The Holocaust: The Scorching Inferno of Prejudice

By Amanda Wiegers
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida


 

 

The history of mankind is overwhelmingly comprised of examples of "man's inhumanity to man." Yet, the rationale for its study is to enlighten "humanity" to prevent future tragedies like the Holocaust. This abominable period in history is aptly named because it was a notoriously planned genocide that resulted in the murders of six million Jews, along with five million other human beings, due to Nazi-generated prejudice, an "irrational hatred or suspicion of a specific group, race, or religion" (Webster 872). With genocide appallingly evident in countries like Bosnia, the people who appear to have benefited the most from the study of history are blood-thirsty dictators. They have learned how easily the propaganda of prejudice can camouflage their heinous quest for power by duping the ignorant into scapegoating others for economic misfortunes, easily igniting the flames of hatred into the black chaos of war.

Therefore, propaganda effectively employs man's own fallacious prejudice to divert him from more effective problem-solving. For centuries, Christians have scapegoated Jews, even though Christ, ironically a Jew, preached tolerance. Although abused and segregated by prejudice, European Jews managed to survive and even to prosper for centuries. However, the relatively high-level status some achieved, despite all obstacles, instead of disproving absurd allegations of inferiority, only sparked the envious flames of prejudice.

The Nazis cleverly used pre-existing anti-Semitism to fuel their rise to power. From the Middle Ages, Jews were even outrageously accused of Satanic world domination (Bauer 19). Nomadic Jews, forbidden land ownership, became usurers, promoting further animosity-generated prejudice, as did the Crusades, which set a precedent for the mass murder of Jews in western German towns in 1196 (Bauer 19). By the late 1800's, prejudice against Jews extended beyond religion to race (Bauer 43). In 1878, German racist, Wilhelm Marr, had coined the more "antiseptic" term, "anti-Semitism," to replace more blatantly pejorative labels (Bauer 43). Moreover, Duhring's Social Darwinism "rationalized" the racial symbol of "blood" to stereotype genetic inferiority (Bauer 41), while German "scholar," Paul de LaGarde directed Germans to "trample this usurious vermin to death" (Bauer 42-43). In 1854, Count de Gobineau indulged in prejudicial "groundbreaking" with his contention that tall, blond, blue-eyed "Aryans" were "the superior race," in marked contrast to the "Dark" or "Bad" Jews (Bauer 42). German historian, Treitschke, even made the grossly scapegoating remark, "Jews are our misfortune" (Bauer 47), a slogan later borrowed by the popular Nazi newspaper, "Der Stuermer," known for carrying on the German tradition of grotesquely caricaturing Jews to promote racism (Guttman 1420-1421).

German political parties, like the Christian Social Workers' Party in 1879, even carried on a tradition of promulgating prejudice to gain votes (Bauer 47). Setting the stage for Nazi scapegoating of Jews during the depression, Socialistic Anarchists, like Proudhon and Foumier, labeled Jews, like Rothschilde, as initiators of the evils of capitalism (Bauer, 41). Yet, optimistic Jews fervently hoped that the "Jewish problem" had been settled when they were finally granted legal rights (Bauer 39), blissfully unaware of the smoldering approach of the Nazi "Final Solution" of judenrein or Jewish genocide.

So Hitler took advantage of human foibles to slowly fan the embers of pre-existing prejudice, a "smokescreen" to mask his reduction of fundamental human rights to ashes. Niemoller, a German World War I hero, clergyman, and ironically Nazi prisoner in 1937, founded the Pastors' Emergency League to protest Nazi inhumanity. He was credited with the truism that the Nazis dominated Germany because there was no opposition from individuals who were not, themselves, victimized by Nazi prejudice, resulting in their own ultimate oppression (Bauer 134-137). Ironically, Hitler, himself, would exemplify prejudicial pragmatism when designating his Arab allies "honorary Aryans" (Bauer. 44). Once made Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Hitler quickly "legalized" anti-Semitism by banning all Jews from government service (Dawidowicz 77). The black clouds of prejudice thickened as Dachau was quickly opened two months later, initially to "smother" political dissidents. Nazi Action Committees were ordered to systemically achieve such objectives as the universal boycott of Jewish businesses on April 1,1933, effectively hastening the 1933 panic emigration of German Jews (Arad 34), while Hitler gradually desensitized Germans into accepting his legalized sterilization (1933) and "euthanasia" (1939) of "undesirables" (Bauer 208). Meanwhile, Reich Propaganda Minister, Goebbels fanatically burned books contrary to Nazi ideology in May of 1933 and eliminated dissident teachers to promote the blackness of prejudicial ignorance (Bauer 95-96). From 1933-1935, innocent Jewish children were progressively thwarted from obtaining an education, while being humiliated by proliferating "No Jews" signs, posted even on playgrounds (Bauer 179).

Yet, it was the blatantly racist Nuremberg Laws of 1935, ironically reputed to promote German "honor," which set the stage for near Jewish genocide. Under The Reich Citizenship Law, Jews lost their hard-won German citizenship, while The Law for the Protection for German Blood and Honor prohibited marriages between Jews and "Germans" (Holocaust 839.) The political rights of the German Jew were, therefore, systemically eliminated. Diverted by sacrificial fires exterminating the outrageously scapegoated, mainstream Germans ignored the oppressive darkness enveloping them with the approaching Nazi-generated war, ignited by the prejudice of nationalism. Only gradually did Germans confront the black oppression generated by condoning prejudice, forever exemplified in the anti-Jewish rioting and looting during the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 (Bauer 109).

Although in 1937, Pope Pius XI condemned racism to protect "Jewish-Catholic" converts, he refrained from opposing Nazi anti-Semitic policy (Bauer 136), as the black cloud of mass extermination was advancing. To this end, Jews were identified by cards, as well as by the middle names of "Israel" and "Sara" on all official documents in 1938. Banned from public schools, universities, and even their own homes in 1939, Jews were more readily segregated by Stars of David and arm bands (Bauer 146). The "Final Solution" began as Polish Jews were being imprisoned in 1940, and by 1941, tens of thousands of Jews were being "gassed" in Chelmno (Bauer 208-209), while another "killing center," Birkenau, was opened in 1942 to house deported Jews (Bauer 206). Nazism became synonymous with mass murder when approximately 1,790,000 Jews were executed in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and in Majdanek (Bauer 209). Auschwitz inmates were even forced on a "death march" as late as January of 1945 to German concentration camps, just before Soviet liberation and War II's end (Bauer 160). Perhaps, even then, Nazis resorted to the immature tactic of scapegoating their victims for their well-deserved defeat.

If it is incomprehensible how much dictators can pathologically distort reality, it is even more appalling how much their "subjects" can be brainwashed into meek adherence. Amazingly, human beings seem to be more inspired to save endangered species of animals than their own species. It is a veritable disgrace that international law, and a tribunal to enforce it, had not been established after World War I, a war which had already set a precedent for large-scale mass murder (Bauer 58). Only a globally enforceable legal system, responding decisively, can serve to deter any dictator who even hints at "ethnic cleansing". In 1945, the Nuremberg Trial was established to set a precedent for conviction of "crimes against humanity" (Stadtier 197). In addition, the United Nations was created in response to World War II atrocities, but it has not reacted quickly enough to such modern abominations as Bosnia's attempted genocide, Algeria's and Rwanda's mass murders, and to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, let alone bringing human rights criminals to trial.

Therefore, an intense scrutiny of the Holocaust and the insidious corrosion of prejudice, which erodes the very infrastructure of human society, should be required for all mankind. Robert Jackson, Chief Prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trial, was correct: "These wrongs have been so calculated, so malignant, so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive being repeated" (Powell 53). A critical study of Mein Kampf might also alert mankind to Hitler's truism: "With the help of a skillful and continuous application of propaganda, it is possible to make the people conceive even heaven as hell" (United States 175).

The Jewish people have performed a monumental service to mankind in keeping the gruesome issue of genocide painfully alive by establishing a Museum of Tolerance and Holocaust Museums to promote humanity. All human beings need to be continuously reminded of the full ramifications of the embers of prejudice, that so easily ignite to produce the blackened ashes of human destruction, destroying peace, the only light under which mankind flourishes. Witness the aims currently professed by incendiary groups like the Klu Klux Klan and German neo-Nazis (Cowell 26A). The real antidote to the vicious venom of prejudice is to destroy the blight of ignorance so that mankind will not be duped into surrendering fundamental moral responsibility to dictators, but instead, will fully support international efforts to thwart and hold dictators fully accountable for any acts of "world treason." As a Holocaust survivor and distant cousin (who prefers anonymity) fervently believes, ethical people should be at least as vociferous and articulate in promoting human rights as those who would seek to destroy them.

 

Works Cited

 

Arad, Yitzhak, Yisrael Gutman and Abraham Margaliot, eds. Documents on the

Holocaust: Selected Sources on the Destruction of the Jews of Germany and Austria, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League and KRAV Publishing, 1981.

Bauer, Yehuda. History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1982

Cowell, Alan. "Neo-Nazis Seek Room for 'Real Power.' Sun-Sentinel. 8 Feb. 1998,

Broward-Metro Edition.: 26A.

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1945. New York:

Bantam Books, 1979.

Guttman, Israel, ed. "Der Stuermer." Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Vol 3.

New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990: 1420-1421.

"Holocaust." Encyclopedia Judaica. 1978.

'Prejudice." Webster's II New College Dictionary. 1995.

Powell, Bill. "Lessons of Nuremberg." Newsweek. 6 November, 1995: 52-55.

Stadtier, Bea. The Holocaust: A History of Courage and Resistance. West Orange:

Behrman House, 1973.

United States. Chief of Counsel for Prosecution of Axis Criminality. Nazi Conspiracy

and Aggression: Opinion and Judgment. Washington: GPO, 1947.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of 
Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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