World War Ii Essay, Research Paper
As a person looks at the last thousand years of history, many events come to mind. To be more specific, many world-changing events have occurred. Many of them have good explanations, or just reason as to why they happened. There were also a handful of events that had no rhyme or reason. These are the events the world may never understand. In the writer’s mind, these are the events that changed the world the most. There is one particular event that seems to stand out when considering only the events of the 1900’s.
The events of World War II are broad and abundant, from the advances in warfare and technology to the cruelty of using genocide to gain power. Genocide took a major role in the occurrences during the war. It involved persecution of Jews and other minorities. This is the event during the war that appalls the writer. Why the Nazis would put the Jewish people through such devastation is something the world may never know. What we do know is how they did it.
It began as a proclamation by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. His proclamation was that Germans were a superior race destined to rule the world. Hitler drilled this thought into the minds of his fellow Germans until they believed it to be true. In order to rule the world, Hitler felt it necessary to rid the world of all inferior races. The Jews were one of the races he thought inferior. They were blamed for all of Germany’s problems. Due to these beliefs, Hitler took action.
He did so by organizing SS units, otherwise known as mobile killing units. The job of commanding these units was given to Heinrich Himmler. His orders were to kill all the civilians possible, especially the Jews. The executions were done by shooting the people in nearby fields. Overall, the SS units were believed to have killed almost 1.4 million Jews. This was only the beginning of the persecution.
The next step to Hitler’s plan was ghettos. Jewish citizens were rounded up into confined areas of a city. The Nazis would then seal off the areas from the rest of the city by placing barbed wire and stone walls around the area. These ghetto areas were extremely over crowded and the conditions were horrible. Sanitation and necessary supplies were inadequate.
“Never was so unique or elaborate a smuggling system put into operation as that devised by the Ghetto Jews in their struggle to survive. The official food ration barely sustained life for two or three days a month, and smugglers consequently became the Ghetto’s most important citizens, its heroes, for though there were a thousand ruses, a smuggler risked his life in employing any one of them.”
These ghettos only lasted a short period of time and were soon being replaced around 1942. The replacements were not much better. In fact, the writer believes the replacement, death camps, to be the cruelest act ever recorded.
Death camps were not a place you would want to be if you were a Jew or minority. The nightmare began with the journey to the camp. Hundreds of people were shoved into small boxcars on trains and transported to the camps. The following describes the inhumane conditions in the boxcars.
“In the tiny barred windows appeared pale, wilted, exhausted human faces, terror-stricken women with tangled hair, unshaven men. Water! Air! -weary, desperate cries. Heads push through the windows, mouths gasp frantically for air. They draw a few breaths, then disappear; others come in their place, and also disappear. The cries and moans grow louder.”
Upon reaching the camp, the following took place:
“The bolts crack, the doors fall open. A wave of fresh air rushed inside the train. People? inhumanly crammed, buried under incredible heaps of luggage, suitcases, trunks, packages, crates, bundles of every description (everything that had been their past and was to start their future). Monstrously squeezed together, they have fainted from heat, suffocated, crushed one another. Now they push towards the opened doors, breathing like fish cast out on the sand.”
When the victims would arrive in a camp, they were immediately separated into two groups, the healthy and unhealthy. If you were unhealthy, a baby, a young child or old, you were immediately executed. The healthy were spared, but forced to undergo strenuous labor. Anyone that was wounded at all was buried alive. Next, survivors underwent the process of delousing.
“All of us walk around naked. The delousing is finally over, and our striped suits are back from the tanks of Cyclone B solution, an efficient killer of lice in clothing and of men in gas chambers. Only the inmates in the blocks cut off from ours by the Spanish goats (crossed wooden beams wrapped in barbed wire) still have nothing to wear. But all the same, all of us walk around naked: the heat is unbearable. The camp has been sealed off tight. Not a single prisoner, not one solitary louse, can sneak through the gate. All day, thousands of naked men shuffle up and down the roads, cluster around the squares, or lie against the walls and on top of the roofs. We have been sleeping on plain boards, since our mattresses and blankets are still being disinfected.”
In addition to the delousing, many prisoners had their heads shaved. In some of the camps, the prisoners were issued clothing with numbers and colored triangles to represent their nationality. Jews were a group apart, with yellow triangles on their clothing.
“Beating and being beaten was taken for granted, and was an integral part of the system. Everyone could beat an inmate and the more experienced inmates never questioned why. They knew that they were beaten merely because they happened to run into someone who wanted to beat them. In most cases, the beating did not even involve personal anger or hatred; the authorities hated their victims as a group because when you wrong people for no reason, sooner or later you must come to hate them.”
Overall, the prisoners were malnourished. Rations varied from camp to camp and with the expected workload of the prisoners. Author Alexander Donat describes a typical day’s menu.
“Breakfast was a bowl of mint infusion; lunch a bowl of soup made of turnips, cabbage, carrots, nettles or other weeds, plus some potatoes. There might be some meat in the soup, but it was invisible to the naked eye. On rare occasions, one could see a microscopic “eye” of fat. The bread contained so many kinds of ersatz that it to had very little nourishment. The evening meal was always the day’s main meal.”
The labor differed at each camp. Often, prisoners were used for construction work and other various repairs. The work was long, hard and backbreaking at times. Other prisoners were forced to do repulsive work, such as undressing corpses, sorting through the deceased’s possessions and burying fellow captives.
One death camp seems to stand out over all of them. Auschwitz, Poland was the site of perhaps the largest murder factory in the world. The main method of execution at Auschwitz was the gas chamber. The victims were ordered to disrobe and were herded into what they thought was a shower room. Once inside, the doors were shut and locked. Cyclone B, a poisonous acid was then dropped into the death chamber through an opening. The terrified people screamed when they finally realized what was happening. Their deaths were agonizing, taking anywhere from three to fifteen minutes. In their efforts to find fresh air, the victims climbed on top of one another. After the screams ceased, the bodies were removed for burial or cremation. The writer likes the way Auschwitz was described in the book Eyewitness Auschwitz. This book has a very vivid account of a period during 1942 in Auschwitz.
“The people gassed here were simply buried in mass graves which had been dug nearby. When, in the summer of 1942, the hot sun began to burn, the corpses started to swell and the earth’s crust to burst open. A black, evil-smelling mass oozed out and polluted the ground-water in the vicinity. One day we were ordered to take several barrels of chlorinated lime there. Large quantities of this chemical were spread over the decomposing bodies, but to no avail. For, when in October 1942 we returned to the pits with several containers of oil, I managed to speak to a few prisoners of the Sonderkommando there. The majority were Slovak Jews, a few came from France. They were busy digging up and burning decomposing corpses. This ghoulish work took place in an area enveloped in black smoke and acrid fumes. At the edge of the mass grave lay a heap of blue-black bodies covered with maggots. They were flung onto trucks by a group of prisoners. A second group moved these to a pit where the bodies were burnt.”
The same author offers an account of the crematorium at Auschwitz.
“Now all six ovens were working, and Stark ordered us to drag the naked corpse across the concrete floor to the ovens. There Fischl went from corpse to corpse, forcing their mouths open with an iron bar. When he found a gold tooth, he pulled it out with a pair of pliers and flung it into a tin. Stripped and robbed of everything, the dead were destined to become victims of the flames and to be turned into smoke and ashes. Final preparations were now in hand. Stark ordered the fans to be switched on. A button was pressed and they began to rotate. But as soon as Stark had checked that the fire was drawing well they were switched off again. At his order “Shove ‘em in!” each one of us set to work doing the job he had been given earlier.”
Auschwitz alone was responsible for the deaths of one and three quarter million humans. During the War, the Nazis murdered nearly six million Jews and minorities. This terrible chapter in history, in which innocent people were slaughtered, is called the Holocaust. One may never comprehend the atrocities of Hitler’s ruthless quest for power. However, Hitler’s actions have eternally scarred the history of mankind.
Borowski, Tadeusz This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (New York: Penguin
Donat, Alexander The Holocaust Kingdom (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.)
Frank, Anne Tales from the Secret Annex (New York: Washington Square Press) 1983.
Muller, Filip Eyewitness Auschwitz (New York: Stein and Day Publishers) 1979.
Wiesenthal, Simon The Sunflower (New York: Shocken Books) 1976.