If one were to look for The Final Solution to the Jewish Question in a history book, they would not find it. They would however find the Holocaust. For many, this word bears great meaning, it is the reason their friends are gone, or their family is dead. The Final Solution is the beginning of the Holocaust, it is what brought about this genocide.
The Holocaust refers to the period from January 30, 1933, when Adolph Hitler became chancellor of Germany, to May 8, 1945, when the war in Europe ended. During this time, Jews in Europe were subjected to previously unprecedented persecution that ultimately led to the murder of 6,000,000 Jews and the destruction of 5,000 Jewish communities. These deaths represented two-thirds of Europe s Jews and one-third of the world s Jewish population. The Jews who died were not casualties of the fighting that ravaged Europe during World War II. Rather, they were the victims of Germany’s attempt cleanse Europe of its Jewish population, a plan Hitler called the Endlosung or the Final Solution.
Anti-Semitism has existed for centuries in Europe. It was apparent throughout the Middle ages, the intensity varied from country to country. In the ninetieth century the Jews in imperial Russia and Hungary were terrorized by government sanctioned riots and beatings called pogroms. This Anti-Semitism was based not only on religion but also on economic factors such as wealth and power. The Nazi party based it s anti Jew campaign on the same basic factors.
After its defeat in World War I, Germany was humiliated by the Versailles Treaty, which decimated its armed forces, demanded the public admission of its guilt for the war, and forced Germany to pay reparations to the allied powers. A new parliamentary government, the Weimar Republic, was formed. Under this government, Germany suffered from economic instability, inflation, and very high unemployment, these problems were worsened by world depression. This increased existing class differences and began to undermine the government.
On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler, leader of the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party, was named chancellor by president Paul von Hindenburg. The Nazis incited clashes with the communists, disrupted the government with demonstrations, and conducted a vicious propaganda campaign against its political opponents: the Weimar government, and the Jews (who according to the Nazis were the source of Germany s problems).
Not long after he became chancellor, Hitler called for new elections in an effort to acquire full control of the Reichstag for the Nazi party. The Nazis used the government to terrorize the other parties. They arrested the leaders and banned their meetings. Then, in the midst of the election campaign, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building burned. A man named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested, and he swore he had acted alone. Even though many people suspected that the Nazis were ultimately responsible for the act, the Nazis managed to blame the Communists, thereby gaining the votes of the disheartened communist supporters.
The fire signaled the downfall of German democracy. The next day, the government, under the ostensible cause of controlling the Communists, abolished individual rights and protections: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression were suspended, as well as the right to privacy. When the elections were held on March 5, the Nazis received 52 percent of the vote, and won a majority in the government.
The Nazis moved quickly to shape their power into a dictatorship. On March 23, the Enabling Act was passed. It sanctioned Hitler s efforts to gain total control and legally allowed him to pursue them even further. The Nazis also developed a sophisticated police and military force. Among which was the Sturmabteilung or the S.A., which helped Hitler undermine the German democracy. Also, the Gestapo or secret police were formed. The Gestapo were given complete freedom to arrest anyone and blindly followed Hitler s orders. The Schutzstaffel or the S.S., served as Hitler s personal bodyguards and eventually controlled the concentration camps and the Gestapo.
By 1934, Hitler was in complete control of Germany, and his campaign against the Jews was in action. Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jews as evil and cowardly, and Germans as hardworking, courageous, and honest. The Nazis claimed that the Jews, who were economically based in finance, the press, literature, and theater, had weakened Germany’s economy and its cultural history. The government-supported propaganda created a racial anti-Semitism, which was different from the long-standing anti-Semitic tradition of the Christian churches.
Hitler began to entrap the Jews with legal action and terror campaigns, which included burning books written by Jews, removing Jews from their professions and from public schools, confiscating their businesses and property, and excluding them from public events. The most renowned of the anti-Jewish laws were the Nuremberg Laws, passed on September 15, 1935. They formed the basis for the Jews’ exclusion from society.
Then, on November 9 10, 1938, the attacks on the Jews became violent. Hershel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Jewish boy distraught at the deportation of his family, shot Ernst vom Rath, the third secretary in the German Embassy in Paris, who died on November 9. Nazi officials used this assassination as the ostensible motive for instigating a night of destruction that is now known as Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass). Jewish homes were looted and destroyed and businesses as well as synagogues were burned. Many Jews were beaten and killed and 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
On October 23, 1941, S.S. head Heinrich Himmler issued an order down the Nazi chain of command which heralded a major change in Nazi policy with respect to the “Jewish problem.” Until then, the Nazis worked vigorously to encourage Jews to emigrate. However, many countries refused to accept Jewish refugees. The Madagascar Plan was one example of strategies which were formulated to remove Jews from Germany and its occupied lands. This change in policy resulted in the deportation of Jews to camps and ghettos in the East. The policy to “resettle” Jews to these ghettos and camps was a major step in what was to become the “Final Solution”, the systematic murder of millions.
In 1940, plans were devised by the Nazis to ship all Jews under Nazi control to Madagascar, an island in the Indian Ocean. It was not until 1941 that Nazi officials began referring to the “Final Solution” (Gesamtlosung) in the context of genocide rather than a “Territorial Final Solution” (territoriale Endlosung).
On January 20, 1942, at the Wannsee Conference, the details of the Final Solution were worked out. The meeting was assembled by Reinhard Heydrich (the head of the S.S. main office) and S.S. Chief Heinrich Himmler. The purpose of the meeting was to coordinate the bureaucracy required to carry out the “Final Solution,” which provided for:
+ Deportation of Jews to killing centers.
+ Decimation through forced labor with insufficient nourishment.
+ Eventual death for the remaining Jews.
The Nazis made a decision not to let the need for transports used in the war effort interfere with the need for trucks and rail cars to carry the Jews to concentration camps and death centers. It was Adolph Eichmann who masterminded the logistics of deporting the Jews. Eichmann supervised the creation of the train schedules, transportation of the Jews from the ghettos to the camps, even the design of some to the technology used.
Deportation was the first step in the “Final Solution.” Typically, the Jews were informed that they were going to be resettled for work. Each was told to take some
clothing, blankets, shoes, eating utensils (but no knife), a bowl, and some money. Upon being rounded up, they were then herded into trucks for the trip to the rail station, or were forced to walk. The rail cars were often strategically located at a distance from the passenger terminals, so that this scene would not arouse the ire of the local populace. The few onlookers chose not to protest.
The deportees were forced into rail cars, most of which were windowless, unheated cattle cars, and squeezed in so tightly that most were forced to stand. The doors
were then sealed shut from the outside. Neither drinking water nor sanitary facilities were available. Each car held more than 120 people, and many froze, suffocated, or succumbed to disease during the trip to the camps. The dead were not removed from the cars during the journey because the Nazi bureaucracy insisted that each body entering a car must be accounted for upon reaching the destination.
Transporting the Jews to the camps was a massive undertaking. The Nazi officer in charge of this duty was Adolph Eichman. He traveled to the countries occupied by Germany to systematically plan the deportation of the local Jewish population to the camps. Eichmann received various amounts of cooperation from each of the various occupied governments. But in countries such as Holland, Belgium, Albania, Denmark, Finland and Bulgaria, some Jews were saved from their deaths by the steps taken by a sympathetic populace and government officials. In other countries such as Poland, Greece, France, and Yugoslavia, the deportation of Jews to the death camps was facilitated with cooperation of the government.
Although the Nazis were successful in isolating Jews socially and economically, the actual physical isolation of the Eastern European population did not begin until December 1939. The purpose of the ghetto was to create a total confinement for the Jewish population, entire neighborhoods were turned into prisons.
In the ghettos, the food ration was one quarter of that available to the Germans, barely enough to survive. The water supply was contaminated in many ghettos, and epidemics of tuberculosis, typhoid, and lice were common. In the Warsaw ghetto, more than 70,000 people died of exposure, starvation, and disease during the first two winters alone. Almost all of those who survived the Warsaw ghetto were either killed when the ghetto was destroyed in 1943 or died in the death camps.
The Theresienstadt ghetto was built by the Nazis in an 18th century fortress in Czechoslovakia on November 24, 1941. Over 150,000 Jews passed through that ghetto during its four-year existence. Theresienstadt was used as a rest stop for those eventually bound for Auschwitz. The ghettos served as holding areas for eventual transport to the camps for those who were able to survive.
The Nazi concentration camps were established beginning in 1933 for the purpose of imprisoning political opponents. After the “Night of the Long Knives” management of the concentration camps was turned over to the S.S. Under this new management, the concentration camp system was expanded, and these new facilities were used to house other “undesirables,” including hundreds of thousands of Jews. Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were among the first concentration camps built.
Upon arrival at a camp, the prisoners were usually stripped of their valuables and clothes. All body hair was removed, they were then disinfected, given a shower, assigned a number, and issued a prison uniform without any regard to size. The process was designed to dehumanize and demoralize the prisoners, both physically and emotionally (a broken man cannot resist).
Life in the camps was a despicable. A typical day in the life of a concentration camp inmate began at dawn. The inmates were roused from their barracks which each housed up to 800 inmates. The inmates beds were comprised of slatted wooden planks, two or three of these beds would be stacked leaving about a foot of clearance for its occupants. Often three or four prisoners shared a bunk, thus not allowing enough space to stretch out for normal sleep. The inmates were beaten, and constantly harassed both physically and mentally. The inmates meager rations led quickly to malnutrition and starvation. Also those who resisted orders of the guards were shot without hesitation. Roll calls were held often to make sure that no one had escaped. If anyone did attempt to escape, all of the inmates were punished for it.
Unlike the concentration camps, death camps only had barracks to house the workers of the camp. In order to process the of thousands of people, great pains were taken to deceive the victims concerning their fate. This way people transported from ghettos and concentration camps to the death camps were unaware of what was about to happen and even if they could, would not resist.
The prisoners were told that they were being relocated for labor and were issued work permits. They were told to bring along their tools and to exchange their German marks for foreign currency. Food was used to lure starving Jews onto the trains. Once the trains arrived at the camps, trucks were available to transport those who were too weak to walk to the gas chambers. The others were told that they were to be deloused and disinfected and to enter the baths . The prisoners were separated by sex and told to remove their clothes. The baths were actually gas chambers.
As a result of this method, Auschwitz was able to “process” approximately 12,000 people daily. Before the bodies were removed by and burned in the crematoriums, their teeth were searched and then stripped of gold, which was then melted down and shipped back to Germany for sale.
By 1943, rumors began circulating in the international community that the Nazis were exterminating Jews in mass numbers using gas chambers, and that the conditions in the ghettos did not permit survival. Parts of the ghetto were then rebuilt for propaganda purposes. Flowers were planted, and shops, schools, and even a cafe were built. This was done so that when an investigating commission of the International Red Cross came to visit, they did not see the actual conditions of a ghetto. In July 1944 the Nazis even made a documentary propaganda film about life in this ghetto. After the movie was completed, most of the Jewish “actors” were shipped to Auschwitz. All this was done in an attempt to minimize resistance from the Jews and to limit knowledge of the atrocities actually taking place.
In world war two, German forces gained large amounts of land very quickly. There was often Jewish populations in these territories and the building of the camps would not keep up with the German advance. In response to this, methods were devised to manage the Jewish populations on-site.
The Jews of a city called Kiev were gathered by the S.S. for resettlement in September of 1941. Thousands of Jews were brought to a ravine on the outskirts of the city and were executed by the troops with machine guns. Many who were not wounded, including thousands of children, were thrown in with the dead and were buried alive. The records of the S.S. unit which participated in the executions recorded 33,771 Jews killed at Babi Yar on September 29-30. In total, more than 100,000 people, the majority of them Jews, were executed at Babi Yar between 1941-1943 by the Nazis.
While the Final Solution primarily targeted the Jews, the Third Reich’s policy of mass murder was not restricted solely to Jews. The Nazis also devastated the populations of other non-Aryan groups. The Nazi s killed approximately 20 million Soviet citizens, 5 million Germans, and 3 million non-Jewish Poles.
Of the six million Polish people murdered by the Nazis, half were Polish Christians. The Nazis considered the Poles and other Slavic peoples to be destined to serve as slaves to the “master race.” The Polish intellectuals and political leadership were hunted down specifically for execution, and other Polish civilians were slaughtered indiscriminately. Among the dead was over than 2,600 Catholic priests.
Approximately a half million Gypsies were killed out of the estimated 1.6 million who were living in Europe at the time. The Gypsies in Germany and its occupied territories were subjected to much of the same persecution as the Jews were: restrictive and discriminatory laws, isolation and internment, mass executions, and execution in labor camps as well as death camps.
Almost four million Ukrainians were killed through combat and starvation particularly as a result of the S.S. Of those four million, 900,000 were Jews. The Nazis rounded up thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals and sent them to the death camps for execution. Homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothing paralleling the yellow Star of David for Jews. People deemed mentally ill were also killed, however, instead of transporting these people to the camps, a gas van was usually sent directly to the sanitorium. The patients were gassed on-site.
In order to implement the Final Solution, many devices and processes were designed to expedite the process. Methods used in mass production were adapted to fit the cost and time goals that were set. In order for ethnic cleansing to be carried out effectively, it had to be done efficiently. The Nazis constructed two types of gas chambers, delousing chambers (used for clothes), and extermination chambers. At the death camps some extermination chambers were large enough to hold up to 2,000 people. There were two different agents used to kill people, Zyklon B and carbon monoxide.
Zyklon-B is a powerful insecticide which serves as a carrier for the gas hydrocyanic acid, or HCN. It usually comes in the shape of small pellets or disks. The form sold commercially has a trace scent to alert humans to its use. A special form was ordered by the S.S. which had the trace scent removed, most likely to prevent the victims from learning of what is to come. Zyklon B is highly toxic to humans and in minute concentrations of 300 parts per million (compared to the 16,000 p.p.m. used in delousing) would kill in about five to fifteen minutes. Zyklon is extremely effective and was even used in gas chambers in United States prisons.
The extermination chambers were equipped with either hollow columns into which the Zyklon was dropped, or with shower heads through which the gas could be pumped. Some chambers used carbon monoxide, this is a colorless and odorless gas that could be acquired as a byproduct of gasoline engines. Carbon Monoxide bonds to red blood cells that would usually carry oxygen. The carbon monoxide bonds with the cell stronger than oxygen and will not leave the cell till it dies. In a normal situation, only a few cells would bond with carbon monoxide, the rest would receive oxygen. However, upon being exposed to pure carbon monoxide without the presence of oxygen, all the cells bond with the carbon monoxide and the victim asphyxiates because no oxygen reaches the body tissues.
Carbon monoxide was also used is specially designed vans called Gaswagen. These vans had sealed compartments that were either attached to the vehicle s exhaust system or a canister containing carbon monoxide. These vans were mostly used in the German-occupied area in Russia and mainly in the killing of mental patients. The people were told that they were delousing vans as not to arouse suspicion.
The Nazis also utilized the prisoners in the ghettos and camps as slave labor. Some prisoners would aid in the construction of the camps or work in factories, some ghettos even had factories built within the perimeter walls. Other prisoners removed the dead from the gas chambers and loaded them into the crematorium. In Auschwitz, approximately 10 percent of the new arrivals would be put to work instead of death. Those that were spared were permitted to live only so long as they endured the physical and emotional trauma inflicted upon them.
In the winter of 1943, the tide of war started to turn on Germany and Soviet forces began to advance through Nazi territory. In an effort to conceal the evidence of the atrocities committed critical structures such as the gas chambers were either dismantled or destroyed. Also, the Nazis kept detailed records of who was killed and how its was carried out, there were burned. Also the retreating Germans forced all the remaining prisoners in Auschwitz to march toward Germany. Approximately 20,000 of the 58,000 prisoners died along the way from exhaustion, starvation, dehydration, exposure, beatings, and execution. Even the bodies buried at Kiev were exhumed and burned.
The attempt to perpetrate the final solution resulted in the deaths of millions. These people were killed not because they retaliated or even because they were conquered by an attacking army, they were killed simply for their heritage. To claim that one is unfit to live due to their birth is not only absurd but insane. Also, for this to happen in civilized nations with no attempt from a foreign power to intervene is disgusting.
We as a people must remember the events that occurred so we can teach the generations to come what has happened. Ignorance is only temporary bliss which leads to stupidity. The events that comprise our history are the base for our future, therefore, to forget the past is do erase the future.
There is a phrase that says If we don t learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it. This saying has already proven true in places such as Kosovo, but at least this time someone tried to stop it. Fascists and fanatics such as Adolph Hitler will continue throughout time to rise to power. It is our duty as human beings to speak out against injustice and oppression, to use a clich d saying were all on this Earth together , well cant we all just get along?
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