Emigration and the so-called Jewish Problem

Persecuted Jews attempted to find safe havens abroad. Emigration reduced the number of Jews in Germany by about 170 thousand by 1938 (from a total of more than half a million in 1930). Unfortunately, many countries, among them the USA and Great Britain (in Palestine), imposed restrictions on refugees at this time. As a result, even those Jews who expressed a desire to leave Germany were unable to do so before the start of the war. As a consequence, they died afterwards at death camps in the East.

Even if the Nazis did indeed think that the “Jewish problem” in Germany could gradually be solved through emigration, the implementation of the policy of forced annexation (Austria and Czechoslovakia) and conquest (Poland and France) meant that, instead of decreasing, the number of Jews in the German sphere of influence rose. Historians still dispute the meaning of the decree in occupied Poland, in September 1939, to concentrate Jews in separate urban districts (ghettos): some see it as preparation for deportation to remote regions of the Nazi empire (Nisko, the Lublin region, Madagascar, or some parts of the Soviet Union), while others regard it as a prelude to execution and genocide in the gas chambers. While waiting for further decisions, the Jews in the ghettos, crowded into tiny areas, deprived of sustenance, and, above all, deliberately starved, began dying en masse in mid 1940. The Nazi administration saw this as, at worst, a sanitation problem: the large number of corpses could lead to the outbreaks of epidemics threatening German settlers.