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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


After Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, the Nazis conducted a campaign to "purge" German society. Those who could not be integrated into the new state were removed; German concentration camps became the repository for all "socially undesirable" elements, including communists, socialists, liberals, pacifists, homosexuals, the mentally retarded, and gypsies. Himmler's SS, to which the Gestapo was subordinated, became responsible for this process. Arrests were eventually extended to include Jews, a small minority, which had been made a scapegoat for Germany's problems.

Anti-Semitism, which had been emphasized by Austrian and German conservative political parties since the late nineteenth century, assumed a radical form under the Third Reich. The Aryan Paragraph of 1933 decreed that Jews could not hold civil service positions. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 legalized racist antiSemitism , deprived Jews of the right to citizenship, and restricted relationships between "Aryans" and Jews. These laws did, however, initially reduce random acts of violence against Jews on the streets. By 1938 Jews were not permitted to change their names and were restricted in their freedom of movement. After the Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) of November 9, 1938, during which acts of violence were perpetrated by Nazis against Jews in all parts of Germany, the persecution of Jews entered a new phase: random acts of violence were replaced by the systematic elimination of the Jewish population in Germany, numbering about 600,000 at that time.

During World War II, the SS filled the concentration camps with foreign nationals, Russian prisoners of war, and non-German Jews. After 1941 the number of camps and inmates increased more rapidly when the SS began to create extermination camps. NonJewish prisoners were assigned to forced labor and/or designated for liquidation; but the "final solution," the Nazi euphemism for genocide, called for the extermination of every Jew. Himmler's Special Duty Section (Sonderdienst--SD) took charge of the extermination camps. The SS carried out extermination by working victims to death, physical torture, medical experimentation, mass shootings, and gassing. The tempo of the mass murder of Jewish men, women, and children was accelerated toward the end of the war. Hitler's preoccupation with the "final solution" was so great that the transport of Jews was at times given preference over the transport of war matériel. Some authorities estimated that 6 million European Jews became victims of the Holocaust. A large number (4,565,000) of these victims came from Poland and the Soviet Union; about 125,000 German Jews were exterminated.

Data as of July 1987