In January, 1782, Austrian Emperor Joseph II enacted the Edict of Tolerance. The new law's main objective was to bring the Jewish subjects into the realm's economic life. Jews were granted access to public education, job training and higher education. At the same time "Jewish language and writing" was to be abolished. All books and official documents were to be in German. In 1787 each Jew was to adopt a firm, German surname. No more Hebrew names. All given names were to be "Germanized" as well.
One German state after another followed the Austrian example. Frederick William of Prussia declared Jews to be "his national subjects and citizens" in an Edict of March 11, 1812. Employment at state offices was, however, forbidden, as was lecturing at universities. Not even all Prussian territories were included in William's Edict.
Because of such new laws many Jews converted to Christianity and married Christians. Conversion granted access to full rights and professions and less discrimination. The majority of the converts were well educated, members of the middle-class. Some of them became famous poets, musicians and socialites. Nevertheless many of the German nobility did not welcome former Jews into their social networks.
Ahnen PassportHitler and the National Socialists were well aware that many such conversions had taken place and had been recorded in the churches' books. This was why Germans were all required to prove their Aryan background in their Ahnen Pass, their "passport of ancestors," and prove that at least three generations of ancestors were Aryan on both parents' sides. If a convert was discovered in any record, he was no longer considered Aryan and became subject to the same fate as those who were still openly Jewish.