Early agitation and violence against German Jews by low-ranking Nazi radicals tarnished the new regime’s image abroad and threatened to provoke foreign sanctions. By March 1933, some American Jewish leaders had begun to speak of an economic boycott of German goods. Hitler could not disavow Nazi anti-Jewish efforts, but he sought to direct them into official channels. At first, the Nazi Party announced an indefinite boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany, supposedly to protest the “hostile” foreign press. Once it became clear, however, that foreign countries did not really support an economic boycott of German goods, and after some members of parliament had expressed concerns about the economic consequences of an anti-Jewish boycott, the action was confined to one day: April 1, 1933. Still, its announcement had an intimidating and depressing effect on German Jews and some others. In his diary entry of March 31, 1933, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish convert to Lutheranism, described the public mood on the eve of the boycott. His account registers the growing sense of isolation and hopelessness felt by German Jews and those regarded as Jewish by the regime.
The “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of April 7, 1933, was cast as a means to create a more efficient and professional administration. What the law actually did, however, was immediately disqualify all non-Aryans from the German civil service. The law primarily affected Jews, but it also applied to individuals who were married to Jews or had even one Jewish grandparent. One exception, Jewish war veterans, was made at President Hindenburg’s request. The law also stripped civil service protection from anyone who had formerly engaged in political activity deemed illegitimate by the Nazis. Moreover, it allowed the government to force anyone into retirement – even if he or she was not judged unfit – simply to streamline the administration. The law had an almost immediate impact on the composition of the faculty at schools and universities, since teachers and professors were civil servants.
On July 14, 1933, the Nazi regime passed the “Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases,” which introduced compulsory sterilization for certain groups of people with illnesses that were deemed hereditary. As the text of the law shows, the boundaries of these groups were vague and expandable. Overall, the notion upon which this law was predicated – that people of inferior stock were procreating faster than genetically desirable Germans – reflected Nazi fears, not reality.
In September 1933, George S. Messersmith, the American Consul General in Berlin, briefed the U.S. State Department on the status of the anti-Semitic movement in Germany. Among other observations, Messersmith noted that the Nazis had found numerous ways to spread their brand of anti-Semitism to wider segments of the German public. According to his assessment, the situation of the Jews in Germany was “growing steadily worse.” Although Messersmith occasionally underestimated the strength of Hitler’s regime, he clearly recognized the threat it posed both to Germany and the world.