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Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel famously wrote, “There may be times

when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to

protest.” His contention was that more important than the prevention of criminal injustice was

the ability and willingness to protest. Far from our modern era of technology and instant

communication, the events of what would come to be known as the Holocaust were shrouded in

mystery and deception. The Jewish people were discriminated against, in sometimes violent

moderation, by German authorities for almost a decade with virtually no assistance from

neighboring nations. Arguably one of the most significant lessons to be learned from the

Holocaust tragedy is the significance of magnanimous intervention. From being confined to

impoverished ghettos prior to their transportation to concentration camps, to their ultimate fate at

the hands of Nazi authorities, the Jewish population of Germany was subjected to one of the

worst periods of ethnic cleansing in human history.

Hitler speaking at a beer hall in Munich.

In 1920, Hitler was named the head of propaganda for the German Workers’ Party (DAP)

and his perspective and ideology began to change the direction of the party. It was not long until

the DAP decided to add the words “National Socialist” to its name and was then on more

commonly referred to as the Nazi Party. Hitler began lecturing at the beer halls of Munich and

his speeches were already being investigated and recorded by the German police force. It was
during these lectures and subsequent meetings that Hitler’s fierce denouncement of Judaism

became clear to the public. The failure of Germany’s central government to protect its own

supremacy and reputation greatly angered Hitler. His anti-Semitic attitude and the incendiary

tone of his revolutionary speeches gave hope and motivation for a subjugated working class

population. The idea of overthrowing the government came to fruition in the form the “Beer

Hall Putsch”. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s famous March on Rome was a guideline for the

coup d’état. Several of the Weimar Republic’s leader were attending a speech in a popular

Munich beer hall when Hitler and 600 members of the Storm Detachment (SA) encircled the

building to prevent anyone from escaping. Ultimately, however, the putsch came dwindled to an

anti-climactic halt; despite their organization, they made no real progress to overthrowing the

government and Hitler eventually tried to flee from the beer hall. In the days following, Hitler

was arrested and charged with high treason. The Nazi Party’s paper, The People’s Observer, was

subsequently banned following a raid of the Nazi headquarters. While all of this seemed like

definite failure, Hitler only seemed to notice its potential for notoriety and propaganda, so he

used his time in the courtroom to spread his ideologies to the general public. Not only was his

message published in every major German newspaper, but he continuously impressed the

courtroom and judges enough to reduce his sentence to a mere eight months.

Being imprisoned did not slow Hitler’s efforts down. A few years after his release, the

Nazi Party had become the second-largest party in Germany, soon to be the largest. Despite

losing a majority of seats in Reichstag in 1932, the Nazi Party continued to be the most popular

party in Germany. President Hindenburg held Hitler in relatively high regard and eventually

appointed him Chancellor of a coalition government. The severity of the action would be

realized soon after when the organized destruction of the Reichstag would lead to Hitler’s
granting of dictatorial emergency power. Shortly thereafter, the Enabling Act would be passed

which consolidated lawmaking power to the Nazi Party. It is this act which identifies a sort of

beginning of the end for civilized existence among the Jewish population of Germany.

The German Gestapo in action.

The official secret police of the Nazi Party was the Gestapo. A law was passed in 1936

that approved of the Gestapo’s ability to operate without fear of criminal penalty or judicial

regulation. Political prisoners would often disappear under the watch of the Gestapo. Among

the various laws passed with the intention of aiding the Gestapo, an important one was the ability

create and operate concentration camps. The Gestapo would play a tremendous role in the

persecution and eventual attempted extermination of the Jewish people. The Gestapo were also a

key factor in the enforcement of the Nuremberg Laws that would begin to systematically remove

peoples of Jewish heritage from German society. Something that began as a Nazi-backed

boycott of Jewish businesses escalated to deprivation of basic human rights and the eventual

genocide of more than six million human beings. The anti-Semitic campaign carried out by

Hitler and the Nazi Party wasn’t strictly limited to Germany. As British historian Martin Gilbert

recounts in his book The Holocaust: a history of the Jews of Europe during the Second World

The year 1936 saw outbreaks of anti-Jewish activity in several states beyond the

borders of Germany. In Rumania, in the city of Timisoara, members of

the Iron Guard organization attacked the audience at a Jewish theatre: a

bomb was thrown, and two Jews were killed. Elsewhere in Rumania, anti-

Jewish riots broke out, including Kishinev, scene of one of the worst pogroms in

Tsarist times, and in Bucharest, the Rumanian capital. In Lithuania, in an

attempt to establish restrictions on the percentage of Jewish students, not a

single Jewish medical student was given a place in the medical faculty of

Kovno University.

The restrictions placed ranged from first denying Jewish citizens the right to hold public office

and the ability to vote, to ruling it mandatory to wear a yellow badge in an attempt to more easily

distinguish between the Jews and other German citizens. As the Nazi empire grew, these laws

were expounded and ordered to apply to all the neighboring countries that Hitler’s regime would

gain control over.

A prisoner reenacts a torture pose in the

Dachau concentration camp.
Dachau was home to the first of many concentration camps to be employed by the Nazi

Party. When the Nazis initially took over Dachau, local businessmen were optimistic about the

positive impact that a concentration camp in their town would create. Despite the support of the

financial sector, the turnaround expected never arrived; Dachau continued to have the lowest per

capita revenue of all Bavaria and a investigation revealed that their situation was calamitous.

The German public generally believed in the prospect of concentration camps and the camps

themselves presented as “clean” through constant inspection and maintenance overseen by

Theodor Eicke. The entire system of concentration camps saw a tremendous turn in usefulness

and activity following the “Night of Broken Glass” on June 30, 1934.

Jews being arrested as a result of the “Night of Broken


The “Night of Broken Glass” was a calculated ransacking of Jewish homes and

businesses. It resulted in the death of ninety-one Jews and the imprisonment and shipment of

30,000 more to concentration camps. After Hitler’s induction as chancellor and then dictator of

Germany, the Nazi Party continuously attempted to frame, with much success, the Jewish

population as the source for most or all of the problems of the German people. Jews were named

by common Nazi propaganda as the dominant reason for Germany’s loss in World War I and the

succeeding collapse of its economic system. The actual events were launched after the

assassination of Germany embassy official Ernst Vom Roth by a young Polish Jew named
Herschel Grynszpan. Many historians, however, have indicated that the Nazi Party had been

planning a systematic attack against Jewish citizens for sometimes and were merely waiting for

some kind of event such as Vom Roth’s assassination to justify their violent actions. The actions

were carried out by a series of strategically located riots. Jewish synagogues and businesses

were destroyed as their owners and patrons were mostly imprisoned or sometimes killed.

Site of the 1942 Wannsee Conference.

The Nazi leadership began to consider a “solution” to the “Jewish question” following a

then-successful invasion of the Soviet Union. Their ultimate idea was to remove all of the

remaining current Jewish citizens entirely from Germany and have them sent to concentration

camps, which were now in abundance. When the outlook of Germany’s war with the Soviet

Union turned from a concise invasion to an enduring war, the evacuation of the Jews was

abandoned and their extermination was decided. The German empire had become too large for

their food stocks and this greatly factored in the decision to exterminate an entire race of people.

The logistical challenges of transported the estimated 11,000,000 Jews required careful planning.

Despite the seemingly clear nature of the Nazi Party’s intentions, a majority of soldiers were

initially unclear of the ultimate direction. English historian Mark Roseman briefly describes how

this could be possible:

Whatever instructions the group and local commanders had initially received,

therefore, had been susceptible to narrower or broader interpretation. This

suggests that the initial orders were not clearly genocidal but that their

definition of the Jewish elite was so loose that I t enabled something quite

close to genocide—namely, the elimination of all Jewish men of

working age. Once killings on that scale had been carried out, it often seemed

but a small step to widen the scope of murder. The widows and children of

the murdered men did not look like an economically viable community,

particularly in view of the intensifying food shortages.

While this certainly does not alleviate any of those soldiers of responsibility, it certainly helps to

provide insight into answering the question of how something so atrocious and malicious could

be carried out in what was thought of as a civilized society.

Jews lined up against a wall in the Warsaw ghetto.

Before their inevitable deportation to concentration camps, Jews were rounded up and

herded into neighborhood known as “ghettos”. A wall would be constructed surrounding the

ghettos that would be topped with barbed wire to not only keep the Jews inside, but it also

concealed the atrocities from the rest of the world. Disease and starvation became rampant and

excruciatingly common among the inhabitants of the ghettos. With nowhere to bury the dead,
bodies would be dragged and carried into the streets and left to decompose in the open. Despite

immense hardships, however, the resilience of the Jewish community could be measured in their

persistence to create orphanages, makeshift hospitals, and, albeit illegally, educate children in

schools disguised as soup kitchens. While their conditions would never truly improve, the

resistance of their spirit against the most tyrannical and disastrous of scenarios was astounding.

A famous picture taken during the destruction of the

Warsaw Ghetto, following the uprising.

Although the Jewish people are well known for their seemingly passive resistance to the

Nazi regime, to say they went quietly would be misleading. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was

the single largest revolt performed by the Jews during the Holocaust. Small weapons would be

smuggled into the ghetto that allowed them to perform an attempt at salvation. It was ultimately

unsuccessful, resulting in 13,000 casualties from fighting, and several thousands more who died

from smoke inhalation or being burnt alive. They had support on the outside of the ghetto, but

their lack of sophisticated weaponry was too great, despite a small number of German