Law and History Review

Forum: Racial Determination and the Law in Comparative Perspective

“In the Interest of the Volk…”: Nazi-German Paternity Suits and Racial Recategorization in the Munich Superior Courts, 1938–1945

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan c1

In Nazi Germany, integration into the community of the Volk, or exclusion and persecution, were determined by the regime's categories. As legal historian Michael Stolleis has noted, this new National Socialist terminology “quick[ly] penetrat[ed] … into the old conceptual world” of German jurisprudence and the country's court system. In line with the prescriptions of the political leadership of the Hitler state, bureaucrats of the Justice and Interior Ministries in Berlin drafted novel legislation that, once issued as new laws, judges, state attorneys, and lawyers readily interpreted and put into practice. With the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, the main racial designations evolved around a tripartite terminology of “full Jews [Volljuden],” “Jewish mixed breeds [Mischlinge],” and “persons of German and kindred blood.” In accordance with paragraph 5 of the first supplementary decree to the Reich Citizenship Law of November 1935, state authorities classified any descendant “from at least three grandparents who [we]re racially full Jews” as Jewish. Paragraph 3 defined Mischlinge of the first degree, introduced as a novel legal category, as Jewish Mischlinge with two grandparents “who [we]re racially full Jews.” The supplementary decrees did not explicitly delineate the term “person of German blood”, but the main commentary of the Nuremberg Laws loosely tied this term to the “German Volk” as a community comprised of six basic races, including the Nordic and East Baltic ones.

(Online publication May 09 2011)

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan is Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Davidson College <>.


Research for this article was made possible by a grant from the Holocaust Educational Foundation in Illinois, a research fellowship from the Graduate School of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Faculty Travel Grant from the Dean Rusk International Studies Program at Davidson College.