Race, marriage and divorce

Nazi ideas about race led to new marriage laws. In Austria, the Catholic Church opposed divorce, but the Anschluss and Nazi hostility towards Catholicism weakened this prohibition. From July 1938 the Reich Marriage Law in Austria insisted on non-church marriage ceremonies and made divorce easier, both of which undermined Catholic authority over family life. You could now get divorced if you had been separated for three years, if adultery had been committed or if you were an ‘Aryan’ who could prove you had mistakenly married a non-Aryan (typically, a Jewish)  person. Divorce, in fact, was promoted as desirable since it meant that people could form new, racially-approved partnerships and produce more ‘Aryan’ children. The divorce rate soared, and remarriage and the subsequent birth rate rose too.

The Ahnenpass (“ancestor passport”) was a booklet documenting the lineage of a person. Often the product of considerable genealogical research by the individual concerned, it was used by people in public service jobs to prove that they were of ‘Aryan’ descent and, in particular, that they had no Jewish parents or grandparents. In March 1938, just days after the Anschluss, all Jewish and half-Jewish civil servants were dismissed from their posts.

As the Nuremberg racial laws developed after 1933 in Germany, doctors, lawyers and teachers were also required to prove their ancestry in this way, if they wanted to practice their professions. You also had to do this if you wanted to take a ‘Strength through Joy’ holiday, or to marry. Although the Nazis believed Dutch, British and other nationalities could contain people who were ‘Aryans,’ Nazi racial ideology eventually led to the conclusion that ‘Aryans’ who were German were preferable to foreign ‘Aryans.’ Marcus Ferrar remembers this:

“One instruction in the Ahnenpass stated pompously but vaguely: ‘For marriage to a girl of pure German origin, it is self-understood that we prefer a fellow German to another Aryan or more distant racial relationship.’” (Ferrar, M (2012) A Foot in Both Camps. LBLA Digital)

When I went to Vienna in 2014 I met a woman whose parents had lived through this period and she told me how the exclusion of Jews from marriage to ‘Aryans’ could become a more general hostility towards marriage with foreigners, whether Jewish or not. Here are my notes on our conversation:

“She said that at that time it was extremely common for Austrian/German people (by this time, Austrian Germans were considered to be part of the German 'volk', tied to them by virtue of their shared 'blood') to be pressurised into divorcing if they were married to foreigners, particularly if these foreigners were associated with the countries ranged against Germany in the war. This was the logical extension of the Nazi eugenicist idea that Germans should try to 'breed' Germans, rather than other classes of person. In the case of 'Aryans' married to Jews I was aware that it was actually possible for a divorce to be granted if the 'Aryan' could prove that they had been hoodwinked into unknowingly marrying a Jew, even without any evidence of separation or adultery which were the other two grounds for divorce. In the case of Germans married to non-Germans, it was more a matter of social pressure. I said I found this hard to believe, but my informant was quite insistent that this was the case and said they had heard of several such stories, particularly where the German side of the partnership was ideologically committed to Nazi ideas.”

Chart to describe Nuremberg Laws, 1935. Only people with four German grandparents (four white circles in top row left) were of "German blood". A Jew is someone who descends from three or four Jewish grandparents (black circles in top row right). In the middle stood people of "mixed blood" of the "first or second degree." A Jewish grandparent was defined as a person who is or was a member of a Jewish religious community. Also includes a list of allowed marriages ("Ehe gestattet") and forbidden marriages ("Ehe verboten").

Chart to describe Nuremberg Laws, 1935. Only people with four German grandparents (four white circles in top row left) were of "German blood". A Jew is someone who descends from three or four Jewish grandparents (black circles in top row right). In the middle stood people of "mixed blood" of the "first or second degree." A Jewish grandparent was defined as a person who is or was a member of a Jewish religious community. Also includes a list of allowed marriages ("Ehe gestattet") and forbidden marriages ("Ehe verboten").

Learning the Nuremberg Laws of racial categorisation

Learning the Nuremberg Laws of racial categorisation

Ahnenpass interior

Ahnenpass interior

Eye colour determination to establish racial categorisation, 1936

Eye colour determination to establish racial categorisation, 1936

 

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