Them We Remember
What happened in Nazi Germany over the course of twelve years was the Holocaust. This tragedy not only involved mass killings of Jews, but Gypsies, homosexuals, and all other non-Aryan conforming races. The fact that the Holocaust ever happened should be a testament not to forget what happened, so that history never repeats itself.
In 1933, when Hitler first came to power as Chancellor of Germany, Jews were fired from jobs and their businesses were boycotted. Sterilization laws were passed, and the Nazis introduced the concept of the Aryan race. An Aryan is a pure white German with no other lineage marring the race. Over the course of three years, 1935 to 1938, black German children were brought to hospitals by the Gestapo to be sterilized, and Jews were barred from attending schools and universities. (Bakker 44) The Nuremberg laws were also passed. These stated that marriage, intercourse, hiring female Germans in the household under forty-five years old, or flying the colors of the Reich by Jews, was forbidden. The breaking of these laws resulted in severe penalties. (HaShoa 17)
On November 9th and 10th, 1938 came one of the worst German pogroms; Kristallnacht, which means 'crystal night', which is sometimes referred to as "Night of the Broken Glass". This was a "ghastly government-sponsored campaign of arson, mayhem and terror aimed exclusively at Jews and carefully organized throughout every village, town and city of Germany and the country which had been Austria." (HaShoa 35)
At this time, no one knew what was going on in Germany and only Hitler's Party knew what was coming. Once prisoners were in the concentration, labor and death camps, it got worse. Victims were plundered, often systematically. Food, clothing, money, medicine, gold teeth and hair were taken from victims. For a time, Jews were allowed to have some personal belongings, but after 1942, everything was taken. If a prisoner died, and the camp couldn't locate the family, the personal belongings were kept and given to soldiers. (Gutman 246)
The infamous Auschwitz camp was a concentration camp, a labor camp, and an extermination camp all at once. In November, 1943, it was divided into three parts. Auschwitz I, which was the main original concentration camp. Auschwitz II was known as Birkenau, a labor camp and extermination camp. Auschwitz III was mainly Monowitz and many other labor camps. (Furet 148) Bruno Bettelheim wrote on the Jewish response, "The only psychological phenomenon that seems pertinent in this report is the fact that these prisoners knew they were destined to die and still made almost no effort to revolt." (HaShoa 99)
There are several factors believed to be the answer as to why the Jews showed little resistance. A lack of knowledge was a key part. The Nazis went to great lengths to disguise the true meaning of, 'evacuation to the east.' It was also tempting to disregard reports of factories where Jews were being systematically murdered. The Jews were also isolated, and could not establish proper communication with the outside world. A fear of collective punishment was overpowering. The Nazis often displayed that even the smallest defiance would be met by major retaliation. The Jews believed that Hitler would be stopped in time, so they struggled to keep the majority alive. Again, psychology played a major part. By using dehumanizing tactics, they were turned into docile masses. The Jews may not have wanted to believe that all this was happening to them, thereby blocking it out. Another factor may have been that the Nazi plan was so grand and audacious, the Jews just didn't understand. Jewish culture was also expected to play a role in their docility. Their history had taught them to expect persecution, degradation and misery, but it also taught them that if they kept their heads down, they would always win. (Landau 193-196)
When word of liberation of the camps was heard, the situation became serious. The Germans started more mass killings, and marching the prisoners to different camps. Many thousands died on these forced death marches. May 8, 1945 is the day that the German Army unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces. German cities were heavily bombed. Hitler and Goebbels committed suicide. Auschwitz was never bombed. (Gutman 576)
Liberation came too late for millions, but many in prisons and concentration camps were saved. The survivors, after all the hardship they had to endure, found that homecoming was a disappointment. Many had lost friends and family, some were united, many were not. Houses were occupied and property was stolen. Many were greeted by disbelief of their experience. (Bakker 130)
My grandfather, Captain Morris Gornitzky, was a liberator of the Dachau camp. His troop was practically one of the first ones in. What he saw was grotesque. He reported seeing dead bodies strewn about, and open ditches that served as mass graves. He said that some graves were covered with dirt, but most were not. He saw the gas chambers, and said they had been made to look like showers. The camp had a terrible odor. He said, "It was a horrendous sight. Everyone was sickened by what we saw". They brought in all the Germans that were living close by for questioning. When the neighbors were asked how they could let this go on, they all, denied having any knowledge of what had happened, but they said if they had known, they would have done something to stop it.'. My grandfather had heard reports of what had been going on, but did not believe what he was told until he had seen for himself. The camp had already been evacuated, and no one was found alive.
The fact that the Holocaust ever happened is frightening. People lost lives, family, friends, and even their own basic humanity. How could mankind have ever produced such a monster cold-hearted enough to almost exterminate an entire race? Could this ever happen again? The answer to that question is, only if people are allowed to forget.
Bakker, Uitgeverij Bert. Anne Frank in the World. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Bert Bakker, 1985.
Furet, Francois. Unanswered Questions Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews. New York: Schocken Books. 1989.
Gutman, Yisrael and Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Source Book, Unit 6: Holocaust. The Alexander Muss High School in Israel Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Inc., 1994.
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