The Holocaust Essay, Research Paper
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 Berenbaum, 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 control holocaust (Altman 12).
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. 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
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).
Lare Heuman 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).
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
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. 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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