There are times in history when desperate people plagued by desperate situations blindly give evil men power. These men, once given power, have only their own evil agendas to carry out. The Holocaust was the result of one such man’s agenda. In short simplicity, shear terror, brutality, inhumanity, injustice, irresponsibility, immorality, stupidity, hatred, and pure evil are but a few words to describe the Holocaust. A holocaust is defined as a disaster that results with the tremendous loss of human life. History, however, generally identifies the Holocaust to be the series of events that occurred in the years before and during World War II.
The Holocaust started in 1933 with the persecuting and terrorizing of Jews by the Nazi Party, and ended in 1945 with the murder of millions of helpless Jews by the Nazi war-machine. “The Holocaust has become a symbol of brutality and of one people’s inhumanity to another. ” (Resnick p. 11) The man responsible for the Holocaust was Adolf Hitler and his Nazi war-machine. As an Austrian born soldier-turned-politician, Hitler was fascinated with the concept of the racial supremacy of the German people. He was also a very bitter, very evil little man.
In addition, having lost the war, the humiliated Germans were forced by the Allies to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that officially ended World War I. According to the harsh terms of the treaty, Germany had to hand over many of its richest industrial territories to the victors, and was made to pay reparations to the Allied countries it devastated during the war. Germany lost its pride, prestige, wealth, power, and the status of being one of Europe’s greatest nations. (Resnick p. 15) However, these events infuriated Hitler who refused to believe that the Germans had been defeated fairly on the battlefield.
Instead, he believed that the betrayal and trickery of Communists and Jews, the “evil partners” of the Allies, had defeated Germany. (Resnick p. 16) But, “Exactly when Hitler’s eliminationist hatred of the Jews took form in his mind is still a matter of debate. ” (McFee p. 2) Hitler was obsessed with the racial superiority he believed the German peoples had over all other inferior peoples. He wanted to rule the world, but in order to carry out his solution, he needed to convince the German people to listen to him. Perhaps Hitler would never have been able to do what he did had World War I never occurred.
As Resnick said in his book, The Holocaust; After World War I, Germany was trying to rebuild and recover…Both the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression severely afflicted Germany. “In many respects, these terrible conditions made Hitler’s rise to power possible. ” (Resnick p. 15) People in desperate situations will listen to anyone offering a way out. Hitler offered not only a way out of Germany’s turmoil, but also someone to blame for it; he pointed at the Jews. The Jews were not the only people persecuted and exterminated by Hitler and his regime…
Resnick p. 11) Gypsies, homo-sexuals, cripples, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests, the terminally ill, and Communists would all fall victims to the hatred and brutality of the Nazis. However, the attributes that made them worthy for elimination, according to Hitler, were all infections originating from the Jews. Therefore, Hitler’s aggression was focused upon the Jews. “The Holocaust, from its conception to its implementation had a distinctly Jewish aspect to it and, arguably without this Jewish aspect, there would have been no Holocaust.
Most of the non-Jewish people would not have been killed because the killing machinery would not have been put into operation. ” (McFee p. 1) Resnick said that Hitler blamed all of the country’s problems on the Jews, and in order to get rid of Germany’s problems, they had to get rid of the Jews. (Resnick p. 16) This was Hitler’s “solution to the Jewish question”. Hitler had always encouraged the German people through his speeches to persecute the Jews, but in order to implement his “solution”, which was to get rid of the Jews, he had to be in a position of power.
As Hitler’s political party, the Nazis, became more and more influential, their enemies opposed them more and more openly. Hitler’s response was simple and brutal. His Gestapo, secret police, led by Heinrich Himmler, “…beat, tortured, and jailed thousands of Germans who opposed Hitler. ” (Resnick p. 22) “He sent out his armed thugs, called storm troopers, to break up the meetings of Communists and others who opposed him. ” (Resnick p. 18) “Once he had the support of high-ranking military commanders and the major industrial leaders, Hitler’s power was secure. Resnick p. 22) Once in a position of power, Hitler began implementing his “solution”.
First the Jews were stripped of their rights and their possessions, then they were deported. “Nazi policy wasn’t just to harass the Jews. It was to force them out of Germany. ” (Adler p. 33) It was not long, however before adjoining nations began blocking the entrance of Germany’s Jewish refugees into their territory. Hitler’s frustration mounted, yet he was no less determined to get rid of the Jews. He only realized that carrying out his solution would not be so easy.
The most ominous threat came when Hitler predicted that if war were to start with countries unfriendly to Germany, Germany would exterminate the Jewish race in Europe. ” (Resnick p. 35) Jews were forced to work in dangerous ammunitions factories to help rebuild the German military, with the hopes that they could be worked to death. Hitler, realizing that there was no point to deporting the Jews since he would be expanding German territory right back over them, decided it was nearly time escalate his “solution”. “Immediately after conquering Poland, Nazi leaders put into action the ‘final solution’… ” (Resnick p. 36)
Hitler’s “final solution” called for the total annihilation of the Jewish population in Europe. Following the German army were the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units that would round up any Jews found in overrun territory and machine-gun them to death in pits they were forced to dig themselves. Nevertheless, for Hitler and his top Nazi commanders, this was both time-consuming, and wasteful of bullets that would be needed to use against the Allies. Hitler believed that a more efficient plan would be needed. The Nazis then began to transport large numbers of Jews to many captured Polish cities, which they transformed into ghettos.
A ghetto was like one huge prison cell, where crowded conditions, starvation, disease, and the elements were the Nazi’s tools of death. (Resnick p. 43) The Nazis constructed concentration camps, called death camps, to work the Jews to death, then they constructed gas chambers to kill masses of people, and crematories to dispose of their bodies. “Killing centers using gas chambers were built in early 1942 after the Nazis learned that large numbers of people could be killed quickly and with the help of few personnel. ” (Resnick p. ) The most infamous of these extermination camps was Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The legacy of the Holocaust is best summarized by this, “No words, no book, can fully describe the humiliation, the pain, the horror, of that time. The lives lost cannot be reclaimed. And still the lesson the Holocaust has to teach us has not been learned. Prejudice, bigotry, and hatred have not disappeared. On the contrary, in the past few years violent acts motivated by prejudice have increased. ” (Adler p. 103) ‘ “Civilization must struggle with the memory of the Holocaust because it cannot afford to bury it. Emil Fackenheim’ (Resnick p. 11)
The world knew that the Jews were being persecuted behind enemy lines, but the stories that did escape across the front lines were so horrifying, so grisly and inhumane that most believed they were exaggerations. ‘ “A certain degree of reserve is necessary in handling all this material… particular [survivor narratives]… the Eastern European Jew is a natural rhetorician, speaking in flowery similes… sometimes the imagery transcends credibility…” -Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution’ (Kreiberg p. “To some it was inconceivable that a country as civilized as Germany could be part of a mass-murder scheme. ” (Resnick p. 73)
Resnick quoted the historian, Louis L. Snyder who said, refering to a U. S. battalion as it entered a Nazi death camp, “Battle hardened veterans inured [used] to the sight and smell of death, were sickened by what they saw in these pestholes. ” (Resnick p. 90) Resnick also quoted Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American general, who said that he had “never at any time experienced an equal sense of shock. ” (Resnick p. 90)