1939: Key Dates
The German government prohibits Jews from working as nurses, veterinarians, holistic practitioners, and dentists.
January 24, 1939
In his capacity as Adolf Hitler's second in command as Führer of the German Reich and People, Hermann Göring authorizes Security Police and SD chief Reinhard Heydrich to coordinate solutions for the forced emigration of Jews from the Greater German Reich and to establish a Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Berlin.
January 30, 1939
In a speech to the German parliament, Hitler declares that in the event of another world war, for which he intended to hold "International Finance Jewry" responsible, the result would not be "the Bolshevization of the earth and with that the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe."
Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative Edith Rogers of Massachusetts introduce a bill to permit the entry of 20,000 refugee children, ages 14 and under, from the Greater German Reich into the United States over the course of two years (1939 and 1940). The children would be granted entry without reference to the quota system. The bill dies in committee in the summer of 1939.
Under German pressure, Slovakia declares its independence from the Czecho-Slovak state.
German troops enter the remaining territory of Czechoslovakia, occupying the Czech provinces and establishing the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia."
May 13-June 17
Over 900 refugees aboard the St. Louis, most of them Jewish, leave Hamburg, Germany, for Cuba, in hope of there receiving entry visas to the United States. Cuba and the United States will refuse to accept the refugees, forcing them to return to Europe.
SS authorities establish Ravensbrück, the largest concentration camp for women, north of Berlin, Germany.
July 4, 1939
German authorities establish the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland), with leadership handpicked by the German Security Police, as the sole legal Jewish organization in Germany.
The Soviet and German governments sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, on the basis of which they later agree to invade and partition Poland and divide the remainder of eastern Europe into spheres of influence.
Germany invades Poland, initiating World War II in Europe.
SS authorities establish the civilian prisoner camp Stutthof, near Danzig (Gdansk). On January 7, 1942, the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps will re-designate Stutthof as a concentration camp.
Honoring their guarantee of Poland's borders, Great Britain and France declare war on Germany.
Soviet troops invade Poland from the East.
The head of the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) and SD (Sicherheitsdienst), SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich meets with Secret Police (Sipo) and Security Service (SD) officials in Berlin. Heydrich issues instructions that (1) Polish Jews should be concentrated in major cities near major railroad lines, (2) all Jews should be transferred from the Reich to Poland, (3) the remaining 30,000 Roma (Gypsies) in Germany be deported to Poland, and (4) freight cars of the German railways (Reichsbahn) should be used to transport Jews and Roma from the Reich.
SS chief and Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler establishes the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), a formal fusion of the Security Police (Gestapo and Kripo) and the SD under the leadership of Reinhard Heydrich. Hitler will entrust the RSHA with coordinating the annihilation of the European Jews.
In the autumn of 1939, Hitler signs an authorization (later backdated to September 1, 1939) that shields German physicians participating in the so-called Euthanasia Program from future prosecution. "Euthanasia" policy is designed to systematically kill Germans with mental and physical disabilities living in institutions, persons of both genders and all ages whom the participating physicians deemed “incurable” and thus "unworthy of life."
German security police officials deport approximately 3,800 Austrian, Czech, and Polish Jews from Vienna, Moravská Ostrava, and Katowice to a makeshift camp in Zarzecze near Nisko, Lublin District, Generalgouvernement.
Germany annexes the former Polish regions of Upper Silesia, West Prussia, Pomerania, Poznan, Ciechanow (Zichenau), part of Lodz, and the Free City of Danzig (Gdansk). From these newly annexed regions, the German government creates two new administrative districts (Reichsgaue): Danzig-West Prussia and Posen (Posen later becomes District Wartheland, commonly referred to as the Warthegau). German authorities place those areas of occupied Poland not annexed directly by Germany or by the Soviet Union under a German civilian administration, the Generalgouvernement.
German authorities require that all Jews residing in the Generalgouvernement over the age of ten wear white armbands with a Star of David.
RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich orders the beginning of the deportations of Jews and Poles from District Wartheland (an area of western Poland directly annexed to the German Reich) to the Generalgouvernement. Security Police officials initiate deportations three days later, on December 1. By 1941, they deport approximately 100,000 Jews from Wartheland and Danzig West-Prussia to the Generalgouvernement.
Critical Thinking Questions
- Learn about warning signs for mass atrocity and genocide. What events during 1939 might be examples?
- How does war provide cover for programs like the murder of the handicapped and other assaults on civilians?
- How did the start of World War II affect US immigration policy?