As a result of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, a system of violent suppression and control emerged that ultimately took the lives of an estimated 6 million Jewish people
Anti-Semitism is an opposition to, prejudice against, or intolerance of Semitic people, most commonly Jews. Anti-Semitism has existed throughout history, since Israel’s dispersion in 70 AD. In every land in which the Jews have lived, they have been threatened, violated and murdered, century after century.
After Germany’s defeat in World War I, many Germans found it hard to accept their defeat. These Germans connived a theory that the citizens at home had betrayed them, “especially laying blame on Jews and Marxists in Germany for undermining the war effort” (http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/ends.htm). This is the main reason that led to the extreme discrimination and removal of basic rights of Jewish people in Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s, however, there were many other reasons including Christianity’s general hatred for Jewry.
Jews were often the victims of Nazism. The first Jewish victims of the Nazi era were 8 innocent people who were killed in the streets on 1 January 1930 by Brownshirts. Soon after that, violence against Jews in the streets became common.
Violence was an integral part of the Nazi programme… Jews were molested in cafes and theatres, synagogue services were disrupted and anti-Jewish slogans became the daily calling card of Nazi thugs. (Gilbert,2001:31)
One particular night of violence, known as Kristallnacht, is remembered with fear. During the night of November 9-10, 1938 thousands of windows were smashed out of Jewish businesses and homes, hundreds of synagogues were burnt to the ground, and more than ninety Jews were murdered.
On March 9, 1933 the first Nazi concentration camp was opened at Dachau. On April 1, a boycott of all Jewish shops was put in place. It only lasted a day, because of threats of a counter-boycott in the USA of all German made goods. However, the expulsion of all Jewish people from Germany’s Universities and then the ‘Burning of the Books’ quickly followed the one-day boycott.
The ‘Burning of the Books’ consisted of 20 000 books burned in a massive bonfire in front of the Berlin Opera House, and opposite the University of Berlin. The books that were destroyed were judged to be ‘degenerate’ and ‘intellectual filth’ by the Nazis, many being written by Jewish authors. Also during this time, Jewish scientists and intellectuals were dismissed from their positions, and Hitler was quoted as saying “If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, we shall do without science for a few years”.
In late 1939, the first ghettos were created in Poland. All Jews were forced to move into a designated area of a city or town, which was surrounded by brick walls topped with barbed wire, and guarded by armed men. SS General Heydrich ordered that the ghettos were to be located on railway junctions, or along a railway ‘so that future measures may be accomplished more easily’. Large numbers of people had to share small living quarters, and medical supplies and food were limited. The Jews could only bring into the ghettos what they could carry, and their luggage was searched and pillaged on their arrival. Life in the ghettos was hard, and death rates were high.
Most of the deaths in the ghettos were by starvation or disease. In the two largest ghettos in Poland, Warsaw and Lodz, the death toll from starvation alone in the first twelve months after the creation of the ghettos reached approximately 42 000.
In most of Western Poland, there were no ghettos. This was because General Heydrich had ordered Western Poland to be ‘cleared completely of the Jews’. Immediately after the Germans invaded a town, they rounded up all the Jewish people, made them dig large pits, then shot and buried them just outside the town.
The ghettos were also referred to as concentration camps and slave labour camps. This was because while the Jews resided in the ghettos, they could be forced to work up to fourteen hours a day in some circumstances. Some were deported to separate concentration camps where they would work on farms in the country to maintain a food supply for the German war machine. Others who stayed in the ghettos worked for the Nazis in munitions factories making armaments, or for local businessmen who paid the government for the use of slave labour to work their factories. These Jews were mostly considered totally expendable, and were subject to minimal food rations, a lack of medical attention, and violent beatings. At least half a million Jews died as slave labourers.
The extermination camps, or death camps were the sites for hundreds of mass murders. Men, women and children were deported from ghettos and concentration camps to these death camps and usually taken straight from the train to a gas chamber where they were gassed to death.
A few hundred people were kept alive as slave labour to sort through the clothing and luggage of the victims. A small part of this labour force was known as the Death Jews. These Jews performed the task of removing bodies from the gas chambers and stripping them of anything of value. They then dragged the corpses to a crematorium where the naked bodies were burnt. Most of the labour forces were killed and replaced whenever a new group of deportees arrived.
The most infamous death camp was Auschwitz, where mostly deportees from Western Europe and southwest Poland were taken. Lilli Kopecky, a deportee from Slovakia recalls arriving at Auschwitz:
When we came to Auschwitz, we smelt the sweet smell. They said to us: ‘There the people are gassed, three kilometers over there.’ We didn’t believe it. (Gilbert,2001:77)
More than a million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz alone.
The Holocaust is probably the most infamous instance of anti-Semitism in History. The oppressive tactics of Nazi Germany took away all the rights of the Jews, and wiped out almost the entire race of Jewish people in Europe. If the Nazis had succeeded in what they came so close to doing, there would not be a trace of Jewry remaining in Europe today.
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