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"Going into exile" means leaving the country where you live and belong. "Exile" comes from the Latin word "exilium," which means "staying in foreign lands." People go into exile for different reasons, but it is always a key experience in their lives, one marked by an enduring sense of loss. This is why banishment was a form of punishment in antiquity: individuals or even entire families were forced to leave their usual surroundings, either permanently or at least for a very long time.

Nowadays people usually go into exile because they are persecuted, threatened or in fear of losing their lives. The reasons for persecution vary: sometimes people are persecuted because they are members of a religious, ethnic or cultural minority; and in some regions of the world homosexuals are targeted. Other people go into exile to escape violent conflicts. If a person decides to go to another country under such circumstances, it can hardly be called a free choice.

Many people were forced to flee Germany in the Nazi era between 1933 and 1945. Some left for political or other reasons, but most went into exile because they were persecuted as Jews. At that time the professions Jews were allowed to practice in Germany were restricted, and Jewish children and students were increasingly barred from attending schools and universities. Furthermore, the Nazis introduced a growing number of measures to deprive Jews of their possessions and civil rights, limit food supplies and hamper their freedom of movement. This meant they were denied access to cinemas, swimming pools, clubs and many other public places.

When, in November 1938, synagogues and Jewish-owned stores were destroyed and a large number of Jews were insulted, threatened, maltreated and arbitrarily arrested, the wave of refugees from Germany reached its peak. But the countries offering refuge increasingly tightened entry conditions, making it difficult to leave Germany. In addition, many Jews simply could not afford to emigrate, which was a very expensive undertaking. Until the final ban on Jewish emigration was issued in October 23, 1941, around 275,000 people fled Germany. This represents more than half the number of German Jews living in the country in 1933.

Between autumn 2006 and spring 2007, the Jewish Museum Berlin presented an exhibition on exile. Please click here to visit the website.

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