<p>The Kusserow family was active in their region distributing religious literature and teaching Bible study classes in their home. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. Their house was conveniently situated for fellow Jehovah's Witnesses along the tram route connecting the cities of Paderborn and Detmold. For the first three years after the Nazis came to power, the Kusserows endured moderate persecution by local Gestapo agents, who often came to search their home for religious materials. In 1936, Nazi police pressure increased dramatically, eventually resulting in the arrest of the family and its members' internment in various concentration camps. Most of the family remained incarcerated until the end of the war. Bad Lippspringe, Germany, ca. 1935.</p>

"Enemies of the State"

Enemies of the State Although Jews were the main target of Nazi hatred, they were not the only group persecuted. Other individuals and groups were considered "undesirable" and "enemies of the state." Once the voices of political opponents were silenced, the Nazis stepped up their terror against other "outsiders."

Like Jews, Roma (Gypsies) were targeted by the Nazis as "non-Aryans" and racial "inferiors." Roma had been in Germany since the 1400s and had faced prejudice there for centuries. They had also been victims of official discrimination long before 1933. Under the Nazis, Romani (Gypsy) families in major cities were rounded up, fingerprinted and photographed, and forced to live in special camps under police guard.

Jehovah's Witnesses, members of a small Christian group, were victimized not for reasons of race but because of their beliefs. Witnesses' beliefs prohibited them from entering the army or showing obedience to any government by saluting the flag or, in Nazi Germany, raising their arms in the "Heil Hitler" salute. Soon after Hitler took power, Witnesses were sent to concentration camps. Those who remained at large lost their jobs, unemployment and social welfare benefits, and all civil rights. The Witnesses, nevertheless, continued to meet, to preach, and to distribute religious pamphlets.

Homosexuals were victimized by the Nazis for reasons of behavior. The Nazis viewed homosexual relations as "abnormal" and "unmanly" behavior which, by not producing offspring, threatened Nazi policies encouraging the reproduction of "Aryans." Soon after Hitler took office, the Storm Troopers (SA) began raids against homosexual clubs. Many homosexuals were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps. Dozens of teenagers were in this group.

Key Dates

June 24, 1933
Jehovah's Witnesses banned in Prussia

The Nazi government of Prussia, the largest state government in Germany, bans Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to make the "Heil Hitler" greeting and, beginning in 1935, to serve in the German army. The Nazis begin mass arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1936. Many Witnesses are imprisoned in concentration camps, and they are represented in nearly every major camp. Generally, Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to renounce their convictions, even though they could obtain release from the camps by signing a declaration renouncing their beliefs.

June 28, 1935
Nazis toughen law against homosexuality

The Nazis persecuted German male homosexuals, whose sexual orientation was considered a hindrance to the preservation of the German nation. On June 28, 1935, the Nazi state toughens Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, making even friendships between male homosexuals a criminal offense. "Chronic" homosexuals are deported to jails and prisons; some are later remanded to the camps. Between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals, mostly German or Austrian, were imprisoned in concentration camps, where they had to wear a pink triangular patch marking them as homosexuals.

August 18, 1944
Communist Party leader executed in Buchenwald

Ernst Thaelmann, leader of the German Communist party since 1925 and one-time candidate for the German presidency, is executed in the Buchenwald camp. He is killed by his SS guards during an air raid on a nearby factory. Thaelmann had been arrested after the fire that destroyed the Reichstag (German parliament) building in 1933. He spent more almost 12 years in the camps. Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists were among the first groups persecuted by the Nazis.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • How and why do regimes target individual groups?
  • Consider a more recent example of a specific group targeted for persecution and/or destruction. How are members of the group identified, separated, and brutalized?
  • What options do other nations or coalitions have when a civilian group is targeted for discrimination and/or destruction within one country?
  • Investigate the concept of “race.” How has scientific study changed our understanding of the human race since the Holocaust?

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