DANIEL R. SCHWARTZ: In this section I shall present a brief historical survey. The destruction of European Jewry took place during the period from 1933 to 1945 and culminated in the death camps at Auschwitz. The term's Holocaust or Shoah are used to define that event.
Under Hitler's leadership of Nazi Germany, millions of Jews were killed in an organized effort to erase them from the future history of Europe. The Holocaust was a gradual event, going back to official anti-Semitic policies and pogroms, but accelerating with anti-Jewish policies and actions in 1932 and 1933. The Jews became totemized in Nazi ideology as the symbol for the Nazis for all they detested.
Let us review the Nazi claims. Jews were ultimately accused of being Marxist and international capitalists. They compromised German racial purity.
It was said that they dominated and manipulated the Myanmar Republic, which was born out of defeat and desperation after World War I. They were irrationally blamed for the defeat in World War I, and the humiliating terms of the armistice. Anti-Jewish ideology was at the center of the Nazi political program.
The first official act of Hitler's Nazi government on April 1, 1933, was the boycott of Jewish enterprises. On April 4th, 1933, Jews were barred from civil service and public employment at all levels. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship because they didn't have, quote, "German or related," unquote, blood. Jews were no longer allowed to call themselves German, even though many had great pride in the German culture to which they felt assimilated.
By the end of 1937, German laws had deprived Jews of civil rights. Over a fourth of German Jews left Germany by then. But emigration became harder as conditions worsened.
By the end of 1938, Jews we ordered to cease retail business, and could be ordered to sell or liquidate industrial enterprises, real estate, and securities. On November 9th, 1939, the Nazis committed a series of atrocities against Jewish property, synagogues, and persons. This evening of horrible destruction is known as Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass.
After first invading Austria in March, 1938, and much of Czechoslovakia in early 1939, the German army on September 1, 1939, invaded Poland. And the large Jewish population's worst fears were realized. A third of Warsaw's population was Jewish.
As soon as the Germans entered a city, they turned the Jews into outcasts, often sadistically humiliating them or even torturing them. On September 3rd, 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The United States, however, did not enter the war until after they were attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941.
Germany broke its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union by invading that country in June, 1941. And the invading armies, often aided by the local population, especially in Ukraine and Lithuania, began to massacre Jews. They reenacted Kristallnacht in every town and city, burning synagogues and forcing Jews to burn holy Torah scrolls in public squares.
As the Germans systematically invaded Europe, occupying Norway and Denmark in April, 1940, and Holland, Belgium, and France in the next two months, Jews who had sought refuge in those places, as well as indigenous Jews, were endangered. For a while, Norwegian and Danish Jews were safe. But the Germans eventually began to demand deportations.
In September 1943, the Danes ferried more than 7,000 Jews to a safe haven in Sweden. The Diary of Anne Frank is about the hiding and eventual capture of German Jews who sought refuge in Holland. If the first step was defining the Jews as separate, the second step was expropriation of their property, and thus third, the concentration of the Jews into separate areas of large cities called ghettos.
Movements in these ghettos were restricted. And fences and walls were built around the ghetto. Ghettos were usually densely populated areas, 470,000 in Warsaw, 160,000 in Lodz. And they were mostly slums, without parks or open spaces.
The first major ghetto was created in Lodz, in April 1, 1940. And the Lodz ghetto was the site of Leslie Epstein's novel, King of the Jews. The even larger Warsaw ghetto was the subject of John Hersey's The Wall.
Before the Jews were confined to these areas, their property and most of their personal goods were confiscated. The day-to-day life of the ghettos was put under the control of a Jewish administration with an elaborate bureaucracy, called judenrat. The judenrat became the municipal government.
They had to tax Jews to pay the Nazis. While many judenrat leaders did everything possible to protect their fellow Jews, some like Rumkowski in Lodz became collaborators. At this stage, the emphasis was on shoving Jews out of the continent or into separate enclaves. But that soon changed.
In January, 1942, at the Wannsee conference, Heydrich, a Nazi leader, announced the Nazis' plans for what he called the Final Solution to the Jewish question throughout Europe, and the elimination of 11 million Jews. What this term, final solution, meant was that the Jewish presence would never have to be addressed again because there would be no more Jews. Now that the deportation and destruction of the Jews was official policy, the Germans devoted their energies to establish the necessary apparatus.
In the east, beginning in June 1941, Nazi mobile killing units were already marching Jews to miss graves, where they were massacred. The Nazis began to build death camps and to establish a transport system for sending Jews to what they called, quote, "work camps," unquote, or quote, "settlement areas," unquote. In one country after another, Jews had to register, wear the yellow Jewish star, and eventually assemble for deportation.
In the ghettos, the residents were ravaged by typhus and hunger. And tens of thousands died in the Warsaw ghetto in 1941 through '42. But the pace of Jewish deaths was not fast enough. And expulsions or resettlement of Jews from the ghettos was ordered. Mass expulsions from Warsaw was ordered on July 22, 1942.
On the next day, the gas chambers of Treblinka, the camps to which the Warsaw Jews were sent, supposedly to be resettled, began to operate. The attrition continued until there were only 70,000 Jews left at the end of 1942. Some of the remaining Jews begin to organize an armed resistance that culminated in the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943, a major focus of Hersey's historical novel, The Wall.
With almost none of the expected and promised help from the Polish underground, the Jews fought heroically for more than three weeks, until only a remnant remained. A tiny band escaped through the sewers. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, many of the healthy Jews were selected for slave labor until illness and malnutrition made them unfit for labor and they were gassed. Claude Lanzmann's epic film, Shoah, gives us a picture of how the deportation and gassing worked.
It is worth noting that while there were selections at Auschwitz, which was chosen because it was a large town on the main railroad junction, at Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, no selections were made, and whole communities were annihilated. While thousands survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, the historian Martin Gilbert reminds us that only two people survive Belzec, three, Chelmno, and only a handful or two, Treblinka.
Probably the first gassings at Auschwitz were in September, 1941. Mass extermination began in Auschwitz in 1942. In part because there were already 150,000 prisoners and laborers at Auschwitz.
Most arrivals were sent to death upon the arrival of the transports because there was no room for them. While those who were not gassed became slave laborers, their life expectancy in the face of malnutrition and slavery and abuse was about three months. Once it was established that Zyklon B was more efficient, it was substituted for carbon monoxide.
It was not until early 1943 that crematoria was constructed adjacent to the gas chambers. Probably 2 million Jews perished at Auschwitz through immediate extermination, while another 300,000, many of whom were Jews, perished from hunger, disease, later gassings, beatings, and medical experiments. Auschwitz is the setting for Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, as well as parts of Elie Wiesel's Night, Keneally and Spielberg's Schindler's List, and Spiegelman's Maus.
After the Germans were virtually defeated in spring, 1944, and had little hope of winning the war, they zealously pursued a program to deport 750,000 Hungarian Jews, mostly to Birkenau-Auschwitz. While some were used for slave labor, hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. When the gas chambers became overcrowded in the final terrible days, they were shot and burned in the pits.
Does not the obsessive destruction of Hungarian Jews after the war was virtually over testify to the perversity and genocidal symptoms of the Nazi persecution of Jews in the events that we know as the Holocaust?
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In this room we shall examine the relationship among memory, imagination, and telling of the Holocaust in specific examples of memoirs, diaries, novels, fables, and cartoons. Not only will we discuss the powerful narratives of witnesses such as Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, but also important novels, fables and cartoons about the Holocaust. Our goal is to understand the diverse ways the Holocaust has been rendered and how those ways of telling have shaped our understanding of the events of the 1933-45 period in Europe.
This video is part 2 of 11 in the Imagining the Holocaust series.