A staggering and ghastly number of 6 million killings – comprising a little more than one million children, two million women, and three million men, orchestrated by Nazi Germany protagonist Adolf Hitler, who mercilessly slaughtered the Jews and envisioned establishing a Nazi Utopia, constitute the Holocaust.
There could be no justification of the governance that choreographed these mass murders and the reason behind inflicting such pain and tragedy. Apart from these recognized numbers, other elements of societies like homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, Nazi opponents, Soviet civilians, and other such victims were also wiped off; the number of killings reaching up to an atrocious 17 million.
The earliest traits of stemming hatred for Jew’s can be traced back the 3rd Century B.C.E. (Before Christian Era) in Alexandria (modern-day city of Egypt). Religious indifferences and anti-Judaism have long been existent in history and religion. The prominent grounds on which Jews have been criticized in the past arose due to social, economic, racist, ideological, and religious differences.
Prologue: World War I and The German Revolution
The aftermath of World War I, which was followed by the Treaty of Versailles, totally handicapped the German government. The articles under the treaty included a downsizing in the German army and naval ranks by a considerable margin. Apart from this, Germany was issued reparation and compensation charges to be paid to the Allies, that amounted to around 226 billion Marks (ℳ) (German currency during that period which was minted in gold and silver), which was later reduced 132 billion in 1921 (modern-day equivalent to $442 billion / £284 billion), and a couple of million tons of coal to be supplied to France, Belgium and Italy for 10 years.
What followed was the German revolution of 1918 – 1919, and the formation of the Weimar Republic, which hailed high, putting an end to the imperial government that existed. The mission of the Weimar parliament was to establish social and economic stability after the Great Depression stemming from the First World War. However, this government held a weak stance as far as dealing with inflation, unemployment and social differences that prevailed. This was the beginning era for the Nazi party coming into existence, which was influenced by a certain Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, a famous German cultural historian and author. Brucks book Das Recht der jungen Völker proposed the Sonderweg theory which depicted Russia as a communist governance and US as a capitalist both which were penned in critical acclaim. He also downsized the Western and Imperialist philosophies governed by the state. Bruck’s aim was to promote an ideal relativity between nationalism and the method of social justice. His work was highly regarded by the Nazi party and his 1923 illustration of ‘Das’ Dritte Reich (The Third Reich) was adopted as a Nazi slogan.
Jews formed a large part of the society back then in the early 1920s and were a prosperous and flourishing race in social and economic regards. Germany was already knee-deep in facing a huge setback and repercussion after the first World War and the Treaty Of Versailles. Anti-Semitism (Hatred for Jewish people) had been distinctly brewing much before the Holocaust. A major incident that triggered the Holocaust and which sent ripples to the German nationalists was the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Germany was in a mess with regards to its internal affairs. Gradually, communist ideology started taking shape, and the Nazi party was established. The secular German Nazis stated a need for an ideal Nazi Germany, based on varying principles of fascism and anti-Semitism. Sure enough, the Nazi party brought the Weimar Republic to an end, with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as the chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 at Berlin, by the German President Paul von Hindenburg.
Hitler’s Ascension to Dictatorship and Nazi Instruments
Hitler’s military and political career saw a swift ascension. His beliefs and principles soon became the parameters for governance of national affairs. The seed of the Nazi propaganda and Reich ideology had strictly made its way into the existence of affairs and the lifestyle in Germany. Hitler’s early start as the chancellor witnessed a whole new Nazi-revised agenda in the backdrop for governance in the fields education, society, law, and culture. Educational institutions, business houses, trade and economy; all these reigns were vested in Hitler’s hands. The whole of the German army pledged their undying loyalty towards Hitler. Hitler imparted his ideology and began planting the Nazi seed through newspapers which included the following:
“Der Stürmer” (The attacker), was a newspaper in national circulation, and a popular Nazi mouthpiece published by Julius Streicher in 1923. Der Stürmer was infamous for its explicit and harsh anti-Semitic content. The paper printed blasphemous accusations on the Jews, obscene pornographic depictions, and anti-capitalist aspects. The paper’s circulation grew over time and so did the content in regards to the extermination and annihilation of the Jews, extending to the German population in countries like the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Argentina. The bottom of the title page always sported a motto ‘Die Juden sind unser Unglück’ (The Jews are our misfortune). Streicher slowly fueled a social anti-Jewish psyche in the society through his work. Der Stürmer caused an uproar among the organizations and Jewish counterparts. Some accusations that were made against the Jews were:
~ Practice of blood libel by the Jews, a myth dating back to the Stone Age, which involved a Jew killing a Christian child and using the child’s blood to make ‘matzoh’ (unleavened bread).
~ Jews were white-slavers and accounted for a major number of prostitutes across the country. ‘Rassenschande’ – Illicit sexual relations between the Aryan Germans and Jews or other non-Nazi counterparts.
~ A cartoon strip in the paper portraying a miserable mother smoking and remorseful of her Jewish lover on the ground, whilst her little child wanders around aimlessly in the house. The caption for this picture was tagged as ‘Everything in her has died’. She was ruined by a Jew.
~ Divorce was encouraged for German couples who were married to Jews.
~ Targeting Jews for child molestation, ritual murderers, sex offenders, and practitioners of strange sex crimes.
~ Creation of a stereotypical Jew in accordance to anti-Semitism.
The official paper of the Schutzstaffel (SS), “Das Schwarze Korps” (The Black Corps) was free in circulation, and was issued on Wednesdays. The paper was headed by SS leader Gunter d’Alquen, and was published by Max Amann, a Nazi official sergeant and a journalist who directly reported to Hitler. The paper, through its articles, shunned many religious groups from time to time, some of which included the Jews, Catholics, Freemasons, Gypsies, and such others. SS Security Service was another close counterpart of the Das Schwarze Korps, and they coordinated their operations together. The paper delivered the Nazi ideology in print, and interpreted foreign affairs and nationalism in accordance. It also majorly criticized Judaism and the concept of ‘World Jewry’. The comic character Superman was largely ridiculed by the paper, shunning the Jewish creator of the comic, Jerry Siegel. The paper ran a total of 750,000 copies in circulation by the year 1944.
The Nazi Ideology
It is said that the basic motivation of the Holocaust was pure ideology, concocted out of biological racism, fascist principles and anti-Semitism. All these principles, ideally, are not extremely grave or life-threatening, but, the fact that the dictator Adolf Hitler practiced his right with these was in utmost extremity. Of course, one major (and perhaps the only) reason was the humiliation that Germany had faced in the First World War, but though the reason was different, the motivation was quite ridiculous, to say the least. The Nazis believed that there was a great Jewish conspiracy to rule the world (which, interestingly, is still one of the most popular conspiracy theories in the world), which was running parallel to the Aryan quest of cleansing the world, starting with Germany. Following President Paul von Hindenburg’s death in August 1934, Hitler succeeded to the post of a Führer (Head of the Government) whilst still remaining as the Reich Chancellor. With the two most powerful designations vested in his hands, Germany became a Nazi playground. A considerable source of influence on the Nazis was the framework of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who was the founding father of the German empire. Bismarck’s vision was of establishing a unified German state, which excluded Austria.
Hitler aimed at materializing Bismarck’s vision, but fiercely opposed the existence of foreigners and other races that had settled in Germany. Another inspiration whose work had found its way firm in the heart of Hitler and other Nazi members was Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Johann was a revered German philosopher and the founder of German idealism, which was inspired from the works of ‘Immanuel Kant’. In his book ‘Speeches to the German Nation’, Kant called for a nationwide awakening and purifying of the German land, by revolting against the French occupants who had then (1808) invaded Berlin under French emperor Napoleon’s regime. His concepts that were penned became the laying foundation of Nazi ethos. The fascist belief of Germany flourishing was in regards to the Aryan race exclusively. Jews were sought as perpetrators and racially inferior individuals who wanted to resurrect a Jewish World Order by capitalizing trade, commerce, and society. The Jews were also targeted for trumping over the Germans due to their financial and social strongholds, and their passiveness to contribute in the 1st World War, whilst they allegedly concerned themselves solely to business prospects. Religious differences in the past between the Catholics and Jews were fiercely revised and introduced again in the Nazi propaganda, and were held against the Jews. The Jews were disregarded more on the basis of their race than their religion. The Nazis religiously upheld the idea that ‘Aryanization’ or the survival of a prosperous German bloodline would only exist with the exclusion of Jews and other such counterparts. The Nazi understanding revolved strictly around racial purity for the motherland. September 15, 1935, saw the legislation of the Nuremberg laws, which spelled doom for the Jews in Germany.
From Hitler’s early day excerpts in Mein Kampf, he despised the Jewish society for their negligence towards Germany, and social Darwinism was a prominent part of Hitler’s thinking against them. The pure blood Aryans, according to the Nazis, compromised the Dutch, Scandinavians, Britishers, and the French. The inferiorly considered elements were the Serbs, Russians, Poles, Czechs, Bosniaks, and the Ukrainians. The worst in regards to the race that they held were the Jews, blacks, and the Romani (Gypsies).
Nazi Tyranny Unleashes
In 1933, the Nazi dominance in the Parliament resulted in upheavals and disturbances in the Jewish businesses, which led to the boycott of German goods by the Jews. This incident was interpreted by the UK tabloid ‘Daily Express’ outrageously with the headline – ‘Judea declares war on Germany’. This was followed with an outrage amongst the Germans who counter boycotted the Jews by staging protests and minimal violence in front of Jewish stores and businesses. The Nazi law recognized an individual who practiced Judaism and had more than two Jewish grandparents to be considered as a Jew, or commonly recognized as a Mischling-crossbreed. Soon after the enactment of the Nuremberg Law, the Jews found themselves stranded and stripped of German citizenship and civil rights. The permission for converting and embracing Christianity too wasn’t an option for the Jews in the 20th century. Jewish emancipation (recognition which was entitled to Jews pertaining to their rights, equality, integration in society and citizenship) that existed earlier was totally reversed by the Nazi regime. Considerations to relocate the Jews to British Palestine and Madagascar were also eventually refuted. Gradually, the Nazis tactfully began dismantling the Jewish society step-by-step, some of which included:
~ Excluding Mischlings of German citizenship.
~ Terminating Jews from all fields of employment, which included lawyers, doctors, and journalists.
~ Prohibition of Jews in state hospitals, libraries, public parks, and beaches.
~ ‘Namensänderungsverordnung’ (Regulation of Name Changes) featured the Jews with first names which were non-Jewish to adopt middle names, ‘Sara’ for women and ‘Israel’ for men.
~ Passports of German Jews were to bear a large ‘J’ stamped on the cover, and was changed to a one-way passport restricting a return to Germany.
~ Obligatory for all Jews to wear the yellow badge (Jewish religious symbol stitched onto a cloth also called the ‘badge of shame’).
~ Extramarital affairs or any kind of relationship (Rassenchande) maintained between a German and a Jew was a punishable offense.
~ Demolishing synagogues and other places of Jewish significance.
~ Acquisition of Jewish businesses by the Nazi government.
~ Anti-Semitic content distributed in schools, offices, and newspapers.
~ 1% of Jewish reservations in schools and universities.
Any resistance against these laws by Jews and some Germans were immediately met with execution by the Gestapo (Secret Police) and SS, and the people offering resistance were tagged as antisocial elements.
Buildup to the Holocaust
August Landmesser, a Nazi party worker became famous for his appearance in a photograph amidst the Nazi naval, which shows him with his hands crossed amongst hundreds of other Nazi soldiers posing with the Nazi salute. He was believed to be killed later. The Haavara Agreement of 25th August, 1933, provided some relief to the German Jews, as it commenced the immigration of 60,000 such people to Palestine.
On the morning of November 7, 1938, in a remote corner of St. Martin, a 17-year-old Jewish boy named Herschel Grynszpan walked into a gun store and bought himself a 6.35mm revolver and a pack of 25 bullets for an amount of 235 francs. He then proceeded to board the metro to Solférino station, and upon reaching there, headed right to the German embassy and requested the clerk for an audience with a German Embassy Official. The clerk sent him in to Ernst vom Rath’s office, who was a famous German diplomat and one of Hitler’s confidante. Grynszpan, on entering Rath’s office, swiftly pulled out his gun and shot five straight bullets into the latter’s abdomen. According to the French police, Grynszpan was believed to shout “You’re a filthy boche”, before shooting Rath, and proclaimed his act as a vengeance in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews, after which he did not try to resist the arrest made against him. In his pocket was a postcard addressed to his parents; to quote:
“With God’s help.
My dear parents, I could not do otherwise, may God forgive me, the heart bleeds when I hear of your tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I must protest so that the whole world hears my protest, and that I will do. Forgive me.” – Hermann (His German name)
He was consequently executed, and thus started the beginning of the Nazi tyranny. After the German invasion of Poland and the Final Solution (organized genocide of all the European Jews) went under the hammer, the Jews were relocated to ghettos and concentration camps, where signs of the Holocaust began to take shape.
This event led to the formation of pogrom (riots and massacres against Jews). Before they knew what was happening, the Jews found themselves helplessly removed from their homes and faced arrests in huge numbers. This led to the Kristallnacht (Night of The Broken Glass), which lasted for two grueling days and entirely wiped out Jewish shelters. The damage done to property amounted to 1 billion Reichsmarks, whilst the Jews were stripped completely of all their assets. This was just the kind of coverage needed for the Nazis to embark on their infliction of torture and death upon the Jews, in the coming times.
The Nazi ideology was reached out to German citizens, and in a way found acceptance too, through Adolf Hitler. His domination was held high with other official German organizations like the Hitler Youth, Gestapo, and the SS. The Catholic church was also in silent agreement with the commencement of the Euthanasia program, which was initially run to put the physically handicapped, diseased people, and mentally disabled people out of their misery, and later turned out to be an accessory for the Jewish massacre. It’s shocking to witness a single powerful and eloquent orator bringing down annihilation on an entire race, leaving a disheartening and bloody mark through the pages of time.
A couple of books that can give you a detailed insight about these times are:
~ “The Odessa File” – Frederick Forsyth – (Series of adventures of a young German reporter attempting to discover the location of a former SS concentration camp commander – Thriller)
~ “The Diary of a Young Girl” – Anne Frank (True story about a Jewish girl born to a German national, and the grueling story of their hiding and suffering endured for two years under the Nazi regime)
~ “Number the Stars” – Lois Lowry (Historical fiction about the Holocaust, which revolves around a ten-year old girl Annemarie Johnson, whose family provides shelter to her Jewish friend Ellen Rosen during the Danish persecution of the Jews.)
~ “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” – John Boyne (Story about a nine-year old boy called Bruno, the son of a high-ranking SS officer, who befriends a Jew amidst World War II)
~ “Schindler’s Ark” – Thomas Keneally (True story of a German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who risked his life to save over 1,000 Jewish factory workers from concentration camps in Nazi occupied Poland)