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.


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.


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

05 Oct 2009

Sample Essay: The Politics, Economy, and Liberal Cosmopolitanism of Venice

Justice and Mercy in “The Merchant of Venice”

The Merchant of Venice is one of the most frequently performed plays of Shakespeare. Written between 1594 and 1598 in Elizabethan England where the playwright lived, the play is thematically rich. The themes of mercy, religion (Christianity and anti-Semitism), love and revenge, law and justice are all inextricably interwoven into the plot lending it the complexity that is characteristic of human emotions and relationships. The inexplicable unfolding of these underlying emotions and ideas contribute to the drama. One school of critics are of the opinion that the play is fundamentally allegorical, addressing such themes as the victory of mercy over justice, New Testament forgiveness over Old Testament law and love over money. Shakespeare also portrays the economic trends of the Renaissance period, the growing power of money and emerging capitalism in Merchant of Venice.

The dramatist has interwoven the ideas of justice and mercy throughout the plot, rendering them one of the prominent themes. The Christian merchant Antonio was forced to enter into a contract with Jewish usurer Shylock when he had to borrow money from him to help his friend. His friend was Bassanio, who was living in debt, but required the funds to travel to Belmont and woo Portia, a rich heiress. Because most of Antonio’s money is tied up in his ships, he cannot help Bassanio, but agrees to post his property as collateral so Bassanio can obtain a loan. Bassanio borrows money from Shylock who had reason to hate Antonio and his Christian friends as they often ridiculed him. Antonio had treated Shylock disdainfully, had spat upon him and had threatened his livelihood by lending money to others without interest, Shylock insists on the condition that if funds were not returned in three months, Antonio must forfeit a pound of flesh. Antonio agrees to this strange condition, confident that his ships will return with merchandise soon and he will be able to repay the loan. Meanwhile when Shylock’s daughter Jessica elopes with Bassanio’s friend Lorenzo, taking with her jewels and gold and converts to Christianity, Shylock’s hatred for Antonio and his friends intensifies. This is depicted in Act 2, Scene 8, when Salanio and Salarino exchange news in a Venetian street. They inform him that Antonio’s ships are lost and ask him if he will exact the forfeit of his bond. Shylock answers that he will as he was always ill treated by Antonio and his friends. His sentiments are evident in the following extracts:

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? (3. 1. 23)”

“…if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge; he hath disgraced me, and hinder’d me half a million, laughed at my losses, mock’d at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.” (3. 1. 47-52)

The multiple themes of justice and mercy, love and revenge, Christianity and anti-Semitism all come to a climax in the court room scene in Act 4, Scene 1.

..    At the Venetian court of justice before the Duke of Venice, the duke asks Shylock to show mercy by giving up his claim for a pound of flesh. Shylock refuses. Bassanio then offers Shylock more than he is owed, but Shylock continues to insist on exacting a pound of flesh. Nerissa, dressed like a law clerk, arrives and introduces the disguised Portia as Bellario, a learned doctor of law. Portia entreats for mercy on behalf of Antonio,

‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.” (4. 1. 180-193)

She tells Shylock mercy cannot be forced from someone; it must be freely given. Ordinary people are seldom asked to display this quality. It is a gift given from kings and rulers. Shakespeare explores the tension between justice and mercy through the attitudes of Shylock and Portia. Portia’s understanding of mercy is based on the way Christians in Shakespeare’s time understood the difference between the Old and New Testaments. According to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the Old Testament depicts God as stern and exacting. The New Testament portrays a God who forgives rather than punishes and offers salvation to those who forgive others.

The theme of mercy also ties in with the theme of religion. Portia says, “it is an attribute to God himself” and refers to the God of the New Testament, who is seen as merciful. The idea that Christians are merciful is repeatedly enforced in the play. In the extract Shylock says that mercy is for fools, or Christians, “I’ll not be made a soft and dull-eyed fool, to Christian intercessors.”

The theme of revenge is linked to the theme of religion as Shylock believes that revenge is a Christian quality (just as Portia believes that mercy is a Christian quality).

“If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? – why revenge!” (3. 1. 63-64)

Shylock seeks revenge by exploiting the power of the law, and Portia manipulates the law to turn it against Shylock.

This theme is also repeated in the scene that Shylock demands his justice by the letter of the law and the forfeit of his bond. Portia lets Shylock have the chance to take the moral path or the letter of his bond. Shylock insists on the penalty, complacent in the knowledge that law and justice is on his side, deaf to appeals for mercy. Then suddenly the balance of power in the trial changes. Portia warns Shylock that when he cuts away the pound of flesh, he must take only flesh, not blood; for the signed agreement calls only for a pound of flesh and nothing else.

‘Then take thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.” (4. 1. 308-312)

Portia expounds on mercy, but it is doubtful whether Sherlock was granted this mercy. All his worldly goods were to be divided between his daughter and Antonio, although Antonio gives them back on the condition that he gives up his religion and adopts Christianity.

“The Jew shall have all the justice, soft no haste!

He shall have nothing but the penalty.” (4. 1. 317)

Bloom in “Shakespeare’s Politics” says that Shylock and Antonio act as representatives of Judaism and Christianity, respectively, and that it is Shylock’s absolute deference to the law that necessarily brings about his downfall. In this interpretation, Bloom illustrates the limits of law as to its ability to ultimately protect and maintain justice.     In Tovey’s “The Golden Casket: An Interpretation of the Merchant of Venice”, the play is treated as an allegory relating philosophy and politics.

In “The Merchant of Venice”, justice and mercy are recurring themes, and the interplay between them has a key role in determining the outcome of the play.

Works Cited

1.     Bloom, Allan with Harry V. Jaffa. Shakespeare’s Politics, 3rd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. pp. 16

2.     Cummings, Michael J. The Merchant of Venice – A Study Guide, http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net, 2003.

3.     Tovey, Barbara. The Golden Casket: An Interpretation of The Merchant of Venice, pp. 261-287, ISI Books, 2000.

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