Essay Preview: The Holocaust
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Of all the examples of injustice against humanity in history, the Jewish Holocaust has to be one of the most prominent. In the period of 1933 to 1945, the Nazis waged a vicious war against Jews and other “lesser races”. This war came to a head with the “Final Solution” in 1938. One of the end results of the Final Solution was the horrible concentration and death camps of Germany, Poland, and other parts of Nazi-controlled Europe. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, people around the world were shocked by final tallies of human losses, and the people responsible were punished for their inhuman acts. The Holocaust was a dark time in the history of the 20th century.
One can trace the beginnings of the Holocaust as far back as 1933, when the Nazi party of Germany, lead by Adolf Hitler, came to power. Hitlers anti-Jew campaign began soon afterward, with the “Nuremberg Laws”, which defined the meaning of being Jewish based on ancestry. These laws also forced segregation between Jews and the rest of the public. It was only a dim indication of what the future held for European Jews.
Anti-Jewish aggression continued for years after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws. One of these was the “Aryanization” of Jewish property and business. Jews were progressively forced out of the economy of Germany, their assets turned over to the government and the German public.
Other forms of degradation were pogroms, or organized demonstrations against Jews. The first, and most infamous, of these pogroms was Krystallnacht, or “The night of broken glass”. This pogrom was prompted by the assassination of Ernst von Rath, a German diplomat, by Herschel Grymozpan in Paris on November 7th, 1938. Two days later, an act of retaliation was organized by Joseph Gobbels to attack Jews in Germany. On the nights of November 9th and 10th, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed, 175 synagogues demolished, nearly 100 Jews had been killed, and thousands more had been injured, all for the assassination of one official by a Jew (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 96). In many ways, this was the first major act of violence to Jews made by the Nazis. Their intentions were now clear.
The Nazis plans for the Jews of Europe were outlined in the “Final Solution to the Jewish question” in 1938. In a meeting of some of Hitlers top officials, the idea of the complete annihilation of Jews in Europe was hatched. By the time the meeting was over, the Final Solution had been created. The plans included in the Final Solution included the deportation, exploitation, and eventual extermination of European Jews.
In September 1939, Germany invaded western Poland. Most, if not all Jews in German-occupied lands were rounded up and taken to ghettos or concentration camps. The ghettos were located inside cities, and were a sort of city/prison to segregate Jews from the rest of the public. Conditions in the ghettos included overcrowding, lack of food, and lack of sanitation, as well as brutality by Nazi guards. Quality of life in a ghetto was probably not much above that in a concentration camp.
In June 1941, Germany continued its invasion of Europe by attacking and capturing some of the western U.S.S.R. By this time, most of the Jews in Europe now lived in lands controlled by Nazi Germany. The SS deployed 3000 death squads, or “Einstagruppen”, to dispatch Jews in large numbers (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). In September 1941, all Jews were forced to wear yellow Stars of David on their arms or coats. A Jew could be killed with little repercussions for not displaying the Star of David in public.
Some of the first Jewish resistance to the Final Solution came in 1943, when the process of deportation to concentration and death camps was in full swing. The Warsaw ghetto in Poland, once numbering over 365,000, had been reduced to only 65,000 by the continuing removal of Jews to camps in other lands (“Holocaust, the.” Microsoft Encarta 1996). When the Nazis came to round up the remaining inhabitants of the ghetto, they were met with resistance from the small force of armed Jews. The revolt lasted for almost three weeks before being subdued.
Between the years of 1941 to 1945, the main destination for Jews to be transported was a concentration camp or death camp somewhere in Poland or Germany. In these camps, innocent Jews, along with Gypsies, Slavs, Jehovas Witnesses, Communists, and P.O.W.s, were brutally beaten and abused, fed meager rations of poor food, worked to death, or simply shot. The first of these camps were established in the mid 1930s and were originally designed for prisoners. But, numbers of concentration and death camps grew steadily for years until nearing the end of the World War II.
Quality of life in a concentration camp was substandard, to say the absolute least. Jews and other deportees were transported via railroad boxcars similar to those used for cattle. Some of these cars were so crowded that people actually died standing up, there being no place for them to fall. Once at the camps, the prisoners were unloaded and stripped of everything of value. Clothing, jewelry, eyeglasses, shoes, and even gold teeth were confiscated from the arriving captives. After unloading, the people were separated into two groups. One of these groups would be lead to firing squads or, in some camps, gas chambers, to be dispatched as soon as possible. These people were usually women, children, and the elderly. The second group would be lead to the barracks or used for slave labor. This group was usually comprised of able-bodied men. The prisoners were given little food and forced to live and sleep in filthy, overcrowded bunks where disease ran rampant. Thousands of prisoners in concentration camps died simply