Yoav Sapir
Yoav Sapir

“Privileged Jews”: Did the Nazis care so much?

In my last post, I described the Nazi distinction between normal Jews and “privileged” Jews married to “Aryan” spouses. This time I’d like to address a much more difficult question: What might have been the reason for giving those Jews significant privileges?

What makes this question so difficult is that there is no clear answer, at least not from an academic perspective.

Many people think that the Nazis documented everything and that it should therefore be easy to explain their motivation. Indeed, they documented many aspects of their crimes, but definitely not everything – and what they were documenting, was usually documented not for the sake of documentation itself or for the world to understand, but because it served the bureaucratic needs of their operations. So while it’s possible to find documentation about what was done and how it was done, explanations about why something was done (or avoided) are not as common. Sometimes, such issues were discussed in writing, while the Nazis were corresponding with each other, yet even these documents don’t always allow definite conclusions.

This is the case with the better treatment given to “privileged Jews” in Germany: The available documents present contradicting material. Unlike their popular image, the Nazis were not one monolithic block. Quite often the middle-ranking professionals were arguing, each from his own perspective, while the top-ranking politicians were avoiding decisions. So what do historians do when the evidence doesn’t speak with one voice? We have to interpret and speculate.

Very probably the Nazis weren’t thinking that such Jews, who were a part of an Arian family only by marriage, were in themselves different than other “fully Jewish” persons. The Nazi rules of racial classification were quite clear and did not take one’s spouse into consideration. Indeed, as soon as the German spouse of a privileged Jewish person died, the Jewish widow(er) became subject to the very same murderous policy like other Jews.

05 Nuremberg Laws

This Nazi chart was helping civil servants to understand and implement the racial classification that resulted from the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 (public domain)

The different treatment such privileged Jews were given did not result from a different racial classification, but from the situation they were in – namely the fact that they, as members of otherwise “Aryan” families, were much harder to exclude from the German public. Their children were not classified as normal Jews, but as “Mischlinge”, the Nazi term for those of a “mixed breed” – with only one or two Jewish grandparents (unlike the common misconception that the Nazis didn’t care about such distinctions, in Germany and in Western European countries they actually did). Moreover, the normal German relatives of Jews in mixed marriages, for example their brothers-in-law, were often soldiers, sometimes even officers.

From the Nazi perspective, all of these aspects turned this group of Jews into a very complicated matter, which had to be dealt with cautiously. Having learned a lesson from Germany’s experience in World War I, the Nazi regime was very eager to keep the “home front” happy and content. While deporting those that had already been isolated for years didn’t really upset the German public, this was not granted in reference to those who were still a part of an “Aryan” family.

Their relatively close ties with Germans could therefore explain – not with absolute certainty, but with some probability – why the Nazis did not include them in the deportations for a long time. It was a tactical measure that didn’t have so much to do with the privileged Jews as it did with their German relatives. While the Nazis didn’t care much for the well-being of the former group, they cared a lot about the latter and their level of support for the Nazi regime.

Since the children were classified as “Mischlinge”, the Nazis might have figured that it’s better to let time do its thing and just wait until the Jewish parent dies, either naturally or because of the war (they were not allowed into the air raid shelters). But it seems more probable that the Nazis always intended to deport and murder them at some point, while postponing this delicate issue until after they would have won the war (as explained in my previous post, the Nazis eventually tried to get it done shortly before the end).

There is one major exception though – a group of such privileged Jews that was actually arrested much before the end. Yet this is a story in itself, to be told in my next post.

Yoav Sapir is a guide with Berlin Jewish Tours. He studied German-Jewish history in Jerusalem, Vienna, Heidelberg and Berlin.

About the Author
Yoav Sapir is a guide with Berlin Jewish Tours. He studied German-Jewish history in Jerusalem, Vienna, Heidelberg and Berlin.
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