Jewish emigration

Painting: Felix Nussbaum, Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card
Selbstbildnis mit Judenpass (Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card) by the painter Felix Nussbaum, 1943

Jewish emigration

Jewish emigration involved people from a very heterogeneous population group. They often had little in common except the fact of their Jewish identity as asserted, or rather, alleged by the Nazi regime. The racial policies of the Nazis assigned numerous people the label of “Jewish” who themselves did not identify with Judaism in the least. This caused a conflict of identity for many assimilated Jews who considered Germany to be their homeland. 

Precise information regarding the number of Jewish emigrants is not available because neither German nor Jewish authorities or organisations recorded comprehensive data for this purpose. According to estimates, in the period from 1933 to 1945, between 250,000 and 300,000 Jews and those persecuted as Jews left Germany. The largest wave of emigration was triggered by the pogroms of November 1938: between 33,000 and 40,000 people emigrated from Germany in 1938. In 1939 the number of Jewish emigrants was between 75,000 and 80,000.

As of 23 October 1941 there was a ban on emigration. In September 1941 there were only 75,816 Jews within the limits of the “Old Reich”. The systematic mass deportation of German Jews to the East began from October 15, 1941. Extermination camps with gas chambers were put into operation from March 1942. Jews and those persecuted as Jews were murdered immediately after their arrival there.

With regard to Jewish emigration from Germany, the Nazi state pursued contradictory policies. On the one hand the Nazi regime forced emigration until the early years of the war. Laws that aimed to drive out of Jews from cultural, scientific and economic life were supposed to encourage the Jewish population to emigrate. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service of 7 April 1933 sharply curtailed the career opportunities for Jews.

The Nuremberg laws, which were passed on 15 September 1935, formed the basis for the anti-Jewish policies and took away civil rights from Jewish people. Works by Jewish artists were often slandered as “degenerate”. Their art was removed from museums and public collections and performing artists were banned from performing. At the same time numerous taxes and export regulations prevented emigration and left most people almost penniless at the time of their departure. The main destinations of Jewish emigration were Palestine, Britain and the United States. 

Further reading:
Krohn, Claus-Dieter (Hg.): Jüdische Emigration. Zwischen Assimilation und Verfolgung, Akkulturation und Jüdischer Identität. München: Edition text + kritik 2001
Krohn, Claus-Dieter (Hg.): Das Jüdische Exil und andere Themen. München: Edition text + kritik 1986
Rosenstock, Werner: Exodus 1933-1939. A Survey of Jewish Emigration from Germany. In Leo Baeck Journal, 1956, S. 373-390