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World War II
the Holocaust

World War II
the Holocaust

A.) Germany's Treatment of Jews, 1933-1939

Until 1928 Hitler and his NSDAP were a phenomenon on the political fringe. With a mere 4 % of the votes, they were represented in parliament, they had earned a reputation for extreme nationalist, anti-communist and anti-Semitic tirades, as well as for street fighting. Few took them serious. The first elections after the Wall Street Crash reflect a changed situation : the NSDAP gained 28 % of the votes, was a major political factor now. Still, it was regarded unfit for government. In January 1933, the party now standing at 33 %, president Hindenburg asked Hitler to form a cabinet.
Few had expected this turn of events. Some realized the implications and left the country immediately, beginning a wave of EMIGRATION. Foremost were intellectuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, among them scientist ALBERT EINSTEIN, novelist THOMAS MANN, but also ordinary Jewish citizens, among them the family of ANNE FRANK.
Among the first measure of the new Nazi government was a public BURNING OF BOOKS conducted by SA, SS, HJ. Among the authors whose books were burnt were Jews liviung and dead (Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Stefan Zweig etc.), socialist authors (Bertold Brecht etc.), Pacifists (Erich Maria Remarque, CARL VON OSSIETZKI). Few literally works of quality survived the onslaught. The CONCENTRATION CAMPS established immediately in 1933 at first were preoccupied with communist, pacifist and social democratic prisoners.
In September 1935, the NUREMBERG LAWS were passed, laws classifying the residents of Germany according to their race. A Jew was defined not by his religious belief, but by his ancestry. There were Jews, Half-Jews, Quarter-Jews. Jews were deprived of their German citizenship, in public every Jew had to wear the YELLOW STAR clearly visible on the outside of his/her coat. Interracial marriages were prohibited, the "Arian" partner in an existing interracial marriage encouraged to apply for a divorce. "Arian" was the expression for Germans without Jewish ancestry. Many institutions, such as state administration, army and police, the universities fired Jewish employees resp. released Jewish soldiers. The "ARIERNACHWEIS" (certificate of "Arian" ancestry) was an essential document necessary for any job interview. As time progressed, the Jewish community found itself excvluded from more and more segments of society. Emigration picked up, but many Jews tried to adapt to the situation, a common misconception being how much worse can it get ?. In 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympic Games, the Nazis held back, not to attract unnecessary media attention. The assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by Jew Herschel Gruenspan provided the excuse for Nazi Germany to launch the "KRISTALLNACHT", a massive nationwide pogrom. The SA, SS, HJ burnt Germany's synagogues, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, looted Jewish businesses, tore Jews out onto the streets, beat them up. After this night, Jewish emigration picked up considerably.
For some Jews, the major reason to stay in Germany had been the business they owned there. However, a new law required all business to be transferred into "Arian" hands ("ARIANIZATION"). As many assets were transferred in a short strip of time, in many cases they had to sell far under value. There were many obstacles to emigration, as Jewish emigrants were permitted to leave the country with only one suitcase each. Meanwhile, a number of democratic countries, having taken up a considerable number of Jewish refugees from Germany already, refused to take more. Among them were Switzerland and the USA (for the year 1938). Britain, in reaction to the Arab Revolt in Palestine, had stopped Jewish immigration there. Groups of desperate Jewish refugees, having nowhere else to go, went to the only place in the world not requiring a visa - the international concession in Shanghai; they were nicknamed SCHANGHAILAENDER.


Most countries in Europe had a Jewish minority. The countries with the largest Jewish population were Poland (over 4 million/ c. 11 %) and the formerly Polish regions of Ukraine, and Belarus. Here, many of the Jews lived in separate communities. They were traditionally oriented, distinguished themselves from their Polish etc. neigbours by hairstyle etc., and spoke their own language, YIDDISH. The grade of their assimilation into the surrounding nation was low.
In the nations of central and western Europe, the Jewish population was comparatively low, in Germany ca. 0.25 %. After centuries of being ostracised from society, the Jews of France had been given full citizenship by Napoleon Bonaparte. Other governments had taken similar steps. The Jews quickly assimilated, nothing but their belief distinguishing them from their countrymen. Jews highly emphasized the education of their children, with the result that Jews were overrepresented among Germany's lawyers, university professors, high school teachers, medical doctors were Jews. (over 10 % as compared to only 0.25 of the total population). Britain and France had, for historical reasons, a small Jewish minority. The Netherlands, with a long standing policy of religious tolerance, had a thriving Jewish community. The Jewish population of Scandinavia was negligible, as urbanization here was a rather late historical phenomenon, and the countries never before had attracted a considerable number of Jews. However, these countries also had no tradition of Anti-Semitism.


Hitler, in his book MEIN KAMPF, had written his political program. Convinced of the CONSPIRACY THEORY, he regarded the FINAL SOLUTION of the "Jewish question" as necessary for Germany's future. However, this expression left room for interpretation, and Nazi officials, among them ADOLF EICHMANN, over the years contemplated several options. One option discussed was to establish a settlement of European Jews on MADAGASCAR. However, after the German invasion of the USSR (June 22nd 1941) and the Atlantic Conference (Aug. 14th 1941), the war had escalated into a Wotrld War. Germany was already branded the barbarian nation; world opinion was not considered any more. Hitler ordered the final solution to be begun immediately. The WANNSEE CONFERENCE of Sept. 15th 1941 decided to exterminate the entire population of European Jews, in total 11 million. Concentration camps located in occupied Poland - AUSCHWITZ, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek were to be the locations of large-scale executions. The concentration camps already existed, but had to be equipped for this undertaking. GAS CHAMBERS were constructed, which at Birkenau, an external facility belonging to Auschwitz, were able to kill 10.000 persons a day, a capacity later extended to 24.000 a day. Killing of human beings was conducted factory-style.
On arrival, the prisoners were separated in those able to work and those who were to be gassed immediately. The hair was cut off, to be used as raw material. Gold teeth were collected, glasses, shoes, anything of value. Inmates deemed fit to work were exploited, insufficiently fed. After a couple of months, they usually were exhausted, emaciated, and were sent to the gas chambers, if they did not die from overwork. Others were used for biological experiments.
The German army conquering the Soviet Union was followed by a second front : ROLLKOMMANDOS. Such a rollkommando would enter an occupied city, separate the Jewish and non-Jewish population, order the Jews to dig their own mass grave and then mow them down with machine guns.
Germany had passed a law permitting EUTHANASIA. In a state controlled by the NSDAP, it was used as a licence to kill. Jewish patients in hospitals from 1941 on usually were given a lethal injection.
It should be noted, that not only Jews were killed in the gas chambers. Another group was the GYPSIES, of which ca. 50.000 were killed. Political opponents of Nazi rule often found themselves sent to the camps, as were homosexuals. The Euthanasia was used as an excuse to kill the entire population of mental hospitals, of asyla for disabled etc.
The organisation of the extermination of millions of Jews spread over much of Europe was an organisatorical challenge. In occupied countries, certain quarters of major cities were desclared as GHETTOES. The local population moved out, Jews were forced to move in. These overcrowded ghettoes were surrounded by walls, only Jews with a work permit were allowed to leave. As the SS did not let food trucks in, malnutrition soon became a severe problem. From time to time, the SS would come in and collect a certain number of Jews on trucks, destined for the concentration camps.
First, the Jewish minority of the countries occupied by German forces, and of Germany itself were dealt with. Governments allied with Germany were requested to participate. Italy, Hungary and Finland refused to do so. However, in June 1944 the Italian government switched sides, the Germans established a pro-German government and were free to pursue their policy in the part of the country they controlled. Similarly, in Hungary after March 1944. Swedish diplomat RAOUL WALLENBERG issued blank Swedish passports to tenthousands of Hungarian Jews, placing them under Swedish protection.
In Denmark, SS attempts to send the country's Jewish minority to the gas chambers were spoiled by the Danish resistance, which in a secret operation engineered the escape of several thousand Jews to Sweden. In the Netherlands, many Jews were hidden by Dutch friends, the most famous being ANNE FRANK. Those who provided shelter risked their own lives.
In total, over 6.000.000 Jews were killed. The Holocaust is the single worst crime committed by a government recorded in history, an attempt to exterminate an ethnic group, conducted with bureaucratic, industrial efficiency over a period of years, directly or indirectly involving many elements of German society.

Yad Vashem Website
German and NS Terminology, by Struan Robertson
Virtual Jewish History Tour : Germany, from Jewish Virtual Library
House of the Wannsee Conference, has a detailed, richly illustrated website on the Holocaust
Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Virtual Museum
Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
The Felix Posen Bibliographic Project on Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Cinematographie des Holocaust, at Fritz Bauer Institut, in German
Federico Varese and Meir Yaish, Altruism : The Importance of Being Asked. The Rescue of Jews in Nazi Europe (1998)
Holocaust Encyclopedia, from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
DOCUMENTS Wannsee Conference Protocol, from Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, available in English, French, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew
Poster in German-occupied Poland 1939 announcing that Jews were to be registered and had to wear the yellow star, posted by GHWK, scan, in German
German Companies that used Forced Labour in World War II, from Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll; another such list from VVN-BdA, comment in German; this list gives location of companies
Documents on the Holocaust, posted by Yad Vashem
Documents on the Persecution of Freemasonry by the Nazis, from Mill Valley Lodge
Histories, Narratives, Documents, from Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Oliver Lustig's Text Presentation of Historic Holocaust Photographs, posted by Holocaust Survivors' Network
Central Database of Shoah Victim's Names maintained at Yad Vashem
VIDEOS Paragraph 175, documentary on the arrest and murder of Germany's homosexuals during the Nazi Period
Schindler's List, 1993
Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, 1990, in Swedish/German, with English subtitles
REFERENCE United States Holocaust Museum, Historical Atlas of the Holocaust, NY : MacMillan 1996 [G]
Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil. The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence, Cambridge : UP (1989) 1996, KMLA Lib.Sign. 364.15 S798r
Article Anti-Semitism, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1945, pp. 56-57 (on events of 1944) [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on May 23rd 2008

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