Until 1929 the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP), as the Nazi Party was officially called, was a small political party. Then, in the parliamentary elections of 1930, the party received more than 18 percent of the total votes cast, compared to about 2.5 percent in 1928. The bulk of the votes for the Nazis came from the middle classes and the well-to-do rather than from workers and unemployed people. The major factors in the Nazis' electoral success were lingering anger at Germany's military collapse toward the end of World War I; resentment toward the Versailles treaty, which had ended the war and imposed harsh conditions on Germany; the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s; fear of the spread of Communism; and Hitler's charismatic personality.
By 1930 German society was unable to forge a political consensus. The fact that no party was able to establish a majority government created a vacuum of power and a political stalemate in the Reichstag, Germany's parliament. Most Germans wanted to replace the republic and its multitude of competing parties with an authoritarian system that promised stability and employment. Hence the Nazis gained in popularity in the 1930 elections. In the parliamentary elections of September 1932, the Nazis did even better, receiving about 38 percent of the votes. They did not win a majority of the seats in the Reichstag, but the support Hitler received from the Conservative Party provided the necessary basis for a coalition government. And so on January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor (prime minister).
As soon as the Nazis assumed power, they made racism and anti-Semitism central components of their regime. During its first months in power the Nazi Party instigated anti-Semitic riots and campaigns of terror that climaxed on April 1, 1933, in a countrywide boycott of Jewish-owned shops and Jewish professionals, such as physicians and lawyers. In addition, the new government issued regulations and ordinances to deprive Jews of their civil rights and economic means of survival. On April 7, 1933, the Reichstag enacted a law that allowed the government to dismiss Jews from the German civil service. Later, quotas were adopted to limit the numbers of Jewish students. However, Hitler and the other Nazi leaders viewed these piecemeal regulations as insufficient, and so they decided to implement a comprehensive legal framework for their anti-Semitic policies.
One early decree was a definition of the term Jew. Crucial in that determination was the religion of one's grandparents. Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was automatically a Jew, regardless of whether that individual was a member of the Jewish community. Those with two Jewish grandparents, known as half-Jews, were considered Jewish only if they themselves belonged to the Jewish religion or were married to a Jewish person. All other half-Jews, and persons...