Before The Holocaust
The Jews had faced discrimination long before the Holocaust began. Anti-Semitism (discrimination against Jews) has existed since ancient times. In many cities, the Jews were forced to live in separate communities called ghettos. They had to pay special taxes, and they were not permitted to own land or to enter certain occupations.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party, became head of the German government in 1933. He rapidly moved to make himself a dictator. Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918) and a worldwide depression in the early 1930's had left the country's economy in ruins. Hitler held responsible the Jews for Germany's troubles, and he made anti-Semitism a government policy.
On April 1, 1933, Hitler's government sponsored a nationwide embargo of Jewish stores and other businesses. In the next several months, the government passed a number of laws that banned Jews from specific occupations. Jews were excluded from civil service, for example, and from the fields of schooling and culture, and they could no longer farm the land.
The Nuremberg laws of 1935 stripped Jews of citizenship. Jews were banned to wed non-Jews. The laws set forth definitions of who was a Jew and who was a part-Jew, also known as a Mischling (mixed blood). For example, a person who had at least three Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jew. Someone with one Jewish grandparent might be classified as a Mischling.
In the next three years, the Nazi government persistent to deny Jews of their rights and possessions. Jews could not sit on park benches or swim in public pools. The government apprehended Jewish businesses as well as personal belongings. The prejudice was an effort to force Jews to emigrate so Germany would be free of Jews. Thousands of Jews did leave the country, though they were allowed to take little with them. But many Jews were trapped because other countries would not admit them in large numbers.
The Nazi persecution reached a new height on Nov. 9, 1938. Beginning that night and ongoing for about 24 hours, Nazis shattered thousands of Jewish-owned businesses and burned most synagogues in Germany and Austria. They beat Jews in the streets and attacked them in their homes. They killed dozens of Jews. They arrested about 30,000 Jews and sent them to concentration camps (camps for political prisoners). The night became known as Kristallnacht, a German word meaning Crystal Night. In English, it is called the Night of Broken Glass.