When Adolf Hitler and the “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” took the reins of government in 1933, only two things truly mattered to the new German head of state: power and control. Movement of citizens while inside, leaving or entering the Reich’s lands was given top consideration so as to keep what the Nazis believed as “undesirable people” out of the country and others from fleeing oppression in the new regime. In addition, limits were set on the amount of currency that could be carried out of the cash poor foundering German economy of the early 1930s.
Passports had been required in Germany since first being issued by the North German Confederation in 1867. They were used as a proof of identity and enabled the holder to travel both within Germany and outside to foreign countries. During World War I, and lasting into the early 1920s, additional visas for entry into and exit out of the country were required for economic and security reasons.
In the Weimar government period following WWI, the cover of the 32-page German passports consisted of a 15.5 by 10.5cm hard paper gray/brown stock with a black Weimar eagle and the words “Deutsches Reich Reisespass” printed across the front. As the Nazis came to power, and older supplies of Weimar passports were exhausted, new passports bearing the national “Hoheitszeichen” (National emblem of an outstretched eagle perched on a canted swastika and wreath) were issued to German travelers. The first cover had the eagle and swastika between the words “Deutsches Reich” and “Reisepass”, while the later 1940 version had the eagle and swastika above the same words. The first page listed an issuance number, tax stamp and the name of the holder. The second page showed the bearer’s photo (two photos in the case of a shared passport for husband and wife) with their signature below. Following this was information concerning the holder such as birthdate, maiden name, occupation, residence, date of issue, expiration date, issuing authority, comments, physical characteristics and listing of any children. The fourth page designated whether the passport was good for travel “Ausland” (to foreign countries) or within “Deutschland” (Germany proper). The following pages listed the departure and arrival entries and control stamps of the German or foreign border authorities. In addition, currency exchanges for the individuals were listed and verified by the customs and border guards as a way to control the flow of cash. Expiration periods of passports varied from one to five years, with severe limitations of travel imposed as the Nazis grew stronger and the likelihood of war increased.
When a new law of Nazi oppression was passed in August, 1938, people identified as being Jewish faced more hurdles under Hitler’s dictatorship. Since Jewish people were to be separated from the “Aryan” Germans, their old passports were to be turned in to the authorities, and new ones issued with a stamped red letter “J” on the first page. If the holder had too much of a “German” sounding name, then either “Israel” (for men) or Sara” (for women) was added to their middle name.
In addition to a Reich citizen’s passport, the German “Fremdenpass” was an identification passport document for non-German, stateless people who lived in German protectorates. This 28-page booklet was hardbound in gray finished cardstock with a black stripe diagonally placed across the upper corner and gold printed “Deutsches Reich Fremdenpass”, with a national eagle (first Weimar and later Third Reich with swastika) printed on the front. The first page listed the holder’s name and document number. The second page listed their nationality, occupation, date of birth, place of residence and physical characteristics. The third page included a photo of the holder with their signature inked below. The pages following listed their travel places, with exit and entrance authority stamps and official verifications.
Upon exit or entry into the country, travelers had to present their passports to a member of the “Grenzpolizei” (German border police), who were in charge of all crossings, and the checking of documents. With the persecution of “undesirables” and the advent of war, they became more stringent in their procedures, rejecting many trying to leave the country or those trying to enter. Failure to show proper identification, or possession of fraudulent documents, could result in arrest and possible imprisonment as an enemy of the State.
After Germany’s defeat in 1945, Third Reich passports continued to be used with the authority of the occupying forces, though by that time the former citizens of the Third Reich had little time or resources to afford travel, outside of official or business reasons. In 1949, the new West German passports were issued by the Allied High Commission which governed the West German area. This continued until the forming of the modern German state, which now allows its citizens greater freedom to travel throughout the world without
the hindrances as those experienced under Hitler’s