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The History of the Holocaust

The History of the Holocaust

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The History of the Holocaust

101 pagine
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Jun 15, 2015


For 12 long years between 1933 until 1945, the inhuman Nazi regime in Germany waged a brutal, pitiless war on groups of people whom they considered inferior. Jews, Roma, Slavs, the disabled and homosexuals, as well as political opponents and religious enemies, were among the victims of what would become known as the Holocaust. Jews, whom the Nazis believed had been the authors of their country's downfall, were particular targets.

At first through discrimination and persecution but later through violence, enslavement and mass murder, Hitler's henchmen and women carried out a merciless attempt to exterminate an entire people. Mobile squads of killers roamed eastern Europe seeking out their prey. Then, in a grisly attempt to industrialise the process of genocide, the Nazis opened up their death camps. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children passed through the gates of camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. Hundreds of thousands never came out. The first of the death camps was liberated in 1944 and the unimaginable truth of the atrocities of the Holocaust began to emerge in 1945. But it was not until the 1960s that the scale and meaning of the years of murder began to be truly appreciated in the western world.

Seventy years on from the liberation, it is time to reassess one of the most infamous episodes in mankind's history.

Jun 15, 2015

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The History of the Holocaust - Pat Morgan



From 1933 until 1945, the Nazi regime in Germany waged a brutal war on groups of people whom they considered inferior – among them Jews, Roma, Slavs and the disabled – and on political opponents and religious enemies. Jews, whom the Nazis believed were the creators of their country’s downfall, were particular targets. At first through discrimination and persecution but later through violence, enslavement and mass murder, the Nazis carried out a pitiless attempt to eradicate an entire people.

The word Holocaust stems from classical Greek, in which it meant literally ‘wholly burnt’, and the word was later used to signify a sacrifice by fire. Perhaps a better description of the attempted liquidation of the Jews and others lies in the Hebrew word Shoah: calamity or destruction. Whichever term you prefer, they both adequately convey the emotional impact of the tragedy.

Although the Holocaust was ended in 1945, it was not until the early 1960s that the scale and meaning of the years of murder began to be truly appreciated in the western world. After World War II, it seemed to the European peoples that the reconstruction of their shattered countries was more important than chasing after the perpetrators of genocide; and the existence of the Cold War meant that much documentation of the Holocaust lay hidden behind the Iron Curtain.

In the early 1960s, two events occurred that led to many a historian embarking on a mission to uncover the true history of the Holocaust: in 1960 a principal player in the genocide, SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, was abducted by Mossad agents in Argentina and put on trial in Israel; and in 1961 an art historian, Gerald Reitlinger, published his book The ‘Final Solution’: the Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe. Eichmann’s trial (he was executed in Israel in 1962) and Reitlinger’s book served to focus historians’ attention on the Holocaust, and the whole truth started to trickle out.

Over time, the trickle became a flood and today anyone who wishes to study the course of the Holocaust, its causes and its effects has a vast range of resources at his or her disposal. This book contributes in a very small way to those resources.

Readers who want to arrive at a better understanding of the events of the Holocaust must have some knowledge of the history of the persecution of the Jewish people in Europe and elsewhere. That history dates back two thousand years to the time of Jesus Christ and the Roman Empire, and has been marked by countless attempts to ‘punish’ the Jews for perceived defects and misdeeds. There must be an understanding, too, of Germany in the decades leading up to World War II: of how the perverted, racist ideology of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to the fore; of how and why Germany accepted that ideology and those men. Maybe, once the reader has studied a little of the precedents of the Holocaust, he or she will be able to comprehend the enormity of its atrocities.

Aharon Appelfeld is a distinguished Israeli novelist who emigrated to Palestine in 1946 and has lived in Israel ever since. Born in what is now Ukraine in 1932, he was eight years old when his mother was killed by invading Nazi forces and he was deported with his father to a concentration camp.

Appelfeld escaped from the camp and survived the Holocaust. He says: The Holocaust is a central event in many people’s lives, but it also has become a metaphor for our century. There cannot be an end to speaking and writing about it.

Sure enough, there never will be an end to speaking and writing about the Holocaust.

Chapter 1

The background to genocide

If you want to arrive at some kind of understanding of the cruel minds that conceived and carried out the most appalling and infamous acts of genocide of the twentieth century, you need to delve way back in history.

Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, it is true, were unique products of twisted political thinking, of unnatural hatred and of ideas born in minds that were diseased and cynically manipulated. They were also unique in their savage desire to rid a continent of an entire people. But they were far from unique in their antipathy towards the Jewish race, as the history of many centuries shows very clearly.

The sheer, terrible scale of the mass murders of the Holocaust is unrivalled, as we must hope it always will be. The idea that killing Jews was justified is, however, almost as old as the story of Jesus Christ.

The Jews have long been vilified by some of the more stupid elements of Christendom as the killers of Jesus, the man they did not accept as the Messiah. And a few short years after the death of Christ, in the first and second centuries AD, the ruthless Roman Empire overcame a series of uprisings by the Jewish people in Israel to send them on many lifetimes of wandering throughout Europe and elsewhere. The Jews had become a stateless people and the Jewish Diaspora – the scattering of a people – had begun.

The Jews were made truly welcome in very few places, for all too often Christian people regarded them as the enemies of Christ. Indeed, all too often the Christian people of Europe took it upon themselves to persecute, demonise and murder their Jewish visitors. Preceding Hitler by seven hundred years, massacres took place in English cities in the 13th century. Even before then, German Crusaders on their way to reclaim the Holy Land had stopped off on the way to murder Jews, blaming them for the death of Christ.

The centuries that followed were marked by relentless discrimination and persecution. Jews gained unenviable reputations as cruel moneylenders – Catholics were forbidden by their Church to lend money with interest and Shakespeare’s Shylock character in The Merchant of Venice would have been a familiar caricature to Elizabethan audiences. In a rabidly anti-Semitic society, Jews were portrayed as evil, grasping and wily.

Even when the Reformation began to offer Christians alternatives to the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, its leading light, Martin Luther, made it clear that he saw the Jews as blasphemers and liars, and indicated that they should be converted to Christianity. Know, Christian, wrote Luther, that next to the devil you have no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.

Hitler and his Nazi cronies were influenced by all this anti-Semitic feeling and action, and they would have been well aware of events in nineteenth and twentieth century Russia that saw the persecution of Jews apparently endorsed by the state. The Tsars of that time actively encouraged attacks on Jewish populations, and the word ‘pogrom’ began to be widely known. Derived from a Russian word that means ‘destroy by the use of violence’, pogrom describes massacres inflicted on the Jews by peoples who enthusiastically accepted the centuries-old prejudices and received the support of their leaders.

Russia at that time was a hotbed of anti-Semitism. An atrocious massacre took place, with the authorities merely looking on, in Kishinev in 1903, while anti-Jewish feeling reached new peaks of hostility during the Beilis affair of 1913, in which a Ukrainian Jew was accused of the ritual murder of a 13-year-old boy in Kiev.

Some observers believe the Tsarist regime in Russia had already been responsible for an act of anti-Semitism that had plumbed new lows: the publication in 1903 of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This fraudulent publication, which was

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