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On This Day: Hitler Calls for Boycott of Jewish Businesses

Last updated: February 13, 2023

On April 1, 1933, the Nazi Party urged Germans to observe a “Judenboycott,” the first in a wave of anti-Semitic measures.

Nazi Party Orders Judenboycott

In 1933, there were about 600,000 Jews in Germany, accounting for less than 1 percent of the overall population, though they played an active role in society. “Although German Jews continued to encounter some discrimination in their social lives and professional careers, many were confident of their future as Germans,” writes the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Their place in society would change when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to power in 1933. Hitler became German chancellor on Jan. 30 and on March 23 gained dictatorial powers through the Enabling Act. Almost immediately, the Nazi Party planned to take action against the country’s Jewish population.

Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels arranged for a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. He would later explain in an April 1 speech at the Berlin Lustgarten that the boycott was in retaliation for anti-German “atrocity propaganda” spread by the “international Jewry” in foreign newspapers.

Julius Streicher, editor and publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, was put in charge of organizing the boycott. He issued a series of orders calling for a non-violent boycott to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 1.

SA storm troopers were ordered to stand in front of Jewish shops, department stores and offices to intimidate customers. Large Stars of David were painted on storefronts and propaganda signs were displayed, such as one pronouncing, “Germans, defend yourselves against Jewish atrocity propaganda—buy only at German shops!”

The boycott was largely ignored by the populace and ended after one day, though Goebbels did declare it a “great moral victory for Germany” in his diary. The real significance of the boycott is that it marked the beginning of a series of anti-Semitic laws that gradually alienated Jews from German society. On April 7, Jews were banned from civil service jobs, and by the end of the year new laws had targeted Jewish lawyers, doctors, dentists, professors, artists, journalists and other professionals.

Worldwide Reactions

Sources in this Story

  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Boycott of Jewish Businesses
  • German Historical Institute: German History in Documents and Images: Racial Politics
  • Jewish Virtual Library: Julius Streicher
  • Vad Yashem: From Goebbel’s Diary on the Boycott
  • The History Place: Nazis Boycott Jewish Shops
  • The Harvard Crimson: Fay says Hitler’s Actions Dictated By Other Nations
  • Jewish Virtual Library: The Anti-Nazi Boycott

In an interview two weeks after the boycott, Harvard professor S.B. Fay placed the blame for the conditions in Germany on the shoulders of those in the international community who had been protesting Hitler’s actions. Suggesting that Hitler’s actions had unified the country for the first time since World War I, Fay stated that Germany’s affairs were “none of any other country’s business.”

An example of the anti-Nazi sentiment was the American Jewish Congress protest held on March 27, 1933, just a few days before the boycott. The organization held interfaith rallies at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and about 70 other U.S. locations.

Denouncing the American protests as “slanders,” the Nazi Party’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, accused Jewish Germans of “engineering a worldwide boycott of German goods” and warned of retaliation.

Historical Context: The Holocaust

As the decade progressed, the Nazi regime continued to pass laws limiting the economic and cultural freedoms of Jewish people. On Nov, 9, 1938, Goebbels organized violence attacks on Jewish communities and the rounding up of an estimated 30,000 Jews to be sent to concentration camps. The pogrom, known as Kristallnacht, removed Jews from German society and marked the start of the Holocaust, which saw the extermination of more than 6 million Jews from Germany and other European countries.

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to World War II provides the best links for learning about the Holocaust. The Learning About the Holocaust page teaches you about the events and people associated with it.

Reference: Nazi Propaganda

Calvin College’s German Propaganda Archive features anti-Semitic writings, speeches and posters, including work by Goebbels and Streicher.

Source: Calvin College

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