Dr. Thomas Thibeault
18 Dec. 1998
History is racked with evils that plague the human psyche with intrigue and mystery. One can ponder the actions and the state of mind of such figures as Napoleon, Mussolini, and Stalin. Despite the many evil images in history, one image stands in its own level of inhumanity and atrocity. The epitome of evil can be surmised in one person, Adolf Hitler. No one in history can compete with the horrible deeds and philosophy of Adolf Hitler. A twelve-year German reign of Hitler devastated millions of people worldwide. Hitler set out to conquer the world by deluding thousands of German citizens to embrace a way of thinking that would destroy all the impurities of the German race to ensure world domination by the perfect Aryan race. The atrocious mass killing of the "impure" races included the mentally and physically disabled, the homosexuals, the gypsies, the citizens that vocalized against the Nazi regime, and any race or people of whom Hitler did not approve. The Holocaust, the mass killing, has become synonymous with the symbol of the Jewish resilience because the majority of Holocaust victims were Jews. Hitler had a deep-rooted hatred of Jewish people. He felt that Jews were behind all the adverse conditions affecting post-World War I Germany. His antisemitic views are vocalized in his widely published and read Mein Kampf. Hitler would construct the Holocaust and the mass killing of the Jews as an effort to create the "perfect" race. Adolf Hitler's antisemitic philosophy would create a horrendous mass killing of innocent victims in the Holocaust. The Holocaust is the most intriguing horror in history; for it raises the question of how such an abomination could happen and how anyone could try to fight the ingrained prejudices of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party of Germany.
In 1913, a young Adolf Hitler left the country of Austria for Germany. William Shirer voices in the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich that during this time Hitler was "full of a burning passion for German nationalism, a hatred of democracy, Marxism and the Jews and a certainty that Providence had chosen the Aryans, especially the Germans, to be the master race," (81). Twenty years later, this idealistic, young man was elected the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Hitler was not satisfied with the mere power of Chancellor and attained dictatorial powers just three short months later in March, (History). As a dictator, Hitler began to enforce rules and regulations to the German population in which he saw unfit and uncouth. This part of the population was mostly composed of Jews. Hitler saw Jews as inferior to the master Aryan race of Germans.
Six months into his dictatorship, Hitler began systematically stripping the Jews of their basic privileges and rights. The right to own land, hold heath insurance, serve in the military, or seek legal counsel were all seized from Jewish life, (History). Hitler justified his actions against the Jews with his belief that Jewish people are inferior to the human race. He revealed in Volume 1, Chapter 11 of Mein Kampf,
"Everything we admire on this earth today-science and art, technology and inventions-is only the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race. On them depends the existence of this whole culture. If they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them," (online).
Hitler used his beliefs to convince much of the German population that the Aryan race was pure and honorable. He believed the Jewish race would be the downfall of the great nation of Germany. His ideology supported the various laws he enforced upon the Jewish people of Germany. His deep-rooted prejudices would become the justification to the great horrors the "unfit" citizens of Germany would endure.
During the beginning of the Nazi regime, Hitler and many Nazi leaders remained relatively quiet about the intentions of the party concerning the Jews. According to Léon Poliakov in Harvest of Hate, only two prominent men of the Nazi party, Julius Streicher and Joseph Goebbels, verbalized their personal beliefs during this time. In a speech Julius Streicher revealed, "It is wrong to believe that the Jewish question can be settled without bloodshed: The only possible solution is a bloody one," and Joseph Goebbels declared a similar sentiment in an interview when he said, "Death to the Jews' has been our cry for fourteen years. Let them die." The antisemitic view of the party was obvious, but as Poliakov surmises, there was little evidence to support that the construction of the Holocaust was devised in the early 1930's, (2). Only one thing was undoubtedly clear, the Nazi party held a strong, intense hatred of the Jewish people. At that time, no one knew what was in store for the Jewish people of Europe.
Undoubtedly, a success in creating the Nazi Party, Hitler saw a need for a method to give the party appeal to the public. Hitler knew one part of the population would be the most effective in spreading and accepting Nazi ideals, thus the youth of Germany were bombarded with morales of Nazism in school and in special programs after school called the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth implanted Nazi values and prejudices in children through lectures and study, (Bendersky 165). Hitler also constructed an intricate propaganda plan that appealed to the mass of German citizens. This "political advertising," as Hitler called it, was successful in persuading the mass of German citizens that Nazi ideals would save the country, (Bendersky 67).
With the ideals of Nazism enforced and accepted readily by most of the public in Germany, Hitler was able to construct and implement one of the greatest horrors in history, the Holocaust.
The Holocaust began as Hitler ordered Jewish towns and neighborhoods be evacuated to Jewish ghettos. These ghettos were cramped, dirty, horrible places to live. The daily comings and goings of Jews were closely monitored or forbidden by the gestapo, the Nazi police of the ghetto. The ghetto of Warsaw is described by Léon Poliakov, "Fresh air became a precious commodity; the owners of the few rare trees charged a fee for the right to sit beneath them," (86). Jews were usually moved from ghetto to ghetto before being shipped to a concentration camp where they were either worked to death or immediately put to death by gas chambers.
Despite the difficult time, Jews did not stand idly by and watch their family and friends die in the crematories of the concentration camps. There was Jewish Resistance to Hitler, the gestapo and the Nazi Regime. The resistance from the Jews ranged from simple refusal to succumb to death in the concentration camps to blazing revolt with the aid of guns and fists. The resistance came mostly within individual concentration camps such as Bialystok, Sobibor, Treblinka and Lachwa, (Druks 1).
One act of resistance within concentration camps was the sacrifices between Jewish brethren, (Druks 57). This is illustrated in Elie Wiesel's expose of the Holocaust, Night. Wiesel writes about his struggles to remain with his father in the various concentration camps they were forced to work in. Numerous times, Wiesel depicts he and his father taking less or completely giving up rations of food for the other's well being. "Like a wild beast, I cleared a way for myself to the coffee cauldron. And I managed to carry back a cupful. I had a sip. The rest was for him [my father], (101). Wiesel's book exhibits the comradery between two prisoners within a camp. Granted these two prisoners were family, but that did not necessarily assure that sacrifices would be made. For example, Wiesel illustrates the harsh savageness shown in some prisoners. He describes a man crying out to his son that he has bread for them both. The son is beating his father for the small morsel of bread. The man cries out to his son, "Meir. Meir, my boy! Don't you recognize me? I'm your father . . . you're hurting me . . . you're killing you father! I've got some bread . . . for you too . . . for you too . . . ," (96). Wiesel demonstrates the harsh reality of the concentration camps through his own experience. He exudes the animalistic behavior of some prisoners, but he never resorts to the behavior of the son that abandoned his father. Wiesel never lets go of the sight of his father. He takes care of him despite his father's ailing condition. This is a sign of passive resistance of Wiesel's part to the Nazi SS men, for he does not give in to the SS threats of death.
Another act of resistance, more aggressive than the one illustrated by Elie Wiesel and his father, came from within the concentration camp of Treblinka. Dr. Herbert Druks, writes of the resistance in Treblinka in Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. One encounter of resistance came from a young Polish man after he witnessed his wife and child shoved into the gas chamber by a SS officer. The man became so enraged with anger that he assaulted and stabbed the SS man, Max Bilo, to death.
Druks also writes of Dr. Chorazycki, a Jewish doctor in the camp of Treblinka, that offered his services and help to all his fellow Jews. He helped his brethren plan an escape from the camp, but the Nazis discovered his kindness and his part in the conspiracy to escape. By taking poison, the doctor refused to divulge any information that would incriminate his fellow Jews to the Nazis. The plan of revolt against the Nazi guards in Treblinka was to take place on August 2, 1943. The prisoners were successful in attacking and killing many German guards, but reinforcements of SS commando units curtailed the revolt of the prisoners. The prisoners were forced to run away from the camp into nearby woods where most of them were killed by the Polish partisans or Nazis. Only a few survived to tell the horrible tale of Treblinka. The planned revolt was not a complete failure because the Nazis were forced to close down the camp in fear of word leaking out to the Allies about the concentration camp, (Druks 57-58).
One of the most amazing but difficult acts of resistance the Jews showed during the war was the simple act of survival. Yehuda Bauer writes in They Chose Life: Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust that food was in severe shortage within the concentration camps and within the ghettos. The concentration camps would brutally work their prisoners while feeding them just mere scraps of stale, moldy bread. Occasionally, the prisoners would get a small portion of soup or coffee, but never an adequate meal. Bauer presents the situation best when he writes:
"In the United States today, the normal adult food intake ranges from 1,800 to 3,200 calories daily. In the Warsaw ghetto in 1941, the official food ration, on paper, was 336 calories; the amounts of food actually issued came to a mere 229 calories, on the average," (33).
This starvation of the ghettos was common throughout Europe. The survival of the Jews depended food smuggled into the ghetto. Despite the added food, the Jews were still surviving day to day on a dangerously low calorie intake. The mere act of survival of these malnourished Jews showed Hitler and the Nazis a resilient and defiant refusal to die.
The Holocaust was resisted by numerous Jews across Europe in efforts to save their Jewish brethren. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the American Jews, thousands of miles away from the dangers of gas chambers and crematories.
Hitler attempted to keep the Holocaust a secret, but his attempts failed. The Ally Powers: Great Britain, Russia, the United States, knew of the death camps of Europe, but they did little to rescue the imprisoned sufferers of the camps. It is debated historically when exactly Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill knew about the camps. The two leaders either simply refused to fund efforts to rescue the prisoners or they simply did not place the rescue of millions from concentration camps on top of their priority lists. It is argued that Winston Churchill knew about the camps and devised a rescue plan, but hesitated due to fear of success. If the British were successful in freeing thousands of Jews and other prisoners, what would become of these people? Would they emigrate by the thousands to Britain? This question halted any massive rescue attempt from Britain. Similarly, the Roosevelt State Department has been discovered to "actively opposed a large-scale rescue effort," (Lookstein 29). Roosevelt and Churchill may have been more receptive to rescue efforts if many concerned citizens of their country lobbied and cried out for an immediate emancipation of the death camps, but the needed outcry never came.
Another great saga of the Ally apathy toward the Holocaust came in early 1939. The St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana with 936 passengers, all but six were Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. The ship's passengers were not allowed to set foot on Cuban soil or any other Western hemisphere country. Just miles from American soil, the land of freedom and opportunity, the St. Louis was turned away again and was forced back to Europe where few passengers escaped the persecution of the Nazis. The desperate passengers aboard the St. Louis had each bought visas for about $150 in hopes of escaping Nazi terror. Unbeknownst to them, the visas were virtually worthless. The gestapo had previously devised a plan, convincing Cuban officials to sell the visas with no intention of honoring them, (Lookstein 81-83). The Jewish refugees had little chance of refuge in the western hemisphere; the United States saw the plight of the refugees, but did nothing to prevent the ship from returning to Europe. The American Jewish community did not call for an immediate welcome for the refugees. They did nothing to lobby for the acceptance of the refugees aboard the St. Louis.
Rafael Medoff argues in The Deafening Silence that the Jewish Americans had little political power to stop the horrors in Europe because of the general political sentiment of America during World War II. Medoff claims that just before and during World War II, immigration was viewed unfavorably to the average citizen. He states,
"The Jewish immigrants who populated New York's Lower East Side embodied everything that the average American feared and despised. They were foreigners; they were active in unions; their voting patterns revealed them to be partisans of the left," (18).
This view of immigrants called for the creation and passage of the Johnson Immigration Act of 1924. This Act ultimately ensured that America would not foster as a home for the prisoners of the concentration camps, insuring apathy to the plight of the Jews across Europe, (Medoff 18-20).
The leadership of the American Jews during the Holocaust have been criticized just as harshly as the inaction of the Ally forces to put a resistance to the genocide overseas. After the tragic rejection of the refugees aboard the St. Louis, the American Jews were attacked for their apathy to the situation. Medoff writes,
"The tragedy of the St. Louis and other boats tells the world of today and the generations of tomorrow a shameful story of Jewish disintegration and division in the face of disasters, parts of the which could have been forestalled," (61).
The inaction among the American Jewish communities gave a powerful message to Hitler. It added fuel to the fire of his intense hatred and murderous disposition to the Jews. Hitler knew that one force could put an end to his mass killing of the Jews: the combined force of the Ally powers. Eventually the concentration camps would be liberated with the end of World War II, but the camps could have been shut down months, even years, sooner if the Allies had banded together to stop Hitler's killing camps, (Medoff 59-62).
Despite the little action taken against the Jewish massacre in Europe by political organizations or religious affiliations within the United States, outcry did come from individuals. Many of these individuals were members of the press. Anne O'Hare McCormick wrote for the Times during the war. She wrote of Hitler and of Germany, "Germany's Black Thursday . . . raises up in the heart of Europe, in a civilized country, a threat to the civilization of the world," (Lookstein 39). One of the most vivid declarations came from the editor of The Nation, Freda Kirchway. She sums up the apathy and the sentiment of the country during the Holocaust when she wrote,
"In this country, you and I, the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler's guilt. If we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent cowardly ones, the two million lying today in the earth of Poland . . . would be alive and safe. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and yet we did not lift a hand to do it -- or perhaps it would be better to say that we lifted just one cautious hand, incased a tight-fitting glove of quotas and visa and affidavits and a thick layer of prejudice," (Lookstein 28).
The protest in America came from a few prominent journalists. They saw the disinterest of the majority of the American public and rebelled against it. They saw the evil of the Holocaust and tried in vain to put an end to the concentration camps before the end of the war.
The Holocaust was one of the most intricately constructed forms of evil in history. One man rose from the soil of Austria to take domination over Germany and much of Europe. Adolf Hitler has become the epitome of evil after creating concentration camps that became the killing ground for millions. The construction of such an abomination is definitely noteworthy in today's society, for the old adage of "history repeats itself" may become true. Only study of the making and the struggles against such horrors can prevent such disasters from occurring again. The reaction of the Jews across Europe stirred acts of resistance within concentration camps and within ghettos. The Jews turned their hopes of salvation to God and to the Ally nations fighting against Hitler. God would help lead them into eternal salvation as the Allies hesitated to rescue the millions of suffering Jews across the European continent. The outcry and support of the small number of concerned American journalists and citizens did little to stir up a nationwide outpour of support to end the Jewish crisis. The struggles of such evil embedded into the floors and walls of the numerous concentration camps would be destroyed as the Ally forces won the war, but sadly, the liberation of these camps would come too late for millions of innocent Jews across Europe. The souls and the lives of these people shall never be forgotten as long as the story is taught to every generation of people worldwide.
Bauer, Yehuda. They Chose Life: Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust. New York, New York: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1973.
Bendersky, Joseph W. A History of Nazi Germany. Chicago, Illinois: Nelson-Hall, 1985.
Druks, Dr. Herbert. Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust. New York, New York: Irvington, 1983.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. <http://www.crusader.net/texts/mk/mk1ch11.html>
"The Holocaust Timeline," The History Place. <http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/timeline.html> 1998.
Lookstein, Haskel. Were We Our Brothers' Keepers? The Public Response of American Jews to the Holocaust 1938-1944. New York, New York: Hartmore, 1985.
Medoff, Rafael. The Deafening Silence. New York, New York: Shapolsky, 1987.
Poliakov, Léon. Harvest of Hate: The Nazi Program for the Destruction of the Jews of Europe. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1954.
Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York, New York: Fawcett Crest, 1960.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York, New York: Bantam, 1960.