There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds. When I look back at my school days, I can only recall a grotesque impression of Jews, nothing positive about them, and I am afraid after four decades it hasn’t change much. Religious hate and bigotry has been immensely increased against minorities in different parts of the world.
Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
― Yehuda Bauer
The Holocaust is more than a warning from the past. A phantom of the Jews haunted Europe in the 1930s. Concurrently feared and despised as a Christ killer, a devil, subversive revolutionary and capitalist exploiter, callous upholder of an antiquated religion and insidious exponent of cultural modernism. Increasingly excluded from normal society and expelled from common human fellowship, the Jew was a subhuman, eventually almost everywhere a haunted beast.
Some Christians often blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. But this blame should probably be limited to the Jewish religious leaders, who had managed to keep some of their power by cooperating with the Romans. Crucifixion was a Roman method of punishment, and it is a basic fact that Roman soldiers, not Jews, put Jesus on the cross. A compromise view is that, Jewish leaders and Romans, played major roles, but only Jews paid the price.
In the 1920s the European Jews had presented the appearance of a vibrant and flourishing people. For the first time in their history they were recognised as citizens in every country they lived. However within the short space of two decades a dramatic change transformed. By 1939, two years before the Nazi decision to commit genocide, Jews had been deprived of civil rights and were in the process of being turned into outcasts. The great masses of Jews in east-central Europe were sunk in dire poverty. Whether in the Poland, Germany, France or USSR, Jews sincerely protested their loyalty to states of which they were citizens. Confronted by violent enmity, they embarked on a road toward collective oblivion that appeared to be the price of individual survival. Jewish culture was in retreat, as a result. Religious practice was decreasing and the orthodox, in particular, felt embattled and threatened. The cultural glue that had long bound Jews together was losing its cohesive power. The European Jews in the 1930s were actors in their own history.
By January 1939 more and more Jews in Europe were being reduced to wandering refugees. All over the continent, Jews were evicted from their homes and forced to live in camps. Growing numbers were confined in concentration camps, not just in Germany but in France and Netherlands too. The expulsion fever spread to Southeast Europe. Yugoslavia started deporting Jewish refugees who had arrived from Germany and Italy. At the end of April the Bulgarian and Romanian governments ordered the expultion of alien Jews. In Western Europe too, refugees were confined to camps. From there to mass murder was not an inevitable step.
Hitler explicitly stated in his September 1919 letter that, the Jews are definitely a race and not a religious community. This was fundamental to his anti-Semitic belief. Despite a desperate search to identify a test for Jewish blood, the Nazis never managed to find a scientific way of telling whether or not an individual was a member of the Jewish race or not. As a result, once the Nazis started to prosecute and eventually exterminate Jews, they had to rely on a Jewishness test that was religious. The primacy of race in human history was so central to Hitler’s world view that he would never let the small matter of science get in the way of his belief. The idea that racial hygiene was central to the health of a nation that the Jews were a racial threat to Aryan people, added a potentially catastrophic element to the anti-Semitic brew. Traditional anti-Semitism had been based on religion. If the Jews converted to Christianity then they had a chance of escaping persecution. But the idea that Jewishness was something inherent in an individual, in the blood.
The invasion of Austria and the subsequent union of the country with Germany was a success for Hitler’s regime. Hitler’s self confidence rose in the wake of the Nazi conquest of Austria.
Hitler claimed that his existence was part of a supernatural plan, whoever believes in God must admit: when the fate of a people is altered within three days, then this is divine judgement, and that since God had now decreed that Germany and Austria should be united then, what the Lord has joined together, let no man divide.
Around 37,000 German Jews left Germany in 1933. Many of them went to neighbouring France or The Netherlands. The action against the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto was one of the most atrocious of all the horrors of the Holocaust. Almost all of the Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were sent to the death camp at Treblinka. By June 1942, the first death factories of the Holocaust were in place, and the Nazis had created a method of killing that allowed them to murder in considerable numbers. This specialised death camp was the largest and most deadly. Around 850,000 people were murdered here between summer of 1942 and autumn 1943, around a quarter of a million of them from Warsaw ghetto. The Schutzstaffel, known as SS was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler achieved this killing because Treblinka had been built with a railway spur leading directly into the camp. The SS were able to speed up the unloading of the Jews and their transportation to the gas chambers. An obvious precondition for the deception was that the presence of large numbers of dead bodies was hidden from the arriving Jews. The killing appeared to progress efficiently for SS, with about 5,000 to 7,000 Jews murdered each day.
I wanted to post the picture of Dr Fritz Klein who was a German Nazi doctor and war criminal, standing in a mass grave surrounded by corpses around him, but couldn’t. He was hanged for his role in atrocities at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust. When asked how he reconciled his actions with his ethical obligations as a physician, Klein famously stated:
My Hippocratic Oath tells me to cut a gangrenous appendix out of the human body. The Jews are the gangrenous appendix of mankind. That’s why I cut them out.
On July 11,1944 Sir Winston Churchill wrote: There is no doubt that this is probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world, and it has been done by scientific machinery by nominally civilized men in the name of a great State and one of the leading races of Europe. Declarations should be made in public, so that everyone connected with it will be hunted down and put to death.
But words of outrage and threat on their own didn’t directly help the Jews who were dying in AUSCHWITZ.