Although six million Jews perished during the Second World War, they weren't the only social group to be deemed 'unworthy' by Hitler's regime. Here, Dr Lisa Pine, lecturer in Modern History at the South Bank University, London, examines the other social outcasts.
Hitler's accession to power in January 1933 had a significant impact upon German society. The new Nazi regime sought to create a 'national community', whose members or 'national comrades' had to be 'racially pure', 'hereditarily healthy', socially responsible and politically reliable. Many sectors of the population were excluded from the 'national community'. Of these, the Jews comprised the largest group. They were considered to be 'racially inferior' and were excluded from society on racial grounds. Other groups of victims included the Gypsies, homosexuals and 'asocials'. These groups experienced persecution ranging from social exclusion to mass murder.
The Jews were persecuted by the Nazi regime from its very earliest days in power. The National Boycott of Jewish Businesses in April 1933 was designed to segregate the Jews from the rest of German society. The Nuremberg Laws passed in September 1935 denied Jews their equal civil rights and prohibited marriages and sexual relationships between Jews and 'Aryans'. Throughout the mid-1930s, many other measures were employed and laws passed to humiliate the Jews and separate them from the rest of the population.
The Night of the Broken Glass in November 1938 witnessed unprecedented violence and the destruction of almost every synagogue in the land. During the war, the situation of Germany's Jews deteriorated even more, as they were deprived of whatever rights and dignity they had left. In September 1941, they were obliged to wear the 'Yellow Star' and were subsequently deported to the death camps in Poland, where they shared the fate of the rest of European Jewry in the Nazis' systematic extermination process, termed the 'Final Solution'. In all, six million Jews perished in the Holocaust.
The Gypsies remained forgotten victims of Nazism for many decades. The Gypsies were excluded from society on grounds of their 'racial inferiority' and their itinerant lifestyle. Similarly to the Jews, they had been subjected to discrimination over many centuries, but once the Nazis came to power, the persecution of the Gypsies was centralised and policies against them became increasingly radicalised. There were approximately 35,000 Gypsies living in Germany.
In 1936, the National Central Office for Combating the Gypsy Nuisance was established. By the end of 1938, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was calling for a 'solution to the Gypsy question' and in May 1940, 2,500 German Gypsies were rounded up and sent to Poland. In December 1942, Himmler signed the order to send the rest of Germany's Gypsies to Auschwitz. The Nazis also called for the destruction of the Gypsy populations throughout Europe. Estimates of the number of Gypsies who perished in the Gypsy genocide vary from 250,000 to over 1,000,000.
Homosexuals were persecuted by the Nazi regime on grounds of their 'deviant' sexual behaviour. Whilst homosexuality had been illegal in Germany since 1871, under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, which made 'indecent activity' between males a crime punishable by imprisonment, there were relatively few convictions before the Nazis came to power.
There had even been calls for a repeal of Paragraph 175 during the Weimar era. In 1935, the Nazis added Paragraph 175a to the Criminal Code, which made penalties for homosexual acts harsher. Prosecution meant imprisonment for three to ten years. Raids on homosexual bars and meeting places were stepped up and the Gestapo (the secret state police) made lists of homosexuals in order to facilitate their arrest. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 homosexuals ended up in Nazi concentration camps. They were forced to wear the 'Pink Triangle' and were subjected to much abuse, from both guards and fellow inmates.
The term 'asocial' was applied to tramps, vagrants and the 'workshy' on grounds of their lack of productivity and use to society. The Nazi regime attempted to remove 'asocials' from society. In an organised raid in September 1933, known as 'Beggars' Week', some 100,000 tramps and vagrants were taken into custody, although most were subsequently released. However, vagrants became subject to more and more restrictions.
They were registered and their movements were recorded. In June 1938, the 'National Campaign against the Workshy' resulted in the internment of some 11,000 'asocials' in concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald, where they undertook compulsory labour. Although attempts to pass a law against 'asocials' were not realised, the Nazi regime continued to round them up throughout the wartime period and continued to persecute them without the need for any formal legislation.
In conclusion, the Nazis wanted to create a pure and perfect 'national community'. Several sections of society did not fit into this conception - especially the Jews, the Gypsies, homosexuals and 'asocials'. The Nazi regime undertook a variety of measures to deal with those groups that it regarded as 'racially inferior', sexually deviant, unfit or unproductive. These polices ranged from social exclusion, to internment in concentration camps and forced labour, to mass murder or genocide.