Portrait of a Jewish family. Pinsk, Poland, ca. 1922.

Jewish Population of Europe in 1933: Population Data by Country

Before the Nazis seized power in 1933, Europe had a richly diverse set of Jewish cultures. Many of these cultures were dynamic and highly developed. They drew from hundreds and, in some areas, a thousand or more years of Jewish life on the continent.

European Jewish population distribution, ca. 1933

In 1933, approximately 9.5 million Jews lived in Europe, comprising 1.7% of the total European population. This number represented more than 60 percent of the world's Jewish population at that time, estimated at 15.3 million.

Eastern Europe

The majority of Jews in prewar Europe resided in eastern Europe. The largest Jewish communities in this area were in Poland, with about 3,000,000 Jews (9.5%); the European part of the Soviet Union, with 2,525,000 (3.4%); and Romania, with 756,000 (4.2%). The Jewish population in the three Baltic states totaled 255,000: 95,600 in Latvia, 155,000 in Lithuania, and 4,560 in Estonia. Here, Jews comprised 4.9%, 7.6%, and 0.4% of each country's population, respectively, and 5% of the region's total population.

Central Europe

In prewar central Europe, the largest Jewish community was in Germany, with about 525,000 members (0.75% of the total German population). This was followed by Hungary with 445,000 (5.1%), Czechoslovakia with 357,000 (2.4%), and Austria with 191,000, most of whom resided in the capital city of Vienna (2.8%).

Gerda Haas describes prewar Jewish community life in Ansbach

Western Europe

In western Europe the largest Jewish communities were in Great Britain, with 300,000 Jews (0.65%); France, with 250,000 (0.6%); and the Netherlands, with 156,000 (1.8%). Additionally, 60,000 Jews (0.7%) lived in Belgium, 4,000 (0.02%) in Spain, and 1,200 (0.02%) in Portugal. Close to 16,000 Jews lived in Scandinavia, including 6,700 (0.11%) in Sweden, 5,700 (0.15%) in Denmark, 1,800 (0.05%) in Finland, and 1,400 (0.05%) in Norway. 

Eduard, Elisabeth, and Alexander Hornemann. The boys, victims of tuberculosis medical experiments at Neuengamme concentration camp, ...

Southern Europe

In southern Europe, Greece had the largest Jewish population, with about 73,000 Jews (1.2%). There were also significant Jewish communities in Yugoslavia (68,000, or 0.49%), Italy (48,000, or 0.11%), and Bulgaria (48,500, or 0.8%). 200 Jews (0.02%) lived in Albania.

Portrait of the family of Mushon and Rebeka Kamchi in Bitola.

Jewish Communities before the Nazi Seizure of Power

Before the Nazis seized power in 1933, Europe had a richly diverse set of Jewish cultures. Many of these cultures were dynamic and highly developed. They drew from hundreds and, in some areas, a thousand or more years of Jewish life on the continent. The diverse nature of individual Jewish communities in occupations, religious practices, involvement and integration in regional and national life, and other areas made for fruitful and varied Jewish life across Europe. In many countries, Jews stood as cultural and political luminaries, and had marched alongside non-Jews in World War I.

In little more than a decade, most of Europe would be conquered, occupied, or annexed by Nazi Germany and its Axis partners, and the majority of European Jews—two out of every three—would be dead.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • Why did Germany target a minority that was such a small part of its population?
  • Why do governments target minorities, especially those that may be a very small part of the population?