The history of the Second World War offers no small share of tragic stories, but perhaps no event, or more accurately: series of events, during the course of the war, provokes such continued outrage and bewilderment as the Holocaust: the systemic murder of millions of Jews which was undertaken by the beureuacratic civilian and military elements Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
Founded on a long tradition of European antisemitism and embittered by both the tragic outcome of World War One and the ensuing hardships of the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler’s Third Reich rose to power largely due to its deliberate and popular association with German antisemiticism and German Nationalism.
Although “persecution of German Jews began with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933” (“Holocaust”) the systematic deportation of millions of Jews from Europe and Russia evolved as official Nazi policy through the war years of 1939-1945, culminating in what Hitler referred to as “The Final Solution” (“Holocaust”) which was the murder of all Jewish people in the Reich adn its territories.
The program against the Jews began when “Jews were disenfranchised, then terrorized in anti-Jewish riots (such as Kristallnacht), forced into the ghettos, their property seized, and finally were sent to concentration camps. (“Holocaust”); however, after the war in Russia was underway, “Hitler established death camps to secretly implement” (“Holocaust”) the Final Solution. From the outset of the Reich, Jews were targeted. This includes the forming of the original political party, the Socialists Workers Party, which became Hitler’s Nazi party. The party had always been founded on radically charged antisemiticism. Theories that th Jews secretly controlled the world and held a “Zionist” agenda to rule over all of the worlds nations abounded among the more seedy elements of the German streets after World War One.
Hitler, a wounded war-veteran, rose to fame by being one of the loudest and most radical antisemites, giving speeches to others who hated and feared Jews long before he became dictator of Germany. The Nazi party was, in fact, the “legitimate” side of rampant German antisemiticism: “The founding of the Nazi Party in 1920 transformed [… ] radical nationalist antisernites into a political movement, which had as its primary objective the removal of the Jews from Germany” (Fischel 1); Hitler manipulated German anti-Jewish sentiment to bring himself into power, but he also acted upon his own personal hatred for the Jews as dictator.
The Holocaust became Hitler’s chief legacy and also, the Third Reich’s chief legacy to the world. While the Nazi agenda to exterminate the Jews existed in theories which many rabid antisemites of the day advocated, the evolution of this kind of radical thought to becoming the official mandate of Adolph Hitler himself was both slow and somewhat unpredictable. Although Jews were woefully persecuted from the Third Reich’s beginning, the systematic extermination of the Jews as a race was not, at first, implemented.
Instead, “the Nazi government used legislation, administrative decrees, and propaganda to defame and ostracize Jews and to lower their social, economic, and legal standing” by the time of the Nuremberg Laws, in 1935, Jews were “formally deprived [… ] of their rights as citizens”‘ (Kaplan 17); subsequently, Jews were herded first into ghettos and then into concentration camps some of which which ultimately became death-camps.
By the end of the war an estimated six-million Jews would be exterminated under Hitler’s Final Solution at death-camps throughout Russia, Poland, and Germany. A table of death-camp victims estimates from six camps, methods of extermination, location, and years of activity (included at the end of this paper) reveals that various methods of execution were used as well as many different kinds of gasses and chemicals. 1 Of course such a massive undertaking of cold-blooded murder required the machinery of a modern State adn the beureuacratic brains and hands to run the operation.
Adolph Hitler accepted no personal responsibility for the overseeing of his Final Solution, but instead gave the “authority to organize the mass deportations of Jews to the death camps” (Fischel 54) to Adolf Eichmann. Historians have concluded that “Eichmann and his operatives were responsible for the deportations of Jews to the extermination camps from every part of occupied Europe” (Fischel 54) and that he also “organized the effort to hide the news of the extermination campaign from the world” (Fischel 54) all of which was carried out under Hitler’s direct orders.
Because of the enormity of scope and impact, the sheer numbers involved, and the geography covered, an incredibly informative amount of information regarding the Nazi implementation of the Holocaust exists despite the initial efforts and continue effort throughout the course of the war on behalf of the Nazis themselves to keep the Final Solution hidden from world-view.
In addition to the overwhelming amount of documentation and evidence, witness testimony, and testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, all of which helps to detail and record one of the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated by humanity, a “vast literature consisting of histories, diaries, memoirs, poetry, novels, and prayers has emerged in an effort to understand the Holocaust” (“Holocaust”) and this literature is as important as the purely historical material because — without understanding the causes of the Holocaust — humanity may find itself face to face with another Holocaust again some day.
The most common explanation for how rampant antisemitism in post World War One Germany became the state-sponsored murder of Hitler’s Reich is the theory that “an underlying and pervasive anti-Semitism in Germany was fueled by a deep and complete despair combined with a corrosive and unacknowledged sense of worthlessness that had been created by crushing and humiliating hardships and the disintegration of the Weimar Republic” (“Holocaust”); that such a violent despair can be channeled racially for the empowerment of a specific political party and to the detriment of the entire world is a lesson we must always keep firmly in mind.