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The essay discusses the development and execution of the stages involved in the
Holocaust. Firstly, the Jews were repressed legally with the passing of new laws. Then, in 1938
legal repression progressed to large scale violence towards the Jews and their properties.
Countries that were invaded by Germany also experienced these anti-Semitic measures as well as
Germany¶s allies. Following this, Jews began to be shipped off to the General Government.
Concentration and labour camps were used to contain Jews from 1939 to 1945 while ghettos
were also used from 1940 to 1945. Death squads were also used for the assassination of Jews but
only from 1941 to 1943. The Wannsee Conference in 1942 was the birthplace of the finalized
Final Solution, which kick started the use of extermination camps to kill large numbers of people
quickly. The final stage of the Holocaust was the forced marches of the prisoners from camp to
camp known as death marches. After the war was over, efforts were made to bring those
responsible to justice and bring closure to relatives and friends of the astounding amount of
victims of the Holocaust.


V  


In what can only be described as the cruelest and most unforgiving period in the history
of the world, the Holocaust was a programme of systematic state-sponsored extermination of
Jews by Nazi Germany. The word Holocaust in itself is an explanation of this time as it comes
from the Greek word µholókaustos¶, where µhólos¶, means µwhole¶ and µkaustós¶, means µburnt¶.
The term can mean a great destruction of life, especially by fire. The Holocaust is also known as
The Shoah, from the Hebrew word for destruction. The calculation and heartlessness that must
have been involved during this mass genocide of about 11 to 17 million people is staggering to
comprehend. Jews were a mere 6 million of this astounding figure, as the Holocaust victims also
included people with disabilities, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians,
homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and other political and religious opponents of the Nazis.
Many people are vaguely aware of the circumstances surrounding the Holocaust but here we will
discuss the precise development and execution of the persecution and genocide that took place.

Unknown to most, the first stage of the Holocaust took place years before World War 2
broke out. Legislation and laws were put into place to remove Jews from civil society. The Nazis
defined Jews as anyone who was of Jewish descent, even those who had been converted before
the founding of the German empire early in 1871. These Jews¶ social, economic and legal rights
were steadily restricted throughout the 1930¶s. It started in 1933 when a series of laws were
passed containing µAryan paragraphs¶. These laws prevented Jews from taking part in any form
of agriculture, medicine or professional civil service. The president at the time, Hindenburg,
insisted that an exemption be made for Jewish civil servants who were veterans of World War 1
or had fathers or sons who had served to remain in office. Hitler complied with the president¶s
wishes, only to revoke the said exemption in 1937. Other than this, Jews were also barred from
schools and universities, belonging to the Journalists¶ Association and from being owners or
editors of newspapers. This movement took a step further in 1935, when Hitler introduced the
Nuremberg Laws. These laws forbade Jews from marrying Aryans and even annulled existing
marriages between Aryans and Jews! Jews were altogether forbidden from becoming civil
servants and German Jews were stripped of their citizenship and civil rights. Hitler introduced
these laws in his speech with pride, stating that if they did not solve the µJewish problem¶ it
³must then be handed over by law to the National Socialist Party for a µfinal solution¶ or
ndlösung. As early as 1935, this expression had already become the standard Nazi euphemism
for the extermination of the Jews.

On November 7, 1938, an incident in Paris caused the Nazi Germans to justify the shift
from legal repression to outright violence on a large scale of the Jewish Germans. The incident
was the assassination of Nazi German diplomat rnst vom Rath by Jewish minor Herschel
Grűnspan. Mass pogroms, defined as the organised massacre of helpless people, carried out by
Nazi party, SA members and other affiliates of Nazi Germany were claimed to be spontaneous
displays of the public¶s outrage. Jews were attacked, their shops and properties and almost every
synagogue in Germany were vandalised or destroyed. Officially, the death toll was 91 deaths,
though it is assumed to be higher. 30, 000 Jews were sent to concentration camps, where they
were held for weeks until they transferred their property to the Nazis or proved that they would
be emigrating soon out of Germany. A few days later, on November 11, 1038, the Regulation
Against Jews¶ Possession of Weapons was passed, making Jews unable to possess firearms or
any other weapons. Furthermore, the Jews were held responsible for the damages caused by the
pogroms and also had to pay an µatonement tax¶. For obvious reasons, emigration of Jews from
Nazi Germany increased dramatically and public Jewish life no longer existed.

German occupied countries also faced these early measures of legal repression which
eventually led to violence. When Germany invaded Poland, going against the conditions of the
Versailles Treaty, several countries including Britain and Australia declared war, hence
beginning the Second World War. In Poland, Reinhard Heydrich, who was right hand man of
Heinrich Himmler-the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, was made the head of the
Reich Main Security Office which carried out the policies towards the Jews in Heydrich¶s report.
Here the first organised murders of the Jews occurred under Operation Tannenberg and through
Selbstschutz units. Many thousands of Jews died when they were herded into ghettos, and many
more died from disease, starvation and exhaustion though there was still no program of
systematic killing. In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg,
Belgium, and France and in 1941, Yugoslavia and Greece. Anti-Semitic measures were
introduced in these places as well. Germany¶s allies were pressured into introducing anti-Semitic
measures also, though they mostly did not comply until forced to do so. In Croatia however, the
persecution of Jews began of its own initiative.
Following this, on September 28, 1939 Germany gained control over the Lublin area and
set up the Lublin-Lipowa reservation according to the Nisko Plan. The first Jews were shipped
there less than three weeks later on October 18, 1939 on freight trains meant for transporting
cattle. The Nisko Plan was put on hold on March 24, 1940 and abandoned by the end of April.
However, by this time 95,000 Jews had been transported to Nisko, many of whom died of
starvation. In July 1940, Hitler stopped deporting Jews to the General Government
which was a
part of the territories of Poland under Nazi German rule, because the steadily increasing
population there was difficult to support. However, this was only temporary, and as the murder
of Jews in Poland continued, by December 1939, the General Government area was crowded
with about 3.5 million Jews.

Concentration and labor camps were in activity in Nazi Germany from 1933 right up to
1945. It began as an act to wreak havoc in the opposition of the Nazis before the 1933 elections.
The early camps, usually basements and storehouses, that were set up in Germany with the help
of the local authorities were meant to hold, torture or kill only political prisoners such as
Communists or Social Democrats. After 1939 however, these camps became more known as
places for Jews or prisoners of war to be killed or forced to live as slave labourers. They were
continuously tortured and undernourished. A method of systematic extermination known as
µextermination through labour¶ was introduced. It included making a person work so hard for so
long that they are unable to perform work tasks, and then selecting them for extermination. Some
also died from harsh conditions of the camps or executions carried out at the officers¶ fancy. It
was estimated that the Germans had built 15,000 camps, mostly in Germany occupied Poland.

Ghettos, or quite basically prisons, were put to use by the German Nazis from 1940 to
1945. They were established after the German Nazis invaded Poland as places to hold Jews and
even Romani while they waited to be shipped off to extermination camps to be murdered. These
ghettos were described by Michael Berenbaum as ³immensely overcrowded prisons, the
instruments of slow, passive murder´. ach ghetto was run by a Jewish council known as a
Judenrat, who were in charge of provisions for the prisoners, the basic day-to-day running of the
ghettos, and most significantly, making arrangements for the deportations of prisoners to
extermination camps. Berenbaum wrote that the most testing moment of a Judenrat¶s courage
and character was when they were asked for a list of names of people to be deported. Judenrat
leaders like Dr. Joseph Parnas in Lviv who refused to make a list were shot. On October 14,
1942, instead of cooperating with the deportations, the entire Judenrat in Byroza committed
suicide. The Jews of course protested to this. There were numerous ghetto uprisings,
unfortunately none of which were successful as the German Nazis had formidable military
forces. The remaining Jews were either killed or deported to death camps, which the Germans
euphemistically referred to as µresettlement in the ast¶.

Not surprisingly, the German Nazis also had death squads in their employment, active
from 1941 to 1943. The spark that ignited this charge was the German invasion of the Soviet
Union in June 1941. Members of local populations were deeply involved in the massacre of Jews
in their own lands. Unlike previous practice however, most of the mass killings were performed
in public by task groups called insatzgruppen who were SS formations. German historian
Andreas Hillgruber wrote that the massacres committed by the insatzgruppen were usually
passed off as anti-partisan or anti-bandit operations. He also stated that this was merely an
excuse to cover the German Nazis¶ tracks, alluding that they were not involved in the Holocaust
in Russia.

The deadliest stage of the Holocaust was the Wannsee Conference in 1942 and the Final
Solution, which took place from the years 1942 to 1945. The Wannsee Conference was held on
January 20, 1942 at a villa, Am Groȕen Wannsee, to finalise a plan for the extermination of the
Jews because Himmler was becoming impatient with the progress of the Final Solution. The
operation of the killing of the Jews became known as Operation Reinhard or Aktion Reinhard. It
was referred to euphemistically as the Final Solution. Before the Final Solution was implemented
in 1942, about 1 million Jews had already been eradicated by death squads and mass pogroms.
However, it was only after the Final Solution was implemented that extermination camps were
built and industrialised systematic slaughter of the Jews began. In 1942, five other camps along
with Auschwitz were designated as extermination camps, two labor camps had extermination
facilities added to them and three new camps were built solely to serve the function of killing
large amounts of Jews as quickly as possible. The extermination facilities built refers to gas
chambers. A gas chamber is basically a sealed chamber into which a poisonous or asphyxiant gas
is introduced, used for killing humans or animals. Gas chambers were determined as the quickest
way to kill large amounts of people at a time. At Treblinka, the gas chambers could fit up to
2,000 people at a time.

During the climax of the Final Solution in 1943 and 1944, almost every country in
Germany¶s influence was shipping hundreds of thousands of people to the extermination camps.
In the General Government, despite the high productivity of the war industries thanks to the
slave labour in the ghettos, the ghettos were liquidated and their populations were deported to
extermination camps in 1943. ven after the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, which represented a
dire military situation for Germany shown by increased air attacks by the Allies on German
industry and transportation, the deportation of Jews continued to be a high priority. This was
quite a dismay to economic managers and army leaders as skilled Jewish workers were being
killed and precious army resources, such as trains that were being used to move the Jews, were
being squandered. By 1944, it was obvious to those who were not Nazi fanatics that Germany
was losing the war. However, orders given by Himmler were dangerous to disobey, even without
Hitler¶s authority which Himmler was able to evoke to carry out his own demands.

At long last, the final desperate stage of the Holocaust was the death marches which
occurred between 1944 and 1945. In 1944, the United States and British military forces were
approaching the concentration camps from the west while their Soviet allies were approaching
from the east. The SS, also known as Schutzstaffel which was one of the most powerful
organizations in Nazi Germany, decided to abandon the extermination camps so as to avoid the
Allies discovery of the atrocities that had occurred there. However, rail transport which is what
was usually used to transport the prisoners was being made increasingly difficult due to the air
attacks by the Allies, and the German military¶s objections to the trains being used had become
more urgent. The solution was a forced march of the prisoners who had already suffered from the
violence, starvation and overworking of concentration camp life. They marched dozens of miles
in the snow to train stations, then were transported by freight trains with open carriages without
food or shelter, then made to march again to camps closer to. Those who lagged behind or even
stopped for a rest were immediately shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these µdeath
marches¶. In October 1944, Himmler surprisingly ordered an end to the Final Solution. It was
believed that he had negotiated a deal with the Allies behind Hitler¶s back. However, the officers
of the SS generally ignored the order and continued to force the death marches until the very last
weeks of the war.

The end of the war brought welcome relief to the survivors of the Holocaust, but relatives
and friends of those who had been murdered in cold blood were left without answers. When the
Soviets and the rest of the Allies discovered the camps, they had almost been completely
emptied, leaving only a few thousand alive. The death toll was exceedingly high, with about 5.9
million Jews, 2 to 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.8 to 2 million ethnic Poles, 220,000 to 1.5
million Romani people, 200,000 to 250,000 disabled people, 80,000 Freemasons, 5,000 to
15.000 homosexuals, and 2,500 to 5,000 Jehovah¶s Witnesses dead. In the aftermath of World
War II, the United Nations was formed on October 24, 1945, with the hope that such a tragedy
would never occur again. Before long, the Nuremberg Trials took place between 1945 and 1946,
trying 22 captured leaders of Nazi Germany for the crimes against humanity that had occurred.
There were efforts of course to cover up the Holocaust but it was an incident of such great
magnitude that these efforts failed mightily. Since then, there have been many books, movies and
other forms of information available about the Holocaust, educating the world against hate,
genocide and discrimination. Not surprisingly, this barely feels like enough in the face of such a
travesty that really and truly occurred in history. However, it has certainly taught all of mankind
a truly unforgettable lesson; that memory and action still be a vital requirement towards this
distressing event, even after all its survivors have left us. The words of lie Wiesel, a survivor of
the Holocaust, sum it up beautifully as follows.

³Let us remember, let us remember the heroes of Warsaw, the martyrs of Treblinka, the
children of Auschwitz. They fought alone, they suffered alone, they lived alone, but they did not
die alone, for something in all of us died with them.´
Š

 

Berenbaum, M. (2006). V   


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edition 2006, p. 101±102.

Bergen, D. (2003)   


 
 
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