The Treaty of Versailles did not treat Germany well, and made the country pay great amounts of money in reparation. Soon after this, the Great Depression (Wall Street Crash) of October 1929 led to the huge unemployment levels of which over 6 million were victim to during 1930 and 1933. It was a hard time in German history, a time of shame and humiliation of a ruined country after the defeat of a war. Germany was in chaos and crisis, and the German people were looking for a strong political leader in times where there were so many political parties and weak politicians. These weaknesses and vulnerabilities were well exploited and used the advantage of the Nazi party, who had formed between 1919 and 1924. From joining and later becoming the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, he became of figure of authority and formed him own party, the Nazi party. He combined nationalism, anti- capitalism and anti- Semitism into a political ideology that was very popular with people who had suffered from the Depression.
These people needed a strong leader with simple manifesto- elimination of the Jews. He believed that the war was lost due to the Jewish Socialists, Liberalists and Pacifists. He thought that because of this they needed to be removed from society and he was the dictator to do it.
He had a picture in his mind of what the “perfect” society should be like- the Aryan Master Race. Pure bread Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes could be part of it and the Nazis created a historical myth to support why it must be conformed to. Legend had it that the Aryans were a supposedly superior and cultured race and propaganda was used to encourage mothers to choose husbands of only the correct genetic characteristics so they could have children who could conform to this ideology. The young Aryans also fell victim to propagandism. They were forced to go to an “Aryan-only” school and were then taught how to discriminate against those who were not like them (this included Gypsies, homosexuals, Russian POWs, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc as well as Jews, although that’s what they focused on). They were also taught how to recognize a Jew and were told that they were “dubious and untrustworthy”.
Children’s books were written warning Aryans of Jews and in one book were given the message that Jews were like poisonous mushrooms; they had to be plucked out (from society) and disposed of.
The Nazi Party gained won the election and gained power on March 5th 1933. From this time onwards they took total control of Germany and during the spring and summer all other political parties that may previously have been a threat were now dealt of, and many other way of keeping conformity were enforced; strikes were banned and all trade unions were abolished and replaced by a government-and employer- controlled labour front. These and other things were put into place so everyone could be more easily controlled and dealt with, and rebellion would not be tolerated.
It was not just the regular citizens of Germany that suffered under the Nazis wrath. The Police were also slowly restricted and taken over. Under the dictatorship of Heinrich Himmler, the SS (protection squad) and SA (Storm troops) (both of these groups were Nazi-only) gradually took over many functions and responsibilities of the police; one of the main ones was the Gestapo. They also took over the running of concentrations camps- which served as a convenient place to “dispose” of the members of other political parties (at this point the concentration camps contained mostly political prisoners).
By May 1933, mass booking burnings were taking place and scientists, scholars, artists and poets were arrested and sent to concentration camps for non-existent crimes.
Little by little, Jewish people were forced to sign over their property and give up their jobs. IN 1938 they were forced to register their property and Jewish communal bodies were put under the control of the Gestapo. By the end of the years a great attack against the Jews was organized- Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”) took place over November 8-9. This huge event was another landmark in the elimination and discrimination of the Jews. During Kristallnacht 1000 synagogues were burnt, 300 Jews were killed and 30 000 Jews were rounded up and incarcerated.
Quickly the Jews realized that Germany really wasn’t a safe place to stay and live so many tried to emigrate. By the end of 1938 120 00 had escaped but it was hard to do so and had to leave many more behind to face what was going to happen.
By September 1939 World War Two had began when Germany invaded Poland. When Hitler had designed and constructed a labour camp a huge work program was introduced and Jews who lived in invaded towns were robbed of their possessions, religious morals and dignity. Jews who were forced to go to the work camps rarely came back alive and if they were “lucky” enough to survive they were beaten, starved, kept in appalling conditions and forced to work themselves into illness and disease.
“The Jewish Problem” and “Jewish Question” was continually talked about and an office was set up under the direction of Adolf Eichmann- the infamous Bureau IV B 4. The name used for the ultimate killing action was “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. This caused horrific results with mostly Jews being targeted.
There are thousands of captured documents dealing with these killing actions. Most of them deal with Jews and there are almost no documents talking about other groups of non-Jews. The Einsatzgruppen reports separating victims into their segregations to be shot, going so far as to break down the Jews by age and gender.
Elsewhere, Ghettos were set up in Poland, one of the most famous of which is Warsaw. The Ghettos were walled-off parts of the city that only Jewish people lived in, and were forced to move there taking none of their personal possessions, only the things they could carry and were made to move in with other Jews in very cramped, unpleasant conditions. As if the Jews were not segregated off enough, they were made to wear the Star of David- the Magen David so they could be instantly recognized as a Jew by others, and this made it easier for the Germans to keep them in their place. All of this was just another elaborate method of segregation and keeping the Jews away from the Germans.
The conditions were highly unpleasant- almost as bad as those found in the concentration camps. Disease and illness was everywhere, the dead littered the streets and those who did not die from disease starved to death. In the Warsaw Ghetto food was kept to a very strict rationing system.
2300 for the Germans
900 for the Polish people
183 for the Jews
As you can see, the Jews did not stand a chance to live on these pathetic rations and hundreds of people died from starvation, taking weeks to die until their body shut down and they died in the street, lying in the same position until rigor mortis set in and the body was finally disposed of days later. The upkeep of these Ghettos proved too much of a burden however, and some places e.g. Berlin wanted “The Jewish Problem” solved. This was done by sending the Jews out of the Ghettos into the labour camps, where they were systematically killed. More often than not the Jews weren’t even taken to the Death camps before drawing their terminal breath. Many were taken out of towns and were shot dead, after having to dig their own mass-graves and standing on the edge so that when they were shot they conveniently fell into their own pre-dug graves so the Germans wouldn’t have to do it.
Some may say that dying this way would be far more preferable than the alternative- the Concentration Camps (the most famous of which is Auschwitz)
. Here, the Jews were divided into men and women, then the sick and the healthy.
If German doctors pronounced you healthy, you were forced to go and work in the labour camp area. Here you could look forward to horrific conditions, little to no food, extremely cramped living conditions ( there was only space for 5 people per toilet and not enough bed for everyone to sleep in at night even if they were sharing with up to as many as they could fit in a bed).
In the labour camps prisoners were forced to work as many hours as they were given, there was no work maximum here and many people died during work from exhaustion and starvation.
If the doctors however said that you were too unhealthy to work (sometimes from the horrendous conditions from the transportation in the cattle trucks that brought them to the concentration camps) then they went immediately to the gas chambers.
Before they were killed, they were stripped of all personal belongings that could be somehow made of use. This included suitcases, clothes, shoes, and jewelry, hair and gold teeth. Hair was taken so it could be used as insulation in war submarines.
The Jews were then taken and forced into the gas chambers, where Zyklon B gas (it was actually rat poison) was pumped in and they prisoners were executed on mass with ease. It took on average 10 minutes for them to die. When all were lying on the floor and presumed dead they were then taken to be cremated. 6000000 Jews were executed by the end of the Holocaust.
At the end of World War Two, 1945, the concentration camps were liberated and by prisoners were set free, those who survived would be mentally and physically scarred for life, but they would have a bone chilling story to tell the Grandchildren in years to come.