The Holocaust 1938-1945
by Vincent Marmorale
The Holocaust was a systematic attempt to eliminate all the Jews in Europe. The official beginning is considered to be Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938. The pogrom was state sponsored and directed against Jews. During this time, 91 Jews were murdered, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, hundreds of Jewish synagogues were torched and 7,000 Jewish businesses were looted. The beginning of this tragedy was crystallized by Adolf Hitler’s authoring of Mein Kampf prior to his coming to power. In this book, Hitler focused on his philosophy of the “Master Race”, and he considered the Germans to be the purest form of this: the Aryan race. In addition, he saw the Jew as evil and the destroyer of German culture and economy. As a result, he believed the state had only one purpose which was to insure the purity of the Aryan race and eliminate the Jew from German life. The views expressed in Mein Kampf would become the Nazi bible and lead to the ultimate goal of creating a Europe free of Jews.
A weak German Republic coupled with the demands of the World War I treaty and an economic depression created a unique opportunity for Hitler to gain political power. He was supported by industrialists and bankers who feared a Communist revolution. They saw him as a savior for the country’s problems. He utilized democracy to eventually have himself appointed Chancellor in 1933. Within a few months, he assumed greater power and democracy ends. Hitler was now free to pursue his anti-Semitic policies.
In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws created second-class status for Jews, and they were no longer considered citizens. They were dismissed from the civil service, the professions and the universities. Jewish children could no longer attend German public schools. Marriage was forbidden between Jews and non-Jewish Germans. At this early stage, the government allowed Jews to leave the country, but many nations restricted Jewish immigration. The Jews who could emigrate, including Albert Einstein, left Germany. Jews who remained in Germany lived in fear of imprisonment. By 1938, the plight of the Jews in Germany, and eventually Austria, was well known throughout the world.
President Roosevelt called for an international conference to offer refuge to hundreds of thousands of Jews from Germany and Austria for humanitarian reasons. The meeting was held in Evian, France in July of 1938. The delegates expressed sympathy for the Jews but made excuses for their countries refusal to accept any Jewish refugees. The conference showed that forced emigration of Jews from Nazi Germany was unworkable, thus another solution for the Reich’s “Jewish Problem” would have to be found. This conference would eventually doom the Jews of Europe. The Nazis were convinced that the Jews had no value and the world was indifferent to their fate.
On September 1, 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. The Germans established a ghetto policy which forced the Jews of Poland, Austria and Germany to be imprisoned in a walled off section of a city. The ghettos were crowded, and the inhabitants were prone to disease due to poor sanitation and a lack of food. The Nazis hoped that the inhabitants would starve or die from disease. Hitler continued his expansionist policy by invading Russia in June of 1941. With the increased number of Jews from Eastern Europe, it was decided to use firing squads made up of many local people to murder the Jews under their control in the new territories. The Nazis considered this method inefficient and decided that a new plan had to be devised.
In January of 1942, Nazi officials met at Wannsee, near Berlin. Their task was to create an efficient method to murder Jews. They decided to create extermination centers and use gas chambers and crematoriums to solve the problem. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Belzec and Majdanek death camps were created in Poland. A railroad system was created to transport Jews to these camps to be murdered. At one time, Auschwitz murdered 10,000 Jews a day. Eventually, these camps were incorporated into the Nazi terror network, which was responsible for the extermination of 6 million Jews and an additional 5 million non-Jews, all victims of the Holocaust. Resistance to the Nazi terror policy was virtually impossible.
In 1943, the first major uprising against Nazi rule in Europe occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto. A thousand men and women resisted deportation with an armed revolt. Jewish fighters resisted with hand grenades, pistols, homemade bombs and a few captured rifles. In Treblinka, approximately 800 inmates participated in an uprising. In Sobibor, 600 inmates attempted to escape, 200 escaped into the forest. This was the largest mass escape of World War II. Prisoners from Auschwitz revolted and destroyed a crematorium. In addition, thousands of Jewish men and women fought the Nazis in Eastern Europe as partisans. Despite being occupied, Denmark saved almost all of their 7,000 Jews. Italy, while under German occupation, was able to save approximately 80% of their 40,000 Jews.
Even with the indifference to the plight of the Jews, there were many who put their lives and the lives of their families in jeopardy to save Jews from extermination because it was the “right thing to do”. The Holocaust did not have to happen. Had more people refused to carry out the murder of the Jews or refused to collaborate with those involved in such atrocities, the Holocaust could have been prevented or at the very least mitigated. Every individual had freedom of action and could choose between good, apathy and evil. The witness to history accounts on this website and in the documentary focus on the choices individual Italians made to save the lives of Jews. If people are not indifferent, things can be different.