Holocaust Essay, Research Paper
More than fifty years have passed since the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust, yet the events of this time continue to be of great significance to people the world over.
What was the Holocaust?
The Holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators. Between the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 and the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Nazi Germany and its accomplices strove to murder every Jew under their domination. Because Nazi discrimination against the Jews began with Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933, many historians consider this the start of the Holocaust era. The Jews were not the only victims of Hitler’s regime, but they were the only group that the Nazis sought to destroy entirely.
Is the Holocaust a singular event in history?
There are other historical events similar to the Holocaust, but the Holocaust has characteristics that, in the opinion of many scholars, make it unique. Mass murder, sometimes on a scale of millions and targeting specific religious, ethnic, or social groups, has occurred in history. Governments other than that of Nazi Germany have used camp systems and technology to serve deadly plans, and the Jews have been persecuted throughout much of history. However, the Holocaust may be considered unique for two main reasons: 1) unlike their policies toward other groups, the Nazis sought to murder every Jew everywhere, regardless of age, gender, beliefs, or actions, and they invoked a modern government bureaucracy to accomplish their goal; and 2) the Nazi leadership held that ridding the world of the Jewish presence would be beneficial to the German people and all mankind, although in reality the Jews posed no threat. Grounded in a spurious racist ideology that considered the Jews “the destructive race,” it was this idea, more than any other, that eventually led to the implementation of the murderous policy known as the Final Solution.
How many Jews were murdered in the Holocaust? How do we know? Do we have their names?
There is no precise figure for the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The figure commonly used is the 6 million quoted by Adolf Eichmann, a senior SS official. Most research confirms that the number of victims was between five and six million. Early calculations range from 5.1 million (Professor Raul Hilberg) to 5.95 million (Jacob Leschinsky). More recent research, by Professor Yisrael Gutman and Dr. Robert Rozett in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, estimates the Jewish losses at 5.59-5.86 million, and a study headed Dr. Wolfgang Benz presents a range from 5.29 million to 6 million.
The main sources for these statistics are comparisons of pre-war censuses with post-war censuses and population estimates. Nazi documentation containing partial data on various deportations and murders is also used. Yad Vashem, which has been seeking to collect all the victims’ names, has gathered 2.5 million records, 1.75 million of which are based on Pages of Testimony submitted by survivors.
When and How did the Nazis come to power?
Contrary to a common misconception, Hitler did not come to power through a terrorist coup against a democratically elected government. Nor was he voted into office by a clear-cut decision of the German electorate. Rather, he attained power because President Hindenburg appointed him as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. Until that fateful day, neither the Nazi Party nor Hitler personally had ever come close to winning the ballot. In the last democratic elections, on November 6, 1932, the Nazi Party, though the strongest, actually declined from the 37.3 percent of the total vote that it had earned in the previous elections, on July 31, 1932, to 33.1 percent.
Once in power, Hitler and his accomplices lost no time in broadening their base of power and dismantling the democratic constitution piece by piece. A crucial landmark was the so-called “Law of Empowerment,” which authorized the government to enact laws without recourse either to the parliament or to the president. The autonomy of the individual German States (L nder) was abolished in by law passed on March 31, 1933. The Nazi seizure of power was completed, in a sense, with the “Law Against the Establishment of New Parties” on July 14, 1933, by dint of which the Nazi Party became the only legal political party in Germany.
Berenbaum, Michael ed, The Holocaust and history: The known, the unknown, the disputed, and the reexamined. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1998