|During the years of the
Holocaust, spanning from December 8th, 1941 to January 7th, 1945, it is
estimated that over 11 million people were murdered in Nazi
concentration camps (Rice, 6). That is an average of about 7,383 people
killed per day. Today, those 11 million people are mostly nameless and
faceless, blending into the grotesque conglomerate of Holocaust
statistics. Most were Jews, roughly 6 million. Others murdered included
Gypsies, Slavs, Communists, homosexuals, mentally ill, mentally
handicapped, physically handicapped, and clergy, among others.
According to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, the Nazis considered various cultures on a scale, with the Aryan, or "Master’ ‘race at the top, and the Jewish people on the bottom (469471). The Jews were considered the root cause of evil; Jewish evil was innate and incurable (470). They were not even considered human (470). Therefore, it was acceptable and necessary to the majority of Germans to eliminate the Jewish population (471).
Other groups, such as the Slavs, were considered beasts of burden, and best used for slave labor (Goldhagen, 470-471). The mentally ill were euthanized (471). Although many other groups suffered and died in the Holocaust, Nazi policy towards the Jews was the most well–defined, and it was the policy the people most eagerly carried out (471).
The most natural question to ask about the Holocaust is "why?". Until recently, there were three general schools of thought: intentionalists, functionalists, and eclectics (Rice, 13). The intentionalists believe the Holocaust to be a direct result of Hitler, and that he intended from the start to annihilate the Jewish people (13). Functionalists tend to take a more socio–economic focus, believing a Nazi bureaucracy run amok caused the implementation of the Final Solution rather than "a long–held intent on the part of Hitler and the Nazis (13)." Finally, the eclectics theorize that the Nazis only planned to murder the Jews when all other policies (boycotts, exclusion, ghettos, etc.) failed to result in the intended goal (13-14).
According to Goldhagen, who recently founded his own school of thought, the reason is axioms. An axiom is a belief so deeply ingrained in a society that it does not merit much expression in the media. For example, in the United States, there are not many writings on the greatness of democracy. Most Americans hold that belief so strongly that it does not require much expression through the media (Goldhagen, 27–32).
So it was with Germans and anti–Semitism. The Jews as scapegoats was a belief held by so many Germans for such a long span of time that it did not merit much articulation before the Holocaust. Hitler did not invent anti–Semitism in Germany, nor the concept of German superiority, nor even give the Germans violent inclinations toward the Jews. All three were already in existence. He simply articulated cultural axioms (Goldhagen, 27-48).
When stated so simply, the answer as to how one can prevent another Holocaust is simple. Examine axioms. In a country as diverse as the United States, cultural conflicts and stereotypes are inevitable. Conflicts cause stereotypes, and stereotypes have an excellent chance of becoming axioms. Already, many such stereotypes have taken root in the United States. Arabs are terrorists. Blacks are gangsters. Whites are greedy. Latinos are lazy. Asians are ruthless. Native Americans are drunks. The list goes on and on. When a cognitive problem has been identified and examined, like a medical condition, all that is left is to prescribe a cure. The cure, however, is not easy. Learn about other cultures, religions, political parties et cetera, with an open mind. Do not read, view, or listen to second–hand material on any group intended to undermine that group, not at first, anyway. It is propaganda, and propaganda was one of the main vehicles of the Nazi persecution of peoples. Rather, begin at the source, the group in question, and form opinions from examination of the first–hand material. Only later examine propaganda, to understand how the propagandists’ views were developed, which allows one to better combat such prejudices with a well–reasoned argument.
Only by studying the lessons of the Holocaust can we, the American people, members of the larger, global community prevent the Holocaust from happening on our own soil. Only by passing those lessons on to members of the larger, worldwide community can we prevent the Holocaust from happening anywhere again. We must never forget what happened: the slaughter of 1 I million people. We must never forget what almost happened: the annihilation of the Jewish people. In the words of Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, and the author of Night,
Because of brave men and women like Elie Wiesel, members of this generation will not forget the atrocities inflicted on innocents. However, when the last survivors pass away, and the Holocaust is in danger of fading into history, it will be up to our generation to remember the words of the survivors, and to ensure that the memories of the Holocaust are always there to remind the world of what evil fruits prejudice can bear. In short, it is up to us, through research and reason, to make certain the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten cases, it is necessary to teach those who will not listen, you must open their ears, and their heart. We must never forget.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.
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