“The first major law to curtail the rights of Jewish German citizens was the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” of April 7, 1933, according to which Jewish and “politically unreliable” civil servants and employees were to be excluded from state service” (source: wikipedia)
I was talking to a friend with Jewish heritage yesterday who is researching his family history. His success at tracing his German and Polish ancestors using the superb JewishGen site was – as has happened to some many thousands of Jewish genealogists – desperately and sickeningly curtailed by the events of the 1930s and 1940s. People die, or disappear, and lineages that go back centuries are broken by something that happened within our fathers’ lifetimes.
“[in 1935 the] “Nuremberg Laws” excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood.” Ancillary ordinances to these laws deprived them of most political rights. Jews were disenfranchised and could not hold public office” (source: wikipedia)
We speculated on how his family members in 1930s Berlin might have responded to the erosion of their rights during this period. Why didn’t they leave when they could? They were affluent and well-connected. They may even have had the opportunity to emigrate. Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America imagines an alternative American history under the leadership of the Fascist-sympathising Charles Lindbergh. It is chilling precisely because it shows how gradual the process of erosion might be, and how difficult it must have been for my friend’s ancestors to accept that their country, and their neighbours and friends, were capable of destroying them, and attempting to annihilate their racial and religious identity.
“Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi German occupation government, particularly in the urban areas, began immediately after the invasion. In the first year and a half, the Germans confined themselves to stripping the Jews of their valuables and property for profit, herding them into ghettoes and putting them into forced labor in war-related industries”(source: wikipedia)
We spoke of how two of his relatives appear to have died on successive days in 1939, and how this might have happened. Though this was after Kristallnacht history shows that that was but one spike in a relentless process of denial of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression, of inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, of forced and compulsory labour in ghettoes, of forcing people to live in unbearably cramped and oppressive conditions, with no respect for family or privacy. Though some might have tried to resist, all rights to freedom of assembly would have gone. Others of his relatives simply disappear from the records, and we had little doubt this would have been after an arbitrary deprivation of liberty with no right to any court hearing.
“Extermination camps (or death camps) were camps built by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939–45) to systematically kill millions of people by gassing and extreme work under starvation conditions. While there were victims from many groups, Jews were the main targets” (source: wikipedia)
And my friend found a record indicating the death of one relative in 1942. The place of death was not known, but by that time the Nazi regime was pursuing a state program of genocide, of mass deprivation of life.
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened” (source: John F Kennedy)
The development of the European Convention of Human Rights, with its proclamation of the universality of the rights it described, was born out of an acknowledgment and experience that a state can change its own laws, and depart from acknowledging and protecting human rights. If governments can (and they can) derogate themselves from the obligations of their own laws, then a system of international jurisdiction over the protection of human rights was essential. David Maxwell-Fyfe, a future United Kingdom Attorney General and Home Secretary was a key figure in the drafting of the Convention.
“A country is considered the more civilised the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak and a powerful one too powerful” (source: Primo Levi, If this is a Man)
This morning I read reports that the Home Secretary will announce that a majority Conservative government would withdraw from the European Convention.