims of epidemics or need to protect the Jews from the non-Jewish population.

One should note that the Germans used similar approach to non-Jewish ethnic groups as well, take for example the ghetto-like Russian autonomy (or reservation) centered in Lokot (so-called "Lokot Republic"), which is viewed now by some Russian neo-Nazis as an example of on ideal national state, as well as an autonomous community of Old Believers near Polotsk known as "Zuyev's republic" after its leader.

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    This is a very interesting answer; certainly a thought provoking one. However, before I go along with it, I'd like to see some sourced evidence for the Nazis comparing their policy to segregation - did this appear in print/speeches before 1938? Prima facie I rather doubt they could have expected medieval or Tsarist precedents to have made much impression on Western audiences because here (before 1938) they were stripping of their rights long-established citizens of a West (sorta) European state. So in this context, the stuff about the "legal mistake" is very interesting - can we have a Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:12
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    reference for it as well? Thanks! Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 22:12
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    I would like to find out more about conversion prior to 1871: Is this saying that you might have 4 "racially" Jewish grandparents but if they had converted prior to 1871, it did not even matter if, say, you were on both sides descended from rabbis? Because it certainly seems like the ancestry of artists and scientists who had converted well before1871 meant that, in the case of Mendelssohn, their music was not performed.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 20, 2022 at 12:12

I am not sure if this is what you are getting at but in Poland in the 1930s there were "Ghetto Benches" in universities were Jews were forced to sit -- this is well before German occupation or WW2. I think a similar thing existed in Romania but I could be wrong. Even in the USA where discrimination against its citizens of various ethnicity when unchallenged, it is not surprising that Jews were legally discriminated against in many areas including education.

Within the past 20 years, Asian Americans were discriminated against at UC Berkeley and perhaps other UCs.

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