At the Nazi Party’s annual party meeting in Nuremberg on September 15, 1935, the German government announced two new laws: the Law to Protect German Blood and German Honor and the Reich Citizenship Law. These laws became known as the Nuremberg Laws. The first one prohibited marriage and extramarital sexual relations between Jews and citizens of “German or kindred blood.” The second law created the status of Reich citizen and limited it to people of “German or kindred blood.” Jews did not qualify. Thirteen additional decrees were added over the next eight years.
In order to distinguish Jews from citizens of German blood, the Nazis had to define a Jew. The First Supplementary Decree of the Reich Citizenship Law stated that a Jew was anyone who was descended from three Jewish grandparents who were themselves “racially full Jews.” A person who had two Jewish grandparents and either belonged to the Jewish religious community, was married to a Jew, or was the offspring of a marriage or extramarital relationship involving a Jew, was also considered Jewish.
The Reich Citizenship Law defined German citizens as someone of ‘German or kindred blood’ but just as significantly, it declared that citizenship privileges would only apply to those through their conduct, showing that they were “both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” Jews, and potentially all political opponents of the regime whether open or silent, would be considered merely “subjects of the state.”
There were no credible scientific criteria by which to prove Jewish identity. It did not matter if an individual practiced Judaism or identified themselves as Jewish. Traditional antisemitism that persecuted Jews on the basis of religious belief was not the concern of the law, blood was. Jews were to be conceived as members of a race, defined by blood and by lineage. Some Germans who were not born Jewish and who had never considered themselves Jews suddenly were. Even the descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity were now Jewish. In addition to the tangible impact of these laws, Jews were denied a number of civil rights; the right to vote, to be elected to office, to employ German women under 45 years of age in their homes, and to fly the German flag. There was also a psychological impact for Jews, the loss of identity.
The Nuremberg Laws defined Jews as inferior and as unworthy of citizenship, that most basic right from which all others flow. The Nuremberg race laws were the cornerstone of the legalized discrimination against, and persecution of Jews in Germany, despite their being no rational basis for the assumptions on which they were founded, nor in the arbitrary manner in which the laws were applied in practice.