The persecution of minorities

Hitler and the Nazis had firm views on race. They believed that certain groups were inferior and were a threat to the purity of the Aryan race. There were many groups who were targeted for persecution, including Slavs (Eastern Europeans), gypsies, homosexuals and the disabled - but none more so than the Jews.

Nazi racial beliefs

Image showing a man having his nose measured during Aryan race determination tests under Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws that was applied to determine whether a person was considered a 'Jew'.

The Nazis’ racial philosophy taught that Aryans were the master race and that some races were ‘untermensch’ (sub-human). Many Nazi scientists at this time believed in eugenics, the idea that people with disabilities or social problems were degenerates whose genes needed to be eliminated from the human bloodline. The Nazis pursued eugenics policies vigorously.

Policy of persecution

  • Sterilisation - In order to keep the Aryan race pure, many groups were prevented from reproducing. The mentally and physically disabled, including the deaf, were sterilised, as were people with hereditary diseases.
  • Euthanasia - Between 1939 and 1941 over 100,000 physically and mentally disabled Germans were killed in secret, without the consent of their families. Victims were often gassed - a technique that was later used in the death camps of the Holocaust.
  • Concentration camps - Homosexuals, prostitutes, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies, alcoholics, pacifists, beggars, hooligans and criminals were often rounded up and sent away to camps. During World War Two 85 per cent of Germany's gypsies died in these camps.

The Nazis’ persecution of the Jews

The group most heavily targeted for persecution by the Nazis were the Jews of Germany. The outbreak of World War Two brought the horror of mass killings and the Final Solution, but the period 1933 saw a gradual increase in persecution, reaching a turning point during Kristallnacht in November 1938:


  • Nazis organised a boycott of Jewish businesses.
  • Books by Jewish authors were publicly burnt.
  • Jewish civil servants, lawyers and teachers were sacked.
  • Race science lessons were introduced, teaching that Jews were sub-human.


The Nuremberg Laws formalised anti-Semitism into the Nazi state by:

  • Stripping Jews of German citizenship.
  • Outlawing marriage and sexual relations between Jews and Germans.
  • Taking away from Jews all civil and political rights.


  • Jews could not be doctors.
  • Jews had to add the name Israel (men) or Sarah (women) to their name.
  • Jewish children were forbidden to go to school.
  • Kristallnacht - 9 November. The SS organised attacks on Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues in retaliation for the assassination of the German ambassador to France by a Jew.
Many Jews saw the events of Kristallnacht as a turning point. Up until then there had been a progressive erosion of their rights but Jews had not been physically threatened or attacked. When their businesses and homes were destroyed and their synagogues were burnt down, many concluded that their time in Germany was up. Those who were able to fled and a scheme to evacuate Jewish children to Britain, called the Kindertransport, began.


  • Jews were forbidden to own a business, or even a radio

By the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939, the Jews were stateless, their employment options in Germany were severely restricted and they feared for their safety.

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