The Nazis had long sought a legal definition that identified Jews not by religious affiliation but according to racial antisemitism. Jews in Germany were not easy to identify by sight. Many had given up traditional practices and appearances and had integrated into the mainstream of society. Some no longer practiced Judaism and had even begun celebrating Christian holidays, especially Christmas, with their non-Jewish neighbors. Many more had married Christians or converted to Christianity.
According to the Reich Citizenship Law and many clarifying decrees on its implementation, only people of “German or kindred blood” could be citizens of Germany. The law defined who was and was not a German, and who was and was not a Jew. The Nazis rejected the traditional view of Jews as members of a religious or cultural community. They claimed instead that Jews were a race defined by birth and by blood.
Despite the persistent claims of Nazi ideology, there was no scientifically valid basis to define Jews as a race. Nazi legislators looked therefore to family genealogy to define race. People with three or more grandparents born into the Jewish religious community were Jews by law. Grandparents born into a Jewish religious community were considered “racially” Jewish. Their “racial” status passed to their children and grandchildren. Under the law, Jews in Germany were not citizens but “subjects of the state.”
This legal definition of a Jew in Germany covered tens of thousands of people who did not think of themselves as Jews or who had neither religious nor cultural ties to the Jewish community. For example, it defined people who had converted to Christianity from Judaism as Jews. It also defined as Jews people born to parents or grandparents who had converted to Christianity. The law stripped them all of their German citizenship and deprived them of basic rights.
To further complicate the definitions, there were also people living in Germany who were defined under the Nuremberg Laws as neither German nor Jew, that is,...