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On August 17, 1938, an Executive Order from the German government required Jewish men and women to add Israel or Sara to their names if their first names weren’t on a list created by the Third Reich of state-approved names for Jews.

The Law on the Alteration of Family and Personal Names from January 1938 prohibited Jews from changing their names while empowering the state to issue rules around names and to modify names that didn’t fit these rules. The law was created primarily to target assimilated Jews who had adopted “less apparently Jewish” names, which the Nazis viewed as an attempt to hide their Jewishness. This included names changed before the Nazis seized power in 1933.

The August 1938 Executive Order on this law further specified that German Jews whose first names weren’t from an approved list of “Jewish” first names (185 names for men, 91 for women, derived from the Old Testament) had to add Israel or Sara in order to easily identify them as Jews. These new names marked them as separate from the rest of the German population.

The Museum’s Collection includes Kennkarte – identification cards issued by the Third Reich – showing these adopted names, along with a ‘J’ stamp to identify the card bearer as Jewish. Two examples are below.

Kennkarte of Harry "Israel" Cohen, with J
Kennkarte of Harry “Israel” Cohen, with J. Dated March 9, 1939. Gift of Berthold Cohen. 107.98.
Kennkarte of Eva "Sara" Wolffs, with J
Kennkarte of Eva “Sara” Wolffs, with J. Dated February 1, 1939. Gift of Karl L. Heiman. 20.88.