Berlin, Germany April 8, 1940

On this date, April 8, 1940, when Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich was at the top of its game (the occu­pa­tion of Den­mark and the inva­sion of Norway were a day away), the German Fuehrer issued his order regarding the “hand­ling of Jewish mixed-breeds in the German armed forces” (Behand­lung juedischer Misch­linge in der Wehr­macht). Purging full-Jews (Voll­juden) from the mili­tary had begun in 1934. Until at least 1941 the Wehr­macht drafted many par­tially Jewish men in spite of Hitler’s calling these men “blood sins” and “mon­strosi­ties.” But April’s order upped the price paid by ser­vice­mem­bers having even a trace of “Jewish blood” in their veins or in those of their family. The order stated that all half-Jewish sol­diers and all sol­diers married to a Jewess or half-Jewess be imme­diately dis­charged from all branches of the Wehr­macht. Quarter-Jews and those married to quarter-Jews could remain in the ser­vice but were inel­i­gi­ble to become either com­mis­sioned or non­commissioned officers without Hitler’s approval.

This order likely flabber­gasted seve­ral thou­sand full-Jews as well as 60,000 half-Jews and 90,000 quarter-Jews (so-called Misch­linge, or “par­tial” Jews) then serving in the Wehr­macht. But seriously, it shouldn’t have shocked them. Ever since April 7, 1933, when compli­ant Reichs­tag mem­bers passed the Civil Ser­vice Restora­tion Act (Berufs­beamten­gesetz), also known as the Aryan Act, Germans who were even a quarter Jewish (attested by the Arier­nach­weis, the required gene­al­ogical proof of Aryan [Cau­ca­sian] ances­try that intruded into all areas of German life) could not serve as teachers, profes­sors, judges, or hold other govern­ment positions. Dozens upon dozens of non-govern­ment profes­sions were added to the off-limits list. As bizarre as it was, the gene­al­ogical proof of Aryan ances­try depended on Germans providing author­ities with birth, baptis­mal, and mar­riage and death certif­i­cates, in other words religious records kept by parish offices and Jewish syna­gogues and com­mu­nity centers and to some extent records from the civil registry office, before they were issued their precious Ariernachweis.

The vicious raft of discrim­i­na­tory and repres­sive legis­la­tion directed against people of Jewish descent culmi­nated in the 1935 Nurem­berg Laws (Nuern­berger Gesetze) “for the final sepa­ration of Jewry from the German Volk” (racial com­mu­nity) (see YouTube video below). Belatedly the Wehr­macht jumped on board with its April 8, 1940, order: thou­sands of patriotic service­men—from field marshals to Land­ser (privates)—were sum­marily dis­missed unless they were “Aryanized” and issued a “Certif­i­cate of German Blood” (Deutsch­bluetigkeits­erklaerung) by Hitler. It should be noted that Aryani­za­tion did not confer that status on family mem­bers. Spouse and chil­dren were still required by law to wear the Star of David on their per­sons; thus, they stood a very good chance of being sucked into the black hole of the Holo­caust, where survival was iffy at best.

This perverse race- and identity-based Theater of the Absurd had un­toward reper­cus­sions for Nazi Germany’s mili­tary and eco­nomy, to say nothing for com­mu­nity (Gemein­schaft) and cul­ture (e.g., arts and liter­a­ture, values, reli­gion, and social orga­ni­za­tion). Iron­i­cally, had the Nazis not sent mil­lions of people of Jewish heri­tage to death fac­tories in Poland and mil­lions more Jews, par­tial Jews, and non-Jews (e.g., Slavs, Poles, Roma [Gypsies], Jehovah Wit­nesses, liberals, socialists, homo­sexuals, and asocials) to slave labor camps to die of dis­ease, work exhaus­tion, and sum­mary exe­cu­tions then the vic­tims of injus­tice, preju­dice, and hatred might have been avail­able to ease war­time Germany’s man­power and intel­lec­tual/­scien­tific short­ages for the nation’s bene­fit. Instead, the Nazis and their vas­sal states and occup­ied terri­tories dis­patched mil­lions of the Reich’s tar­geted minor­i­ties to a cruel, trau­ma­tizing, and hellish exist­ence, an in­hu­mane end to human life, or both in Nazi Germany’s final years of existence.

Denying the Personhood of Jews in Nazi Germany

Anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws: 1935 chart explaining Nuremberg race categories

Above: The anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws estab­lished a pseudo­scien­tific basis for racial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and with it state-sanctioned or state-sponsored social, polit­i­cal, and profes­sional ostra­cism, harass­ment, and oppres­sion. In their most warped and destruc­tive form, Nazi racial laws even­tually made it think­able to murder 6 mil­lion people of Jewish ances­try on an indus­trial scale, quite apart from murdering mil­lions of non-Germans. As shown in this chart from 1935, only people with four German grand­parents (four empty circles in top row left) were of “German blood” (deutsch­bluetig) and thus Aryans. A Jew (Jude, pl. Juden) was some­one who descended from three or four Jewish grand­parents (black circles in top row right). Stranded in a racial no-man’s land between Jews and Aryans were “Jewish mixed-breeds” (Misch­linge) of the “first or second degree” (1 Grades, 2 Grades). A Jewish grand­parent was defined as a per­son who is or was a mem­ber of a Jewish relig­ious com­munity. (Strangely, non-practicing Jews as most Misch­linge were raised to be, Chris­tians who had con­verted to Juda­ism, and Jews who had con­verted to Chris­tian­ity were all con­sidered mem­bers of the Jewish reli­gious com­mu­nity bio­log­i­cally and socially under the law.) The chart went on to list allowed mar­riages (“Ehe gestattet”) and forbidden marriages (“Ehe verboten”).

Hitler’s order dismissing partial Jewish soldiers from Wehrmacht, April 8, 1940Field Marshal and half-Jew Erhard Milch

Left: Copy of Hitler’s secret order of April 8, 1940, which called for the dis­mis­sal of all half-Jews from the Wehr­macht. The order was trans­mitted by the head of the Ober­kom­mando (Supreme Leader) der Wehr­macht and de facto War Minister of Nazi Germany between 1937 and 1945, General Field Marshal Wil­helm Keitel. Few soldiers were foolish enough to protest their dismissal. In 1944 these former sol­diers, as well as non­veteran half-Jews, were swept up and deported to slave labor camps.

Right: Photo of second in command of the Luftwaffe, Field Marshal and half-Jew Erhard Milch (1892–1972). During most of World War II, Milch was in charge of all air­craft pro­duc­tion, arma­ment, and supply, with the impres­sive title General­luftzeug­meister. Rumors of Milch’s Jewish herit­age began to circu­late in the fall of 1933. The Gestapo (German Secret State Police) was called in to inves­ti­ga­te but was stopped by Milch’s boss, Her­mann Goering, Luft­waffe com­man­der in chief. “I decide who is a Jew in the air force,” Goering said. Milch was hastily issued with a “Certif­i­cate of German Blood” signed by Hitler. Milch played a key role in the exploi­ta­tion of Jewish slave labor for the lethal bene­fit of the German air­craft indus­try and the Luft­waffe. Con­victed of war crimes and crimes against human­ity in a U.S. mili­tary court in 1947, he was sen­tenced to life imprison­ment but was paroled in 1954.

1933 Anti-Semitic Laws Enshrined in 1935 Nuremberg Race Laws