The Nazis and the Jews
The Holocaust is one of the most notorious genocides in history. Led by Adolph Hitler, the SS and other members of the Nazi Party of Germany terrorized the Jewish population. The Nazis were detrimental to the Jews physically and psychologically.
When the Nazi Party took over control of Germany in the 1930’s, they already had an idea in mind that any race other than the Aryan was inferior. However, their discriminatory attitude was not directed towards these other races evenly. The Nazis focused attention primarily on the Jewish population. Head Nazi officials Himmler believed “only the systematic extermination of all non-Aryan wrongdoers would be satisfactory…” where wrongdoers meant, most predominately, the Jews (Johnson 316). Hitler wanted the absolute extermination of the Jewish population of Europe. This distain for the Jews went all the way down to the lowest ranked Nazi soldiers. One Gestapo officer stated, “There are no upstanding Jews, and the entire race will be exterminated,” (Johnson 440). The Governor General of Poland, Hans Frank, felt the only way to win the war was to get rid of the Jews. He blamed the start of the war on them as well. Frank urged others to only pity the Germans, no one else. He went on to say that methods other than poisoning will have to be done to rid Europe of the three and a half million Jews (Frank). In the early days of the Nazi reign, the Gestapo disrupted the Jews everyday life. No Jews were exempt from being spied on, having their mail read or unwarranted home searches. Another method of belittling the Jews was to create propaganda such as posters saying, “Whoever eats Jewish products will die from them,” (Johnson 89). As the Thirties progressed, the Jews were subject to more severe acts by the Nazis. Jewish workers stopped being paid, were subject to water torture and even hung in synagogues which were lit on fire (Keneally). The Nazis had already begun a reign of terror.
The Jews were moved into ghettos and then later to concentration camps. These camps, such as Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz and Birkenau, were considered “killing machines” (Keneally 137). They were scattered all over the territories under Nazi control. Camps such as Tarnow, Stutthof, and Breslau, were designated to execute children. The children were considered to useless to the war effort therefore; they were shot, drowned and operated on. At Mauthausen, the prisoners were sent to a tunnel, sealed in by rocks and cement, and then blown up. Seven hundred prisoners were killed at Camp Gusen in Austria by being hosed down then left in twelve degree weather overnight. Others were murdered by a lethal injection of gasoline, hydrogen, calcium sulphuricum and evipan. The concentration camps held prisoners that worked for this war effort. The Nazis did not treat their workers as workers, or humans for that matter. At one camp, Plaszow, the rations of the workers were cut down to between 700 and 1100 calories a day to allow for more food for the officers. The combination of overwork, hunger, and executions resulted in 80,000 deaths out of 150,000 prisoners at Plaszow and its five sub camps. At Buna, 25,000 workers of 35,000 perished in IG Farben’s plant (Keneally). The Nazis did not hesitate to kill nor did most of them care. “Seen in peacetime, the gallows of Plaszow and Auschwitz would intimidate not by their solemnity but by their ordinariness,” (Keneally 216). The Nazis felt that the extermination of the Jewish population was nothing more than policy. There was a certain policy in the flogging of women. Only certain nationalities could flog others because the Nazis themselves felt it was too degrading for them to do. One of the only semi-humane policies was the process of request and trial required before any executions. This, however, did not start until later in the war. With all these deaths, the Nazis needed policies for taking care of the masses of corpses. The bodies were cremated, more frequently at the end of the war when the Russians were closing in. These cremated bodies were buried in mass graves in the hills that surrounded most of the camps. In Krakow, Poland, near the old concentration camp of Plaszow, thousands of bodies were found in these mass graves when foundations were being dug for homes (Keneally). The novel Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally, focuses on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Most of these Jews were prisoners at Plaszow concentration camp under the control of Hauptsturmführer Amon Goeth. He is a reasonable example of a Nazi officer at these concentration camps. Keneally uses characterization, the method an author uses to create a character’s personality using the character’s words, actions, and what others say about him or her, to create a sense of what the SS officers, such as Goeth, were like in the camps. For example, Goeth is said to have a history of physical abuse which is ever present in his running of the camp. There are many instances of his abusive nature, especially involving his maid, Helen. Once when he was beating her she asked why he was he beating her. His response, “the reason I’m beating you know is you asked me why I’m beating you,” (28). This quote shows how illogical Amon could be. He also beat her for preparing a meal for his girlfriend without his direct permission and he made her run up three flights of stairs over fifty times for a small flyspeck on a painting (219). Amon also had a tendency to go from sadistic behavior to being calm and respectable. At one point, he ordered Helen be executed because she was a poor servant only to later tell her she was an excellent maid and that he would be willing to give her a reference after the war. “Insanely, in between his spates of savagery, there were brief phases in which he tried to play the benign master,” (278). Additionally, Goeth liked to murder people randomly. Prisoners remember Amon standing on the balcony of his villa with a shotgun and shooting people for no reason. He shot a child in the head for announcing that he was a metal specialist. Goeth allowed one of his dogs, Ralf or Rolf, to tear a breast off a woman. Amon also shot a mother and daughter because they were “peeling potatoes too slowly” (246). The Hauptsturmführer had a strong dislike of engineers. He smashed the hand of the engineer working on his home with a beam for no sound reason. He said, “Shoot her here, on my authority,” to a fellow SS Man in reference to an female engineer who said the foundation of one of the barracks needed to be redone. Just as with this engineer, who put herself on Goeth’s radar, Amon tended to kill, or attempted to kill, people of presence. An example of this involves a rabbi, Mensche Levartov. The rabbi was making hinges when Amon came in and timed him. The rate at which Levartov did not match with the small pile of hinges that was at his feet. The only thing that saved him from execution was a few technical difficulties with the pistols. There are other instances of irrational, threatening behavior from Goeth. He shot a young boy for lending a saddle to a visiting officer and beat the same prisoner for not being able to get a ring off of the bathtub. Amon selected a manicurist to do his nails every week. The atmosphere was light but he always had an aura of death. He kept his two dogs asleep in the corner as well as a revolver. “One day she felt confident enough to ask him why the revolver was always at his elbow. His answer chilled the back of her neck as she bent over his hand. ‘That’s in case you ever nick me,’ he told her,” (236). Goeth represents the more radical officers of the SS however, his character shows how the officers kept the Jewish prisoners on edge with their unpredictability. Nazi officers were not always deadly and menacing towards the Jews. There are even instances of them falling in love with them. Amon himself loved his maid Helen but he did not act on these feelings because she was Jewish. These love affairs rarely ended well. Most officers shot their loved ones and then themselves while some officers just treated the Jews as human beings. In the clearing of the Cracow ghetto, a small girl dressed in red, only three years old, was nudged along in line by a gentle officer (Keneally). Another officer asked two prisoners, who were musicians, if they wanted to write letters to their wives so they would know their husbands were alive. He asked this with tears in his eyes. “What was startling was that they looked like fraternal tears, the tears of a fellow prisoner,” (Keneally 324). The officer did indeed deliver the letters for the prisoners. The Nazi regime fell in 1945 when the Allies invaded Germany. When the Allied troops liberated the various concentration camps, they were horrified at the sight of thousands of dead and nearly dead Jews. The Allies would not allow these atrocities to go unpunished. A series of trials were conducted throughout Europe to try Nazi officials who were charged of crimes against humanity. One of the most notable of these sets of trials was held in Nuremberg, Germany. The defendants, which included doctors, industrialists and military personnel, were tried by a tribunal. Many pleaded that they were just following orders but only two of the thirteen were found not guilty. Today, the Nuremberg Trials are regarded as a stepping stone to creating an international court to deal with crimes against humanity (“Nuremberg Trials”). However, the life and death sentences did not bring much comfort to those who had survived and had been witnesses to the atrocities committed by these men. The survivors of the Holocaust deal with psychological issues caused by their experiences, even 50 years afterwards. On the set of the movie Schindler’s List, director Steven Spielberg introduced survivor Mila Pfefferberg to Ralph Fiennes who played Amon Goeth. Pfefferberg was so frightened at the sight of Fiennes that her legs almost gave out (Corliss). Decades after his hanging, Goeth still induces terror. “Thirty years later, in the sleep of Plaszow veterans from Buenos Aires to Sydney, from New York to Cracow, from Los Angeles to Jerusalem, Amon would still be rampaging,” (Keneally 360). The damage to the Jewish population caused by the Nazis during and before World War II can be measured not only in the number dead but also in the first hand accounts of camp life and the lasting psychological trauma. For those who survived, the fear of the Nazis never ceased.
Corliss, Richard. "The Man Behind the Monster." Time. Time, 24 June 2001. Web. 16 May 2013. . Richard Corliss is a writer for Time Magazine who focuses on the entertainment industry. Ralph Fiennes brought the sadistic Nazi officer Amon Goeth to life in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Schindler's List. It is clear, coherent and comes from a trustworthy source. The article explains how some of Amon's traits and how a survivor acted when seeing him which is relevant to my paper. Hans, Frank. "Frank Diaries." 16 Dec. 1941. Nuremberg Trials Project: A Digital Document Collection. Harvard Law School, Cambridge. 3797. Nuremberg Trails Project. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. . Hans Frank was the Governor General of Poland. This diary entry sums up his feelings about the Jews. Frank says that the Jewish population should be destroyed. This gives a first hand account of the feelings of a high ranking Nazi official. It shows how most of the top officials felt about the Jews which is relevant to my paper. Johnson, Eric A. Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. New York: Basic, 1999. Print. Keneally, Thomas. Schindler's List. New York: Simon, 1982. Print. Thomas Keneally is an author of dozens of popular novels, some of which have a very historical theme. Keneally writes about the journey Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, and the Jewish population of Cracow, Poland take during the reign of the Third Reich. It follows Schindler and the Jews from the begininig of the Nazi regime in the late 1930's, to the formation of the ghetto, the concentration camp at Plaszow, all the way up to the end of the war. This book showed many aspects of the SS and Gestapos interactions with Poland's Jewish population. It gave the situation a very human side. The treatment of the Jews by the Nazis is very relevant to my paper. "Nuremberg Trials." History. A&E Television Networks, 2013. Web. 7 May 2013. . The History Channel is dedicated to all things historic. The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials for Nazi officers charged with war crimes during World War II. The article gave a brief summary that was clear and concise. It did not give unnecessary information and kept it simple. The Nuremberg Trials shows how the officers were punished for how they treated the Jews which is relevant to my paper. Ziereis, Franz. Letter. 23 May 1945. Oscar Roths Papers. Yale U Lib., New Haven. Jewish Virtual Library. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. . Franz Ziereis was an SS officer at a concentration camp. This confession letter tells of some of the methods used to annihilate the Jewish population of Europe. The information in the letter was a first hand account of what happened in the camps. It shows the lack of accountability some of the officers had for what they did which is relevant to my paper.