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american history
the holocaust

*as allied troops marched into germany and the red army moved through eastern europe, especially poland, they discovered evidence of hitler’s greatest crime—they found the concentration camps and death camps.

*during hitler’s rise to power, he had blamed the parasitical jews, along with the liberals who stabbed germany in the back, for germany’s loss of the war and for her continuing weaknesses.

*hitler, at least as early as mein kampf, posited the aryan as the superman, as the exemplar of the master race.  all other races were inferior to differing degrees (with jews at the bottom), and the worst thing of all was the mingling of the races.  america, for example, hitler despised as a mongrel nation, which was one reason he did not fear the us when he declared war in 1941.

*as soon as hitler became leader of germany in 1933 he began persecuting the jews, but initially in minor ways.  just as hitler would achieve military and diplomatic victories one small step at a time, he would deprive the jews and other ‘undesirable’ groups of their rights a piece at time as well.

*in 1933, the nazis called for a one-day boycott of jewish businesses, partly to harass them and partly to judge popular support for anti-semitic policies.

*in 1935, the nuremberg laws decreed that jews were no longer citizens, but merely subjects, and outlawed mixed marriages.

*in 1938, the nazis required jews who still owned businesses to sell them to aryans for a fraction of their actual value.  doctors and lawyers were forbidden to serve non-jews and jewish children were expelled from public schools.

*a jew was defined racially, if he had three or more jewish grandparents, no matter what his religion, or anyone with two jewish grandparents who practised the religion.  jews were required to wear yellow stars with either a red letter j or the word jude (jew) in them to identify them.  this was done everywhere germany conquered except denmark.  jews were also given, by law, new middle names, sarah or israel, which appeared on all official documents to identify them as jews.

*on 9 november 1938, nazis throughout germany and austria attacked jewish shops and businesses and synagogues, doing as much damage as they could.  this came to be known as kristallnacht, or ‘night of the broken glass.’

*hitler also employed secret police called the gestapo, which later merged with the ss, a private army belonging to the nazi party.  among other things, the ss guarded concentration camps.

*concentration camps had been created right after the reichstag fire, when hitler arrested so many of his political opponents he did not have any place to put them.  so he created camps with barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.  the first of these was dachau, outside munich.  into these camps, hitler herded first his political opponents, but later other racial and social enemies.  these were all identified by different coloured triangular patches.  these are shown on page 494 in the text.

*green triangles represented common german criminals, red triangles were political prisoners (especially communists), pink triangles represented homosexuals, black triangles represented ‘anti-social’ people (like the homeless, prostitutes, and  the unemployed), brown triangles represented gypsies, blue triangles stood for poles, russians, and other foreigners, purple triangles jehovah’s witnesses, and a yellow triangle over another coloured triangle indicated a jew guilty of whichever crime the second triangle represented.  initially, jews were only locked away for crimes, although their trials were often unfair and only used as an excuse.

*between 1933 and 1937, about one quarter of germany’s jews fled the country, and the nazis initially encouraged this.  at first, they went to other european countries, where many were later made german subjects again, but some went to the us, latin america, and british palestine.  there were so many jewish refugees that no-one could handle them all, especially during depression, and many countries (including the us) refused to take them, or at least to take them all.  many also did not know or refused to believe how bad things were for the jews.

*as the germans took over europe, they first locked jews away in walled-off parts of town called ghettoes.  many towns, especially in poland, already had ghettoes, but the nazis walled them off and guarded them, and threw into them any jews who did not already live there.  these ghettoes were crowded, often did not get enough food, and did not get many city services, so that starvation and disease were major problems.

*many jews died in the ghettoes, but this was not good enough for hitler.  he had always wanted to do something about the jews, and in 1942 he came up with what he called a ‘final solution to the jewish question.’  to implement this, the ss created what they called einsatzgruppen, killing squads that marched through germany’s eastern conquests rounding up and killing thousands of jews and other subhumans, sometimes after making them dig their own graves and line up next to them.

*this was not fast enough either, and eventually used up a lot of bullets, so the nazis built more concentration camps.  some were work camps, where jews and others were used as slave labour until they died.  others were simply death camps, were hitler’s victims were sent to wait until there was time to kill them.  these had gas chambers and crematoria so that people could be killed and disposed of in mass numbers.

*there were six death camps.  at four of them, the jews were simply killed when they arrived.  at the two largest, auschwitz and majdanek, the jews were separated.  women, children, old people, the sick, and other useless cases were sent immediately to their deaths, but those who could work were used for slave labour until they died or got too sick to work.

*in the camps, everyone was shaved bald to keep down lice, given a uniform, and tattooed with a serial number.  they were poorly fed and often died of starvation or disease.

*it was hard to resist this.  some jews escaped, and eventually the warsaw ghetto in poland learned what happened to the people who were taken away, and rebelled, holding out for a month.  prisoners in the treblinka death camp revolted and did so much damage to the camp had to be closed.  all these jews were eventually killed, but they did try.

*overall, six million jews and at least five million other people were killed by the nazis.  this act of genocide—the attempt to wipe out an entire race—is called the holocaust.

*the us had an idea this was happening, but most people did not believe it, and the government did not do much about it.
it, and the government did not do much about it.

*in 1945 americans saw concentration camps for the first time.  many were sick, even the unstoppable patton.  when they spoke to nearby germans about it, they almost always said they did not know it was happening.

*after the war, an international war crimes trial was held at nuremberg in germany.  at the nuremberg trials, the german officers said they were just following orders.  of 24 important german defendants, 12 were sentenced to death and most of the rest were imprisoned for life.

this page last updated 24 october, 2009.
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