The Nuremberg Laws: a summary

On 15 September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were instituted in Nazi Germany. Since Hitler’s rise to power in early 1933, Jews in German society had been subjected to increasingly discriminatory legislation, which mainly restricted their public rights. The Nuremberg Laws, however, went further still in alienating the Jewish population from mainstream society, segregating them on racial grounds and even dictating on private relationships. Eighty-three years on, the laws serve as a stark reminder of how persecutory state policy ultimately escalated into one of the largest genocides in human history.

The Protection of German Blood and Honour

Nuremberg was the medieval Bavarian city in which the Nazis held their annual party rallies. Famed for their scale and spectacle, these rallies were showcases of German nationalism and opportunities to publicly present new legislation. At the 1935 rally, the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour were announced, which together became known as the Nuremberg Racial Laws.

c Nuremberg Laws
A chart of the different permutations of ‘Jewishness’ under the Nuremberg Laws. The white circles denote ‘German blood’, the black circles Jewish.

Under these laws, a system was devised that defined whether a person was Jewish according to their ancestry, rather than their religious beliefs and practices. Anybody with at least three Jewish grandparents, or with just two Jewish grandparents but who was religious or married to a Jew, was now deemed wholly Jewish under Nazi law. Everyone categorized as such was stripped of their German citizenship, disenfranchised, and forbidden to marry or to have sexual liaisons with non-Jews. An extension of the laws in November 1935 also made it illegal for Roma or people of black ethnicity to have relationships with gentile Germans

Full Jew or Partial Jew?


The Nuremberg Laws also determined who was a Mischling, or part-Jew. Two Jewish grandparents made you a first degree Mischling, while one Jewish grandparent resulted in a second degree categorization. These definitions meant that over 1.5 million people in Germany were considered either full Jews or Mischlinge in 1935 – approximately 2.3 per cent of the population. Many people who had never practiced Judaism and who considered themselves ethnically German were now declared members of a supposedly inferior, non-German racial group.

Although there were brief reprieves in the negativity directed at the Jewish community during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Nuremberg Laws marked a dangerous shift in Nazi racial policy. Persecution intensified as the 1930s progressed and within a decade had escalated to the physical annihilation of millions of human beings, in what is now known as the Holocaust. For many, the categorizations of Jewishness established in the Nuremberg Laws were pivotal in determining their ultimate fate.

Learn more: The Holocaust: History in an Hour

An earlier version of this article was originally published on the History in an Hour blog: 

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