The History of the Red J-Stamp

German Nazi Passport Law - The big red J for JewIn October 1938, the German authorities introduced the Judenstempel, a discriminatory measure aimed at marking the passports of German Jews. This policy was implemented after negotiations with Switzerland, which had become increasingly wary of Jewish refugees following the annexation of Austria in March of the same year. The number of refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, fleeing from the Reich to Switzerland and other countries had increased significantly, leading to growing reservations about them in Switzerland. history red J-stamp judenstempel

To address this issue, the Federal Council introduced visa requirements for Austrian passports on April 1, 1938. However, following the failure of the Evian Conference in July 1938 to produce an international solution to the refugee problem, Switzerland stipulated that emigrants would only be permitted to enter if they possessed the necessary documents to continue their journey.

The German authorities were reluctant to mark the passports of emigrants who were no longer permitted to return to Germany, as they did not wish to impede their policy of confiscation and expulsion. As a result, they refused to include such information in the German passports. history red J-stamp judenstempel

How was Switzerland involved?

Following the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Austrian nationals were issued German passports from August 15 onwards. In response, Switzerland, wary of potential influxes of refugees, terminated the 1926 settlement treaty with Germany on August 30 and introduced visa requirements for all German nationals from October 1. The German authorities, fearful that other countries would follow Switzerland’s lead, proposed marking only the passports of German Jews in negotiations held in Bern on September 2 and in Berlin on September 27-29.

Despite the ethical and legal reservations expressed by Heinrich Rothmund, head of the Federal Aliens Police and the Swiss delegation, the Federal Council accepted the German proposal on October 4 for economic and foreign policy reasons. Consequently, the visa requirement was revoked, and Germany immediately proceeded to mark the passports of Jewish individuals. The Swiss-German regulation was adopted by other countries, including Sweden. The protocol stipulating the marking of Swiss Jewish passports for reasons of reciprocity, however, was never implemented by Switzerland.

Post WWII Controversial history red J-stamp judenstempel

After the end of World War II, the Judenstempel took on a symbolic meaning for Switzerland’s refugee policy. In 1954, accusations arose that Heinrich Rothmund, head of the Federal Aliens Police, had created the Judenstempel. This prompted the Federal Council to commission an investigation by Carl Ludwig into Switzerland’s refugee policy. Decades later, during the 1990s, when Switzerland’s role in the war was being re-examined, the Judenstempel once again became a controversial topic. Attempts to uncover the truth revealed that while the Germans had proposed and implemented the discriminatory measure, the Federal Council also bore responsibility for accepting the bilateral agreement based on anti-Semitic motives.


history red J-stamp jewsThe circular letter A20952 (Runderlass) of the German Foreign office described the “feature”.

The feature consists of a red 3 cm high “J” where the passport is stamped on page one on the upper left part. On or just above the longitudinal bar of the “J” is hand-written, from bottom to top, with indestructible ink to indicate in writing the date on which the “J” in the passport has been entered.

The circular letter was distributed to the German diplomatic offices in Europe. And further…”The feature is to furnish in all passports of German Jews at any diplomatic/consular office which issue passports. The handling of the feature is free of charge for the passport holder.”

So, only the size, color and place of the J-stamp was defined. The form never. Hence, we can find, especially in the beginning of the circular order many different forms of the letter J, even hand-drawn ones, sometimes in black color. Partly also stamped on the front cover of passports (to see right away that the bearer was a Jew, without opening the passport).

I have seen 2-3 Austrian passports stamped with a J. Those are definitely rare! Sadly, I never got any reply from the Jewish museum in Vienna on this topic. But I will be soon in Vienna and try once again to get more evidence. history red J-stamp judenstempel

In some cases the clerk also mixed up the date when the J-stamp was added. Here is an example of a German passport, which bearer was refused to travel because of the missing stamp!