Can you think of any recent examples of Holocaust stories in the news? Why do you think that the Holocaust makes headlines more than 50 years after it ended?
“Auschwitz taught us what man is capable of doing.Hiroshima taught us what is at stake.” Victor Frankl
Three Questions to Consider Posed by Lucy Dawidowicz in The War Against the Jews (1975)
Question #1 • How was it possible for a modern state to carry out the systematic murder of an entire people for no other reason than that they were Jewish?
The Holocaust and Modernity • Only a modern state, with its capacity for bureaucratic organization, mass communication/propaganda, and modern technology (e.g. railroads, mass communications) could carry out murder on such a scale.
The Holocaust was systematic The Holocaust was centrally planned and an expression of state policy. To carry out the transport and murder of millions took significant organization and involved many government agencies and tens of thousands of workers.
Why the Jews? • Anti-Jewish attitudes deeply rooted in European Christian culture and society. • Jews historically charged with the crime of deicide (murder of God). • All measures taken by the Nazis against the Jews had precursors in European history (badges, ghettos, restrictive laws, etc).
This is a poster from the anti-Semitic movie, The Eternal Jew. It was shown in theatres throughout Germany and depicted Jews in the most appalling and stereotypical manner. Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The History of anti-Semitism • Early Christianity: You cannot live among us as Jews. • Middle Ages: You cannot live among us. • Holocaust: You cannot live. -Raoul Hilberg
The Holocaust was systematic The Nazis came to power in January 1933. The systematic murder of Jews didn’t begin until 1941. The Holocaust was preceded by government policies designed to isolate the Jews and condition the population to accept anti-Jewish policies.
Stages of the Holocaust • Anti-Jewish Legislation (1933-1935) • (a) Boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany (April 1, 1933) • (b) Nuremberg Laws (1935) stripped Jews of rights of citizenship and barred Jews from education, professions, and public spaces (parks, pools, theatres, etc). Jews disappeared from German public life.
Stages of the Holocaust (2) • Persecution (1938-39) • *Kristallnacht (November 1938) Anti-Jewish pogrom orchestrated by Nazis after murder of German diplomat by Jewish youth. • *Expulsion: Germany attempted to expel many Jews from the Reich. Few nations would accept Jewish refugees.
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis orchestrated an attack on Jews throughout the Reich. Synagogues and Jewish business were burned. Jews were arrested and interned. The Jewish communities had to pay for the damage to Jewish property. Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass)
States of the Holocaust (3) Ghettoization • The German invasion of Poland in September 1939 brought millions of Jews under German control in an area called the General Government. • Jewish ghettos, reminiscent of the Middle Ages, were established. • Jews were segregated in ghettos were they were systematically starved and exploited as slave labour.
A child is arrested in the Warsaw Ghetto. Ghetto Life
Stages of the Holocaust (4) • The Final Solution began with the invasion of Russia in June 1941 • Nearly 2 million Jews murdered by Einsatzgruppen (“special action” units) • Method of killing (mass shooting) deemed too slow and difficult for killers
Stages of the Holocaust (5) • Wannsee Conference (Jan 1942) SS leaders (under Heydrich and Eichmann) met in Berlin to confirm plans for “final solution” to the Jewish question. • Extermination camps (1941-1944) Millions of Jews killed at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
Death Camps (3) • View of the entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz (Auschwitz I). The gate bears the motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes one free).
Death Camps (4) • An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Auschwitz concentration camp showing the Auschwitz I camp. • One of a series of aerial photographs taken by Allied reconnaissance units under the command of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force during missions dating between April 4, 1944 and January 14, 1945. • The photos were used to plan bombing raids, determine the accuracy of bombing sorties, or make damage assessments.
Death Camps (5) • A door to a gas chamber in Auschwitz
Death Camps (6) • Bales of hair from female prisoners, numbered for shipment to Germany, found at the liberation of Auschwitz.
Death Camps (7) • Corpses of Auschwitz prisoners in block 11 of the main camp (Auschwitz I), as discovered by Soviet war crimes investigators.
Death Camps (8) • A warehouse full of shoes and clothing confiscated from the prisoners and deportees gassed upon their arrival.
Death Camps (9) • "Re-Germanization" was the legal and educational process by which "racially desirable" persons from the population of territories occupied by the Wehrmacht could become members of the German "Volk" and citizens of the Reich. • In order to qualify for "re-Germanization," they had to provide proof of German racial origins or that they were sufficiently "deutsch gesinnt" (German-minded). • "Re-Germanization," however, could be extended to "racially valuable" children belonging to foreign peoples, in some cases, even children who were Jews. • The children transferred to Germany under the “Heuaktion” fell into this category.
Death Camps (10) • The bodies of prisoners killed in the Nordhausen concentration camp, which have been laid out in long rows outside the central barracks
Question #2 How was it possible for an entire people to allow itself to be destroyed?
Examples of Jewish Resistance • Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943) • Revolt of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz (1944) • Sobibor Uprising (1943) • Jews as partisans • Thousands of acts of individual resistance
During Passover 1943, the surviving Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto revolted. They held off the Nazis for nearly three weeks before they were subdued. Jewish Resistance
Why was resistance limited? • There was little support in the larger community. • Jews were deceived about their fate. • Nazi retaliation threatened the entire community. • Family members protected each other. • Dehumanization of victims diminished capacity to resist.
Why was resistance limited? (2) • The Jewish experience with persecution “conditioned” Jews to accept their fate. • The concept of the total annihilation of the Jewish communities of Europe was inconceivable to the victims.
Question #3 How was it possible for the world to stand by without halting this destruction?
International Response • From 1935 until the outbreak of war, many Jews tried to leave the Reich (Germany and Austria), but found few nations willing to take them. • Why? Economies suffering by depression had little capacity to absorb refugees. Anti-Jewish attitudes pervasive among world leaders and among larger populations.
International Response (2) • After war broke out, opportunities to rescue Jews diminished. • Historians debate whether nations responded adequately to the Holocaust. • Allies threatened Nazi leaders with punishment for crimes against the Jews and civilian populations.
Some Jews did manage to find sanctuary. This is a visa for a Jewish person admitted to China. International Response (3)
International Response (4) • Could Allies have done more, such as bomb Auschwitz or the rail networks leading to death camps? Were there opportunities to ransom the surviving Jews in Nazi occupied Europe? • Of all the nations of the western world, Canada’s response was the most dismal. Between 1933 and 1946, Canada admitted only 5,000 Jewish refugees, fewer than Cuba, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic.
Issues in Holocaust Studies • Origins of the Holocaust • Intentionalism (the straight road) Hitler planned the annihilation of European Jews from the start. There is evidence of this in Mein Kampf (1924) • Functionalism (the twisted path) The decision to annihilate Europe’s Jews emerged gradually in response to wartime developments. By the summer of 1941, the direction was assured.
Issues in Holocaust Studies (2) • Uniqueness of the Holocaust: Is the Holocaust a singular event in history are are there parallels? • International Response: Could the Jews of Europe have been saved?
Issues in Holocaust Studies (3) • Christianity and the Holocaust: To what extent did long-standing Christian anti-Semitism make the Holocaust possible? Did the organized churches fail to respond morally to the plight of European Jews?
Historians have criticized the silence of Pope Pius XII. Would condemnation of the killings by the Pope influenced Hitler’s policy toward the Jews? Christianity and the Holocaust
Roles in the Holocaust • Perpetrators Who were the perpetrators? Where they monsters or ordinary people? There have been many attempts to understand the behaviour of perpetrators. The sad truth is that few individuals resisted orders to kill Jews.
Adolph Eichmann was hung in Israel in 1961 for his role in the murder of 600,000 Hungarian Jews. Philosopher Hanna Arendt covered the trial and referred to the “banality of evil”. Adolph Eichmann: Perpetrator
Roles in the Holocaust Bystanders By far the largest group in Europe were bystanders. To varying degrees they knew what was taking place, but did nothing. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Roles in the Holocaust Victims There were 11-12 million victims of the Holocaust, including Jews, Gypsies, political prisoners, Jehovah Witnesses, and homosexuals. “Not every victim was Jewish, but every Jew was a victim.” – Elie Wiesel
Roles in the Holocaust Rescuers Despite grave risk to themselves and their families, some individuals and communities rescued Jews. What do you think that rescuers had in common?