Article Note: Harry Legg, “Non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’: The Everyday Life of a Forgotten Group Within Nazi Germany”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 1/2 (Summer 2023)

Article Note: Harry Legg, “Non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’: The Everyday Life of a Forgotten Group Within Nazi Germany,” Journal of Holocaust Research 36 no. 4 (2022): 299-326.

By Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

In this article, Harry Legg, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, analyzes the everyday lives of “non-Jewish ‘Full Jews’”—Germans who did not identify religiously or culturally as Jews but who were categorized as “Full Racial Jews” according to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws. Focusing on a case study of the Eisig family, he argues that the experience of persecution of these “Jews” (he places the term in quotation marks to emphasize that it was the Nazis who identified them as Jews, and not they themselves) was fundamentally different than the experience of persecution among German Jews (quotation marks absent) who did identify religiously and/or culturally as Jews.

Legg begins by noting that these important distinctions and the dramatically different lived experiences behind them are generally ignored in the secondary literature about Jewish persecution in Nazi Germany (300-308). While German Jews suffering persecution turned more and more inward towards their own religious and cultural community for support and sustenance, the same was not true for the “Jews” who had assimilated into Christian and/or secular German life and who had no Jewish community to turn to once the Nazi regime began to marginalize and then persecute them.

The author notes that the concepts of wealth and status are particularly useful in assessing the lived experiences of these “Jews”—those racially identified as Jews who were non-Jewish in other respects. Simply put, in many cases, entrepreneurial wealth and respect within the wider community replaced support from Jewish communities to which they did not belong, and allowed non-Jewish “Jews” to obtain temporary relief from Nazi persecution. “Though these factors could not halt the progressive slide of ‘full Jews’ toward expulsion from Germany, they could soften the daily experience of this relentless march. They could also vitally alter the form that this expulsion would ultimately take.” (310)

The bulk of the article revolves around Ludwig and Amalie Eisig, who formally withdrew from their Göppingen Jewish community soon after their wedding, who baptized their children as Protestants, and who thoroughly embraced both German nationalism and Christianity. Their experiences, and those of their children (son Konrad suffered greatly from educational persecution), bear out the two key aspects of Legg’s argument: that the Eisigs’ wealth and social standing in the wider (non-Jewish) community slowed and softened the process by which they suffered social isolation and persecution in their southwest German corner of Nazi Germany (from which they eventually emigrated, thanks in large part to their wealth); and that, on the other hand, having little to no connection to Jews who belonged to the Jewish religious and cultural community in their town, they were more socially isolated in the times and places in which that protection was useless and all who were identified as racial Jews suffered at the hand of the Hitler regime.

In sum, this article adds important nuances to our understanding of diverse Jewish experiences in Nazi Germany, reminding us that Nazi racial categories often had little at all to do with the lived experiences of Germans of Jewish descent—not least for those assimilated into Christian communities.

Of special interest to historians studying the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s and attempts to support “non-Aryan Christians” in their efforts to immigrate to Britain, the United States, and other (primarily Western) countries, Legg devotes an appendix to the question, “Who were the so-called Nichtglaubensjuden?” As he argues, “Despite the fact that ‘Jewishness’ at the time was not just a religious identity, but also a secular one, there are multiple reasons to suggest that a sizeable proportion of the 19,716 Nichtglaubensjuden (non-believing Jews) listed in the 1939 census also did not self-identify as secular Jews. We can also safely conclude that the majority had not recently resigned from the Jewish community.” (323)