Of all the examples of injustice against humanity in history, the Jewish Holocaust has to be one of the most prominent. In the period of 1933 to 1945, the Nazis waged a vicious war against Jews and other “lesser races”. This war came to a head with the “Final Solution” in 1938. One of the end results of the Final Solution was the horrible concentration and death camps of Germany, Poland, and other parts of Nazi-controlled Europe. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, people around the world were shocked by the final tallies of human losses, and the people responsible were punished for their inhuman acts. The Holocaust was a dark time in the history of the 20th century. One can trace the beginnings of the Holocaust as far back as 1933, when the Nazi party of Germany, lead by Adolf Hitler, came to power. Hitler’s anti-Jew campaign began soon afterward, with the “Nuremberg Laws”, which defined the meaning of being Jewish based on ancestry. These laws also forced segregation between Jews and the rest of the public. It was only a dim indication of what the future held for European Jews.
Anti-Jewish aggression continued for years after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws. One of these was the “Aryanization” of Jewish property and business. Jews were progressively forced out of the economy of Germany, their assets turned over to the government and the German public. Other forms of degradation were pogroms or organized demonstrations against Jews. The first, and most infamous, of these pogroms, was Krystallnacht, or “The night of broken glass”. This pogrom was prompted by the assassination of Ernst von Rath, a German diplomat, by Herschel Grymozpan in Paris on November 7th, 1938. Two days later, an act of retaliation was organized by Joseph Gobbels to attack Jews in Germany.
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On the nights of November 9th and 10th, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed, 175 synagogues demolished, nearly 100 Jews had been killed, and thousands more had been injured, all for the assassination of one official by a Jew (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 96). In many ways, this was the first major act of violence against Jews made by the Nazis. Their intentions were now clear. The Nazi’s plans for the Jews of Europe were outlined in the “Final Solution to the Jewish question” in 1938. In a meeting of some of Hitler’s top officials, the idea of the complete annihilation of Jews in Europe was hatched. By the time the meeting was over, the Final Solution had been created. The plans included in the Final Solution included the deportation, exploitation, and eventual extermination of European Jews.
In September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Most, if not all Jews in German-occupied lands were rounded up and taken to ghettos or concentration camps. The ghettos were located inside cities and were a sort of city/prison to segregate Jews from the rest of the public. Conditions in the ghettos included overcrowding, lack of food, and lack of sanitation, as well as brutality by Nazi guards. Quality of life in a ghetto was probably not much above that in a concentration camp. In June 1941, Germany continued its invasion of Europe by attacking and capturing some of the western U.S.S.R. By this time, most of the Jews in Europe now lived in lands controlled by Nazi Germany. The SS deployed 3000 death squads, or “Einstagruppen”, to dispatch Jews in large numbers (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996).
In September 1941, all Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David on their arms or coats. A Jew could be killed with little repercussions for not displaying the Star of David in public. Some of the first Jewish resistance to the Final Solution came in 1943 when the process of deportation to concentration and death camps was in full swing. The Warsaw ghetto in Poland, once numbering over 365,000, had been reduced to only 65,000 by the continuing removal of Jews to camps in other lands (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). When the Nazis came to round up the remaining inhabitants of the ghetto, they were met with resistance from the small force of armed Jews. The revolt lasted for almost three weeks before being subdued.
Between the years 1941 to 1945, the main destination for Jews to be transported was a concentration camp or death camp somewhere in Poland or Germany. In these camps, innocent Jews, along with Gypsies, Slavs, Jehova’s Witnesses, Communists, and P.O.W.s, were brutally beaten and abused, fed meagre rations of poor food, worked to death or simply shot. The first of these camps were established in the mid-1930s and were originally designed for prisoners. But, the number of concentration and death camps grew steadily for years until near the end of World War II. Quality of life in a concentration camp was substandard, to say the absolute least. Jews and other deportees were transported via 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, jewelry, 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 firing squads or, in some camps, gas chambers, to be dispatched 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 comprised of able-bodied men. The prisoners were given little food and forced to live and sleep in filthy, 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.
Some of these camps also had facilities for scientific research, where men like Josef Mengle, also known as “The Angel of Death”, performed barbaric medical experiments on twins, dwarves, and other genetically different subjects in hopes of advancing and breeding the so-called “Aryan” race of perfect Germans for Hitler. Some of the most notorious death camps were located in Poland. Some of these include Auschwitz (1 million Jews killed), Treblinka (700,000-800,000 Jews gassed), Belzec (600,000 Jews gassed), and Sobibor (250,000 Jews gassed). These camps were the major centers for the slaughter of Jews and other groups (The Holocaust: An Historical Summary. Article on the Internet).
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 tallied, the resulting numbers appalled people the world over. Millions of people lay dead, and dozens of top Nazis faced punishment for unspeakable war crimes. When the allied powers liberated the concentration camps in Germany, Poland, and other areas of Europe, what they found there was beyond belief.
Piles of bodies lay rotting in pits and sheds. The gaunt, sickly prisoners wandered about, barely alive after the ordeal they had faced. Some of the camps had few prisoners remaining, the majority of the others led on a final death march to Germany (“Concentration Camps.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996). Those who remained at the camps were rescued and taken to hospitals or to shelters to recuperate from their terrifying experience at the hands of the Nazis. 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 (“Jewish Holocaust.” Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1996). It is believed that 3 million of these Jews died in concentration and death camps, such as Auschwitz, alone (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). An additional 1.5 million died by the bullets of the mobile death squads, and over 600,000 died in the ghettos of the cities (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). I find it incredible that such a loss of human life could have occurred in a period of just 12 years. 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. 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 of. Other trials were held in subsequent years that successfully convicted hundreds of Nazis for atrocities carried out in wartime.
The Holocaust is one of the most famous events in modern history. The senseless slaughter of millions upon millions of innocent people at the hands of Nazi butchers was incited when a man by the name of Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. The Nazis wrought terrible death and destruction on Europe in the following years, beginning with Aryanization and ending with the Final Solution in a maniacal plot to exterminate and purify the human race. The Holocaust should be remembered by all as a dark point in modern history.
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