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Mischling ("mixed-blood" in German, plural: Mischlinge) was the German legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both "Aryan" and Jewish ancestry. The Germanic root is cousin to the Latin term whence the Spanish term mestizo and French term métis originate.
In German, the word has the general denotation of hybrid, mongrel, or half-breed. Outside its use in official Nazi terminology, the term Mischlingskinder ("mixed children") was later used to refer to war babies born to non-white soldiers and German mothers in the aftermath of World War II.
As defined by the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, a Jew (Istjude or Volljude in Nazi terminology) was a person – regardless of religious affiliation or self-identification – who had at least three grandparents who had been enrolled with a Jewish congregation. A person with two Jewish grandparents was also legally "Jewish" (so-called Geltungsjude, roughly speaking, in English: "Jew by legal validity" or "to be deemed/reckoned as a Jew") if that person met any of these conditions:
A person who did not belong to any of these categorical conditions but had two Jewish grandparents was classified as a Jewish Mischling of the first degree. A person with only one Jewish grandparent was classified as a Mischling of the second degree. See Mischling Test.
Soon after passage of the Enabling Act of 1933, the Nazi government promulgated several antisemitic statutes, including the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service on 7 April 1933. Using this law, the regime aimed to dismiss—along with all politically-suspect persons such as social democrats, socialists, communists and many liberals of all religions—all "non-Aryans" from all government positions in society, including public educators, and those practicing medicine in state hospitals.
As a result, the term "non-Aryan" had to be defined in a way compatible with Nazi ideology. Under the "First Racial Definition" supplementary decree of 11 April, issued to clarify portions of the act passed four days prior, a "non-Aryan" (e.g. a Jew) was defined as one who had at least one Jewish parent or grandparent. Later, German citizens with only one Jewish grandparent were defined by the Nuremberg Laws as Mischling of the second degree. Their employment restrictions remained, but they were permitted to marry non-Jewish and non-Mischling Germans, and were not imprisoned. This distinction was not applied to non-German citizens.
According to the philosophy of Nazi antisemitism, Jewry was considered a group of people bound by close, genetic (blood) ties who formed an ethnic unit that one could neither join nor secede from. Early 20th-century books on Nordicism such as Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, had a profound effect on Hitler's antisemitism. He was convinced that the Nordic Race/Culture constituted a superior branch of humanity, and viewed International Jewry as a parasitic and inferior race, determined to corrupt and exterminate both Nordic peoples and their culture through Rassenschande ("racial pollution") and cultural corruption.
Another important factor in Nazi antisemitism was the growing presence of Marxism and Bolshevism in Europe, particularly in Germany. Hitler declared that Marxism was constructed by International Jewry, with the aim of Bolshevising the earth, ultimately allowing Jewry to dominate/exterminate the Aryan race. With this in mind, Hitler viewed Russia as a nation of Untermenschen ("subhumans" or 'Inferiors") dominated by their Judaic masters, which posed the gravest threat to both Germany and Europe as a whole.
The Nazis defined Jewishness as partly genetic, but did not always use formal genetic tests or physiognomic (facial) features to determine one's status (although the Nazis talked a lot about physiognomy as a racial characteristic). In practice, records concerning the religious affiliation(s) of one's grandparents were often the deciding factor (mostly christening records and membership registers of Jewish congregations).
The Schutzstaffel (SS) used a more stringent standard: In order to join, a candidate had to prove (presumably through baptismal records) that all direct ancestors born since 1750 were not Jewish, or they would have to apply for a German Blood Certificate instead. Later, when the stresses of the war made it implausible to confirm the ancestry of officer candidates, the extended proof of ancestry regulation was diminished to the standard laws requiring certified evidence of non-Judaism within two generations.
In the 19th century, many Jewish Germans converted to Christianity; most of them becoming Protestants rather than Catholics. Two-thirds of the German population were Protestant until 1938, when the Anschluss annexation of Austria to Germany added six million Catholics. The addition of 3.25 million Catholic Czechoslovaks of German ethnicity (Sudeten Germans) increased the percentage of Roman Catholics in Greater Germany to 41% (approximately 32.5 million vs. 45.5 million Protestants or 57%) in a 1939 population estimated at 79 million. One percent of the population was Jewish.
German converts from Judaism typically adopted whichever Christian denomination was most dominant in their community. Therefore, about 80% of the Gentile Germans persecuted as Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws were affiliated with one of the 28 regionally-delineated Protestant church bodies. In 1933 approximately 77% of German Gentiles with Jewish ancestry were Protestant, the percentage dropped to 66% in the 1939 census, after the annexations of 1938 (due in particular to the acquisition of Vienna and Prague, with their relatively large and well-established Catholic populations of Jewish descent). Converts to Christianity and their descendants had often married Christians with no recent Jewish ancestry.
As a result, by the time the Nazis came to power, many Protestants and Roman Catholics in Germany had some traceable Jewish ancestry (usually traced back by the Nazi authorities for two generations), so that the majority of 1st- or 2nd-degree Mischlinge were Protestant, yet many were Catholics. A considerable number of German Gentiles with Jewish ancestry were irreligionists.
Lutherans with Jewish ancestry were largely in northwestern and northern Germany, Evangelical Protestants of Jewish descent in Central Germany (Berlin and its southwestern environs) and the country's east. Catholics with Jewish ancestry lived mostly in Western and Southern Germany, Austria and what is now the Czech Republic.
Requests for reclassification (e.g., Jew to Mischling of 1st degree, Mischling of 1st degree to 2nd degree, etc. ) or Aryanization (see German Blood Certificate) were personally reviewed by Adolf Hitler. A reclassification approved by the Nazi party chancery and Hitler was considered an act of grace (Gnadenakt). Other de facto reclassifications, lacking any official document, were privileges accorded by high-ranking Nazis to certain artists and other experts by way of special protection.
A second way of reclassification was by way of declaratory judgment in court. Usually the discriminated person took the action, questioning their descent from the Jewish-classified man until then regarded as their biological (grand)father. Paternity suits aiming for reclassification (German: Abstammungsverfahren) appeared mostly with deceased, divorced, or illegitimate (grand)fathers. They usually sought to change the discriminated litigant's status from Jewish-classified to Mischling of first degree, or from Mischling of first degree to second degree. The numbers of such suits soared whenever the Nazi government imposed new discriminations and persecutions (such as the Nuremberg Laws 1935, Kristallnacht in 1938, and systematic deportations of Jewish Germans and Gentile Germans of Jewish descent to concentration camps, 1941).
The process was humiliating for the (grand)mothers who had to declare in court that they had committed adultery. The petitions were successful in the majority of cases. The high success rate was a result of several factors. First, some lawyers specialised in such procedures, prepared them professionally, and refused hopeless cases. There was no danger in the procedures because failure did not downgrade the classification of the litigant. Second, usually all the family members cooperated; including the sometimes still-living disputed (grand)father. Likely alternative fathers were often named, who either appeared themselves in court confirming their likely fatherhood, or who were already dead but were known as good friends, neighbours, or subtenants of the (grand)mother. Third, the obligatory and humiliating body examinations of those under suspicion were skewed by stereotypical Jewish perceptions. Expert witnesses would search for allegedly Jewish facial features, as conceived and understood by anti-Semites. If the doubted (grand)father was already dead, emigrated, or deported (as after 1941), the examination searched for these supposedly "Jewish" features in the physiognomy of the descendant (child). Since anti-Semitic clichés on Jewish outward appearance were so stereotyped, the average litigant did not show features clearly indicating their Jewish descent, so they often documented ambiguous results as medical evidence. Fourth, the judges tended to believe the accounts of the (grand)mothers, alternative fathers, doubted fathers, and other witnesses who had endured such public humiliation. They were not recorded for earlier perjuring, and judges would declare the prior paternity annulled, ensuring the status improvement for the litigant.
The effective assimilation of Jews and Gentiles of Jewish descent into their Gentile (and Christian) surroundings made matters much more complicated than the Nazis had anticipated; widespread corruption, and lack of ethical moorings among many Nazi leaders, frequently gave way to bribery, extortion, and other subterfuges concerning documentation of who was, or was not, a Jew.
According to the 1939 Reich census, there were about 72,000 Mischlinge of the 1st degree, ~39,000 of the 2nd degree, and potentially tens of thousands at higher degrees, which went unrecorded as those people were considered Aryan by the Reich.
According to historian Bryan Mark Rigg, an Israeli Army and United States Marine Corps veteran, up to 160,000 soldiers who were one-quarter, one-half, and even fully Jewish served in the German armed forces during World War II. This included several generals, admirals, and at least one field marshal, Erhard Milch.
On 20 July 1933, initiated by the actor Gustav Friedrich, Christian Germans of Jewish descent founded a self-help organisation, initially named Reich Federation of Christian-German Citizens of non-Aryan or not of purely Aryan descent (German: Reichsbund christlich-deutscher Staatsbürger nichtarischer oder nicht rein arischer Abstammung e.V.). The federation first counted only 4,500 members. In October 1934 the name was shortened to Reich association of non-Aryan Christians (German: Reichsverband der nichtarischen Christen). In 1935, members of the federation elected the known literary historian Heinrich Spiero their new president. Under his direction the federation's journal was improved and the number of members rose to 80,000 by 1936. In September 1936, the federation was renamed the more confident St Paul's Covenant Union of non-Aryan Christians (German: Paulus-Bund Vereinigung nichtarischer Christen e.V.) after the famous Jewish convert to Christianity Paul the Apostle.
In January 1937 the Nazi government forbade that organisation, allowing a new successor organisation named the 1937 Association of Provisional Reich Citizens of not purely German-blooded Descent (German: Vereinigung 1937 vorläufiger Reichsbürger nicht rein deutschblütiger Abstammung). This name cited the insecure legal status of Mischlinge, who had been assigned the revocable status of preliminary Reich's citizens by the Nuremberg Laws, while Jewish-classified Germans had become second-class state citizens (Staatsbürger) by these laws. The 1937 Association was prohibited from accepting state citizens as members—like Spiero—with three or four grandparents, who had been enrolled in a Jewish congregation. Thus that new association had lost its most prominent leaders and faded, having become an organisation solely for Mischlinge. The 1937 Association was compulsorily dissolved in 1939.
Pastor Heinrich Grüber and some enthusiasts started a new effort in 1936 to found an organisation to help Protestants of Jewish descent (Mischlinge and their (grand)parents, of whom at least one was classified as non-Aryan), but went completely neglected by the then official Protestant church bodies in Germany (see Prussian Union of churches#Protestants of Jewish descent).
After the war some Mischlinge founded the still-existing Notgemeinschaft der durch die Nürnberger Gesetze Betroffenen (Emergency association of the aggrieved by the Nuremberg Laws).
Some examples of Mischlinge:
Those who were considered Mischlinge were generally restricted in their options of partners and marriage. Mischlinge of first degree generally needed permission to marry, and usually only to other Mischlinge or Jewish-classified persons; however, a marriage to a Jewish-classified person would re-categorize the Mischling as Geltungsjude (Full Jew). After 1942, marriage permissions were generally not granted any more—arguably due to the war—without further notice. Mischlinge of second degree did not need permission to marry a spouse classified as Aryan; however, marriage with Mischlinge of any degree was unwelcome. The reasoning behind this was that a mischling marrying an Aryan would produce a child with an acceptably low amount of Jewish heritage, but a mischling marrying a mischling would just produce another mischling.
1st-degree Mischlinge, more so than those of 2nd-degree, had restricted access to higher education and were generally forbidden from attending such schools in 1942. As for vocations, most jobs in the public sphere—such as journalism, teaching, performing arts, government positions, politics etc.—were inaccessible to Mischlinge. Exceptions were granted for some prominent persons and those who acquired the necessary German blood certificates.
Beginning in the autumn of 1944, between 10,000 and 20,000 half-Jews (Mischlinge) and persons related to Jews by a so-called mixed marriage were recruited into special units of the Organisation Todt.
While the classifications of Mischling also applied in occupied Western and Central Europe, and were well-documented for the Netherlands and Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia, this was not the case in Eastern Europe. Persons who would have been deemed Jewish Mischlinge, in the East were classified as Jews in German-annexed Poland (Danzig-West Prussia, Warthegau, etc.), German-occupied Poland (General Government), German-occupied parts of the Soviet Union, and the German-occupied Soviet-annexed Baltic/Eastern Polish territories. Consequently, an unknown number of Christians of recent Jewish background from Poland and other occupied territories, primarily Catholics or Eastern Orthodox in this case, were killed as "Jewish" in the Holocaust.