The Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) of 1935 were racist and antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany which were introduced at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg. They used a pseudoscientific basis to discriminate against Jews. The laws classified people as German if all four of their grandparents were of "German or kindred blood", while people were classified as Jews if they descended from three or four Jewish grandparents. A person with one or two Jewish grandparents was a Mischling, a crossbreed, of "mixed blood".

Background history

1935 chart from Nazi Germany used to explain the Nuremberg Laws. At the time of Hitler's assumption of power in 1933 less than one percent of the German population was Jewish. Nevertheless, antisemitism had been a major theme of Hitler's rhetoric for almost fifteen years and attacks on Jews increased after January 1933.

During the spring and summer of 1933, disenchantment with how the Third Reich had developed in practice as opposed to what had been promised had led to many in the Nazi Party, especially the Alte Kämpfer (Old Fighters; i.e those who joined the Party before 1930, and who tended to be the most ardent anti-Semites in the Party), and the SA into lashing out against Germany's Jewish minority as a way of expressing their frustrations against a group that the authorities would not generally protect. A Gestapo report from the spring of 1935 stated that the rank and file of the Nazi Party would "set in motion by us from below" a solution to the "Jewish problem", "that the government would then have to follow". As a result, Nazi Party activists and SA members started a major wave of assaults, vandalism and boycotts against German Jews. A conference of ministers was held on August 20, 1935 to discuss the negative economic effects of Party actions against Jews. Adolf Hitler, the Party representative at the conference, argued that such effects would cease, once the government decided on a firm policy against the Jews.

Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the Economics Minister, criticized arbitrary behavior by Party members as this inhibited his policy of rebuilding Germany's economy. It made no economic sense since Jews were believed to have certain entrepreneurial skills that could be usefully employed to further his policies. Schacht made no moral condemnation of Jewish policy and advocated the passing of legislation to clarify the situation. Following complaints from Dr. Schacht plus reports that the German public did not approve of the wave of anti-Semitic violence, and that continuing police toleration of the violence was hurting the regime's popularity with the wider public, Hitler ordered a stop to "individual actions" against German Jews on August 8, 1935. On August 20, 1935, the Interior Minister Dr. Wilhelm Frick threatened to impose harsh penalties on those Party members who ignored the order of August 8 and continued to assault Jews.

From Hitler's perspective, it was imperative to bring in harsh new anti-Semitic laws as a consolation prize for those Party members who were disappointed with Hitler's halt order of August 8, especially because Hitler had only reluctantly given the halt order for pragmatic reasons, and his sympathies were with the Party radicals.

The Nazi Party Rally held at Nuremberg in September 1935 had featured the first session of the Reichstag held at that city since 1543. Hitler had planned to have the Reichstag pass a law making the Nazi Swastika flag the flag of the German Reich, and a major speech in support of the impending Italian aggression against Ethiopia. However, at the last minute, the German Foreign Minister Baron Konstantin von Neurath persuaded Hitler to cancel his speech as being too provocative to public opinion abroad, thus leaving Hitler with the sudden need to have something else to address the historic first meeting of the Reichstag in Nuremberg since 1543, other than the Reich Flag Law. On September 13, 1935, Dr. Bernhard Lösener, the Interior Ministry official in charge of drafting anti-Semitic laws was hastily summoned to the Nuremberg Party Rally by plane together with another Interior Ministry official, Ministeralrat (Ministerial Counsellor) Franz Albrecht Medicus, to start drafting at once a law for Hitler to present to the Reichstag for September 15. Lösener and Medicus arrived in Nuremberg on the morning of September 14 and because of the short time available for the drafting of the laws, both measures were hastily improvised – there was even a shortage of drafting paper so that menu cards had to be used.

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