How many jews were able to successfully pose as non-Jewish during the Holocaust?

Faced with extermination and no way to get out I assume some Jews tried to pose as non Jews during the nazi regime.

If you didn’t “look” Jewish, moved to a different area of the country where nobody knew you, assumed a new name, went to a Protestant church, etc, were some of them able to pull it off? Any data on how many were able to do this?

Or did the nazis do an ancestry background and track every citizen?

I have heard it said - sorry, no cite - that many girls - especially baby girls - survived because they were taken in by others. Jewish boys, of course, were circumcised, and thus easily caught.

You know all those old movies in which the authorities ask you for your papers? These are the papers they’re talking about.

Germany was very regimented and had been since Bismarck pulled it together into a country. People could not simply wander around the way Americans could. The authorities knew where you were born, what religion you were, where you lived, where you worked. If anything changed you had to report to the appropriate office and let them know. If they asked for your papers and they weren’t in order, you could be hauled in. No other charges were necessary.

To be sure, there was still a criminal underground that attempted to stay out of sight. I’m sure some Jews used those connections or similar ones to attempt to evade or escape the system. Nevertheless, doing so would be extremely tough to maintain. The number who could do so successfully would be minuscule.

OTOH, the system could occasionally work against the Nazis. I know of a jailed Jew who was released because the small town he came from registered all births in the local church. Somehow that was a sufficient confounding factor. He immediately fled the country, though, because that was unlikely to happen a second time.

I have a sort of aunt (the sister of my aunt by marriage) who passed for several years, but then finally got arrested. She was in a concentration camp for about a year. She was blonde and hazel-eyed, with a small nose. She got raped by the guards in the camp a lot, but she thought it might have saved her life, because they brought her better food and clean clothes, since they wanted her in better health for their “use.” She was 17 when she was arrested.

Her getting arrested provoked her parents to buy false papers for their middle daughter, who got a new, German name, and went to live with a German family who was paid to take her, and claim she was a relative and a war orphan. She survived as well. It took her father over a year to track her down after the war was over, though. She had sort of ginger hair, and blue-grey eyes. The experience affected her profoundly. She had trouble reconnecting emotionally with her family, and her own marriage failed.

The two youngest children stayed with their parents, and were very sick by the end of the war from malnutrition, but fared better emotionally.

Of course, two of the family’s children, boys who were 12 & 14, were gassed, so surviving, even with PTSD, is nothing to sniff at.

Of interest:

There are also Wiki articles on this. Haven’t read the book but I believe most of these examples would not be considered Jewish by the strictest Jewish definition (eg, Jewish father but Gentile mother). Nevertheless the Nazis considered them Jewish, but tolerated their presence.

Maybe just easier that way, but possibly a tax grab. You had to pay church taxes according to your registered religion. Which is also part of the reason why everyone had a registered religion.

The vast majority of Jews who would have needed to hide from the Nazis were not Germans or in Germany.

That’s very true. How did that work out for them?

The serious answer is that religious identification was built into most European systems. Jews had to exist outside the church-dominated bureaucratic structures. Entering them as an adult was extremely difficult, especially when many of the Christians were willing, or eager, to expose suspicious newcomers. Some children may have survived this way, but I’d need evidence to show that many adults did.

Did they stop circumcising after a certain point so that Jewish boys WEREN’T so easily caught?

The Germans had a handy reference chartthat spelled out who was and was not a Jew based on the ‘Nuremburg Laws.’ The chart goes back three generations. This shows the first big problem with trying to falsify your ancestry. For such a deception to succeed, the escapee had to provide documentation all the way back to their great-grandparents. And if you conveniently ‘lost’ your documents, the municipal government would surely have kept copies, and there were plenty of former ‘friends’ in the village who already knew who you were.

The second big problem was that the Holocaust was not a sudden event. Nobody just showed up one day and said, “Hey, we’re going to kill all the Jews now, so show us your papers.” The Holocaust happened incrementally and it escalated over the course of the decade. The Nazis started researching and databasing these family records years in advance. Most people’s “status” was probably decided long before they ever realized it was a matter of life or death.

So what if someone did just run away and move to a new city and try to erase their past? People were not as mobile as they are today. If you showed up in a new place before the Nazis moved in, there were no shortage of collaborators who would happily turn you in. To be fair, there were many people who did try to resist and many who did help the Jews. But when a Nazi investigator turned up, it didn’t take much effort to identify that one suspicious foreign family who moved into town and doesn’t like talking about their past. And if they didn’t have their “identification papers” (which were crucial documents) it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

So does that mean that nobody ever succeeded? No. But it wasn’t easy.

Solomon Perel is a pretty well-documented example of a Jew who successfully ‘passed.’ He somehow convinced his interrogators that his identity papers had been destroyed. He entered the German Army. When a German medical officer tried to rape him, the rapist discovered Solomon’s circumcision but decided to (A) not rape him and (B) help him rather than turn him in. Weird. Anyway, he successfully maintained the deception. I think they made a movie about him.

There are many other examples of people who hid themselves or established new identities. You can Google it and find all kinds of anecdotes about people who came up with various schemes to avoid the Nazis. Practically all of them needed the help of an ally who could vouch for them. Often, it involved parents giving up their children to friends who would adopt them and help keep their secret. (The parents, of course, had no such option and knew they would die). This was extremely risky for all involved.

But to return to OP’s question: How many attempted to hide their identities and how many succeeded? Nobody knows. There are many stories of people who lived their whole lives as Catholics and only confessed on their deathbeds (long after the war) that they were born “Jewish.” There are organizations (such Shevai Israel) dedicated to helping descendants who want to re-claim their Jewish identities. I read one article that claimed experts estimate ‘tens of thousands’ of people either lived undercover or were raised without knowledge of their Jewish heritage. But that’s the problem with keeping secret… It makes the phenomenon really hard to quantify.

As the first concentration camp was opened within 30 days after Hitler took power, this would have been hard to accomplish.

Also, the German government (even before the Nazis*) had kept detailed, documented records on every citizen. That’s part of why the Nazi Holocaust was so effective.

Overall, about 2/3rds of the Jewish population of Europe was killed. This varied by country. Roughly, it corresponded with the length of time that Nazis ruled the country, or with how heated the battles with that country were. (Thus Poland & the Soviet Union Jews were among the hardest hit.)

*See the book IBM and the Holocaust for detailed info about the data processing systems involved. For example, there were computers (punched card machines) inside the major concentration camps, to keep their records.

Historically, even under threat of death Jews continues to try to circumcise their infant boys. Not just under the Nazis - in Syria around 170 BC and Rome around 130 AD as examples. You can probably find a few, rare exceptions but basically, no, they didn’t stop circumcising boys.

Some really good posts here. Thanks all. :slight_smile:
In case you’re wondering, I was watching Inglorious Basterds the other day, that’s what made me think of the question.

I’ve read that in the 1970’s, Shevai Israel was talking to people in Spain who had been RC for generations, but still had important private family traditions like “We don’t eat pork on Saturday”

In England, there are different accents for different areas of the country. You couldn’t easily show up in London and pass for Wiltshire if you were Yorkshire, for example. Cockneys could be spotted by ear. irish immigrants - also easy to spot by accent, name, etc. So keep in mind that most countries in Europe were similar. (There’s the joke about Bavarians being hillbillies or some such). Plus, as mentioned, the “papers” thing - ID was required for basic life. If you made up a complete identity - well, it could be checked against parish records. We forget how in the days before people had automobiles and commuted 30 miles or more to work each day, most neighbourhoods were like small towns - the nosey old biddy across the street knew everyone’s business and gossiped to everyone else about it. The idea that large cities are anonymous is a modern conceit aided by autos and air conditioning (which lets you hide inside your dwelling). If you spent more than a few weeks in a neighbourhood, others noticed and speculated. Every little factoid you let slip was noted; what information you would not share was also noted. People are often nasty - keep in mind, someone snitched on Anne Frank’s family for no other reason (as far as we know) than to be a snitch. When the Germans decided to switch the Hungarian government and take it over, the local Hungarian Nazi equivalents were happy to help out in rounding up and even slaughtering Jews. Quite a number of children were rounded up because some nosey neighbour blabbed about the strange child down the street.

(Much the same as there were no secrets or privacy in the middle ages - when everyone of importance needed servants, you couldn’t hide your peccadilloes from the help; with the right bribe, someone was likely to talk…)

(It’s still the nasty same today - one fellow in Abu Ghraib reported how he was arrested because he’d lent money to a neighbour. When he asked to be repaid, the fellow got out of the debt by claiming to the authorities the guy was a terrorist.)

Was circumcision used much to identify jewish men & boys? I’ve never heard of the Nazis lining people up with their pants down to have a wang inspection.

I never heard of Nazis demanding men drop their pants on public streets, but given that circumcision outside of Judaism is rare in Europe (being mainly for medical reasons, which are uncommon) yes, it was probably part of identifying suspected Jews.

Yes, I did wonder about that. In Hermann Wouk’s Winds of War there is a scene when some escaping Americans (Jews and Christians) are caught by Germans. The Corporal tells his officer that “a physical examination” would reveal the “Jews”. The Americans reply that all of them are circumsised, including a Roman Catholic Priest (who is part of the group) and our hero (Protestant).

I knew one man a decade ago who escaped to France by simply taking the train and presenting his actual papers…and bluffing. Once there he stayed with a Jewsih Charity. When Guderians Panzer’s showed up he escaped to the channel taking a small boat with some other refugees…

He returned on 6th of June 1944; as a British 2/Lt.
Man I wish I had asked him more. :frowning:

I had neighbours… two houses down from me. Jews. Both spent three years in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsem. Watched both sets of their parents die in the street…but even in the camps after being tatood and raped and dehumanized… they kept that star of david on their clothes. Why? Because fuck them. That’s why. They both made it out somehow… he slept with a german luger under his pillow for the rest of his 90 year life… and in a twist of fate… she has succomb to dementia and no longer remembers… but a lot of jews…facing certain death or worse… refused to hide. True men and strong women… were not going to take that shit from the shaddows.

Not jewish by the way… was just always inspired by that old married couples story.