Expelled from School
“I think it is imperative to give the Jews certain public parks, not the best ones — and tell them: ‘You may sit on these benches;’ these benches shall be marked ‘For Jews only.’ … It is out of the question that any boy should sit beside a Jewish boy…Jews ought to be eliminated completely from German schools; they may take care of their own education in their own communities.” (Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister, in a Nazi meeting in 1938.)
Zuzana Sermer (second row, far right) in her Grade 9 class picture. Humenné, Slovakia, 1938–1939. Azrieli Foundation, courtesy of Zuzana Sermer.
Excluding Jews from education was part of an effort to separate them from the rest of society. As early as 1933, the Nazis implemented a law that placed a limit on the number of Jews allowed in schools and universities in Germany. By 1939, more than four hundred decrees had been made to separate Jews from “Aryan” society, and Jews had been stripped of their rights as German citizens.
As the Nazis took control of countries across Europe, the outbreak of war and the adoption of anti-Jewish laws barred more Jewish youth from getting an education.
What was it like for students when they were no longer allowed to go to school?
Jewish Schools Closed
“The Germans occupied our city in the first days of the war. Lodz had a large German population that welcomed the occupiers with open arms. I began high school apprehensive and fearful. Everyone understood that the Germans would not allow Jewish schools to remain open. Indeed, after a short while the order came to close them. My school days seemed to be over.”
A Moment of Kindness
“Schools were ordered not to allow us in and public swimming areas became prohibited to us. Once, as I walked near my home alone, I noticed my Grade 3 teacher across the street. He crossed toward me and, as we passed, he shook my hand and quickly said, ‘Be brave.’ He took a great risk, as even talking to a Jew was regarded as a crime.”
Jewish Institutions Are Shut Down
“When the Nazis occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, the Jewish school ceased to exist. The Gestapo and SS arrived in Užhorod [Ungvár] swiftly and before we knew it, they began to implement anti-Jewish laws. Jewish children were not allowed to go to school anymore. Since there were no classes, my pupils stayed home with their parents. Imagine the contrast — this was a town where Jewish schools of all types had thrived for decades. All of these institutions — elementary schools, high schools, yeshivas, even the Jewish hospital and home for the elderly — were shut down.”
“Because You’re a Jew”
“That fall, when I was supposed to be in Grade 3, I was expelled from school, but not for misbehaviour, and I was not alone. With growing antisemitism in Romania, all Jewish kids were kicked out of school. In my case, I was called in front of the class by the teacher, who pulled out her big black student attendance book and whacked me over the head with it, saying, ‘You can’t come to school any more or ever again, and you’ll never grow any taller because you’re a Jew.’ Later, right before we were deported, she made a point of walking right by our house to gloat.”
Nothing to Do
“The students and teachers assembled in the courtyard in front of the school, and the principal announced the sad news. Pale, and with a trembling voice, he read the official decree: ‘In accordance with the instructions of the German authorities, all schools in the Warsaw district will be closed.’ He didn’t mention the fact that only the schools for Jewish children were to be closed. Of course, in comparison to what happened later on, this was a small event, but it was my first negative experience of the occupation. So now I was unable to go to school and had to stay at home all day with my mother, with nothing to do.”
“I Never Went to High School”
Key Anti-Jewish Laws and Measures in the Nazi Era
During the Nazi period, anti-Jewish restrictions were put in place in Germany and across Europe. Many countries passed anti-Jewish legislation in these years, sometimes modelled on Nazi Germany’s antisemitic policies. In countries they occupied, the Nazis imposed their own laws. Soon, Jews in most of Europe had been deprived of almost all of their rights.