You have probably heard about a period of time, not so long ago, known as ‘The Holocaust.’ A holocaust, according to Webster’s dictionary, is ‘a complete destruction by fire’ (Stadtler, 1). In Europe, during this period, there was a complete destruction by fire – of Jewish homes, Jewish businesses, Jewish neighborhoods, and Jewish people. This destruction was carried out under the direction of Adolf Hitler, during the years 1939-1945, but it actually began earlier, in 1933, when Hitler came to power in Germany.
In my opinion, the Holocaust, which was caused by ignorance, could very well have been prevented. There were many powerful nations, such as the United Stated, the USSR, and Britain, whose leaders and militaries could have stepped in and helped the Jewish people who were facing extremely brutal persecution. Throughout most of the war, the American government clung to the delusion that the Nazi’s were persecuting the Jews because of their political or religious beliefs. The U.S. closed its gates to emigration from Europe in 1940-1941, when Jews were still allowed to emigrate. ‘Anti-Semitism in America actually increased during the war and started to decline only at the end of it’ (Bauer, 297).
A Soviet attitude toward the murder of the Jews simply did not exist. While fighting a desperate battle for its own survival, Britain saved the Jews of Palestine, North Africa, and much of the British Empire from the fate of European Jewry. ‘The British fought only for themselves, but the defense of their own interests coincided with the defense of civilized humanity, including the Jews’ (Bauer, 296). The May 1939 White Paper on immigration to Palestine stated that immigration to Palestine would end after 75,000 had been admitted between 1939 and 1944. When war broke out, the British decreed that no enemy nationals could enter Palestine, which in effect, closed the doors to those who needing rescue most, specifically the European Jews trying to escape the Nazis.
At first, the thought of such destruction in Europe was incomprehensible to other Nations. They heard of what was occurring, but did not believe it, and therefore did nothing. ‘The suffering of hundreds of thousands, soon of millions, was evident for consciences to be aroused, for steps to be taken. Nothing was done’ (Bauer, 297).
I feel the ignorance of these Nations was the cause of the loss of 6 million lives. Had these Nations not turned their heads away and ignored what was happening, they could have saved many lives and prevented the Holocaust. By allowing emigration from Europe into their countries, by trying to negotiate with Hitler, or if worse came to worse, assassinating Hitler, things might have been different. By not recognizing the events leading to the Holocaust and of the Holocaust, they also caused the Holocaust along with Adolf Hitler. The Holocaust could only have been prevented by the World Powers, but they failed to do so because they were so ignorant.
During the 19th century, European Jewry was being emancipated, and in most European countries, Jews were achieving some equality of status with non-Jews. Nonetheless, at times, Jews were vilified and harassed by anti-Semitic groups. Indeed, some anti-Semites believed that Jewry was an alien ‘race’ not assimilable into a European culture, but they did not formulate any coherent anti-Semitic campaign until Hitler came to power.
Germany was defeated in World War I after a four year struggle that left its people exhausted and divided. The harsh peace terms of the Versailles Treaty placed a heavy economic burden on them. Before the war Germany had thought of itself as Europe’s greatest nation. Now it was confused, bitter, and economically crippled, its wealth drained to pay the vast sums demanded by the Versailles Peace Treaty.
Rising inflation left many Germans poor and others jobless. Political differences exploded in assassinations and street fighting. The new democratic government of Germany, the Weimar Republic, was unable to prevent disorder and caused people to lose faith in democracy. With Germans of all outlooks desperately seeking solutions for the nation’s problems, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party began their climb to power. ‘Hitler was gifted with effective political talents.
He offered an explanation for Germany’s defeat, and a vision of Germany’s future destiny, that played upon the fears, prejudices, and hopes of many Germans. He promised to rebuild Germany’s power and restore its prosperity’ (Isaacman, 16). This won the support of many Germans. Hitler was such an effective speaker that anything he said was believed even if it was not true.
Hitler believed that the German people were part of an ‘Aryan race,’ a superior group that should be kept pure to fulfill their mission of ruling the world. He felt that the Jewish people were ‘sub-human,’ when in actuality they were virtually the same as his ‘Aryan race.’ Not only did Hitler have a personal hatred toward the Jewish people, but he also blamed them for ‘stabbing Germany in the back’ after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Hitler used them as scapegoats because they were a minority and were easy to put the blame on. ‘Historians agree that the Holocaust resulted from a confluence of various factors in a complex historical situation.
That anti-Semitism festered throughout the centuries in European culture is centrally important; the Jews were (and are) a minority civilization in a majority environment. In periods of crisis, instead of searching for the solution of such crisis within the majority culture, the majority will tend to project blame for the crisis on a minority which is both familiar and weak. As the originators and bearers of an important part of civilization, the Jews are a father civilization against which pent up aggressions are easily unleashed’ (Bauer, 330). Anti-Semitism had always played a role in Nazi propaganda, for Hitler blamed most of Germany’s problems on the Jews. Anti-Jewish laws of every kind were passed. Jews could no longer be judges, lawyers, teachers, government officials, army officers. Jewish doctors could not treat non-Jewish patients, Jews could not employ non-Jews, and Jews and non-Jews could not have social relationships. Jewish property was taken by the government, Jewish businesses were closed down, Jewish children could not attend public schools. All the media were utilized to spread anti-Jewish messages.
On the street, Jews were mocked, tormented, and even beaten for no other reason but being Jewish. Jewish people were forced to wear Star of David armbands and were often attacked by storm troopers. On November 9-10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (‘Night of the Broken Glass’), hundreds of synagogues throughout Germany were burned by Nazi mobs, windows of Jewish shops were smashed, and thousands of Jews were arrested. Kristallnacht was a signal to Jews in Germany and Austria to leave as soon as possible. Several hundred thousand people were able to find refuge in other countries, but a similar number, including many who were old or poor, ‘stayed to face an uncertain fate’ (Stadtler, 12). The countries of Europe and the United States too, only admitted a small number of Jews.
Had these countries made an exception for these people who were being treated poorly in their home countries there would have been a smaller amount of lives lost in the years to come. Throughout the 1930’s, conditions for the Jews in Germany worsened. Some people in the United States refused to buy German products in an effort to put pressure on Hitler, but it did not help. This was not enough, the United States was a strong world power and could have done more to aid the Jewish people of Germany. What could a small amount of people not buying German products do? Absolutely nothing because Germany was much stronger than these few people; the aid of an entire nation was needed, not the aid of a few people.
Since no one was stopping Hitler, he proceeded to enlarge Germany’s territory.
Threatening to use force if he did not get his way, he gained control of Austria in 1938 and of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Later in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, World War II broke out.
During the early years of the war, Hitler’s armies conquered most of Europe. Millions of Jews were now under German rule, and Hitler felt he was at last in a position to solve the ‘Jewish Question.’ As Hitler saw it, the ‘Jewish Question’ was simply the fact that the Jews existed. Therefore, the ‘final solution’ emerged as a way to destroy them.
Throughout Europe, in all the countries under their control- Poland, Western Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, France, Holland, Denmark, Norway- the Jews were rounded up and confined in concentration camps or ghettos. Stripped of their property, brutalized, terrified, and disoriented, they were forced to work as slave laborers in abominable conditions. Many died of starvation and disease. Others were shot or beaten to death. Before long, rumors of this brutality reached capitals of the world, but nothing was done.
As the war against the Jews progressed, however, the Nazi’s turned to large scale centralized killing operations. Jews from all over Europe were loaded into trains and shipped to death camps, among them, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor.
LOCATION OF GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS
‘In the death camps, human life was destroyed quickly and efficiently’ (Isaacman, 19). Under the whips of cruel SS guards, the Jewish victims were herded off the trains and into gas chambers, where they were exterminated by a poisonous gas. Millions of non-Jews were also systematically killed- political opponents, Slavic peoples, and other minorities. In the case of the Jews, the Nazi’s were determined to annihilate an entire people.
Some Jews fought back at every possible opportunity. Some Christians, too, tried to help. Taking great personal risks, they hid Jewish friends in their homes or cellars. Many of these people were caught and killed by the Nazi’s. People willing to take such risks were few and far between in Europe. Had other nations of the world been as righteous and as brave as these people, and combined their efforts, this attempted annihilation of the Jewish people could have been prevented.
To some Nazi’s the ‘final solution’ was more important than anything else. ‘Though Germany was hemmed in by enemies and fighting for its life, they diverted valuable resources to the extermination machine’ (Isaacman, 20). Trains that could have carried ammunition to the front were used to transport Jews to death camps. Soldiers who could have been defending their country were instead sent to round up and guard Jewish civilians. ‘After several years of war, Hitler knew he could not defeat America and the other Allies, but he was determined to win at least one victory by wiping out the Jews’ (Isaacman, 20). The United States and other world powers were too focused on the war to maintain their pride.
While in Germany Hitler was trying to wipe an entire people off the face of the Earth. If these other nations of the world were not so ignorant, the lives of six million people could have been saved. Hitler and his Nazi Party treated the Jewish people so inhumanely. He and his party felt that the Jews were biologically different, when in fact they were and are not. Every human being is equal and should be treated equally. No one is superior to anyone else, even though some may have an egocentric attitude. In 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Rather than correcting his errors, Hitler took the easy way out by committing suicide.
The ultraorthodox Jewish theology justifies the Holocaust as an act of God, a punishment for sins committed by the Jewish people against their God. Others feel that the Holocaust was a result of man’s betrayal to God. I feel that the Holocaust is not at all justified. During the Holocaust, six million Jewish people died, that is more than one-third (about 34 percent) of the Jewish population. ‘From the liberated Nazi camps, weeping skeletons of men and women emerged. Among them were 200,000 Jews. These have to be added to the 210,000 that survived in France, about 37,000 in Belgium, 20,000 in the Netherlands, about 1,900,000 in the Polish-Soviet area, 350,000 in Rumania, 130,000 in Hungary, and smaller numbers elsewhere.
Including Soviet Jewry, part of whom were never under Nazi rule, about 3 million Jews were left in Europe out of the original 9 million Jews before the war’ (Bauer, 334). As I stated before, there is only one thing and one thing only that caused this horrid event called the Holocaust, ignorance. Not just ignorance of the United States and the other world powers, but the ignorance of Hitler and his Nazi Party as well. Had the U.S. and other nations offered aid to the Jewish refugees, and opened their doors to these refugees, they would have saved many lives. Instead, they were just as guilty as the Nazi’s by helping in the destruction of an entire race.
WORKS CITED PAGE
Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1983.
Chartock, Roselle, Jack Spencer. The Holocaust Years: Society on Trial. New York: Bantam Books, 1978.
Des Pres, Terrence. The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
‘Holocaust.’ Microsoft Encarta (CD ROM). 1993.
Stadtler, Bea. The Holocaust: A History of Courage and Resistance. New York: Behrman House, Inc., 1973.
Isaacman, Clara. Pathways Through the Holocaust. New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1988.