In the second chapter of Immigrant Soldier, Herman speeds toward home on his motorcycle, his mind a swirl of thoughts.

He knew it was finally time for him to make a move, but he had no idea how to escape. He was without a passport and no longer considered a citizen of the German nation. He had been declared a Jew, even though he had never worn a yarmulke, lit a Hanukkah candle, or set foot in a synagogue. He knew nothing of Jewish culture or religion, but all four of his grandparents had been Jews long ago, and now that was all that counted in the Third Reich.”

How did Herman and millions of other German citizens of Jewish heritage lose their civil rights overnight?

The formation of a purely Aryan German nation and racial cleansing through active anti-Semitism were key ideals of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi party) from its founding in 1919. From the first days of their takeover of power in 1933, the Nazi Party, with Hitler in the forefront, began to implement these ideas.

For the first two years of the regime, the discrimination of Jews and other undesirables (Gypsies, Communists, the mentally and physically handicapped, and habitual law-breakers) proceeded rapidly. German society became rife with book burnings, Jewish business boycotts, state-mandated sterilization of people with hereditary defects, random arrests, and ugly, newspaper articles against Jews. But Hitler wanted the actions against Jews and his racial ideology to be structured and controlled by law.

At the seventh annual party rally in Nuremberg, held in mid-September 1935, he made sure the laws he wanted were written and passed. These laws, formulated under Hitler’s express command and oversight, are known as “The Nuremberg Race Laws. “ Two race laws were unanimously passed by the Reichstag on September 15.

“The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor” consisted of 7 articles, as follows:

  1. Marriage between Jews and citizens of pure German blood were forbidden and any unions undertaken abroad in order to circumvent the law were also invalid.
  2. Extramarital relations between Jews and citizens of pure German blood were forbidden.
  3. To employ females of German blood under the age of 45 was now illegal for Jewish households.
  4. Jews were forbidden to fly the Reich and the German national flag.
  5. Any person who broke these laws was subject to imprisonment or fine or both.
  6. The Reich Minister of the Interior would issue legal definitions of what constituted a Jew in order to implement and/or supplement these laws.
  7. This law would take effect on September 16 (the following day), except for section 3 which would take effect on January 1, 1936. This exception was certainly to ameliorate the financial hardship of the many young Aryan maids and housekeepers put out of their jobs as a result of the new law—not out of any consideration for the inconvenience to Jewish households.


The second race law targeted citizenship and consisted of three articles:

  1. A German citizen was defined as one who belonged to the German Reich, had obligations to the Reich, and was awarded that status by the Reich.
  2. A German citizen could only be a person of German or kindred blood and one who showed he was desirous and personally fit to serve the German Reich. Full rights of citizenship (for example, voting and holding political office) were available only to those deemed by the Reich to be citizens.
  3. Further laws would be enacted by the Reich Minister of the Interior to meet the needs of legal and administrative enforcement.


The next hurdle was to define Jewishness as it would be seen under Nazi law. This process took another two months. After much discussion with his advisors, Hitler rejected the hardline attitude of a few medical Eugenicists in favor of the more moderate ideas of politicians who advised him to proceed carefully in order to placate the many Aryan families who had Jewish relatives as a result of decades of intermarriage. When the first supplementary decree was issued on November 14, 1935, it supplied the definition of a Jew needed for law-enforcement.

The definitions it codified were detailed and complicated. They were presented in seven multifaceted articles that defined all grades and mixtures of being Jewish and of intermarriage. They also allowed for pre-existing citizenship for persons of mixed German and Jewish blood, the pensioning and retirement of Jewish officials and military personnel, and the revocation of citizenship and the granting of special dispensations issued by the Führer himself.

The core for the law was in its definitions. A Jew was defined as a person who descended from three or four grandparents who were fully Jews. Additionally, a person was classified as a Jew if he was descended from only two Jewish grandparents if he was also a member of the Jewish religious community, was married to a Jew, was the child of a mixed marriage between a Jew and an Aryan, or was the out-of-wedlock child of a mixed relationship. A person of mixed Jewish blood was defined as someone descended from one or two fully Jewish grandparents. Interestingly, the law defined a full-blooded Jewish grandparent as one who belonged to the Jewish religious community. Apparently, it was not seen as an irony that religious criteria was translated in two generations into a racial definition.

Further directives later defined more clearly the varying status of mixed Jewish blood. These definitions became so complicated, changeable, and fraught with emotional and life-changing consequences that they are worth a blog post of their own.

All of this took place before the opening chapter of Immigrant Soldier. In November 1938, as Herman races across the countryside, his head spinning with plans for escape from Germany, he has already lost his German citizenship based on the religious connections of his grandparents. He carries in his pocket his government identity papers, something required of anyone living in Nazi Germany. But his papers are stamped with a large red J to alert anyone who looks at them that he is a Jew with no rights and vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

This chart was used to clarify the details of racial inheritence as set up by the Nuremberg Laws.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *