03 Feb 2010

Sample Essay: The Holocaust: The Voices Of The Silent

The Holocaust is the worst genocide in the history of mankind. The term drives its name from the Greek holokaustos. Its two Greek words explain its meaning: holos, meaning “whole,” and caustos, which means “burned.” Literally, holokaustos or holocaust means something which is entirely consumed by fire (Heitmeyer and Hagan 139). It was an era of terror and evil for the Jews in Europe as they faced an organized society aimed at eliminating their race from the earth. This paper will look into this historical event and see its effect to the  world of the 20th century.

A Way of Life

Europe before the Nazis was already saturated with discrimination against the Jewish people. Because of their strange ways practiced within their communities, Europeans found them unlikeable. But the Jews, prior to the rise of Nazism, were very influential people. It is frequently alleged that the Jews predominate in certain trades and professions, dominate central politics, the press and finance (Pulzer 3). At the turn of the 19th century, anti-Semitism increased among the communities where the Jews resided. For one reason or another, it seemed unacceptable for certain European groups that the Jews, being foreigners in the land, would dominate the economic and political scene. For most historians, anti-Semitism began among strong Catholic and Protestant communities in Europe. Since the sermons and writings of the early church fathers, the Jews were portrayed as destroyers of Christianity. In France, anti-Semite groups saw Jewish influence behind the dismantling of Christian social and family values during the Third Republic. In 1884, for instance, Alfred Naquer, a Jew, proposed a law governing divorce. This gave rise to more anti-Jewish sentiments. In 1907, the future Prime Minister Léon Blum, a Jew himself, published a book entitled Du Mariage wherein he seemingly espoused premarital sex. Commenting on Blum, rabid anti-Semite Louis Massoutié claimed that the book advocated that younger females should seek older and experienced male lovers for premarital sexual exposure to ensure a better marriage (qtd. in Brustein 61). Moreover, the French Catholic Church declined in its influence over educational matters in the country during the second half of the 19th century. With the introduction of the Ferry Laws, the legislation strove to remove church control over public education. In the eyes of the French Roman Catholics, the Jewish Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, member of the French council and spokesperson for the church-state separation law, was most influential in the process (Brustein). In Germany, the Christian community was not immune from the anti-Semitic ideology. Brustein wrote that there were popular imageries of Jews as “deniers of Christ, pariahs and a demonic people, perpetrators of ritual murder, and agents of the Anti-Christ.” The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, turned against the Jews by preaching that in thei opposition to the gospel they accumulated an irredeemable corruption (63). The German Catholic Church was an additional source of anti-Semitic uprising. Four ministers sat in the German legislative assembly as anti-Semites: Burckhardt, Iskraut, Mumm, and Krösell. Another, Schall, was a member of the Prussian Diet. Their influence created anti-Semitism in German politics (Pulzer 220). Hence, by the time the Nazis took power in 1929, the stage was set for the worst form of racial discrimination in history to unfold.  Most believed that the German Jews were the cause for the German defeat in World War 1. During the post-war events, Jews radicals were highly visible in revolutions in Bolshevik Russia, Budapest, Munich and Berlin. Anti-Semites quickly stressed to the German public that Jews were Bolsheviks and anti-nationalists, whose influence would lead to the destruction of Germany’s superiority in Europe (Mosse 68). When the Nazi Party came to power, Hitler promised to finally resolve this “Jewish problem.” Hitler was critical of the earlier Anti-Semitic ideals in Europe, especially the Christian Social movement, for not properly understanding the “Jewish danger” as racial rather than religious. This, for Hitler, was a “sham” because it provided the Jews an escape. So in his Mein Kampf, he explained that race is the most important principle in human life. He argued that from the beginning, history was a story of conflict between the Aryans and the Jews. Since civilizations rise and fall depending on how they preserve their dominant race, Hitler’s “resurrected” Germany depends on the clearest knowledge of their racial problem and, of course, the Jewish problem. Hitler argued that the “Aryan” race, were by nature “chosen to rule the world.” The Germans, as well as the Austrians, were part of this pure race which needs to be safeguarded for the sake of human civilization as a whole. Hence, they have “the task, not only of assembling and preserving the most valuable stock s of basic racial elements, but slowly and surely raising them to a dominant position” (qtd. in Altshuler and Dawidowicz 16). The only hindrance to his plan was the Jew. Hitler regarded them as the exact opposite of the Aryan race. If the Aryans were pure, the Jews were evil. He espoused that the Jews were contaminating the Aryan race and destroying Germany’s economic life. Hitler saw himself as the Messiah who would save all people from the Jews and the Devil. Hence, with his supremacist racial ideology, Hitler has one final solution to Germany’s problems: eliminate the Jews.

When he finally came to power, with the unanimous support of anti-Semitic groups, Hitler began his plans against the Jewish race. Following Hitler’s lead, top Nazi officials like Himmler and Heydrich, publicly declared the Jews as “enemies of the state.” On January 20, 1942, high-ranking Nazi officials met in the Wannsee Conference and laid down the plan to achieve the “final solution” against the Jews. This culminated in the formation of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units whose assignment is to kill all Jews residing in territories that have just been conquered. And the genocide began. Millions of innocent Jews, men, women and children, were forced to concentration camps where they were treated in unimaginable tortures. The first in line were the 3 million Polish Jews. Code named “Operation Reinhard” the gassing of Jews was conducted at three camps from March through July 1942: 750,000 to 950, 000 at Treblinka, 500,000 to 600,000 at Belzec, and about 200,000 at Sobibor (Totten et al 321). The term “genocide” fitted this event. The German Nazis systematically murdered innocent Jews in the effort to eradicate the Jewish race from the face of the earth.

When the Whole Town Cried

Following the order of Heydich to eliminate the Jews in Europe, Nazi-appointed council of elders were made responsible for forcing their people into the ghettos. Although Nazi propaganda attempted to portray to the outside world that the imposed ghettos and Jewish councils were a return to the former Jewish autonomy during the Middle Ages, the Nazi ghettos had a different agenda. From small towns and villages, Jews were sent by train into designated areas. The Jews were separated from the non-Jewish population first by barbed wire and walls impregnated with shards of glass. Families in ghettos were packed in small living rooms. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced to live in an area of few blocks. They were basically cut off from all sources of livelihood; their food depended on food rations given by the Germans (Trunk et al 9-10). The Jewish Ghettos were a dangerous place to live. During the first years, the most prevalent threat to life was starvation. One report quoted:

Men fought over raw potatoes, and mothers traded away all their possessions in vain attempts to feed their children. Nazi allowances left each man, woman, and child with a monthly diet of 2 pounds of bread, 9 ounces of sugar, 3.5 ounces of jam, and 1.75 ounces of fat. Meat and cheese were extremely rare, and extremely valuable. (Jewish Ghettos)

Inside these ghettos the Jews were treated as a lesser human species. It was so degrading for their community. Survivors of the Holocaust would not even dare to talk of their experiences. Professor Ludwik Hirszfeld, a former ghetto prisoner recalled:

The streets are so over-populated, it is difficult to push one’s way through…There          are always countless children inside the ghetto… Not all the German guards are         murderers and executioners, but unfortunately, many of them do not hesitate to take up their guns and fire at the children. Every day-it is almost unbelievable-children are taken to hospital with gunshot wounds. (Jewish Ghettos)

Polish historian, Emanuel Ringelblum, kept a diary of his observations in a Warsaw ghetto. On February 28, 1941, he wrote:

Almost daily people are falling dead or unconscious in the middle of the street. It no longer makes so direct an impression. [The streets] are forever full of newly arrived refugees. [There was a] terrible case of a three-year-old refugee child. [On their way to Warsaw] the guard threw the child into the snow. Its mother jumped off the wagon and tried to save the child. The guard threatened her with a revolver. The mother insisted that life was worthless for her without her child. Then the guard threatened to shoot all the Jews in the wagon. The mother arrived in Warsaw, and here went out of her mind. (Jewish Ghettos)

Countless other stories of survival were documented and published by Jewish survivors. All had one similarity: ghettos were hell on earth.

Living a Life of Fear

The Jews lived through the whole world war in a state of fear. Those who were not sent to the ghettos spent most of their time hiding. Because of anti-Semitic sentiments prevailing in Europe, it was difficult to trust anyone; for fear that their hiding place would be reported to the authorities. During the Holocaust, Jewish parents would send their children into other countries or into hiding hoping that they would have a chance at life. Those who were not able to leave the country were disguised as non-Jews. Esther Kustanowitz wrote that blue-eyed children were able to “pass” as Aryans. Those disguised as Catholic orphans were routinely quizzed by their rescuers on Christian observance and prayers. Somehow, it was hard difficult for Jewish boys to conceal their identity since, unlike non-Jewish males, they were circumcised. Often, people who hid them were too frightened even to provide them food, because if they we found out they too would go to the ghettos. While the Polish Jews were being put to death in concentration camps, the Nazi program of deporting Jews from other parts of Europe was put in motion. Roundups were conducted and millions of the remaining Jews in ghettos around Europe were sent by train to the killing centers in Poland. Under the leadership of Adolf Eichmann, this was the ultimate step in completing the “final solution” to the Jewish problem. Hitler authorized doctors to participate in murdering their incurable patients. The operation, called T-4 program, Nazis gassed its victims with different gases in rooms camouflaged as shower chambers (Fischel 50-68). Other forms of torture were utilized against the Jews. Despite protest from other European countries, the Nazi genocide almost eliminated the Jewish race from Europe.

Liberation

When the Axis powers were steadily defeated by the Allies, free countries in Europe conducted rescue operations to evacuate the Jews from concentration camps. Under British, French and American leadership, approximately 250,000 Jewish survivors made their way to evacuation camps operated by the Allies in Germany, Austria, and Italy. By 1945, German soldiers were outnumbered. Early that year, the devastated German military ended up recruiting 15 year school boys and old men to fight in the war against the Allies. On April 30 the Russians occupied Berlin; Adolf Hitler committed suicide in an underground bunker in the city. On May 7, the Germans surrendered to the Allied forces. The following day, millions of people in Allied countries celebrated the Victory in Europe Day (Schomp 63). While the victory in Europe was only half of the war, for the Jews it was a liberating moment. At last, the organized society programmed to eliminate them was destroyed.

Aftermath

After the war, where to locate the surviving Jews was an international concern. With their European communities destroyed, they ended up without property and country. So under pressure from Jewish refugees and public opinion, the United Nations underwent meetings to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflicts in Palestine. And in May 1948, the Jewish State was established. Other Jews who decided to stay in Europe or in the United States strove to rebuild their broken lives; survivors married one another, and new Jewish families spawned across the world. The urge to live was strongly asserted among the young population; new marriages were reported to be held every day. Slowly, the Holocaust years were left behind and survivors moved forward again with fervor (Hass 119-120). The Holocaust event contributed to the force of anti-racism around the world. Solomos and Back wrote:

…the experience of Nazism and the holocaust provided an important point of reference for the articulation of anti-racist perspectives in the period after the Second World War… in the context of Germany… the renewed activities of extreme nationalist and racist movements have given rise to an ongoing debate about the dangers of a resurgence of racism and fascism in German society. (Solomos and Back 105)

After the war, properties seized by the Germans were returned to the surviving Jews or to their heirs. The funds were able to help the Jews back on their feet, although it was not sufficient to repay to evils done by the Nazis to the Jewish race.

From the Holocaust, human society learned how a simple ideology of racial supremacy can lead to the worst evils possible. While human society should move forward, we should not forget the Holocaust nor alter its records. It should serve as a constant reminder that racial discrimination should have no place in society. It is an eternal reminder that we human beings are all equal sharers of life on earth.

Works Cited

Altshuler, David A. and Lucy S. Dawidowicz. Hitler’s war against the Jews. NJ: Behrman         House Publishers,1978

Brustein, William I. Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust. NY:            Cambridge University Press, 2003

Fischel, Jack. The Holocaust. CA: Greenwood Press, 1998

Hass, Aaron. The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust. UK: Cambridge University Press,        1996

Heitmeyer, Wilhelm and John Hagan. International handbook of violence research. USA:          Springer, 2003

“Jewish Ghettos.” N.d. April 29. 2009 <http://library.thinkquest.org/12307/ghettos.html>

Kustanowitz, Esther. The Hidden Children of the Holocaust: Teens Who Hid from the Nazis.   NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 1999

Mosse, George L. German Jews Beyond Judaism. OH: Hebrew Union College Press, 1997

Pulzer, Peter G.J. The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, Revised Edition. MA: Harvard University Press, 1988

Rossel, Seymour and David A. Altshuler. The Holocaust: The World and the Jews, 1933- 1945. NJ: Behrman House Publishers, 1992

Schomp, Virginia. World War 2. NY: Benchmark Books, 2003

Solomos,John and Les Back. Racism and Society. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1996

Totten, Samuel, Paul Robert Bartrop, and Steven L. Jacobs. Dictionary of Genocide. CA:          Greenwood Press, 2008

Trunk, Isaiah, Robert Moses Shapiro, and Israel Gutman. Lodz Ghetto: A History. IN:   Indiana University Press, 2006

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