By Anthony Cooney
The Holocaust refers to the period from January 30, 1933, to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe ended. During it the Jewish population of Europe was subjected to progressively harsh persecution that ultimately led to the murder of six million Jews and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of European Jewry and one-third of world Jewry. The Jews who died were not casualties of the fighting that ravaged Europe during WW2. Rather they were the victims of Germany’s deliberate attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe; a plan Hitler called the final solution.
On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler, was named German chancellor by President von Hindenburg .The Nazi party had taken advantage of the political unrest in Germany to gain an electoral foothold. The Nazis incited clashes with the communists, who many feared, disrupted the government with demonstrations, and conducted a vicious propaganda campaign against its political opponents –the weak Weimar republic, and the Jews whom the Nazis blamed for Germanys ills.
A Major tool of the Nazis propaganda assault was the weekly Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer (the attacker). At the bottom of the front page of each issue, in bold letters, the paper proclaimed, the Jews are our misfortune. Der strummer also regularly featured cartoons of Jews in which they were caricatured as hooked-nosed and apelike. The influence of the newspaper was far-reaching: as about a half a million copies were distributed weekly.
Soon after he became chancellor, Hitler called for new elections in an effort to get full control of the Reichstag, the German parliament, for the Nazis. The Nazis used the government apparatus to terrorize the other parties. They arrested their leaders and banned their political meetings. Then in the midst of the election campaign, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building burned. A Dutchman named Marinus van Der Lubbe was arrested for the crime, and he swore he had acted alone. Although many suspected that the Nazis were ultimately responsible for the act, the Nazis managed to blame the communists, thus turning more votes their way.
By the end of 1934 Hitler was in absolute control of Germany and his campaign against the Jews was in full swing in mein kampf Hitler claimed that the Jews corrupted the pure German culture with their foreign and mongrel influence they portrayed the Jews as evil and cowardly, and Germans as hardworking, courageous and honest. The Jews, Hitler claimed, who were heavily represented in finance, commerce, the press, literature, theatre and the arts, had weakened Germany’s economy and culture. The massive government –supported propaganda machine created a racial anti-Semitism, which was different from the longstanding anti-Semitic
Tradition of the Christian churches.
In mein kampf Hitler stated that the superior race was the Aryans the Germans. The word Aryan “derived from the study of linguistics, which started in the eighteenth century and at some point determined that the indo-Germanic (also known as Aryan) languages were superior in their structures, variety, and vocabulary to the Semitic languages that had revolved in the near east. This judgment led to a certain ideas about the character of the peoples who spoke these languages. The conclusion was that the Aryan peoples were likewise superior to the Semitic ones.
The Nazis then combined their racial theories with the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin to justify their treatment of the Jews. one in power Hitler began to restrict the Jews with legislation and terror, which entailed burning books written by Jews, removing Jews from their professions and public schools, confiscating their businesses and property and excluding them from public events. The most infamous of the anti-Jewish legislation were the Nuremberg Laws, enacted on September 15, 1935. They formed the legal basis for the Jews’ exclusion from German society and the progressively restrictive Jewish policies of the Germans.
Many Jews attempted to flee Germany, and thousands succeeded by immigrating to such countries as Belgium, Czechoslovakia, England, France and Holland. It was much more difficult to get out of Europe. Jews encountered stiff immigration quotas in most of the world’s countries. Even if they obtained the necessary documents, they often had to wait months or years before leaving. Many families out of desperation sent their children first.
In Germany the next major public show of anti Semitism was most commonly known as The Night of the Broken Glass. This event was prompted by the assassination of a German diplomat called Ernst von wrath. He was assassinated by a man named Herschel Gyromozpan in Paris on November 7th, 1938 .Two days after the Nazis counter attacked and Joseph Goebells led an attack on the Jews of Germany from November 9th to the 10th the Germans destroyed over a hundred synagogues thousands of Jewish businesses and hundreds of Jews were killed and injured. It was the first violent act against the Jews from the Nazis and obviously not the last.
Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, beginning World War II. Soon after, in 1940, the Nazis began establishing ghettos for the Jews of Poland. More than 10 percent of the Polish population was Jewish, numbering about three million. Jews were forcibly deported from their homes to live in crowded ghettos, isolated from the rest of society. This concentration of the Jewish population later aided the Nazis in their deportation of the Jews to the death camps. The ghettos lacked the necessary food, water, space, and sanitary facilities required by so many people living within their constricted boundaries. Many died of deprivation and starvation.
Things took a drastic turn for the worst when in June of 1941 Germany invaded the USSR. In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and began the “Final Solution.” Four mobile killing groups were formed called Einsatzgruppen A, B, C and D. Each group contained several commando units. The Einsatzgruppen gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits dug earlier, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. The dead and dying would fall into the pits to be buried in mass graves. In the infamous Babi Yar massacre, near Kiev, 30,000-35,000 Jews were killed in two days. In addition to their operations in the Soviet Union, the Einsatzgruppen conducted mass murder in eastern Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. It is estimated that by the end of 1942, the Einsatzgruppen had murdered more than 1.3 million Jews.
On January 20, 1942, several top officials of the German government met to officially coordinate the military and civilian administrative branches of the Nazi system to organize a system of mass murder of the Jews. This meeting, called the Wannsee Conference, “marked the beginning of the full-scale, comprehensive extermination operation [of the Jews] and laid the foundations for its organization, which started immediately after the conference ended”
Between the years 1941-1945, the main destination for the Jews to be transported was a concentration camp or death camp somewhere in Poland or eastern Germany. In these camps, innocent, along with Gypsies, Slavs, Jehovah’s witnesses, communists, and P.O.W.s were brutally beaten and abused, fed rations of poor food, worked to death, or simply shot. The first of these camps had been established in the mid 1930s and were originally designed for prisoners. But, numbers of concentration and death camps grew steadily for years until nearing the end of the World War II.
Quality of life in a concentration camp was substandard, to say the absolute least. Jews and other deportees were transported by railroad boxcars similar to those used for cattle. Some of these cars were so crowded that people actually died standing up, there being no place for them to fall. Once at the camps, the prisoners were unloaded and stripped of everything of value. Clothing, jewellery, eyeglasses, shoes, and even gold teeth were confiscated from the arriving captives. After unloading, the people were separated into two groups. One of these groups would be lead to gas chambers, to be killed as soon as possible. These people were usually women, children, and the elderly. The second group would be lead to the barracks or used for slave labour. This group was usually made up of able-bodied men.
The prisoners were given little food and forced to live and sleep in, overcrowded bunks where disease ran rampant. Thousands of prisoners in concentration camps died simply of exposure, starvation, or disease. As the war progressed, more and more concentration camps were transformed into extermination or death camps, some of which were equipped with gas vans or gas chambers and crematoria for quick and easy extermination and disposal of the bodies of the captives.
In 1945, the great World War in Europe came to an end, with the Axis powers surrendering before the Allied invasion of Europe. When the concentration camps were liberated and the body counts counted, the resulting numbers appalled people the world over .All told, the toll that the Holocaust took on the people of Europe, especially Jews, was staggering. By the time it was all over, an estimated 12 million people lay dead, nearly 6 million of which were Jews. It is believed that 3 million of these Jews died in concentration and death camps, such as Auschwitz, alone. An additional 1.5 million died by the bullets of the mobile death squads and over 6 million died in the camps of the cities.
For the vicious atrocities carried out by some of the top men in Hitler’s Nazi regime, dozens were killed or imprisoned. In the trials at Nuremberg, Germany in 1946-47, a multinational allied commission called 22 of Hitler’s highest ranking Nazis to account for there actions. The end result of these trials were eleven men being sentenced to hang, one of which committed suicide in his cell, seven men were imprisoned for life, and only three were acquitted of the crimes they were accused with. Other trials were held in subsequent years that successfully convicted hundreds of Nazis for atrocities carried out in wartime.