Anne Frank & Identifying the Jewish in World War II

Approximately 5,700,000 Jews were killed during the Holocaust in concentration camps or from Nazi brutality. But how is it that the Nazis knew that the people they were killing were Jewish? It was through elaborate planning and propaganda that the Nazis identified Jews and Jewish communities before World War II. The forms of identification varied, but all were meant to make it easier for the Nazis to discriminate against Jews by making them easy to differentiate from other European races. The identification of Jews was undertaken systematically through repeated widespread means in order to expedite the Final Solution of the Nazis, and these methods can be found in the Diary of Anne Frank in the form of how the residents of the secret annex identify with themselves, and how they are identified by the general public.

In order to identify Jews, the Germans first had to define what a Jew was, which they did through law. The Nürnberg Laws enacted in September of 1935 were made by Adolf Hitler, and used by the Nazis to first restrict Jews in Germany to being subjects of the state, and forbade interracial marriage between Jews and non-Jews, as well as interracial sexual relations. This severely restricted Jews as not being able to leave the country, and confined them to a certain locale for easier identification. It also made it easer to identify unmarried Jews. The later addition to the law is the part that deals directly with identification. In the supplementary decree enacted in November of 1935, a Jew was defined as "a person with at least one Jewish grandparent" (Nürnberg Laws). This definition was later changed to include anyone who had a Jewish spouse. So people who had at least one Jewish grandparent, or had a Jewish spouse were defined as being Jewish in the eyes of the Nazis.

So in defining Jews through the Nürnberg Laws, the Nazis were ready to begin the next form of identification through a census system. All Jews were required to fill out a census. The information on the census included age, sex, religion, home address, type of employment, and number of Jewish relatives (Seltzer). It is important to note, however, that although religion was usually used to identify Jews, the Jews were not considered a religious group, but as an actual race of Jewish people. The Nazis were not the only ones to implement these census systems. Local governments, such as in France, also made use of the census (Ryan). France was convinced through German propaganda to make use of a census to keep track of its Jewish population. The census made is possible to not only identify Jewish peoples, but allowed the Nazis to identify where Jewish populations were located, and how many were living in one area. Information like this allowed them to instate a quota system to keep track of the number of Jews sent to concentration camps and the number that were remaining in any one area. According to the population concentration of Jews, the Nazis moved to assimilate the area numbering the greatest in Jewish numbers. In addition, the census information allowed the Nazis to know the exact location of each Jewish family, which in turn made the collection of Jews to be sent to concentration camps much more efficient. Finally, the information of the Jewish jobs allowed the Nazis to contact employers with propaganda to convince them that employment of Jews was not a very favorable practice. Jews attempted to avoid the census by moving to another area, or just not taking the census at all. If Jews moved, they were required to fill out a census in their new place of residence. Failure register for the census in a new residence, or refusal to take the census resulted in the person being arrested, and deported to a concentration camp (Ryan, pg 39). In the Netherlands, a dot-map technique was used in 1941 to track populations of Jews in and around Amsterdam. This composed of taking a map and using dots to mark a certain increment of the number of Jews living in an area. In the Netherlands the cataloging of Jews was established through the Dutch administration services’ population registration system, which was in essence the same as a census, but was a more technically advanced process (Seltzer).

After being identified through census systems, the Jewish population was forced to carry or wear a form of identification, and change their names to make identification easier. The most common of these was the yellow or blue star, which was worn on the left breast and back of the Jews’ clothing. This was a small patch of yellow cloth shaped like the Star of David and with the Star of David drawn on it. It also usually had the word "Jew" or "Jude" printed on it. Jews were required to make these stars themselves as a sort of demoralization technique. If not wearing a yellow star, a Jew could be arrested and put in prison or exported to a concentration camp (Holocaust). The other form of identification was in that of a passport or identification papers. A Jewish passport had a large red J stamped on the inside to notify the reader that the bearer of the passport was Jewish, along with the bearer’s place of residence. The passport was mainly used when Jews were forced by Nazis to relocate to different countries. Identification papers were used in a more confined locale, and Jews were required to have them at all times, as well as Nazis. The identification papers held the same information as a passport, but also included more personal information. Nazis carried these papers to prove that they were not Jewish, and thereby able to escape any accidental prosecution from their own kind. Failure to produce the identification papers on request resulted in pretty much the same thing as failure to produce a passport (Holocaust). Encouragement was high for Jews to adopt and use only Jewish names, which was a restriction as well as a form of identification, for only the Jews actually wanted to use Jewish names. This was important because it made the identification of Jews easier. Anyone with a Jewish name could be assumed to be Jewish.

The requirement of Jews to carry identification on them fit into the four step plan of the Final Solution in which the entire Jewish race would be eradicated. First off, identification of Jews took place using racial laws that defined what it was to be Jewish, and requiring them to participate in a census. Secondly, the identification and population data extracted from the census was used to take hold of Jewish property, kick Jewish peoples from certain higher paying and more influential jobs. Third, because of the lack of resources for money and food, the Jews were forced to move into much more concentrated conditions in inner city ghettos, where they were much more easily controlled by the Nazis. In these places, rent was cheaper, and food much more available, if not the best possible food. The Jews were much more easily controlled after being concentrated in these ghettos, as they were no longer able to do anything to support themselves or their families. This isolation also kept the Jews away from any supporters who might take them into hiding to prevent any harm from befalling them. Most of all, it made for easy and quick identification of any Jewish people. Finally, the Jews in these inner city ghettos were rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps, where they were put into heavy labor or systematically executed (Sowards).

These four steps of identification and subsequent oppression are very clearly seen in Anne Frank’s Diary, but in a different form. The identification in the diary takes on an oppressive nature through keeping Anne and her family from doing many activities because of their being Jewish. Evidence of this is present in the diary, where Anne says that people identified by the yellow star were restricted by the following: they were not allowed to use public or private transportation, including bikes, were restricted in the times of day that they could shop or be walking on the streets, or be in public places after 8:00 PM, nor could they visit any Christians in their homes, and were required to attend Jewish only schools to name a few (Frank, pg 8). In fear of the Germans coming to confiscate their possessions, Anne’s family was forced to give most of the belongings and furniture to other non-Jews that they trusted. It was the identity of Anne and her family as being Jewish that was a risk to both them and their helpers, but they resisted in this way by helping Anne’s family. Because Anne’s family was identified as being Jewish, they had to be wary of being called up by the Nazis to be taken to a concentration camp, and when Anne’s father was, they immediately fled Anne’s house, leaving most of their possessions except for the bare necessities, and they hid their identity during the brief move from her old house into the annex. Being identified as Jews would have thwarted their escape plans, but they managed to get through it, and were safely hiding themselves, and their identity. It also hid their location from the outside world, so the identification technique of using a census to pinpoint the residence of each Jewish family was avoided in this manner (ibid, pg 18). None of Anne’s family could go out and buy food; they had others, mostly supportive Christians, help them by going out to the market and getting food for the family. This is yet another form of resistance to identification. The grocers could only sell to non-Jews, but the food that they sold to the Christians went to the non-Jews they were supporting, and were able to slip through the fingers of Nazi policy.

In addition to interaction with the outside world, the identification of the annex as a Jewish community is a compelling idea. The two families living together in cramped conditions is much like a Nazi imposed ghetto, but the people here are able to maintain their identity without fear of persecution or having to worry about constantly identifying themselves to everyone else as a Jew and being scared because of it.Anne talks about this later in her diary when they are in fear of being discovered. She identifies with her religion, and says that "the Jewish people will be held up as an example. Maybe our religion will teach the world and all the people in it about goodness, and that’s the reason, the only reason, we have to suffer" (Frank, pg 257). This argues that her religion is a link to her identity in the annex by showing that Anne is hoping that if Jews survive, as she is doing, then the message of Jews resisting will be spread, and people will come to fight for them. Anne was able to have free expression in the annex away from German control and intervention. The annex was a freedom of identity, from constraints or bounds. They were Jewish, but in the annex, they were not oppressed for being so.

The annex is a place where identification is no longer an issue or worry, but in the outside world around them, during the war, the identification of Jews continued to happen, and many people were taken away to concentration camps. We can see that the identification of Jews through these many methods allow the Nazis to much more easily control and manipulate the Jewish population, and through this identification, many of the Jews were persecuted a lot easier and much faster. Anne was able to avoid being identified as Jewish because of her escape to the Annex, but in the end was identified as Jewish once again.


Works Cited

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Trans. Susan Massotty. Ed. Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler. New York: Bantam, 1991.

"Nürnberg Laws." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <> [Accessed 27 February 2000].

"Holocaust." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <> [Accessed 27 February 2000].

Ryan, Donna F. The Holocaust and the Jews of Marseille. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.

Sowards, Steven W. The traditional regimes and the challenge of Nazism: Collaboration vs. resistance. [Accessed February 27, 2000]. November 3, 1998. <>.

Seltzer, William. "Population Statistics, the Holocaust, and the Nuremburg Trials." Population and Development Review Vol 24, No 3, September 1998. [Accessed February 26, 2000]. <>.