Nazis portrayed the Jews
The Nazis portrayed the Jews as inferiors and as a threat to the purity of the Aryan race. As a result, Jews were attacked, persecuted, incarcerated, and killed. Following the onset of World War II, and the initial success of Germany's military campaigns, plans were conceived by the Nazi hierarchy for a 'final solution' designed to carry out the systematic destruction of Jews. By the war's end, the murder of Jews accounted for six million deaths from the estimated eleven million people who perished as a result of Nazi atrocities, with other minorities, such as the disabled, Roma peoples, homosexuals, and Soviet prisoners representing the other victims of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust, which involved the systematic murder of over six million European Jews, was one of the most momentous events of the twentieth century. It is also-given the unprecedented extent of the horror-one of the most difficult for historians and other scholars to comprehend. Concern has often been expressed that historical exposition is an inadequate tool to convey the appalling character of the Nazi regime in general and of the Final Solution (the decision to physically exterminate European Jewry) in particular.
While the term 'Holocaust' refers specifically to the destruction of European Jews under the Nazis, it is important to note that Jews were not the only victims of Nazi atrocities. Political opponents, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and Sinti ('gypsies') and other ethnic minorities considered racially inferior, homosexual men and 'asocials' (a deliberately vague category that included habitual criminals, beggars, prostitutes and carriers of sexually transmitted diseases) were also subject to arrest, incarceration, involuntary sterilisation (in many cases), deportation, forced labour and even death under the Nazi regime. The persecution of members of these groups brings the total number of victims killed during the Nazi terror, including those eliminated as part of the Final Solution, to nearly ten million.
Historians continue to debate the details of the decision-making process that led to the Holocaust: the timing of the decision to launch the Final Solution; the role that Hitler played in the decision; whether the physical extermination of the Jews was the culmination of a predetermined plan or whether, conversely, it was an improvisation brought about by a variety of circumstances and contingencies. While these details are certainly important and worthy of debate, it is important not to lose sight of the overriding fact that, whatever the details, a decision was made and implemented. It was a decision that cost approximately six million Jews their lives.
The Holocaust resulted in the death of six million European Jews and a profound transformation of world Jewry. As most of the survivors had lost their homes, businesses and worldly possessions (not to mention their loved ones) at the hands of the Nazis, massive demographic dislocation resulted. Most of the survivors emigrated to Palestine (later Israel) or the United States, leaving only a few scattered Jewish communities in Europe, where once the great majority of all Jews had lived. The unprecedented scale of the horror challenged traditional assumptions about the nature of God and prompted a number of Jewish thinkers to re-evaluate their understanding of God's relationship with the Jewish people. Understandably, the Holocaust also had significant psychological effects on survivors. The memory of the Holocaust continues to have an impact on German national identity as well, as Germans struggle to come to terms with their national past.
The Path to Genocide
Acts of violence against Jews, as well as economic persecution, began immediately after the Nazis seized power in 1933. The initial phase of Nazi policy aimed at undermining the economic bases of the Jews' existence, isolating them from society and forcing them to emigrate. Thus, for example, the Nazis initiated a national boycott of Jewish businesses and passed legislation barring Jews from civil service, cultural life and the professions. Through a programme of 'Aryanisation,' Jewish businesses were taken over and Jewish property confiscated. Economic persecution was accompanied by widespread propaganda that depicted Jews in caricatured form and accused them of seducing German women and girls and of taking part in a world conspiracy (Barkai, 'The German Volksgemeinschaft' 92). Anti-Jewish policy was codified in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which denied citizenship to Jews and outlawed marriage or sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. Throughout the pre-war years, Nazis issued additional measures designed to isolate and humiliate the Jewish population. Streets named after Jews were renamed; Jews were not allowed to sit on certain park benches, dine in certain restaurants, or attend the theatre; Jewish men were required to use the first name 'Israel' and Jewish women, 'Sarah'; and all German Jews were required to carry special passports marked with a 'J' for 'Juden' and (later) to wear the 'Jewish Star' as an identification badge (Burleigh and Wippermann 87).
1) On April 1, the German government institutes a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses (info/pic http://www.historystudycenter.com/search/displayMultimediaItemById.do?QueryName=multimedia&fromPage=topicOverview&kno_id=KNN00045&ItemID=83397 The first national action against the Jews under the Nazi regime was a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses on 1April 1933. The boycott was organised and directed by the Nazi Party. Uniformed guards were placed in front of every store or other business owned by Jews to prevent clients from entering. Signs in shop windows and on trucks patrolling the streets bore the slogan: 'Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews!' The boycott heralded the beginning of a campaign of harassment and repression designed to force Jews out of the German economy.) Laws passed in April prohibit Jews from working in government offices. On May 10, thousands of students gather throughout Germany to burn books by Jewish authors. The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny is enacted on July 14, permitting the compulsory sterilisation of individuals allegedly suffering from hereditary illnesses. Jewish leaders from Palestine sign the Haavara agreement with Nazi authorities on August 25, enabling a large number of German Jews to settle in Palestine. Laws passed in September ban Jews from owning land and from participating in German culture (music, art, theatre, literature, broadcasting and the press.) In November, the Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals permits the compulsory castration of certain types of criminals, as determined by a 'racial-biological' examination
2) Synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses are looted and burned, a number of Jews are killed, and thousands more are rounded up and sent to concentration camps. In the wake of the pogrom, German Jews are fined one billion Reichsmarks to pay for the damages inflicted on their places of business. As of November 16, Jewish children are forbidden to attend German schools.
3) September 1, Jews in Germany are forced to wear the yellow Star of David (see fig.). Experimental gassing at Auschwitz is conducted in September on Soviet prisoners of war.
4) January 27, the Red Army liberates Auschwitz (see fig.). Throughout April, Allied forces liberate a number of the remaining concentration camps (but only after many of the prisoners have been evacuated or killed).
5) Any evaluation of the Jewish reaction to the Holocaust must take into account the obstacles and limitations that rendered resistance unlikely. Criticisms of Jewish passivity overlook the great lengths that Nazi officials went to in disguising their genocidal intent. As one historian has recently pointed out, 'the perpetrators deliberately encouraged false hopes and the illusion that compliance and work might be the salvation of Jewry' (Wistrich 78). An example of such Nazi deception can be found in the slogan that was displayed above the entrance gates to concentration and death camps: Arbeit Macht Frei ('Work Makes Free'). Despite rumours and occasional leaks of information, most Jews at the time (operating without the benefit of hindsight) were unable to grasp the full extent of the Nazi threat.