Leo Baeck Institute's 1938Projekt documents the experience of 1938 from a Jewish perspective. Every day we publish a new historical document that shows the experiences of individual Jews in Germany, Austria, and worldwide. Here, we present a full chronology of National Socialist persecution of Jews and consolidation of power, along with important events that affected the ability of Jews to emigrate.

 

January 5

Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names

The new Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names regulates the change of names of German citizens and individuals without citizenship who live in the German Reich. The law empowers the Interior Minister to issue rules concerning given names and unilaterally change those names that do not conform to the rules, including names which were changed before the Nazis seizure of power in 1933. This primarily affects assimilated Jews who adopted less apparently Jewish names, which the Nazis viewed as an attempt to camouflage their Jewishness. The new law is the Nazis’ first step toward marking Jews by forcing them to adopt ‘typical’ Jewish names.

Page from a ledger book of the Gesellschaft der Freunde in Berlin, 1792 - 1793.

 

January 26

Aktion “Arbeitsscheu Reich”

Heinrich Himmler orders a “one-time, comprehensive, surprise attack” on Arbeitsscheue. This designation, which means “work-shy” or “indolent,” includes men of working age who have rejected two job offers or who quit after a short period of time. The Gestapo, the secret police force of the National Socialists, was tasked with the endeavor and collected the necessary information in collaboration with employment offices. From April 21 through April 30, between 1,500 and 2,000 men are arrested and brought to the concentration camp Buchenwald. Hearings are not scheduled to take place until the second half of the year.

Poster for the Reich Labor Service, 1938.

 

Februrary 23

The Port of Tel Aviv opens

The port of Tel Aviv is completed and officially opened. When the Arab city of Jaffa closed its port in 1936 to counteract the rising number of Jewish immigrants, Tel Aviv established a port known as Sha’ar Zion, the Gate to Zion. During two years of construction, the capacity of the port was very limited, but it nevertheless took on an enormous symbolic importance for the Jews fleeing the National Socialists. With the official opening of the port, regular cargo traffic begins immediately, and the first passenger will arrive in April 1938. Two years later, when escape from Germany has become impossible and World War II has begun, the port will be closed for civilian usage and serve exclusively as a military port.

The opening of the port in Tel-Aviv. National Photograph Collection of Israel.

 

February 24

Austrian Chancellor takes a stand for Austrian independence

In a dramatic speech to Parliament, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg takes a stand for the independence of Austria. The Christian-Socialist chancellor declares that his government, including the National Socialist ministers Seyß-Inquart und Glaise-Horstenau, will uphold the constitution of 1934. Several European and US radio stations broadcast the speech. Von Schuschnigg warns Austrian and German National Socialists seeking an alliance that “Austria will go thus far and no further [. . .] Red-White-Red, until we are dead!”

Portrait of Kurt Schuschnigg in his office. Encyclopedia Brittanica.

 

March 12

The Annexation of Austria

In reaction to German threats, the Austrian president Wilhelm Miklas convenes an independent but pro-Nazi government headed by Arthur Seyß-Inquart, which governs from March 11–13. The Wehrmacht, the SS, and police invade Austria on March 12. At the command of Adolf Hitler, Austria’s National Socialist government begins the process of annexation, in which Austria is to merge gradually yet completely with the German Reich. National Socialism will rule in Vienna and its surroundings until the Red Army arrives in mid-April 1945. The Declaration of Independence will nullify the Annexation on April 27, 1945. In many other part of Austria, however, it will be the end of the Second World War in May 1945 that finally brings an end to National Socialism.

Austrian women cheering the arrival of German troops during the Anschluss. Time Inc.

 

March 13

The National Socialists arrest 150 public figures

The spring of 1938 is marked by a series of assaults on Jews in Vienna and a number of other European cities. These Anschluss pogroms constitute an escalation of the National Socialist policy of persecution. Citizens humiliate, bully, and attack Jews publicly. Shortly after the Annexation, National Socialists in Austria arrest about 150 public figures. A third of those arrested are Jews, including writer Heinrich Jacob, librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, cabaret artist Fritz Grünbaum, Social-Democratic politician and lawyer Robert Danneberg, laywer Jakob Ehrlich, lawyer and president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, Desider Friedmann, and spice dealer Hans Kotányi. In April, the National Socialists will deport the group in an action referred to as the Prominententransport (“VIP-transport”). It will be the first deportation to the concentration camp Dachau.

A raid on the Jewish Community offices in Vienna, likely March 13, 1938. Bundesarchiv Bild 152-05 - 15A.

 

March 15

Adolf Hitler celebrates the annexation of Austria

The Heldenplatz in Vienna is crowded when Adolf Hitler hails “the accession of my homeland to the German Reich.” According to the Führer, the annexation of Austria places the country in its proper role as a “bulwark” of the Reich. Hitler challenges the Austrian people to never let themselves be “exceeded by anyone anywhere in their fidelity to the greater German national community.” Many newspapers carry the speech the following morning, including Vienna’s Volks-Zeitung, whose masthead is henceforth emblazoned with a swastika.

Central Linz, Austria, following the Anschluss. Time Inc.

 

March 19

International reaction to the annexation of Austria

Mexico is the only country to submit an official protest against the annexation of Austria to the League of Nations. Great Britain and France, which prohibited the “Republic of German Austria” from joining the German Reich in 1919 and furthermore prevented a customs union between Germany and Austria in 1931, merely respond with diplomatic notes. The Times of London draws an analogy to Scotland joining England 200 years earlier. Italy does not protest at all, despite the fact that it positioned itself as the guardian of Austrian sovereignty just four years earlier. On March 18, 1938, the Soviet government calls upon the US, Great Britain, and France on to collectively undertake measures against Germany, without success. In September 1938, Josef Stalin makes a second attempt, this time through the League of Nations, to unite forces against Germany— again, to no success. The USA and France accept the Annexation de facto but not de jure. Great Britain eventually recognized the Annexation de jure.

Salzburg. Photograph by Annemarie Schwarzenbach. Courtesy of the Swiss Literary Archives.

 

March 25

Roosevelt’s call for a conference on refugee crisis raises hopes

In response to the dramatic rise in the number of refugees, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt calls for an international conference. Following the annexation of Austria by the German Reich on March 12, 1938, the number of people fleeing from the National Socialists rises significantly. By now, however, most countries have become unwilling to accept more refugees, placing victims of Nazi persecution in a desperate situation. Since 1933, two agencies under the auspices of the League of Nations—the Nansen International Office for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Refugees from Germany in Lucerne, have worked to solve the refugee crisis without success. The conference will convene July 6–15 at Évian-les-Bains, France.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Library of Congress.

 

April 10

Referendum on the Annexation of Austria

A month after German troops entered Austria, a referendum on the Anschluss is held. The vote was preceded by an antisemitic campaign full of posters like the one presented here. The leader of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, Karl Renner, and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Austria, Cardinal Theodor Innitzer, both supported the “Yes” campaign. According to the official result, 99.73% voters approved the annexation of Austria to the German Reich. For Austrian Jews, the outcome of the referendum meant a new wave of persecution.

A street in Vienna, 1938. Richard Krulik Collection, Leo Baeck Institute.

 

April 26

Jews ordered to declare financial assets

Herman Göring issues an order requiring Jews to declare all assets exceeding 5,000 Reichsmark. This includes assets at home and abroad. Those who do not comply face financial penalties as well as prison. Alf Krüger, the Minister of Economics, declares that the new regulations “pave the way for the complete and lasting elimination of Jews from the German economy.”  Three days later, in a meeting at Göring’s offices in the Aviation Ministry, they resolve “to transform Jewish assets in a way that does not allow for Jews to have any further influence on the economy.” Göring will later reveal that this meeting also resulted in a plan to “Aryanize” the German economy. He explains: “[…] First, the Jew being ejected from the economy, transfers his property to the state. He will be compensated. The compensation is to be listed in the debit ledger and shall bring a certain percentage of interest. The Jew shall have to live out of this interest.” After the November pogroms, the National Socialists use the financial data collected to force Jews to hand over a quarter of their assets to the National Socialist authorities. When efforts to make restitution begin after the end of World War II, these same data help identify rightful beneficiaries.

 

A Jewish business vandalized in Vienna. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

MAY 20

The National Socialists in Austria adopt the Nuremberg Laws

Hitler issued the laws at the 7th Congress of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) in September 1935. The Reichsbürgergesetz (Reich Citizenship Law) defines who shall be considered a Jew. The law furthermore differentiates mere citizens from Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). Reichsbürger are those citizens which have German or near-German blood. The Blutschutzgesetz (Law to Protect German Blood and German Honor), prohibits marriage between Jews and non-Jews. These laws codify the core elements of the Nazis’ antisemitic ideology. With their implementation in Austria, discrimination against Jews is not merely permitted, but integral to all state functions.

A diagram explaining the Nuremberg Laws. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 

MAY 31

Law on the Confiscation of Degenerate Art

The “Law on the Confiscation of Degenerate Art” legalizes the plunder of artworks deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis. This applies primarily to modern art that does not conform to the racial or aesthetic criteria of National Socialist ideology, and of course, it applies to all works by Jewish artists. By the end of May, 1938, the Nazis have already confiscated works from museums and other public art collections. With the passage of this law, the confiscated works became legal property of the state. Except in a few cases of “financial hardship,” the owners receive no compensation. Amazingly, this law legalizing the arbitrary looting of artworks will remain in force until 1968. The Allies will fail to remove the law from the books when they excise other elements of Nazi law from the German legal code after the war. The Monuments and Museums Council of Northwestern Germany will even reinforce the law in a September 1948 decision to replace the works rather than demanding their return.

"Boys on a Playground" by Otto Möller, date unknown. Otto Möller was an artist labeled degenerate by the Nazis. His work was removed from museums in Germany under this new law. Some was auctioned off in forced sales, and other works destroyed. Leo Baeck Institute.

 

JUNE 9

Destruction of the Main Synagogue in Munich

The Nazis destroy the Main Synagogue in the city center of Munich and replace it with a parking lot. The monumental Neo-Romanesque building was built in 1878. Just a few days before the demolition, the Jewish Community in Munich is told that it has to sell the Synagogue for 100.000 Reichsmark. The synagogue is the first of many that the Nazis will destroy in 1938.

A postcard depicting the Main Synagogue in Munich. Private collection.

 

JUNE 13

Mass Arrests and Expansion of Buchenwald

Between June 13–18, National Socialists carry out mass arrests. The Juni-Aktion (June Measures) are part of the mission Arbeitsscheu Reich. The campaign began in January (see entry from January 26) and continued in April with 1,500–2,000 arrests. In June, the National Socialists arrest an additional 9,000 men and intern them in concentration camps (KZ). Among those imprisoned are 2,300 Jews—a disproportionate number when compared to the share of Jews in the general population. Hitler himself has ordered a focus on Jews along with so-called “anti-social” elements (“beggars, homeless, and alcoholics”). Jews whose criminal record includes a prison sentence of at least 4 weeks are arrested again. The National Socialists deport the Jewish men to the concentration camps Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald. Buchenwald in particular will become infamous, as it is the destination for the largest number of those arrested during the mission Arbeitsscheu Reich. Guards force the prisoners to expand the Buchenwald camp into the largest KZ in central Germany. About 500 of the prisoners are forced to live in a former stable. They are fed 10 ounces of bread and 3 cups of thin gruel per day. The horrendous living conditions will lead to 150 deaths within the next 8 weeks.

Prisoners carrying containers of soup in Dachau, June 28, 1938. Bundesarchiv, Bild 152-23-27A / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Photographed by Bauer, Friedrich Franz.

 

JULY 15

The Évian conference concludes without results

The Évian Conference concludes without results. Population density and unemployment, saturation with refugees, the economic Depression, and the fear that antisemitism might rise with the arrival of more Jews are among the excuses presented by the participants in the Évian-Konferenz for their refusal to take in more refugees (see entry from July 6). Only the Dominican Republic, the tiny island nation in the Caribbean, is ready to welcome additional refugees—in exchange for a substantial sum of money. Great Britain proposes the territories it has occupied in East Africa as a destination for a small number of refugees. The United States are willing to accept refugees as long as the total number does not exceed their regular quota of 27,370 German and Austrian immigrants. The conference concludes on July 15 without producing any real hope for those whose lives depend on escaping the Nazi regime. One of the few concrete steps to arise from the conference is a new commission, the Comité d’Évian, which is tasked with negotiating the conditions of Jewish emigration with German authorities.

 

Lord Winterton speaking at the Evian Conference. Ullstein bild / Getty Images.

 

JULY 25

Jewish physicians barred from practicing medicine

The fourth executive order issued under the Law on Reich Citizenship (part of the Nuremburg laws of 1935) severely curtails the ability of Jewish physicians to provide care. The new order states that, beginning September 30, 1938, Jewish doctors may only provide care for Jewish patients, and only in the role of nurse. As a result, 3000 physicians lose the right to practice medicine.

 

The later law of September 30th, 1938, was to order all Jewish doctors to display on their office signs a yellow star-of-david with a blue background. They could now only treat Jewish patients. Jewish Museum Berlin.

 

AUGUST 17

Jews forced to adopt new first names

Jewish Germans with a first name that the Nazis do not consider “typically Jewish” are forced to adopt an additional first name as of January 1, 1939. Men are assigned the name Israel, women the name Sara. The intent of this policy is to make Jews more immediately identifiable as Jews. This initiative marks the first attempt to mark Jews and to segregate them from the rest of the population. On January 24, 1939, the order is extended to include Jews in Austria and the Sudetenland.

A passport for a Jewish woman clearly displays the legally ordered middle name of Sara. Marianne Salinger Collection, Leo Baeck Institute.

 

SEPTEMBER 27

Remaining Jewish lawyers disbarred

The already precarious situation of Jewish lawyers and other legal professionals takes a turn for the worse. Many are forced to close their practices as their gentile clients take their business elsewhere and their Jewish clients flee the country. In early 1937, about 1750 “non-aryan” lawyers or other professionals with legal training were still active in Germany. On September 27, the Nazis issue a complete ban on Jews practicing law, which enters into effect on November 30 in Germany and December 31 in Austria. After this, only a tiny number of Jewish lawyers remain active in a restricted capacity. As so-called Konsulenten, they are permitted to advise and represent only Jewish clients.

In this anti-Semitic cartoon, a Jewish lawyer is seen swindling money and goods from German peasants. Elvira Bauer, Trau keinem Fuchs auf grüner Heid und keinem Jud auf seinem Eid (Nuremberg: Stürmer Verlag, 1936). Leo Baeck Institute.

 

SEPTEMBER 29

The Munich Agreement

Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy sign the Munich Agreement. In the absence of Czechoslovakia, which, like the Soviet Union, was not invited to the conference, the participating nations resolve that Czechoslovakia must cede the “Sudetenland” to the German Reich. The agreement calls for the evacuation of the narrow band of territory along Czechoslovakia’s northern, western, and southern borders within ten days. Two days after the agreement is signed, the Wehrmacht enters the Sudetenland. By allowing the conflict over the autonomy of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakian borderlands to escalate into an international crisis, Hitler has succeeded in first isolating and then breaking up Czechoslovakia.

Many Jewish lawyers had already been leaving Germany and Austria. Among them was Joachim Weichert of Vienna, who had been practicing law in Vienna for decades. Weichert Family Collection, Leo Baeck Institute.

 

OCTOBER 5

Jews’ passports invalidated

The Reich Ministry of the Interior invalidates all passports owned by Jews. From now on, only those marked with a prominent red letter “J” will be considered valid. The measure is another step in the Nazis’ campaign to permanently separate Jews from the rest of the population

The passport of a Jewish woman stamped with the obligatory "J" for Jew. Siegmund Feist Collection, Leo Baeck Institute

 

October 26

The Polenaktion

The National Socialists deport about 17,000 Polish Jews from the German Reich. The mass deportation is referred to as the Polenaktion (Polish Measure), and it is a new high water mark in anti-Jewish discrimination. The Polish parliament issued laws in March and October that threatened to revoke the citizenship of Polish citizens living abroad. For example, passports that were issued abroad were declared invalid starting October 30, unless they were inspected and approved by the Polish Consulates. Through these measures, the Polish government hoped to prevent the mass emigration of tens of thousands of Polish Jews from the German Reich to Poland. When the German Embassy in Warsaw learned of the invalidation of Polish passports in October, the National Socialists responded with deportation orders, mass arrests, and transports to the Polish border.

A photograph capturing the "Polenaktion".

 

November 10

The Night of Broken Glass

The night of November 9 is marked by violent assaults against Jews living in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. The pogroms are sanctioned by the government. More than 90 Jews are killed, and 267 synagogues are burned or otherwise destroyed. The windows of Jewish-owned businesses are smashed, and Jewish community centers and homes are looted and vandalized. National Socialist rioters defile Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, and schools while police and firefighters stand idly by. The attacks are a turning point in two senses: First, they represent the moment in which mounting legal discrimination against Jews gives way to organized, state-sponsored mass violence. Second, for Jews in the German Reich, they are the decisive sign that emigration is the only hope of survival.

The smoldering synagogue following the night of November 9 in Bamberg.

 

November 12

Elimination of Jews from economic life

The National Socialist government issues an “Order on the Elimination of the Jews from Economic Life. ”From now on, Jews may not operate retail stores or practice a trade. The law also forbids Jews from selling goods or services. A few weeks later, on December 3, Jews will be forced to sell their real estate and surrender other assets.

A destroyed Jewish business in Magdeburg following the Pogromnacht of November 1938.

 

November 15

Jewish children expelled from schools.

The National Socialists expel Jewish children from all public schools. From now on, Jewish children are only allowed to attend segregated Jewish schools. Jewish schools must be operated and funded by the Jewish communities, which by now have been deprived of all means of financial support.

A young student practices Hebrew in the all-Jewish Goldschmidt School in Berlin, 1938.

 

December 2

The Kindertransport

The first Kindertransport arrives in England. Despite the fact that Great Britain, like almost every other country worldwide, has generally stopped taking in Jewish refugees, the country launches a rescue program for Jewish children from Germany in response to the November pogroms. The British government calls upon families to take in foster children. Children up to age 17 are allowed to immigrate if they have received an invitation from a patron or a foster family. The first Kindertransport reaches Parkeston Quay, Harwich, on December 2, bringing 196 children from Berlin to safety in England. The Nazis tolerate the program for about a year, until the beginning of the war on September 1, 1939. In addition to Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Sweden accept Jewish refugee children in similar programs.

A photograph of children of the first Kindertransport arriving in England.