January 5: Karaites and the Nazis

The Nazis decreed Germany’s Russian/Polish Karaite sect to be exempt from the Nuremberg Racial Laws on this date in 1939. Karaite Jews, probably dating back to the 7th century, believe in the Divine authority of the Bible only, not of the Talmud or subsequent Jewish writings. At the time of Nazism’s rise, they lived mostly in Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq. The sect exempted by the Nazis were probably descendants of these original Karaites, but had presented themselves to the Russian tsar half a century earlier as descendants of Turkic and Mongol tribes and therefore free of responsibility for the killing of Jesus Christ.  According to historian Warren Paul Green, “an unknown number of Jews . . . were able to save themselves from an inevitable death by assuming the identities of Polish Karaites and Tatars. . . . Many such ‘Karaites’ escaped from the Vilna Ghetto and lived in the Aryan section of the city untouched by all the persecutions that affected the Jews in the ghetto.” Today there are some 50,000 Karaites in the world, mostly in Israel. For an interesting article about the complex fate of Karaites in the Holocaust, click here.

“I have uncovered no less than six documented cases of exemptions being granted to groups of ‘Jewish’ origin. In all cases, spokesmen for these communities argued that they were not of ‘Jewish’ origin and that in the past they had had little contact with Ashkenazi Jews. These groups . . . included the Judeo-Tats, Georgian Jews, Jugutim, Subbotniks, Judeo-Celts and the Nahomine. . . . As a result . . . an estimated 70,000 such persons were theoretically exempted from extermination.” –Warren Paul Green

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Comments (2)

  1. The story on the Karaites was interesting, as are all of these daily posts. In the summer of 2009 I visited Lithuania and on a tour of Vilnius(Vilna) my guide took me to a small town past the deadly forest of Holocaust masscres and we visited a house of worship of the small Karaite community there. The “clergy” inside spoke in a rudimentary Hebrew, a “holy ark” was the focus of the small building which had balcony seating and a “10 Commandment” wood carving was above the ark. A neighbor treated us to meat filled pastries which she assured me contained no forbidden pork. Always interesting to encounter possible MOT’s.

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