The holocaust was a state- engineered systematic murder of an estimated more than 6 million Jews, as well as hundreds of thousands of others including soviet prisoners, Romanians, Gypsies among other people classified as ethnically unfit by the Nazi regime. The killings took place in various locations in the German Reich as well as other areas of German occupancy, with the largest concentrated killings happening in the Polish area called Auschwitz. This essay looks at the reason behind the genocide, the circumstances of the holocaust, and the aftermath. It looks at the implication of the genocide for the perpetrators and the victims.
The Jew migration from their ancestral Middle East region following the rise of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the first century AD resulted in their being distributed within the European continent, as well as in other regions around the world. The largest numbers, however, were concentrated in Europe. It therefore emerged that large numbers were present in the Aryan dominated Germany and surrounding countries even at the turn of the 20[th] century. The Jews, closely knit as a nation wherever they are, soon appeared to segregate themselves and a clear divide between them and any other people in their society was evident. Their disciplined outlook towards work, profession, academics and any other venture they undertook also meant that they tended to succeed in many ventures, easily taking a lead in commerce, scholarly work, politics and all major fields. A silent dislike for this segregation, as seen by other races, was the origin of the misconception that Jews indeed wanted to control the world, and that the Aryan race, which the majority of Germans belong to, was in a competition with Jews for control. The same feelings were shared by many other people across the world, leading to the enduring `anti-Semitism` sentiment (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2013).
In Europe, leading scholars and seeming scientists helped propagate the ideology that there was a lifelong battle between Jews and the Aryan race. At the same time, the scientific revolution around Europe held high hopes for the masses that poverty, disease and social inequality would be contained. One way to do this was to rid the society of unwanted diseases, as well as concentrate medical care on the racially valuable, while removing the people who could not recover. Some members of the Jewish race, being especially vulnerable to certain conditions, were often caught ill and were therefore targeted. The leadership of the time did not help the advancing anti-Jews sentiment even with the general population, and soon a sizeable percentage also shared the will to get rid of the Jews. It was evident that even other religions were not sympathetic with the cleansing, particularly the Catholic Church. So marked was neglect on the Jews that euthanasia (mercy killing) against weak Jews was already being done, culminating in the famous anti-euthanasia movement within the church.
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany, the hatred against Jews turned to violence against them. Initially, the state showed only mild aggression against the Jewish, or half Jewish people. Adolf had a vision to increase Germany into a world-wide empire through conquering first the surrounding European countries and advancing to other areas. The Jew situation, however, presented a major challenge to this effort. The initial solution was to coerce Jews in Germany and in other occupied territories such as Poland to voluntarily migrate out of the German controlled regions. The war started with protests against Jewish businesses, factories and other businesses. Soon, Jews could not find employment, were sacked from government jobs and could not be admitted in public institutions. Their businesses were looted and their representation during incidences of crime was skewed against their favor. It was only in 1939 that Hitler started an outright violent approach to the Jewry presence in Germany. The Third Reich divided the population into the nation comrades, and the community aliens. The later included the Jews and Gypsies- people who lacked the German blood and were therefore enemies by blood. These minorities were also classified as genetically inferior, and would therefore need to be sent to camps for re-education before being classified as nation`s comrades. The true reason for their being sent behind detention was to finally kill them (Bartov, 2013).
Laws called the Nuremberg laws were passed barring intermarriages involving non Aryan people, and soon many Jews, classified as vulnerable to disease, were sterilized. Hitler and his Nazi administration advanced numerous propagandas indicating that the Jews were not suitable and were the cause for the war. He warned that should Jews cause the rise of another war, the result would be their total annihilation from the world- in essence meaning he was planning to frame the coming war on them and thereby justify their massacre. Notable scholars of Jewish origin, including renowned scientist Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Max Liebermann were among those who emigrated from Germany and Austria to avoid being taken hostage. In 1938, when Herschel Grunspan, a Jewish German assassinated a Nazi diplomat, the Third Reich found its cue to stage mass protests against the Jews, while in the real sense killing Jews and destroying property in the `night of broken glass protests`. Over 1200 Jewish Synagogues were destroyed and numerous shops vandalized. From this date, Jews were no longer free people, could not appear safely in public, and were under pursuit by the state to be sent to camps (Mattogno, 1990).
The Concentration Camps
The German government attempted to deport Jews from its country and discussed these plans in 1938. Madagascar had appeared as a suitable region where they would quickly die. But Palestine was agreed upon by the Haavara Agreement. By 1939 when the Second World War started, about 60,000 Jews had been deported. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. The country was home to more than 3 million Jews. Falling under Nazi control about 2 million Jews were subjected to deportation. However, the Nazi regime decided to concentrate them into ghettos where they would work in Nazi factories. The general government area in central Poland harbored camps where Jewish prisoners were worked till death through the Vernichtung durch Arbeit (Destruction through work) policy. At this time, no clear mass extermination plans existed, and certain forces within the Nazi held that the more than a million Jews in Poland were better used as a labor force instead of being killed. By 1940, German Nazi had occupied other countries including France, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In these countries too, anti- Jewish policies were swiftly implemented, and expulsion was already present in all countries by 1942 (Bartov, 2013).
Ghettos were the initial concentration strategy used by the Nazi, as a way to eliminate Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest with more than 380,000 people, the Lodz had 160,000, and other numerous ghettos across Poland held the more than 2 million Jews destined for death. The Nazi allowed people to live in extreme conditions of hunger, poverty, disease and exhaustion. More than half the people in most camps died from these causes. The Warsaw population witnessed more than 40,000 deaths in two years, representing more than 10% of the population. Numerous uprisings were reported in all camps, and neither one succeeded. In effect these only led to mass massacre by the vast Nazi machinery (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2013). In addition to ghettos, pogroms existed in which interracial conflicts, mostly aided by Nazi influence, led to massacre of thousand s of Jews. One such incident was the Lasi pogrom in Romania, in which the Nazi directed the local Romanian population to kill about 14,000 Jews. Numerous other similar incidents were reported (Mattogno, 1990).
In 1941, Nazi occupied the Soviet Union, murdering the 220,000 residents of Lithuania within a year. The Third Reich proceeded to occupy Leningrad, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia, in effect capturing more than 3 million additional Jews including those who had fled Poland in 1939. In order to marshal local support in the killings, SS men spread lies and propaganda to the citizens to alienate them from the Jews, terming them as partisan. To cleanse the populations, all Jews and Gypsies were either killed by firing squad or sent to concentration camps to be worked to death. These methods, however, did not yield the desired results. For this reason, a new method was to be discussed to deal with the Jew problem. In 1941 German SS operatives started using gas to kill Jews. On January 1942, a panel of 20 men sat in the Wannsee conference to discuss the` final solution to the Jewish question`. In this conference, it was discussed that Gas Chambers be established in Jew camps to enhance mass exterminations of Jews and other minorities considered of inferior race to the Aryans. This started the period of the most concentrated, most inhuman mass massacre of Jews and other minorities especially in Auschwitz, Poland.
Gas Chambers and its Implications for Victims
The gas chambers were constructed in Auschwitz between 1941 and 1945. The prisoners were drawn from the ghettos, as well as from external boundaries of Poland. These were run concurrently with labor camps in which hundreds of thousands continued to die due to overwork, hunger, disease and mistreatment (Norton, 2008). In addition, firing squads continued to kill people in all the Nazi controlled regions outside the camps. In total, there existed seven crematoriums with gas chambers where people were killed by gassing. A typical crematorium was made to contain an entrance, an undressing room, a basement gassing room, a mortuary, the crematorium itself and a chimney.
Figure 1: Plan of crematorium II in Auschwitz
1. Mortuary room 1 (Leichenkeller 1)
2. Mortuary room 2 (Leichenkeller 2).
3. Mortuary room 3 (Leichenkeller 3)
6. Hall (Mattogno, 1990).
7. Cremation room
8. Crematory ovens (five 3-muffled ovens)
The Nazi regime went to the extreme of ensuring that no evidence would remain of the millions killed in Auschwitz by building crematoriums. The units admitted between 700-800 people, including men, women and children, who could not be absorbed in labor camps. Every person was forced to undress and they were escorted into the gas chambers, all the time the chambers disguised as showers and delousers. Once the 700-800 people were squeezed into the basement chambers and the airtight doors locked, Zyklon-B gas, a variance of cyanide which rapidly changes to form hydrocyanic gas upon contact with air, was let into the chambers from wire-framed carriers positioned strategically on the roofs for maximum diffusion. Air could not come into or leave the chambers. The victims were such concentrated so that there was no space between them, with a density of more than 6 people per square meter, and when the gas was released, all the inmates chocked to death in 5-10 minutes, and muffled screams and groans were heard from outside. Special prisoners were retained to apply the gas into the inlets, as well as remove the corpses and take them to the crematorium incinerators (Keren, et al., 2004).
The incinerators were arranged in fives or threes. In each pier, three bodies were heaped and coke added, whereby the bodies were completely burnt in 15-20 minutes. The next three bodies were introduced and the process continued for 24 hours. When so many bodies were received, cremation had to be done outside, whereby bodies were heaped between coke and firewood and fire lit from underneath. Fat that deposited underneath the piles was added on top of the pile to speed up incineration, especially in bad weather. At one time, it was estimated that close to 10,000 people were being burnt every day (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2013).
At arrival in Auschwitz, the prisoners were separated – being ordered to move left or right. The able bodied men and few women were escorted to labor camps to work till they died, while the old, sick, young and otherwise unsuitable were immediately sent to the gas chambers. There, they would be stripped and their belongings taken to a building called Canada II, where they were further disposed of or stored. Upon destruction of the camp in 1945, the soviet authorities discovered thousands of Zyklon B gas canisters, about 7 metric tons of human hair, and lots of personal effects including shoes, suits and other attire. Even though the exact number of people killed in Auschwitz in unclear, it is estimated that between 1 million and 1.5 million people died in Auschwitz alone (Keren, et al., 2004).
Implication for perpetrators
The camps and other major crime sites were ordered to be destroyed by the SS authorities in 1945 when it became evident that the Nazi regime would be defeated. Many perpetrators of the massacre, including Adolf Hitler, fled the impending capture by the allied forces (Norton, 2008).
The Nuremberg Trials
After the reclamation of German occupied areas by the soviet army and allied forces, a tribunal was set to investigate the mass murder, and various key persons in the Nazi regime were interrogated. During the Nuremberg trials, the following were found guilty and put to death. Martin Bormann, Nazi Party secretary, sentenced to death in absence, had his remains discovered in 1972 in Berlin. Hans Frank who was the governor in General Government area of Poland was sentenced to death. Wilhelm Frick who was Interior minister was sentenced to death. Hermann Goring, head of Gestapo sentenced to death but committed suicide the night before execution. Others put to death were: Rudolf Hess- Hitler`s Deputy till 1941, he died in prison in 1987, Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations, Earnt Kaltenbrunner-SS leader, Wilheilm Keitel-Head of OKW, Gustav Krup- CEO of AG the company that made Zyklon-B, and Alfred Rosenberg- propagandist (Gilbert, 2002).
Other than the individual implications, Germany was ordered to pay war reparations to the countries which it persecuted, particularly Israel, Poland and Yugoslavia. In addition, Germany lost some of its territories which were annexed by other nations notably Poland and the Soviet Union. The allied forces destroyed many of its factories and voided its property rights. The result was that Germany, one of the strongest nations before WW II, was reduced back to an almost agrarian state.
The holocaust is perhaps the biggest act of ethnic cleansing in known history and the largest of such kind engineered by a state against certain races. Through it, the world`s Jewish population reduced by more than half, while in Poland it reduced by more than 90%. It is a clear demonstration of how racial intolerance can affect humanity, possibly exterminating entire races and languages such as the Judaea- Spanish Ladino language. While similar incidences have occurred in other countries such as the Soviet Union under Stalin and the displacement of the Red-Indians in North America before the settlements, the Nazi German holocaust stands out as the most graphic and cruel.
Bartov, O. (2013). Germany`s War and the Holocaust: Disputed Histories. Cornell University Press
Gilbert, M. (2002). The Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust. Routledge, London & New York.
Holocaust Encyclopedia (2013). German Jews during the Holocaust, 1939 – 1945. Available at http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005469
Keren, et al. (2004). The Ruins of the Gas Chambers. Holocaust Genocide Studies. Available at
Mattogno, C. (1990). Auschwitz: A case of plagiarism, Journal of Historical Review , Vol. 10 (1990) No. 1, Available at
Norton, J. (2008). The Holocaust: Jews, Germany, and the National Socialists. The Rosen Publishing Group