There is no doubt that speaking about the most notorious cases of genocide in the world’s history one will probably name the Holocaust as the most horrible one. Prior to this, the world has never experienced such kind of mass murder without any particular purpose. Hitler’s personal attitude towards Jews has turned the extermination of Jews into the national idea which was supported by the state’s police and military forces. Consequently, millions of people were deprived of life in the concentration and death camps. The Holocaust proceeded step by step, starting from the lesser acts and developing into the more atrocious ones. All these measures were determined by the Nazi policy towards Jews of Germany and Europe between 1938 and 1945.
Before Hitler’s seizure of power, Jews were treated as an equal part of the German population. In 1933, there were nearly 530,000 Jews in Germany, including 100,000 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. According to Nicosia, Jewish community included less than one present of the total German population and inhabited primarily large cities. In spite of the severe persecution in medieval times and frequent deportations, Jews have considerably contributed to the development of modern Germany. After the establishment of universal legal equality under the Weimar constitution in 1919, Jews have assimilated into German society and considered Germany their homeland. Taking into consideration the active persecution of Jewish population in Russia and Eastern Europe, the majority of Jews in Germany thought that their position was rather favorable. A lot of German Jews defended their country during the great war and frequently served as volunteers. Therefore, the German state has initially provided favorable conditions for the Jewish population.
Obviously, the personality of Adolf Hitler has played a dominant role in the history of Holocaust. More than any other person, he has influenced German social and political movement. Being the all-powerful leader, Hitler possessed a hatred and preoccupation with Jews that had pathological nature. His ideology consisted of all possible kinds of accusations against Jews with the exception of Christian antisemitism. From this point of view, Hitler can be described as anti-Christian. He declared that Jews represented a separate race rather than a religious and an ethnic group and stated that Jews use their religion as a justification of their impious racial, political, and economic objectives. The reasons for the development of these suggestions are still open to question. It is controversial whether Hitler and the Nazi leaders have planned the mass extermination of Jews before their coming to power. If so, it is not clear whether they laid the groundwork to carry out this plan during the 1930s. The affirmation of this suggestion lies in Hitler’s work “Mein Kampf”, where he described Jews as bacteria that had to be exterminated. All in all, it is obvious that millions of people had to die not for some historical reason but simply because of the delusions of a single individual.
By the end of 1935, Jews in Germany were deprived of many social services offered by the state. They were no longer permitted to be engaged in the cultural and recreational life of German society. Since the majority of institutions were sponsored by the state, the Jewish population had to rely mostly on its private cultural, educational, and social welfare establishments. In addition, they could depend exclusively on financial support from overseas Jewish organizations. Up to 1938, the Nazi regime was unwilling to affect the Jewish position in the German economy. Under the constant pressure of organized anti-Jewish boycotts, Jewish businesses were generally permitted to operate. However, by 1938, the end of German economic crisis allowed Hitler to implement measures against Jews with the purpose to eliminate the Jewish participation in the economy which can lead to their consequent emigration. According to the “Decree Regarding Registration of Jewish Property” which was adopted on 26 April 1938, Jews had to register all their property in Germany and abroad with a value of more than RM 5,000. This step preceded the “Law for the Elimination of Jews from the Economic Life of Germany” of 12 November, which presupposed the closure of all Jewish businesses by 1 January 1939. Thus, Hitler’s repressive measures against Jews have led to the total loss of their social equality with the German population.
Through 1938, Jewish population suffered oppression in the form of arrests and deportations to concentration camps. In October, the Nazi regime has affected nearly 15,000 of Polish-born Jews who lived in Germany for 10, 20, or even more years. Due to the announcement of the Polish Government, all Jews who had resided more than five years outside Poland would have their passports revoked. In its turn, the German state refused to provide the residence for this group of Jews. Therefore, these people had to leave their homes in Germany and were forced over the German-Polish border at gun point. The dreadful conditions provided for them served as an impulse for a member of one of these families, a young man named Herszel Grynszpan, to shoot a German diplomat in Paris. This murder has led to the beginning of the Nazi’s campaign of terror against all the Jews living in Germany.
The turning point from social measures to active persecution was the night pogrom that has led to the death of many Jews and the destruction of their property. On 9 November 1938, during the notorious Kristallnacht or “night of broken glass”, 101 synagogues were set on fire, 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were plundered, and Jews were beaten up in the streets. Gilbert states that in the next morning, 91 Jews were found dead. As a result, the Jews were made responsible for all of the consequences of the pogrom and the regime has fined the Jewish community a one billion Mark. Moreover, nearly 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps. In general, the total number of Jews in the camps has made more than 60,000. A lot of them died of ill treatment, including 244 at Buchenwald alone during the first month of their imprisonment. According to Gilbert, hundreds more committed suicide as a result of the harsh conditions and the brutality of the guards. After these events, probably all German Jews considered that the emigration is the best way to survive. There is no doubt that all of them would have left Germany if they had found any other country willing to accept them. Even so, some Jews with financial capital and contacts abroad had a chance to get passports that gave them the possibility to emigrate until the prohibition of emigration in the fall of 1941. All in all, it was only the beginning of Jewish persecution on the territory of Germany.
Following the Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime accelerated anti-Jewish measures due to the Germany’s involvement in the forthcoming war. In the late 1938 and 1939, Jewish communities lost their official position as corporations under public law, the majority of official Jewish organizations were dismissed, and almost all Jewish newspapers were banned. In spite of the functioning of religious and cultural organizations on a private basis, the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland which was officially established in September 1933 as a representative of the major Jewish organizations in relation to the Nazi state, was abolished. In February 1939, this organization was replaced with the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland, a separate unit that represented all German Jews under the control of the SS. Its principal duties included the management of Jewish welfare efforts and the adjustment of the SS-directed Jewish intention to emigrate from Germany. Thus, the Jewish population was deprived of many social rights and lived under the constant pressure of the Nazi regime.
On the initiative of American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an international conference was called to confer about the Jewish refugees’ issue. The representatives of the 32 countries assembled on 6-15 July 1938 at Evian-sur-Bains, France. In the course of the meeting, they refused to adjust immigration laws to increase the number of immigrants and did not pass a resolution that was supposed to condemn Germany’s hostile attitude towards Jews. Rupprecht states that only Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden have eventually accepted some transports of Jewish children. Thus, the world did not reprove and restrain the Germany’s repressive measures against the Jewish population.
Regardless of the active persecution of Jews after Kristallnacht, genocide became state policy only after the Second World War. Since the possibility to escape was almost impossible, only those Jews who were married to Aryans were more likely to survive. This statement can be confirmed by the fact that only one percent of the German Jews who did not emigrate were not in mixed marriages. According to Rupprecht, those Jews who decided to stay in Germany but needed to hide were named “submarines” since they were forced to remain outside of the normal life. Only a quarter of them survived, and the majority of these people were women. The beginning of war in Europe in September 1939 gave Hitler a chance to reach the demographic transformation of the world which, according to his belief, depended on the annihilation of those people he considered to be “life unworthy of life”. Rupprecht mentions that until1940, the majority of Germans considered the forced emigration of Jews to be the final goal of the German state. The Second World War provided favorable conditions for the implementation of the Holocaust due to a couple of reasons. Namely, the Jewish population was less capable of escaping from Hitler’s persecution, and German military achievements brought more than ninety percent of non-German Jewish victims under National Socialist control. Thus, Hitler used this critical military situation as a basis for the development of a sophisticated program of mass murder and supplied it with millions of victims.
Soon after the beginning of war in 1939, the Jewish population in Poland faced the sudden outbreaks of Nazi violence. According to Rupprecht, the special units of the SS huddled the groups of these people and shot them in ditches. By 1940, the Nazis started using much more sophisticated techniques of mass murder, including mobile killing vans that underwent development and testing in the east. These death vans were made of ordinary trucks that were equipped with the bags of carbon monoxide in the engine back that were emitted into the cargo area. However, these vehicles were not capable of handling millions of murders due to the long time they took to kill and waste of gasoline caused by the necessity to drive until all of the victims were dead. Moreover, this form of execution was too emotionally challenging for those Germans who needed to carry them out. Therefore, there existed the special SS units named Einsatzgruppen complemented with police battalions that were ordered to kill all Hitler’s racial and political enemies, including Jews, Gypsies, officials of the Soviet state and the Communist party and patients in facilities for the mentally and physically disabled. In alliance with the police, these units killed several hundred thousand Jews and others by shooting them in the second half of 1941. Therefore, the German army assisted in the numerous murders of Jews and other ethnic and social groups.
There is no doubt that the directive to “purify” Europe by annihilating Jews has led to the most horrific case of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century. On July 31, 1941, Hermann Göring has sent a directive to Reinhard Heydrich charging him with the preparation of a solution to the Jewish question. As the head of the Reich security main office, Heydrich started the process of deportation of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Bohemia to the ghettos in Poland. All German ghettos represented enormously brutal urban prisons the rules of which permitted the prisoners to take 50 kilos of luggage and 100 German Marks. However, after 1942, Jews were no longer sent to ghettos but were destined for the extermination or death camps established to kill the enemies of national socialism. Subsequently, the fall of 1941was marked by the final mass deportation of German Jews. Instead of being resettled in the East, these people were carried to the death camps. After this, those people were arranged in groups by the camp medical practitioner. Too young and too old Jews were instantly killed whereas healthy adults had to work almost to death and were very poorly fed. Only the ones who possessed special skills, being the physicians, accountants, cobblers, and musician, had a small opportunity to stay alive. As much as possible, the Nazis used prisoners who were soon supposed to die to perform extremely dirty jobs, including the work in the crematoria and gathering the victims’ eyeglasses, hair, and shoes. Many scholars suggest that by killing Jewish women and children, the Third Reich was taking proactive steps to make a Jewish future in Europe impossible. Planning to annihilate all Jews throughout the world, Hitler has turned genocide into the industrial process of mass murder.
To sum up, the Holocaust has become one of the most tragic pages in the world’s history. Millions of people had to die to satisfy the ambitions of a single person who considered them to be not worth living. Before Hitler’s coming to power, Jews had the equal rights with the rest of the German population and participated in the cultural and social life of the state. However, his desire to annihilate all Jews resulted in the development of a sophisticated program of mass murder without any possibility to escape. First of all, Jews were deprived of their social rights and the ability to reside in Germany. Moreover, the majority of the countries refused to protect their rights and to accept them as well. As a result, millions of Jews were sent to concentration and death camps, where they were either immediately shot or forced to work almost to death. These events have significantly influenced the world’s history and have become the most horrific example of genocide at all times.