Point 4 of the program of the National-Socialist Party states:

“[German] Citizen can only be who is a member of the people. A member of the people is who is of German blood, with no regard to the confession. No Jew can therefore be a member of the people.”

When Hitler’s party came to power in 1933, they worked steadily to deprive German Jews of their citizenship, and to incentivize them to leave Germany. Zionist Jews, at the same time, wanted Jews everywhere to immigrate to Palestine (not yet the nation of Israel). For this purpose, German authorities and Jewish-Zionist agencies worked closely together on this emigration. Jews interested in leaving received detailed advice and offers of help from both sides. Accounts of Jews fleeing Germany in secret by night across some border or straits are simply untrue; on the contrary, the German government was only too happy to have Jews live elsewhere – at least until well into the war, when emigrating Jews started to work for the Allies.

Pre-war Emigration from Germany

Zionists among German Jews aimed at winning over primarily young Jews for emigration to Palestine. They realized early on that working together with the National-Socialist regime was the only promising course for them. Hence, from the time Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, an ever-closer and positive relationship between Zionists and the National Socialists developed prior to the war, as German institutions were also desirous of completing the emigration as quickly as possible.

In Germany, three Jewish emigration agencies had operated since the beginning of the century: the Aid Association for German Jews (Hilfsverein für deutsche Juden) focused on emigration assistance to all parts of the world except Palestine; the Palestine Office (Palästinaamt) focused on emigration to Palestine; and the Main Office for Jewish Migration Welfare (Hauptstelle für jüdische Wanderfürsorge), initially with a focus on relocating Jews within Germany, and later assisted non-German Jews with their emigration efforts.

Two principal agreements were implemented by the National-Socialist government to promote the emigration of its unwanted Jewish citizens: the 1933 “Haavara” Agreement, and the 1939 “Rublee-Wohlthat” Agreement. Both agreements were practically in force until 1941, when the German government moved to ban the emigration of Jews from its realm on 23 October 1941 (see the entry for Kurt Daluege). The Haavara banking connection, however, ceased to function in December 1941 with America’s entry into the war.

Haavara Agreement

Already in February 1933, Palestinian representatives of the citrus-growing company Hanotea Ltd. approached the German government to explore ways of realizing their mutual interests: for the Germans, the emigration of Jews; for the Jewish Palestinians, the immigration of Jews. German authorities accepted the Jewish proposals, and in May 1933 the first accords on economic policy were signed, forming the basis of the Haavara (=Transfer) Agreement. The agreement allowed Jews who wished to migrate to Palestine at some point to deposit money into an account of Jewish banks in Germany. This money could be used to benefit Jewish individuals or companies in Palestine by investment, or to pay for medical insurance up to ten years in advance. This allowed Jews to circumvent existing German laws preventing capital flight abroad.

With a voucher system, the agreement also allowed German Jews to travel to Palestine without having to obtain heavily regulated and expensive British Pounds, and once they emigrated, they could obtain the minimum amount needed for this, demonstrating their ability to support themselves. This exception was made by Germany’s government exclusively for the benefit of the Jews. Emigrating Jews were also exempted from the so-called “Reich Escape Tax” (Reichsfluchtsteuer) which every non-Jew leaving Germany had to pay. Funds in the Haavara bank accounts could be used to pay for purchases in Palestine and several neighboring areas, and Jews in Palestine could pay into the Haavara accounts to help Jews in Germany – a transnational banking approach that was revolutionary at the time. Furthermore, Jews could transfer all their social-benefit and pension funds from Germany to Palestine.

The influx of German Jews, businesses and capital to Palestine starting in 1933 changed that area from a backward agricultural society to an increasingly highly educated and rapidly developing industrial and merchant region. Those people formed the basis of what would become the population of Israel after the war.

Emigration and the SS

Until late 1941, the SS and its agencies were very supportive of any activity encouraging Jewish emigration. They promoted the idea of a Jewish national and ethnic identity, and helped to establish and finance retraining centers in Germany (and later also in Austria) meant for young Jews willing to learn agricultural and trade skills, in order to prepare them for a new life in Palestine. The SS even provided the land on which such camps could be established.

Rublee-Wohlthat Agreement

The Rublee-Wohlthat Agreement was initiated after the pogrom of November 9/10 1938 (Kristallnacht), when both NS Germany and many foreign countries felt the need to have as many Jews leave Germany as possible. As with Palestine, other countries also required proof of the immigrant’s financial self-sufficiency, which caused considerable problems for Germany. The German Reichsbank was forced to provide large amounts of already-scarce foreign currency for this emigration. In addition, many countries refused to accept Jewish immigrants at all.

The agreement seeking a financial solution to this problem was named after the two main negotiating personalities: the U.S. lawyer George Rublee, director of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, formed in mid-1938 by 30 countries concerned about Germany’s anti-Jewish policies, and the German political scientist Helmuth Wohlthat, a subordinate of Hermann Göring in charge of foreign trade and foreign currency regulation.

The agreement established trust funds comprising 25 percent of the wealth belonging to Jews in Germany. Jewish emigration would be financed through foreign loans, for which both the UK and the U.S. pledged to raise considerable funds. Each Jewish emigrant would receive the requisite amount of cash for entry, plus a minimum amount of capital necessary to establish himself. Jews over 45 years of age were to be able to remain in Germany and be protected from discrimination. Residential and work restrictions for these Jews were to be lifted. Hitler wholeheartedly assented to the agreement, while the 30 governmental representatives of the Intergovernmental Committee merely promised to do everything to facilitate the emigration of Jews from Germany. Based on that agreement, Germany established the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration in January 1939, headed by Reinhardt Heydrich, to simplify the emigration process, but the success was limited, again because most countries (other than Palestine) refused to accept Jewish immigrants.

Emigration from German-Controlled Areas during the War

With the outbreak of war, emigration diminished, mainly due to the Royal Navy blocking previously used sea routes. Palestine was furthermore practically closed to immigration due to severely tightened British requirements for entry. Hence, Jewish emigration continued mainly over land, and was possible due to international Jewish connections and German bureaucratic assistance, but also due to an organization that was later to play a completely different role – the Jewish underground organization Mossad le Aliyah Bet, which later turned into Israel’s secret-service agency (the Mossad).

Even after Germany’s official policy changed from emigration to deportation and resettlement to the East, Adolf Eichmann, the SS official in charge of Jewish affairs and deportation, collaborated closely with the Mossad to support “illegal” emigration of hundreds of thousands of European Jews. SS units even escorted Jewish emigration groups across the border to ensure their safe passage. (For details, see Weckert 2016; Black 1984; Nicosia 1985.)

Final Solution

As emigration became increasingly difficult after the outbreak of the war, a different approach to the problem was required – not the least because of the conquest of Poland and the victory over France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, in which millions more Jews came under German influence. Therefore, on 24 June 1940, Heydrich approached the German Foreign Minister for a ministerial meeting regarding the “final solution of the Jewish question,” where he wanted to discuss new approaches to solving the Jewish problem not by emigration, but by finding a dedicated territory under German control where all European Jews could be resettled.

This initiative resulted in the so-called Madagascar Plan, meaning the transfer of this French colony in a peace treaty from France to Germany, and the establishment of a Jewish autonomous region on that island under German auspices. (See the entry on Madagascar for more details.) Other plans were briefly discussed as well, such as relocating Jews to the Soviet Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan – but was rejected by the Soviet Union (see that entry for more details).

When it became clear that there would be no peace in the West, and when Germany had large initial successes during its invasion of the Soviet Union, which the Germans expected to eventually collapse, plans for this Final Territorial Solution shifted toward the newly occupied territories in the East.

For more details on the German policy of deportation and resettlement to the East from late 1941 until 1943, see the entries on resettlement and Final Solution.

Emigration Figures

In April 1943, Dr. Richard Korherr, the SS’s head statistician, wrote a report titled “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe,” in which he reported the following data for emigrations of Jews from German-controlled territories (Nuremberg Document NO-5193):

Emigration of Jews from German-Controlled Territories, acc. to Richard Korherr


From… to 31 Dec. 1942


Old Reich (with Sudeten Jews)

31 Jan. 1933 (29 Sept. 1938)


Ostmark [Austria]

13 March 1938


Bohemia & Moravia [Czechia]

16 March 1939


Eastern territories (with Bialystok)

September 1939 (June 1940)


General Government (with Lemberg)

September 1939 (June 1940)




Therefore, the German National-Socialist government allowed and supported the emigration of more than 1.3 million Jews out of German-controlled territories.

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