The Holocaust in Germany: Jewish Property

seizing Jewish property
Figure 1.--This was the final step in the NAZI theft of Jewish property. The family from this Hanau home has been deported to the ghettoes mostly located in Poland. Hanau is located in Hesse (central Germany). The ghettoes by 1942 were being emptied out by transports to the death camps. Some of the transports went directly to the death camps. Here at the family home, their remaining possessions were being auctioned off to neighbors. Bargain Hunters have gathered for the auction of the possessions left in the home after the family departed. One of the important questions concerning the Holocaust was the level of complicity. Notice how the boys in the front of the crowd are having a good time. And give the size and composition of the crowd, these are neighbiors, and before the NAZIS some probably friends, who knew the family whose possessions they are now acquiring. These are not SA strormtroopers or high-level BAZIS, they are everyday Germans. Images like this suggest a rather high level of complivcity. Of course not all these peoples knew Jews were being killed, But by 1942 many Germans were aware that killing was going on.

The NAZIs upon seizing power in Germany could not act as they did in the countries they occupied. Germany had laws and unilt they were firmly in power they could not be all ignored. After the brief boycott of Jewish businesses and the dismisal of Jewish governmrnt employees, no major economic actions were against the Jews. Hitler had other priorities. Seizing Jewish priority was, howver, enticing. For the first few years this was done by seizing the property of Jews who emigrated. This was done primarily by restricting what the Jews leaving Germany could carry with them. Very strict limits were placed on the amount of cash and value of property. The mechanism was the Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich Flight Tax). During the first six years of NAZI power before the War (1933-39), more than 400 Reich (national) decrees and regulations that restricted all aspects of their public and private lives. Many involved employment, business, and prperty. In additiin to Reich actions, but gthere were also state (Landen), regional, and municipal actions. These local officials acted on their own initiatives issued a barrage of exclusionary decrees in their own communities. Thus hundreds of individuals at all levels of government were involved in the persecution of Jews and the theft of their property. No part of Germany was left untouched by these measures. As a result after Kristalnacht, the NAZIs had schieved their goal of excludingb Jews from German society and the economy sand the theft of most of their property. And the strategies and procedures for doing this were ready for application in occupied countries as the Wehrmacht gained stunning victories, gaining control over much of Europe (1939-42).

Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich Flight Tax)

Seizing Jewish priority was, howver, enticing. For the first few years this was done by seizing the property of Jews who emigrated. This was done primarily by restricting what the Jews leaving Germany could carry with them. Very strict limits were placed on the amount of cash and value of property. The mechanism was the Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich Flight Tax). Jews leaving Germany had to pay stiff levys to obtain permission. This actually was not a NAZI invention. It was enacted duruing the last stage of the Weimar Republic in the Depression crisis (1931). The goal was to prevent capital flight--the drain of cash and gold. The NAZIs did not create the Reichsfluchtsteuer, but they used it to a far greater extent and significantly raised the tax, after revisung it several times. The tax was increased to 25 per cent of domestic wealth, which had to be paid in cash or gold. By 1938, Jews had to most of their cash in a SS-controlled bank. Huge sums were collected. Before the NAZIs the Reichsfluchtsteuer did not even generate 1 million Reichsmarks (1932). This reached 342 million Reichsmarks (1938).

Civil Service (April 1933)

The first major NAZI action with economic consequences was a for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (April 7, 1933). Jews and the 'politically unreliable' were dismissed from yhe civil service. This was the first use of the Aryan Paragraph, a regulation used to exclude Jews and usually other 'non-Aryans' from organizations, professions, and other aspects of public life. This would become firmly inbedded in German law by the subsequent Nuremberg Race Laws (1935).

The Professions (April 1933)

Decrees began restricting 'Jewish activity' in the medical, financial, and legal professions. A series of decrees subsequently made it impossible for Jews to practice medicine or the law. Jewish dioctors coukld not be reimburse by public health insurance funds. The city of Berlin prohiobited Jewish lawyers and notaries to work on legal matters. The mayor of Munich stopped Jewish doctors from treating non-Jewish patients. The Bavarian Interior (Police) Ministry prohibited Jewish students from entering medical school. The klicenses to oractice mediene sndcthevlw would be csncelled. The Government revoked the licenses of Jewish tax consultants.

The Arts (1934)

The Government prohibited Jewish actors from performing in theaters and the miovies. Goebbels as Propagabnda Minister basuically controlled both radio and movuie production. He also exerted ciontrol over newspapers and publishing houses meanung Jewish journmslidsts and authors could no longer work.

Jewish Charities

Youth Grouos

Assaults on Jewish Businessmen

Other avenues were pursued aginst against Jews still in Germany. SA Stormtoopers were posted outside Jewish businesses discouraged customers from entering. This adversely affected patronage, sales and revenue. The NAZIs also contacted suppliers and wholesalers and Jewish store owners found themselves without stock. NAZI officials who had contol of Governmnt raised taxes. Private individuals raised rentals. This led to bankruptsy or sales in desperation.


The dismissal og Jewish civil servants and the restrictions on professiinal actuivuity nmeant that Jews had to seek employment in manual labor or menial positions. It waa a little more complicated firing the many Jewish employees of private concerns. The Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front, DAF) changed that. The DAF issued work-books to all members with details on each worker's employment record. Workers could not obtain jobs without a DAF work book. And Jews were excluded from the DAF. Thus very quickly in NAZI Germany, Jews at all levels of society found it increasingly difficult to make a living and support their families.

Nurembrg Race Laws (1935)

Gradually laws were enacted which provided legal processes for Arayanization, stealing Jewish property. This was facilitated by the Nuremberg Race Laws (September 1935) which stripped Jews of their citizenship. They also defined just who Jews were. They were defined not only by religious belief but by etnicity (ancestry). This eased the problem of isolating Jews and separating them from national life. These laws would proivide cornerstone of NAZI racial policy. Their adoption provided the legal basis for a new wave of antisemitic legislation. German court judges andclawyers could not cite legal commentaries or opinions written by Jews. Most Jewish officers were dismissed from the Army, but not the Nacvy. Jewish university students were not allowed to sit for their doctoral exams.

Four Year Plan (1936)

The Four Year Plan was an economic plan modeled on the Soviet Stalinist FIve Year Plans ordered by Adolf Hitler to support the massive rearmament program already underway. Financial genius Hjalmar Schacht as Minister Ecoonmics and Plenipotenitary of Rearmament became increasingly concerned about the huge and growing defecits. Hitler put Herman Göring, who could care less about defucuts, in chsrge of the Four Year Plan. Göring was also made a Reich Plenipotentiary, meaning thst his authority cut across the responsibilities of several cabinet ministries, including the minister of Economics, the Defense Minister and the Minister of Agriculture. His assignment was to orienht the German ecionomy primarily to produce arms and to cut through any neaurcratic resistance to that goal. The Four Year Plan gave Göring the the authority to allocate raw material (1936). The primary purpose was to make sure that scarce raw materials, much of which had to be imported, went primarily for rearmament. Unlike domestic purchases, this required the use of scarce foreign exchange. Control of raw material also provided a weapon which could be used against Jewish budinessmen who were denied allocations.

Impact (1937)

As a result of the various NAZI actions against Jews, thousands of Jewishh businesses erre forced to close orentb bankrupt. Of the approximately 100,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany when Hitler seized power, within 5 years only about one-third were still in Jewish hands. This was, however, not enough for most NAZIs. Jewish businessmen were also affected by ovral NAZI economic policy. Many Smaller German businnes alsio closed during this period. [Tooze] br>

Further Actions (1938)

They wanted a total exclusion of Jews from German ecomomic life. NAZI officals applied the final pressure on Jewish business owners (March 1938). The Government no longer sign contacts or do busineess with Jews businessmen. Jewish businesses were no longer able to qualify for public contracts, tax incentives, access to government services, raw materials, or foreign exchange. The result was that Jewuish busineesmen could no longer function in Germany. They had to close or sell out for a pittence. Corporations expelled Jewish directors. Jews could not hold corporate stock. In June and July 1938, Jewish stores in German cities (Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hanover, and other cities) were picketed and painted wuith anti-Jewish grafuitti and Stars of David, severely affecting their operatiomn (June-July 1938). Party officials demanded seizure and transfer to Party members. Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, wanted Jewish property given directly to Nazi Party members: “The transfer of Jewish businesses to German hands gives the Party the opportunity to proceed with a healthy policy… It is the Party’s duty of honour to support Party comrades who, because of their membership, have suffered economic disadvantages and to help them achieve an independent livelihood… It is the Party’s duty to ensure that the Jew does not receive an inappropriately high purchase price. In this way, Jewry will make reparation for part of the damage that it has done to the German people.”

Inventories (April 1938)

Reich Marshall Herman Goering who controlled the economy through the Four Year Plan ordered all Jews to submit a detailed inventories of all property they owned worth more than 5,000 Reichsmarks (April 1938). This had to be submitted by June. The inventories were used to compile a register of Jewish wealth. It was not just businesses that had to be listed, it also included personsal prooperty like bank accounts, stocks, bonds, realestate, art, jewlry, coin and stamp collections, and other assetts. And by this time the Austria had been annexed to the Reich. This approach and requirements were extended to to Nazified Austria and, later throughout occupied Europe.

Vermögensverkehrstelle / Assets Transfer Office (May 1938)

Kristallnact (November 1938)

Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" was a vicious NAZI pogrom directed at defenseless German and by this time Austrian Jews. A Polish-born German Jew, Sendel Grynszpan, wrote to his son describing how he had been expelled to Poland and mistreated. His son Herschel was a 17-year old boy studying in Paris. Distraught by his parents' treatment, he shot the Third Secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst von Rath. As a reprisal, Hitler personally approved a massive assault on Germany's Jews in their homes and shops and the burning of their synagogues. The attacks began early on November 10. Members of the Gestapo and other NAZI organizations such as the SA and the Labor Front were told to report to the local NAZI Party office and were given their instructions. They then moved out ransacking Jewish shops and synagogues and setting firm to them. Groups of NAZIs broke into Jewish homes, looting them and destroying property that they did not want. Pets were killed before their horrified owners. About 100 Jews were killed which today seems like a small number given the level of violence and what we know now would be the dimensions of the Holocaust. About 20,000 mostly men were dragged off to the Buchenwald, Dachu, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The orgy of violence exceed even what the NAZI leadership had planned because of the viciousness of the NAZI rank-and-file. This was of concern to the leadership because they hoped to eventually seize the property that had remained in Jewish hands. The NAZIs required Jews to repair the damage to their shops and homes at their own expense. When the NAZIs realized that Jewish property was insured, Goering issued a decree requiring that insurance payments be made to the German Government not the Jewish holders of insurance policies. An additional 1 billion mark fine was imposed on the already impoverished German Jewish community. Kristallnacht coming after Munich confirmed to many Americans the dangers of war and the nature of the NAZIs, although the full appreciation of their evil was not yet apparent. It was enough to convince many Americans that increased military spending was needed, but many Americans also concluded that America should further distant itself from European affairs.

Wealth Property Theft (November 1938)

By the time of Kristallnscht the major assetts still in Jewish hands were homes and household goods. NAZI Party activists and the SA was turned lose on Jewish indiciduals and property. The 1938 Kristallnact pogrom not only completed the removed Jews from German economic life, but began the oyright theft of their assetts and property. Hitler and Göring were stunned at the wanted destruction of property. This was not what they wanted. Killing and terroruzing Jews was fine, but they did not want Jewish property destroyed. They wanted to steal it. So to facilitate it, the NAZIs actually held Jews responsible for this violence and proceeded to fine the Jewish community 20 percent of the registered assets of German Jews (November 12). It was shortly raised to 25 percent. The fine would eventually amount to 1.25 billion Reichsmarks (November 12). This was the Suhneleistung (Atonment Payment) also called the Jewish Capital Levy (JUVA). This had to be paid in cash or other portable wealth, including gold, jewels jewellery. Göring as head of the Four Year Plan issued the decree Excluding Jews from German Economic Life (November 12). This legally prohibited Jews from conducting any types of business or commercial activiuty. The only exception was certain services that could be rendered to Jews only. As a result, thousands of Jewish shop and store owners who had against alln odds managed to hold out agaonst all the measures to drive them out of business, not were closed by the NAZI Government. Göring issued another decree on the Utilisation of Jewish Property (December). It set precise time limits on the sale, transfer, and winding up of Jewish commercial activity. As of January 1, 1939 the NAZIs would schieve their goal of completely excluding Jews from the nationsl economy. The few Jews who still owned businesses were set upon by Germans who wanted their assetts. Many were NAZI Party members and government insiders. They demanded that assetts be transferred to them. And they could back of their demands with extra-legal violence if necessary. Most Jewish heads of households were already in Dachau or other concentration camps. Commonly small anounts of money were offered to create the fiction of a lefgal sale. When the deadline was reached, assetts still in Jewish hands were simply confiscated and put up for public auction. This essentially stripped German Jews of all involvement in the German economy. Jews asetts not seized were kept in blocked accounts in specified financial institutions controlled by thecGestapo. Only small sums could be withdrawn for living expenses.


Many Jews has insurance on their businesses and property. Göring seized the opportuniy to obtain badly needed cash for his Four Year Plan. He ordered the insurance companies to pay all claims to the NAZI state rather thsn the Jewish climants. Incredably, German Jews essentually were held liable for the damage done to them.

Foreign Assetts

The NAZIs also went after the assets held by Jews in foreign banks and other financial institutions. Jewshad to register these assetts and transferr them to German financial institutions.


Most of the assetts was transfered to the NAZI state through the taxes, fines, and outright confiscations. A great deal of Jewish property was stollen by individuals for their personal use. Here many SS and SA members were involved as well as NAZI Party memberscat all levels. Non-Party members also obtained Jewish properyty. Legally, confiscated Jewish property belonged to the state. This theft of the property was actually a violation of law which is why the terrorized Jews were offered small sums fir their ssetts. The Government did not take legal actuions against theft, largely because so many high-ranking ibdividuals were involved. Such corruption would prove to be even worse during the War in occupied countries when even the thin veneer was German law did not apply. And this was often so blatant that the SS actually made some arrests. As a result, many NAZIs were able to move intio nice homes seizd from Jews. Raking NAZIs got hold of pslstial homes. The NAZI officials involved with administering Reich finances, government contracts, and confiscated Jewish property benefited in many ways beyond actually stealing property. They were able to take bribes and skim off the assett transfers.


Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of th Nazi Economy (Penguin Group: New York, 2007), 800p.


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Created: 6:13 PM 5/15/2018
Last updated: 6:13 PM 5/15/2018