Triangles, Badges & Stars: Remembering the Mosaic of Victims of the Holocaust

By Kemeka LaShaun Phillips
Albany, Georgia


 

Thesis Statement:  There is a need for the world "Never to Forget" the unique lives, awesome legacies, and diverse experiences of the people that encompassed the mosaic of victims of the Holocaust.  From the world of the dead comes an eloquent call from the victims to remember those who sacrificed their lives to state-sanctioned discrimination and for posterity to give a voice to those whose innocent cries were quelled by annihilation.  

"...that from these honored dead we highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain..."

Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863

While waiters served them an elegant lunch, fifteen high-ranking Nazi party and German governmental leaders gathered for an important meeting, that lasted only 90 minutes, but the results of that meeting changed the lives of millions irrevocably and has impacted the world for over five decades.  This meeting took place fifty-seven years ago, on January 20, 1942, at a private villa in Ann Grosen, a wealthy suburb of Berlin Germany (Ayer, A Firestorm 18-19).  The purpose of the Wannsee Conference (as the meeting came to be known) was for these top officials to discuss the "Final Solution" to its self-imposed Jewish problem.  The specific aim of the conference was to coordinate the materials and technical means required for the extermination of the over 14 million people earmarked for death in Germany-occupied Europe by the Nazi Regime.  After the Wannsee Conference the number of killings in the streets increased, deportations and mass murders escalated and within a month of the meeting all killing centers were ready for murder (Meltzer 107).  The Nazis called their state-sanctioned policy by the code name "Final Solution," but the world knows it best as the Holocaust.  The Holocaust was Hitler's and Nazi Germany's war against the Jews, so they were singled out for genocide, their lives were shattered, and it ultimately effected all Jews living, dead, and not yet born.  Historians describe the Holocaust as a crime against all humanity committed on the body of the Jewish people; whereas, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel stated "all victims were not Jews but the Final Solution meant that all Jews were victims." (Ayer, Inferno 13).

The Holocaust was a uniquely man-made catastrophe, unprecedented and unparalleled in human history, because never had anti-Semitic acts been endorsed by the state.  Speaking to the Reichstag, on the eve of WWII, Hitler declared, "the Jew is to be eliminated and the state has no regard for the manner of his elimination."  The Holocaust was a tragedy of great proportions because it was done with the aide of a vast Nazi bureaucracy, an indifferent world, and the utilization of science and technology for the sole purpose of completely murdering a people (Sherrow 18).  

Adolf Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf, revealed the blueprint for his ultra-racist doctrine and asserted the superiority of the Aryan race and its destiny to rule the inferior other races of the world.  Consequently, when Hitler became the Fuhrer of Germany, two major issues were pursued:  the establishment of racial purification by eliminating or making subservient all the inferior people of Europe, and the implementation of a Final Solution to the Jewish question (Grobman 111).  Hitler, and those he led, committed the sin of murder-yet the world did not stop them.

The deadly design of the Holocaust took place on the backdrop of a Germany laboring under the burden of WWI, reparations, intense nationalism and hyperinflation.  Most importantly, it was a Germany in which anti-Semitism was ingrained and racism permeated every facet of the society.  Thus explaining how ordinary Germany citizens came to regard the Jews as domestic enemies of the state whose extermination was not only necessary but just so, German citizens readily became perpetrators, collaborators, and accomplishes to death (Grobman, 84). 

Through the centuries, a popular and enduring hate of Jews had developed and for years they had been humiliated and terrorized.  Historically, the Jews were forever outsiders living on the fringes of countries and during modern times, Jews were permitted to dwell in Europe as a favor not a right.  Before 1933, the world had proclaimed, "the Jews had no right to live among them," the Nazis took the concept further and decreed:  "You have no right to live."  (Meltzer, 105).

It took the Nazi Rogue Regime 12 years (1933-1945) to perfect the deadly design of the Holocaust.  In order to assure their success of genocide, the Nazis created a powerful system of propaganda to mold and manipulate people's beliefs.  However, it was people's apathy, indifference, and in many cases approval that allowed the Nazi's plan of genocide to come to its full fruition.  For example, in July 1938, thirty-two nations met at Evian, France to see what refuge they could offer to the persecuted Jews.  The delegates came up with no proposal, nor did they even show indignation over Nazi policy.  Neither did any country willingly change its policy for the Jews (Meltzer, 43).

As quickly as the Third Reich came into power they immediately began the steps to become Judenrein (free of Jews).  Their first step was to define and separate the Jews, via triangles, badges and stars.  Then the Jews were stripped of everything they owned, from their civil rights to their dignity.  Later after being forced from their homes Jews were concentrated/incarcerated into ghettos.  Eventually they were deported to various concentration/death camps to be annihilated, only because they were Jews.

Eastern Europe was the major arena for the murder of targeted victims.  Specifically, the places designed to implement the Nazi's policy of genocide included ghettos, concentration camps and death camps.  Concentration camps were built for the imprisonment of all kinds of enemies of the state, real or imagined.  As early as 1935 Hitler made anti-Semitism part of Germany's legal codes with the passage of the Nuremburg Laws, which relegated Jews to second class citizens.  The general round up of Jews began in the aftermath of Kristallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass).  Prior to 1939, the Nazis were content to rob, beat, and drive out the Jews, but with the outbreak of WWII and the expansion of the German empire, one-third of Europe's Jews fell in Nazi hands.  Consequently, the question of what to do with the Jews became a greater problem and one that the Nazis ideologically were committed to solve.  Therefore, previous laws and decrees designed to restrict, resettle, and intern the targeted victims of the Holocaust now required the implementation of the Final Solution.  The method employed by the Nazis to commit wholesale genocide and unthinkable monstrous acts against the mosaic of victims of the Holocaust involve a wide array of degrading acts and a multitude of methodologies all involving death and destruction.  Some of the methodologies of murder used to murder targeted victims were: pogroms, exposure, disease, forced starvation, torture, sadistic medical experiments, slavery, guns, high voltage electricity, mobile killing units, assembly line gassing, and mass murder in notorious death camps.  (Speilbuirg: Ayers, A Firestorm 54-55).

Between 1939-1945, on Hitler's order, eleven million people were killed during the Holocaust (6 million Jews of which 1.5 million were children).  The young died first because as the Nazis said "Nits breed lice."  (Ayer, Inferno 39).  Only a few hundred survived the persecution, ghettos, and camps of Nazi-dominated Europe.  Survival in this period of moral darkness was a matter of luck or the ability to do hard labor.  Neither factor of which the victims had any control.  The victims of the Holocaust were men, women, children, and babies, living in urban or rural areas and from all walks of life.  The victims were rounded up by the thousands and packed into trains going to concentration camps such as Dachau, or extermination camps such as Auschwitz.  Many died on the crowded trains because they could not breathe.  Others died of starvation or disease in these camps.  Millions were shot or gassed in huge buildings where canisters of poisonous gas (carbon monoxide or Zyklon B) were released from shower heads and their bodies were burned in gigantic crematoriums as part of Hitler's "final solution."  (Sherrow, 67).

Jews were not the only target of Nazi persecution despite their status as the main "problem."  Nazi hatred extended to include groups into categories of hatred, those deemed racially or genetically inferior, asocials (sex offenders or habitual criminals), religious groups and political enemies of the state.  Therefore, there was a mosaic of victims who experienced state-sanctioned discrimination and extermination the Romani (Gypsies) the mentally and physically handicapped, homosexuals, the infirmed, the elderly, the terminally ill, the academically challenged, Professionals, Intelligensia, Poles, Slavs, Blacks, Nuns, Catholic priests, oppositional clergies, Jehovah Witnesses, Soviet P.O.W.'s, Social Democrats, Communists, purged Nazis, those who aided targeted victims and all others that did not fit the Aryan myth.  At the end of WWI those victims who managed to survive were portraits of their inhumane treatment and represented parodies of human beings (Spielburg; Ayer, A Firestorm 63).

The Holocaust left an indelible imprint of death, suffering, cruel memories and the after shocks are still being felt today.  The reality of the Holocaust is the knowledge that all forms of discrimination can lead to genocide.  Therefore, posterity is challenged with the responsibility of educating the world about the dangers of intolerance.  The world should be made to remember!  If the world forgets, then the lives and death of the 11 million victims who were targeted for murder, identified via triangles, badges, and stars, by the Nazi Rogue Regime accounts to nothing more than mere lost ashes, evaporated smoke, and mass graves.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Ayers, Eleanor.  (1998).  A Firestorm Unleashed: January 1942 - June 1943.  Connecticut: A Blackbirch Press Book (Volume 4).

Ayers, Eleanor.  (1998).  Inferno: July 1943 to April 1945.  Connecticut: A Blackbirch Press Book (Volume 5).

Grobman, Alex and Daniel Landers, eds.  (1983).  Critical Issues of the Holocaust.  California: The Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Meltzer, Milton.  (1976).  Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust.  New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Sherrow, Victoria.  (1998).  The Blaze Engulfs: January 1939 to December 1941.  Connecticut: A Blackbirch Press Book (Volume 3).

Speilburg, Steven.  (Supervising Director) and MCA Universal Home Video, Inc. (Producer).  (1994).  Schindler's List.  [Videotape].

 


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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