Nazis affix a sign to Jewish store urging shoppers not to patronize it, 1933. (German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons)

Nazi Germany 1933-1939: Early Stages of Persecution

How Hitler laid the groundwork for genocide.

Another consequence of Hitler’s ruthless dictatorship in the 1930s was the arrest of political opponents and trade unionists and others whom the Nazis labeled “undesirables” and “enemies of the state.” Some 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals were imprisoned in concentration camps; under the 1935 Nazi-revised criminal code, the mere denunciation of a man as “homosexual” could result in arrest, trial, and conviction. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who numbered at least 25,000 in Germany, were banned as an organization as early as April 1933, because the beliefs of this religious group prohibited them from swearing any oath to the state or serving in the German military. Their literature was confiscated, and they lost their jobs, unemployment benefits, pensions, and all social welfare benefits. Many Witnesses were sent to prisons and concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and their children were sent to juvenile detention homes and orphanages.

Refugees With No Place to Go

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939
Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939.

Between 1933 and 1936, thousand of people, mostly political prisoners, were imprisoned in concentrations camps, while several thousand German Roma were confined in special municipal camps. The first systematic round-up of German and Austrian Jews occurred after Kristallnacht, when approximately 30,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau and other concentration camps, and several hundred Jewish women were sent to local jails. The wave of arrests in 1938 also included several thousand German and Austrian Roma.

Between 1933 and 1939, about half of the German-Jewish population and more than two-thirds of Austrian Jews (1938-1939) fled Nazi persecution. They emigrated mainly to the United States, Palestine, elsewhere in Europe (where many would be later trapped by Nazi conquests during the war), Latin America, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai (which required no visas for entry). Jews who remained under Nazi rule were either unwilling to uproot themselves or unable to obtain visas, sponsors in host countries, or funds for emigration. Most foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and France, were unwilling to admit very large numbers of refugees.

Reprinted courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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