How did the Nazis persecute minorities in Germany?

Nazism believed in maintaining the ‘racial purity’ of Germany, and sought to defend itself against ‘undesirable’ people that might weaken the country. How were ethnic and religious minorities treated in Nazi Germany? And did everyday Germans comply with how the Nazi state treated minorities?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

Persecution = Hostility directed at a certain group of people, usually for political or religious reasons.
Systematic = When something happens regularly.
Citizenship = The act of being a citizen of a country, giving you the right to enjoy benefits under that state. The Nazis changed who had citizenship and who did not under their reign.
Sterilisation = A surgery or injection that results in a person not being able to have children.

Give two things you can infer from Source A about Hitler’s attitude towards Jews.
Remember to use the sentence starters!

From the source, I can infer…
Details from the source that tell me this are…
From the source, I can also infer…
Details in the source that tell me this are…

SOURCE A: Nazi propaganda from 1937. The title reads ‘The Eternal Jew’.

Nazism and race:

In Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, he argued that there was a hierarchy of races that existed in the world:

  • The Herrenvolk, or the master race. This, he argued, was the Aryan race, portrayed as tall, blond, blue-eyed and athletic. This was how Germans were depicted in folk stories, and was linked with an idea of ‘purity’.
  • The Untermenschen, or the sub-humans. This involved every other race.
  • The worst of the Untermenschen were the Lebensunwertes, or the people who were ‘unworthy of life’. This involved black people, Jews and ‘gypsies’. According to Hitler, these people had no right to be alive, and he argued that they should actively be removed from Germany.

TASK ONE: How did Hitler persecute Jewish people in Nazi Germany?

Look through the timeline below where Jews were persecuted by the Nazi state. Gather as many pieces of evidence together to show how Jews were harmed economically, socially and politically.

Remember that:
Economic factors impact money and wealth.
Social factors impact how people live their everyday lives.
– Political factors impact someone’s human and civil rights.

How were Jewish people persecuted in Nazi Germany?

There were 437,000 Jews in Germany – less than 1% of the population. Yet this group were relentlessly targeted by the Nazis as they were presented as an enemy to the Nazi state and its people. The timeline below outlines the main ways in which Jewish people were discriminated against by the Nazi state in Germany.

1923 – From the beginnings of the NSDAP, anti-Jewish propaganda was produced to persuade the people that Jews were ‘vermin’ and ‘filth’. This continued throughout the Nazi regime.

April 1933 – The SA organised a boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. They painted Jude (Jew) on windows and discouraged the public from entering and purchasing from them.
April 1933 – Jews were banned from entering politics and could not become judges. Jewish teachers were also sacked.
May 1933 – Books by Jewish authors were burnt.
September 1933 – Jewish people could no longer inherit land.

1934 – Jews were banned from public spaces, including parks, sports arenas and swimming pools. Special yellow park benches were made for Jews to use to keep other Germans ‘safe’.

May 1935 – Jews could no longer join the army.
June 1935 – Jewish restaurants were shut down across Germany.
September 1935 – The Nuremberg Laws were passed, which outlined a series of rules affecting Jews. Jews lost German citizenship, and could no longer hold a German passport. They became German ‘subjects’ rather than ‘citizens’, and were required to wear a yellow star-shaped patch on their arm. It also made the marriage between a Jewish German and a non-Jewish German illegal. Sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews became a criminal activity.

April 1936 – Further restrictions to the working lives of Jews was ordered. Jews could no longer work as vets, dentists, accountants or nurses.

September 1937 – More Jewish businesses are taken over by the Nazi state.

March 1938 – Jews had to register their possessions with the Nazi state, making them easier to confiscate if the Nazis felt it to be appropriate.
July 1938 – Jews were given identity cards to make it easier for the Nazi state to identify who was a Jew.
August 1938 – Jewish men were forced to add ‘Israel’ to their first name, whilst Jewish women were forced to add ‘Sarah’ to theirs.
October 1938 – Jews had the letter ‘J’ stamped on their passports.
November 1938 – After a German person was shot in the German embassy in Paris, Goebbels ordered the SS, SA and Gestapo to attack local synagogues and the Jewish houses. They were ordered to arrest as many Jews as the prisons could take, and not stop any member of the public from using violence against Jews. Some German people were horrified, but others joined in, and gangs of people targeted Jewish people and property on the 9 and 10 November. The damage was so bad that the event was called Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass).

April 1939 – All Jews were ordered to be evicted from their homes by the head of the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich. Jews were rounded up and placed in ghettos behind solid walls to keep them apart from other Germans.

June 1941 – Jews were rounded up from the ghettos and sent by train to concentration camps, where they were systematically murdered, mostly by poisonous gas. This act of genocide was known as the Holocaust.

TASK TWO: How were other minorities persecuted in Germany?

Jewish people faced the most systematic persecution in Nazi Germany. Yet other groups were also highly discriminated against as measures were placed against them.

Read the information below on who was persecuted and what happened to those groups. Complete the table below to explain why these minorities were persecuted against, and what happened to them in Nazi Germany.

How were other minorities persecuted in Nazi Germany?

Black people

Although not as many as France and Britain, Germany had historically held colonies in Africa. Some Africans (from Cameroon and Togo predominantly) had therefore made their home in Germany after fighting for Germany in World War 1. Hitler feared that this small number of black Germans would stop his ambition for ‘racial purity’.

There was also a slightly larger black community living in Western Germany – when France invaded the Rhineland in 1923, the French army used a number of its African soldiers to maintain peace in the area. A small number of these soldiers had mixed-race children with white German women. The Nazis coined these 600-800 children the ‘Rhineland bastards’, and regularly posted images of them in local newspapers to spread hatred and fear.

Pictures of the mixed-race children of the Rhineland. Notice how each is coined a ‘bastard’ below their picture.

The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 not only affected Jews; it included black people in the laws as well, meaning that black people ceased to be German citizens and could not marry white Germans.

Much like Jews, black Germans were removed from their education and struggled to find employed work. Black Germans were often told to be sterilised by the Nazis – some even had sterilisation forced upon them.


Homosexuality was seen as an act that lowered moral standards and tarnished the purity of the German race by Nazis.

The Nuremberg Laws strengthened laws against homosexuality. As a result, the numbers of homosexuals in prison increased from 766 men in 1934 to 8,000 in 1938. When they were released, many were sent to concentration camps and either shot or made to work until death. 5,000 homosexual men died in concentration camps.

The Nazis encouraged people with homosexual desires to voluntarily castrate (the removal of the genitals) themselves at doctors surgeries before they ‘broke the law’. It is unclear how many people followed that advise.

Roma travellers

There were around 26,000 Roma travellers in Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, yet they were referred to as ‘gypsies’ by the Nazi state. These people typically travelled from place to place to make a living. The Nazis despised this community as they believed they did not work hard enough or pay enough taxes: they were seen as a burden to Germany.

From 1933, many were arrested and placed into concentration camps. From 1936, some special ‘gypsy camps’ were set up for Roma travellers. One camp in Berlin had 600 travellers and just three water pipes.

From 1938, Roma travellers began to lose their German citizenships if they failed a ‘racial purity test’. Eventually, by 1939, orders were given to remove all Roma travellers from Germany all together.

People with disabilities

Disabled people were seen as a burden on society by the Nazis for two reasons: many could not work meaning that they ‘cost’ the state ‘too much’; and also they weakened the ‘racial purity’ of Germany.

In 1933, the Nazi Party released the Law for the Prevention of Hereditary Diseased Offspring. This meant that people with mental illnesses, alcoholics, or those with any deformities, epilepsy, deafness or blindness were forcibly sterilised. This led to the surgical sterilisation of 400,000 Germans by 1939.

In 1939, the Nazi party took this law further by ordering that any babies with severe mental or physical disabilities should be killed by starvation or lethal overdose. This was known as the T-4 Programme. This was extended further to include all children up to the age of 17. Over 5,000 disabled children were killed in this way.

This is a scene from The Pianist, a true story of the experiences of a Jewish man in Warsaw, Poland, which was occupied by the Nazis. This is probably the most hard-hitting way of understanding what the Nazis thought of disabled people.

TASK THREE: How useful are sources B and C for an enquiry into the persecution of Jews by the Nazi state between 1933 – 1939?

Remember to use your knowledge on how to write an 8-mark question from our previous lessons. Remember to discuss content, provenance and context – use your exam booklet! I have written a model answer for source B, so it’s up to you to finish off the answer for Source C.

SOURCE B: An extract of the Reich Citizenship Law, a law that made up part of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935:

‘Only a national of Germany or similar blood, who proves by his behaviour that he is willing and able loyally to serve the German people and the Reich is a citizen of the Reich. A Jew may not be a citizen of the Reich. He has no vote. He may not hold any public office’.

SOURCE C: A photograph of three SA officers blocking the entrance of a Jewish department store in Berlin encouraging shoppers to shop elsewhere. The sign reads Germans, defend yourselves. Don’t buy from Jews.


Source B shows that Jews in Germany were persecuted formally as they were stripped of their civil rights by Nazi law. This is shown as the source states that ‘a Jew may not be a citizen of the Reich’, stripping them of their voting power and ability to enter politics. Moreover, Source B also explains that Jews had very little chance of being protected by the law. This is demonstrated in the source as it states that both ‘blood’ and German ‘behaviour’ are needed to allow people to be German. The content of this source is therefore extremely useful for the enquiry as it implies that the Nazis totally removed the German Jewish population from the protection of the law.
The provenance of this source also very useful for the enquiry. This is because it comes directly from the word of the German law, meaning that the source is authentic. However, the source does not give light to whether or not this law was upheld by the Nazis, so it is not complete. Yet the fact this source was passed directly from the Nazis ensures this is a very reliable source.
Source B is also extremely useful because it is consistent with my knowledge. The Nuremberg Laws were a comprehensive set of laws that stripped Jews of their citizenship by denying them German passports, and also affected their social lives by denying marriage to non-Jews. These laws set up a precedent for further intolerance towards Jews: their requirement to report all their possessions in March 1938, and the addition of the letter ‘J’ to Jewish passports in October 1938 shows that the Nuremberg Laws were central to explaining how Jews were persecuted by the Nazi state. Source B is therefore extremely useful to the enquiry.

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