Historically, the word holocaust meant a religious rite in which an offering was completely consumed by fire. In current times the word holocaust has changed to a darker more tragic meaning and refers to more than a religious sacrifice. During World War II, a fire raged throughout Eastern Europe. Guns, bombs, and military groups did not ignite this fire. This fire burned intensely in the hearts of men – sparked by centuries-old prejudice. One man, Adolf Hitler, took this flicker of hatred and fanned the flames.
Hitler energized and stoked the embers, spreading them throughout Eastern Europe causing widespread destruction in the pursuit of a perfect Aryan nation. Although the Holocaust is measured over the course of twelve long years, it does not begin with the mass murder of innocent victims. Michael Beren baum, a survivor of the Holocaust believes, “Age-old prejudice led to discrimination, discrimination to incarceration, incarceration to elimination” (Altman 1).
Thus, the progression of prejudice in the Holocaust began as a flicker of hatred in the heart of a leader and became a blazing inferno consuming the lives of the men, women, and children who crossed its radical path. After World War I, the social climate in Germany was depressing. The German people were humiliated by their country’s defeat and by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
The financial depression that resulted left millions of individuals out of work. The German government was weak, and the people sought new leadership. These conditions provided an opportune setting for a new leader, Adolf Hitler, and his party, the National Socialist German Workers Party. Hitler, reckless and powerful, was able to fan the flames of an ancient hatred into a wild and out of contro holocaust (Altman 12).
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As with most hatred and prejudices, the hatred that fueled the Holocaust started with verbal abuse. As soon as Hitler was named chancellor, he persuaded the cabinet to declare a state of emergency allowing him to end all personal freedom. Among the rights lost were freedom of press, freedom of speech, and freedom of gathering. He then voiced his beliefs in the supreme “Aryan” race. As his beliefs spread, spoken or verbal abuse escalated. Those who were not considered to be of the perfect “Aryan” race were jeered and mocked.
Fred Margulies, a survivor of the Holocaust, recalls: ” When I was about ten years old there was a knock on my apartment-house door: and there was my best friend, Hans. And he spat in my face, and he said ‘Manfred, you dirty… Jew’ my best friend changed overnight” (Shulman 7).
The Jews endured burning words tossed at them consistently. At first, they were told Jews were not desired, and finally, they were told Jews were prohibited. Jews were not the only ones attacked.
Jehovah Witnesses, handicapped individuals, and foreigners were also considered racially and genetically poor. These verbal attacks became the match that would ignite a much bigger fire. Verbal attacks sparked an avoidance of those considered undesirable. On April 1, 1933, Hitler called for a boycott of all Jewish businesses. Nazi storm troopers stood in front of stores owned by Jewish proprietors holding signs that warned: “Don’t buy from Jews,”The Jews are our misfortune,” and “Buy Aryan” (Bachrach 14).
Many Jews lost their businesses as a result of the boycott.
Restaurant signs cautioned, “No Jews or Dogs Allowed” (15).
Radio broadcasts and newspapers became Nazi advertisement tools to spread lies about the Jew. Schools taught that the Aryans were the most intelligent race. Pictures were displayed showing the sizes of different brains and always depicted the Aryan brain as the largest.
... the Aryan race, and were therefore the master race. In 1933, persecution of the Jews became active Nazi policy. Nazi leaders began to persecute German Jews ... from public transports and certain parks. Thousands of Jewish teachers and civil servants had been sacked, the security forces regularly boycotted Jewish businesses ...
Furthermore, the people were told it was a sin against the German people, their ancestors, and the Aryans’ future to associate with the Jews. The Nazi Party distributed leaflets urging pure Germans to keep their distance from the Jews and to shun the Star of David with great ridicule (Shulman 35).
The large-scale avoidance of the immoral Germans made German society more receptive to legalized discrimination. The government was quick to pass laws that in essence torched Jewish citizenship and their legal standing within society.
The Nuremberg Laws prevented immoral Germans from being citizens, owning property, or marrying pure Germans. These laws were further rectified to include statutes prohibiting Jews from having public jobs or going to public places such as parks, libraries, or theatres. The Jews were not permitted to have telephones, ride public transportation, or serve in the armed forces. The laws became so strict that Jews were allowed on public streets only on certain days. The government even started regulating schools.
Public schools were prohibited for Jews, and private Jewish schools would later be included in the ban. Nazis forced all Jews to wear the yellow Star of David. The middle name of each male was changed to Israel, and females were called Sara (Bachrach 24).
Are Human recalls that for Jews in Germany, “Life went on relatively normal, but more signs went up quickly of what was to come” (Altshuler 117).
The flame would turn into a wild fire lashing out violently against both people and property. The violence was first foreshadowed in the Nazi book burning of 1933.
At a Nazi rally, more than 25, 000 objectionable books were burned in one night. A Jewish poet predicted, “Where they burn books, they would soon burn people” (Stern 2).
The first physical violence flared at Kristallnacht. On November 9, 1938, the Nazi parties, aided by mobs of citizens, burned and wrecked about 200 synagogues and 800 shops owned by Jewish proprietors. At least thirty Jews were killed during the tormenting rage, which stoked the blaze of injustice. Public safety servants such as police and firefighters were present to protect and save the Aryans and their nearby property and holdings, while the Jews watched in horror (Bachrach 24).
The Chicago Tribune headlines blared the “Systematic destruction of Jewish property, looting, arson, and wholesale arrest of Jews without official charges swept Germany today” (Altshuler 98).
... orders to exterminate as many Jews as possible. The Nazis wanted to remove the whole of Jewish community. They wanted to eradicate ... every single Jew in the whole world. The Jews had ... 1933, the Nazi leadership decided to stage an economic boycott on April 1933 against the Jews of Germany targeting Jewish businesses and ...
Violence against the Jewish community got worse. Nazi violence against the world community also increased. The Nazi invasion of Poland and Russia set the stage for the beginning of mobile killing squads. As the military gained control over the various regions, the mobile killing squads were formed with the express purpose of killing all Jews.
These squads ordered their helpless victims to march to large open fields and ravines where massive murders were conducted. Massive graves became the resting spot for the persecuted Jews (Ayer 9).
The raging fire had turned into an inferno. The killing did not end with the mobile squads; for Hitler could not destroy the “immoral” victims fast enough to suit his needs. He needed a faster and more economical means to destroy large numbers of individuals. To achieve this goal, Hitler and his band of followers expressed a plan, applied trained personnel, constructed a killing machine, and employed insincere language to cover up the criminal character of destruction.
The plan was called the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (Altshuler 72).
Perfected by the Nazi Regime, the “Solution” focused initially on the elderly, handicapped, and incurably ill. Shooting victims had become expensive, and bullets needed to be reserved for the war effort elsewhere. Carbon monoxide gas was put into large chambers made to execute massive numbers of peoples.
Even children were quickly chosen for these first “gas” chambers as they represented the next generation of Jews. Over time, a less expensive poison / toxin -Zyklon B- was used in the concentration camps to quicken the massive murders. The inferno was raging in a destructive rage. Healthy individuals were maintained in concentration camps where the tiring work tested the strength and spirit of the Jews. Some individuals were chosen for experimental medical procedures with agonizing pain and at times disfigurement and death (Ayer 53).
Life was depressing in these camps, but hope flickered in the hearts of some. The holocaust continued until the war ended at which time the concentration camps were released. With liberty, frantic murder and burning hatred ended. Those who died in this tragic time gave way to the cruel blaze of hatred.
... were the primary means of execution used against the Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis issued a directive implementing large-scale gas ... handicapped or mentally ill- were gassed, 20-30 at a time, in closed chambers disguised as shower rooms. Meanwhile, mass shooting ... unanswered questions regarding this time outnumber those for which we have answers. The denial of the Holocaust has been one of the ...
As one survivor put it, “One thing is clear what happened exceeded our boldest horrors and ended with an answer to our greatest prayers” (Shulman 59).
Jewish prayers were answered when the liberators put out the flames of hatred. Even so, the Jews were left with a strong desire to let people know what really happened. Many survivors are aging, and in years to come, no survivors will be alive to tell what happened during the Holocaust. History shall never be forgotten. The ashes have cooled and remain buried in massive graves.
The ovens that housed the inferno are silent and are visited today by new generations that learn the story of the Holocaust from the dead. The flames and fire that raged across Eastern Europe have died. Tragically the prejudice that fueled the Holocaust still exists in the heart of man (Shulman 59).
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Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994. Sherrod, Victoria. Smoke to Flame: September 1935 – December 1938. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1998.
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