The Nazi regime enacted many anti-Jewish policies after coming to power in 1933. Nazi plans to build a new German "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft") included efforts to exclude Jews from all areas of German society. But Nazi leaders first had to agree on how to determine who could be considered “Aryan” or Jewish.
In September of 1935, the Nazi regime isssued the Nuremberg Race Laws,1 which established a legal basis for categorizing Jews and stripped them of their rights as full citizens of Germany. The Nazis claimed that racial classifications of Jews and other groups were based on scientific theories of heredity and eugenics,2 but the Nuremberg Laws actually relied on religious membership records and baptismal information to distinguish Jews from those with so-called “German blood.”3 The laws dictated that a person with three or more Jewish grandparents was considered Jewish, and a grandparent was considered fully Jewish if they belonged to a Jewish religious community. Those with one or two Jewish grandparents were classified by the term “Mischlinge,” a degrading term for “mixed-race.”4
The featured identification card belonged to Ruth Kittel, who was born in 1927 in Berlin to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother.5 With the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, eight-year-old Kittel was labeled a “Mischling.” However, because Kittel also attended a Jewish religious school, she was subject to another clause of the Nuremberg Laws that labeled her a “full Jew”6—and therefore a target for greater persecution. Kittel was soon banned from the German public school system and her access to food and other goods was restricted.7
Nazi authorities sought new ways to publicly identify Jews during the late 1930s. Under the “Law on Alteration of Family and Personal Names” of 1938, Jewish women and girls like Kittel were forced to take the name “Sara” as their legal middle names. Jewish men were forced to adopt the middle name “Israel.” Nazis authorities also stamped the letter “J” on all Jews’ passports and issued the Jewish population new identity cards with the letter “J” to be carried on their persons at all times. Signs of these discriminatory measures can be seen on Kittel’s identity card.8
Kittel’s identity card was issued by the Berlin police in February 1939 when she was eleven years old (authorities kept a copy of all identity cards for their internal records).9 The card gave Kittel an identification number and registered her fingerprints. The card also recorded some of her physical attributes and “distinguishing features.” Jews were supposed to present these cards automatically whenever dealing with authorities.10 The Nazi regime later ordered that Jews be made identifiable on sight, requiring in September 1941 that Jewish people wear a yellow Star of David badge on the outside of their clothing in public. During World War II, Kittel was forced to wear a star as she worked as a forced laborer in a factory under Gestapo supervision.11
In February 1943, when Kittel was sixteen, the Nazi regime began its final phase of mass deportations of Germany’s Jewish population to concentration camps, ghettos, and killing centers. Kittel was arrested during these roundups and was imprisoned at the Rosenstraße assembly camp in Berlin. Outside of the Rosenstraße prison, non-Jewish relatives of the prisoners held a demonstration against the detention and deportation of their Jewish loved ones.12 Kittel was released from Rosenstraße on March 6th.
Kittel ultimately managed to escape deportation and worked as a forced laborer at different factories throughout the war. After the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II, Kittel served as a secretary for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and immigrated to the United States in 1946.