- Germany, during the years between 1933 and 1945, was a state organized around the principle of race. Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s confidant, was not being facetious when he defined National Socialism as applied biology. To the Nazis, paraphrasing Benjamin Disraeli, race was everything. This manifested itself in Nazi ideology that juxtaposed the superiority of the Aryan race with the alleged inferior races of the East. Although Jews were viewed as inferior to the Aryan race, there was a categorical difference implied between the Jews and the other races. Jews were perceived as inferior but powerful because they had attained positions of influence and power throughout the Western world. Specifically, Jews were accused of serving their own interests as Jews rather than as loyal citizens of the German nation. Nazi propaganda emphasized the Jewish domination of international finance as well as their disproportionate numbers in the leadership of the Russian Revolution. The Nazis further charged that the Jews had gained excessive influence over all aspects of German public life, as well as throughout the rest of Europe and the United States.NAZI ANTI-SEMITISM BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARSIn the aftermath of Germany’s defeat in World War I, anti-Semitic political parties in Weimar Germany, including the Nazis, blamed the Jews for the nation’s loss in the war. This charge was reinforced by the canard that the loyalty of the Jews transcended geographic boundary lines. The allegiance of the Jews, the Nazis argued, was to one another across international boundaries rather than to the nation of their birth, and the Nazis accused “international Jewry” of profiting from Germany’s defeat in the war. Similarly, the Nazis believed that the Jews had weakened the moral fabric of Germany through their “bolshevization” of the social and cultural life of the nation. The avant-garde in art, music, and film, and modernism in general, were viewed as Jewish weapons in the fight to permeate German life with a “Jewish sensibility.” The achievements of Albert Einstein (the theories of relativity), Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis), and other Jewish scientists, for example, were attacked as promoting what Josef Goebbels called a “Jew science” that sought to destroy the moral and spiritual vitality of the nation. Nazi racial ideologists claimed that the Germans originally descended from the Aryan race, an Indo-European language group, and that the reassertion of national greatness necessitated the removal of the Jewish Semites from Germany, if not from all of Europe. This ideology held that the struggle between the Aryans and the Semites was the preeminent theme of world history. Although in antiquity the Aryan races generally prevailed over the Semites in warfare-as, for example, Greece’s defeat of Persia and Rome’s defeat of Carthage-the Semitic spiritual system, in the form of Christianity, with all of its implications for protecting the weak from the strong, had triumphed throughout Europe. In an age in which the ideas of Social Darwinism and “survival of the fittest” had become a mantra in right-wing circles, Christianity and its derivative moral system were seen as giving succor to the weak and the least fit in society.Having identified Christianity as a Semitic and, therefore, an alien religion, the Nazis attacked both Jews and Judaism as the progenitor of an unacceptable value system. Mixing both religious and racial categories, the Nazis wasted little time in purging their German churches of Jewish or Semitic influences. But the Nazi critics of the Jews were not content to attack the doctrines of St. Paul, derisively referred to as “Rabbi” Paul, or ritual practices. They also insisted that baptized Jews who served in the churches of Germany be eliminated from their ecclesiastical positions. This demand, however, ran counter to the beliefs of the churches, which taught the redemptive nature of baptism. The reaction in both the Catholic and Protestant churches to the purging of converted Jews was to confront the regime over this matter. The response of the Evangelical German Confessional Church and Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, “With Burning Concern” (Mit Brennender Sorge), issued in 1937, condemned the racist practices of the Nazis as being incompatible with Christian teaching. The attitude toward the Nazi persecution of the Jews, how ever, was one of silence, which may have indicated approval. The Nazis were not the first to legislate anti-Jewish laws; rather, discrimination against Jews was as old as Christianity itself. For example, the Nuremberg Laws (1935), which denationalized the Jews of Germany, had their counterpart in the Middle Ages when Jews were subjected to all sorts of restrictions, including their contacts with the Christian majority. What was new about the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews was their rejection of the efficacy of baptism, which precluded discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or racial categories. The Catholic Church, in particular, viewed itself as a universal church with a mission to convert nonbelievers to accept Jesus as the Christ. The Catholic Church taught that Jews would one day accept Jesus but, while they remained a “stiff-necked” people because of their unwillingness to accept Christ, their persecution was God’s way of punishing the Jews for their stubbornness. Catholic doctrine, therefore, taught the unity of all mankind in Christ, and this applied to Jews once they accepted the Savior. Nazi racial doctrine, on the other hand, stressed the primacy of race as an inherent characteristic that can never be altered. For this reason, Jews could never be Aryans or true Germans regardless of the redemptive nature of baptism. Thus, in the years prior to the outbreak of World War II in September of 1939, two anti-Jewish attitudes came into conflict with one another: the traditional or Christian anti-Judentum, and the more modern and “scientific” racial anti-Semitism.The components of Nazi anti-Semitism, however, were not limited to racial bigotry. Added to the mix of ideas that eventually justified the Nazi genocide of the Jews was the belief in conspiracy theory, whereby the Jews were accused of playing a prominent behind-the-scenes role in shaping the course of modern history in general and Germany’s loss in World War I in particular. Specifically, Hitler and his inner coterie of radical anti-Semites were believers in the forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to describe the efforts of a cabal of Jews to rule the world. As the Nazis analyzed the post–World War I events in Europe, the message of the Protocols reinforced their belief in a Jewish conspiracy. Adolf Hitler, in many of his public speeches during the 1920s, accused the Jews of instigating the communist revolution in Russia and spreading Marxist ideology throughout Germany. For Hitler, “Bolshevism” and world Jewry became synonymous. His reading of the Protocols led him to conclude that in the struggle between capitalism and communism, there would be great suffering, but the Jews would emerge triumphant because they were strategically placed in both camps. Thus, the Nazis actively sought to prevent the Jewish cabal from achieving its objectives, as outlined in the Protocols, by expelling the Jews from Germany, and when the opportunity subsequently presented itself, to exterminate them. Nazi ideology also held that the Jews not only were an inferior race but also that the approximately 600,000 Jews, or 1 percent of the German population, were a diseased people who must be separated from the rest of the German nation. Nazi propaganda reinforced this view in all aspects of German public life, including the entertainment industry. Nowhere was the caricature of the diseased Jew more pronounced than in the film The Eternal Jew (1940), wherein Jews were equated with rats and the spread of disease. The description of Jews as “parasites” or “bacilli” was commonly used by Nazi propaganda to secure support for anti-Semitic measures, and ultimately for the extermination of the Jews.ELIMINATING JEWS FROM PUBLIC LIFEUntil World War II commenced in September 1939, Nazi policy toward the Jews was limited first to the Jews of Germany, and after the annexation of Austria and the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, to those living in the Greater Reich. During the years between 1933 and 1939, the Nazis enacted laws that drove Jews from public life. When the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were enacted, the Jews lost their German citizenship. Once a force in all aspects of German life, Jews now found themselves barred from employment in the professions, the universities, and the civil service. The Nuremberg Laws not only defined the different classification of Jews but also effectively segregated them from the rest of the population. A primary objective of the anti-Semitic legislation was to encourage the Jews to leave the country, and if they refused, to accept their inferior status as defined by the anti Jewish laws.Following the annexation of Austria in February 1938, a large number of German and Austrian Jews attempted to migrate but found that worldwide restrictive immigration laws prevented them from reaching a safe haven in most countries. In July 1938, the United States initiated the Evian Conference, ostensibly to deal with the “refugee crisis,” but the conference failed because none of the countries, including the United States, was willing to liberalize its immigration laws. Following the state-organized pogrom known as Kristallnacht, which occurred on 9–10 November 1938, an additional number of Jews from Germany and Austria sought refuge but found that, with notable exceptions such as Great Britain until 1939, the nations of the world refused entry to Jewish refugees.Kristallnacht marked a turning point in Nazi policy toward the Jews. Whereas the policy, prior to Kristallnacht, was to make life so difficult for Jews that they would voluntary leave the country, the government now sought to intimidate the Jews to leave Germany. During Kristallnacht, Jews were murdered, synagogues burned, Jews’ property looted, and thousands of Jews incarcerated in concentration camps. The use of violence also indicated a change of direction as the Nazis discarded the enactment of legislative anti-Semitic decrees as a strategy to rid themselves of the Jews. Inasmuch as the pogrom of 9–10 November 1938 heralded this new policy, it also marked the legitimation of violence as a means of solving Germany’s “Jewish problem.”WORLD WAR II AND THE TURN TO GENOCIDEThe year 1939 was a particularly painful one for the Jews of Europe. Because of the imminence of war, Great Britain dramatically reduced the number of refugees allowed to enter Britain, and in order to placate the Arabs, the government issued a white paper that limited the number of immigrant entry to Palestine to 75,000 over a five-year period. Once the war began in September 1939, the rapid defeat of Poland placed millions of Jews under German control, thus necessitating a much broader solution in regard to the future of the Jews. The Nazis quickly realized that the policies that were implemented in the Greater Reich were not applicable for dealing with the millions of captive Polish Jews. At first, Germany’s Jewish policy in Poland took the form of the Lublin Plan and then the Madagascar Plan. Both schemes sought to remove the Jews under its control and move them beyond German-occupied territory. The implementation of either plan, however, would have removed Jews to areas whose economic infrastructure was incapable of absorbing such large numbers. The Nazis were aware of the severity of their solution, but the expectation was that once resettled, the Jews would slowly die of hunger and illness. The failure of both of these schemes to materialize led to the second phase of Nazi policy toward the Jews, which was characterized by the wholesale murder of millions of civilians.The invasion of the German army into Poland was accompanied by special killing squads or Einsatzgruppen units. Their duties included shooting those civilians deemed a threat to Nazi rule. The introduction of these killing squads in Poland marked the beginning of Germany’s willingness to commit acts of genocide under the cover of war. This resulted in the wholesale murder of civilians by the Einsatzgruppen in Poland and subsequently in the Soviet Union.THE EUTHANASIA PROGRAMIn the aftermath of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, measures were taken to eliminate the racially unfit. Nazi propaganda sought to stigmatize the chronically ill, the handicapped, the mentally retarded, and other categories deemed as “life unworthy of living.” The Nazis established racial hygiene courts, as well as programs of sterilization, which had as their objective the removal of nonproductive elements from the nation and to ensure that they did not reproduce. With the outbreak of war, Adolf Hitler secretly authorized the Euthanasia Program for the purpose of killing those identified as “social undesirables.” Despite the efforts at secrecy, however, public knowledge of the euthanasia killings became widely known. Relatives of those who were murdered engaged in protests, and they were quickly joined by members of the German clergy. In August 1941, Hitler, bowing to public outrage, suspended the Euthanasia Program because he realized that widespread knowledge of the killings was creating unrest among the population. The Euthanasia Program, however, continued to operate sub rosa, and by the end of the war more than 200,000 “patients” were legally murdered under the supervision of physicians. The killing process was not only attended by those in the medical profession but also by technicians who became skilled in subterfuge, whereby they disguised the gas chambers as shower stalls, in order to lull the unsuspecting victims to their death. Those involved in the gassing of the “unfit,” as well as the machinery and the technical experts who made it operational, were later transferred to the death camps, for the purpose of implementing the Final Solution. Having engaged in the killing of innocent people, the Germans had fewer scruples about the murder of European Jewry. Given the apparent indifference of the free world to absorbing Jewish refugees, as evidenced by the failure of the Evian Conference in 1938, the German leadership concluded that the democratic world was indifferent to the fate of the Jews. They calculated that a policy of mass murder against the Jews would bring a pro forma reaction, but it would not elicit more than the normal response generated by wartime atrocity stories. Hitler is credited with asking the question, in regard to an earlier historical instance of genocide, “Who remembers the Armenians?” Hitler’s belief that the Allies would not expend energy on saving Jewish lives proved correct. Once the war began, Allied policy focused on winning the war rather than on saving Jewish lives in the belief that the former would result in the latter. Having embarked on a policy of genocide, the Germans were determined to keep it a secret. Consequently, they cloaked their plan to exterminate European Jewry in the language of euphemisms. This form of language served two purposes: to disguise from the victims their ultimate fate and to prevent a repetition of the protests that followed the disclosure of the euthanasia killings in Germany.TOWARD THE FINAL SOLUTIONHolocaust scholars are divided on the question as to whether the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe was Hitler’s intention from the moment he became the leader of the National Socialist party, or whether the Holocaust was a “functional” response to the strategic problem of ruling more than three million Jews in Poland, and millions more following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. In either event, the genocide of the Jews was not possible before the outbreak of World War II, but once Hitler was in control of about one third of all living Jews, the opportunity presented itself to solve once and forever the “Jewish problem.”Germany’s invasion of Poland would not have been possible without the treaty with the Soviet Union in August 1939. The pact resulted in Germany annexing territory in western Poland, and using the central part of the country, which was referred to as the General-Gouvernement, as an area of “resettlement” for Poles and Jews. The Soviets, in turn, occupied eastern Poland and the Baltic states. Germany denied that the invasion of Poland was an act of aggression but hailed it as an act of restoration, whereby Germany would recover land that Poland acquired at its expense as a result of World War I. This policy of lebensraum (“living space”) envisioned millions of ethnic Germans, living in the east under foreign rule, being resettled on their ancestral homeland in western Poland. As for the Jews and Poles who resided on the conquered territory, they were to be resettled in the General-Gouvernement, where the Poles would be reduced to the status of serfs serving their German overlords. Jews, however, were to be temporarily placed in ghettos until plans were finalized in regard to their future. One region that Germany “resettled” was the area surrounding the town of Oswiecim, located in Upper Silesia. The Germans claimed that Oswiecim had once been an integral part of Germany, and upon its occupation they changed its name to Auschwitz. The plan, initially, was to resettle ethnic Germans in the area, but it lacked resources to sustain a large population. In an effort to make the Auschwitz location economically viable, Heinrich Himmler, the chief of the Schutzstaffel (SS), invited the I. G. Farben company to build a factory at Auschwitz that would produce vitally needed synthetic rubber. Himmler enticed the company by promising that an unlimited pool of slave laborers would be placed at its disposal. Himmler’s promise to supply I. G. Farben with manpower coincided with his establishment of a concentration camp near the town on 27 April 1940. Initially the camp served to hold Polish workers, who were forced to work under the most brutal conditions. But the camp was also used for the punishment of political prisoners, and subsequently the camp acquired the reputation as one of the cruelest of the Nazi concentration camps, where torture and executions became a daily occurrence.In March 1941, a second camp known as Auschwitz II or Birkenau was constructed. In March 1942, a third camp was added to the Auschwitz complex near the town of Monowitz, and was designated as Auschwitz III. Both Auschwitz I and the camp at Monowitz were primarily designed as labor camps. It was, however, in the Birkenau or Auschwitz II camp that the Nazis employed gas chambers and crematoria in order to kill their enemies. Once Nazi Germany committed to the Final Solution, Birkenau became synonymous with the mass murder of Jews. It is estimated that between 1.1 and 1.5 million Jews, and more than a million non-Jews, including Soviet prisoners of war, were gassed in Birkenau. The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, however, was not the only one of its kind. In different areas of the General-Gouvernement, the Nazis constructed the Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec extermination camps, whose primary purpose was to murder Jews. Although the death camps were to play a major role in the implementation of the Final Solution, this was not the only method used by the Germans to exterminate the Jews of Europe.THE INVASION OF THE SOVIET UNION AND THE FINAL SOLUTIONFollowing the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, squads of Einsatzgruppen accompanied the army into the Soviet Union with orders to kill captured Soviet political commissars, communist functionaries of all ranks, and all Jews. The orders derived from Hitler’s authority as described in the “Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars” (6 June 1941), also known as the “Commissar Order.” The directive not only legitimized the murder of innocent civilians but also abolished the rules of war as established by custom and formulated in international law. For Hitler, the war in the Soviet Union was to be a war of total destruction against the enemy, which included the Jews. Once deployed in Russia, the Einsatzgruppen proceeded to murder Jews through mass shootings as well as the use of mobile vans as gas chambers, whereby carbon monoxide was piped into the back of the crowded trucks, thus causing the death of the victims. It is estimated that more than a million Jews were killed in Einsatzgruppen operations. Once Nazi Germany made the decision in mid-to-late 1941 to exterminate the Jews of Europe, it sought methods that were both inexpensive and efficient. Given the large number of Jews targeted for annihilation, the methods employed by the Einsatzgruppen in the Soviet Union proved to be too costly and inefficient for a successful resolution of the “Jewish problem.” It became apparent that the murder of millions of Jews required the use of techniques not unlike the methods used in industry. Extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor became factories of death, whereby the methods of industrial engineering were applied to the implementation of the Final Solution. Every aspect of the extermination process-from the loading of the victims into the cattle cars, to disguising the real purpose of the extermination camp, to lulling the unsuspecting victims into the gas chambers-was calculated to make the process function as efficiently as possible. The murder of such a large number of Jews also required the cooperation of all segments of the German bureaucracy, and toward that end a conference was held in January 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin.The Wannsee Conference was organized by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) and Himmler’s closest aide. Those who were invited to attend the conference represented important jurisdictions within the Nazi bureaucratic system. Heydrich’s objective in convening the meeting was to impress upon the assembled government functionaries the high priority that the Nazi leadership, including Hitler, placed on the annihilation of the Jews. Subsequently, he asked for and received the promise of their cooperation in all facets of the implementation of the Final Solution.THE GHETTOSIn the aftermath of the Wannsee Conference, the plan to exterminate Europe’s Jews was intensified. The crowded ghettos, which at first served as a temporary location for Jews until they could be removed to the Lublin area or to Madagascar, now became warehouses for a different kind of resettlement. By moving the Jews in German-occupied Europe into the assorted crowded ghettos of Poland, plans for their demise could be made in a systematic and efficient manner. Toward that end, the Germans appointed Jewish Councils (Judenrate) in each ghetto not only to maintain law and order but also to fill the daily quotas of Jews who were to be “resettled’’ in the east, a euphemism for sending them to the death camps. Historians such as Raul Hilberg and Hannah Arendt have accused the Jewish Councils of complicity in the annihilation of European Jewry because they made the task of filling the daily quota of Jews for deportation to the death camps that much easier for the Germans. Others historians have argued that the councils had little choice, and had they not undertaken this responsibility, the Germans would have made life even more brutal for the Jews trapped in the ghettos. The ghettos functioned not only as the primary means by which the Germans transported Jews to the death camps but also as a reservoir for slave labor. Until 1943, Himmler believed that “there was no reason not to use the labor potential of Jews as an integral part of the ‘Final Solution.’” By January 1943, however, Himmler concluded that Germany would lose the war, and the murder of European Jewry, regardless of their benefit to the Third Reich as a source of slave labor, became an end in itself. Himmler proceeded to expand the killing machinery at Auschwitz by increasing the operating facilities of the crematoria. Although Jewish slave labor continued in the Auschwitz camps, this labor ceased to be important to Himmler. Only the “special squads,” which maintained order among those selected to be killed, mattered. These squads consisted primarily of Jews who were responsible for extracting the gold teeth from the victims and cutting the hair of the dead, which the Germans used for commercial purposes. In addition, they were assigned to burn the corpses and to prepare the belongings of the dead for transport to Germany. These squads, however, generally lasted for a short period of time, and after a few months they were also killed.JEWS AND THE OTHER VICTIMS OF THE NAZI GENOCIDEThe number of Jews killed by the Germans in the Holocaust cannot be precisely calculated. Various historians, however, have provided estimates that range between 4,204,000 and 7,000,000, with the use of the round figure of six million Jews murdered as the best estimate to describe the immensity of the Nazi genocide. The Germans exterminated approximately 54 percent of the Jews within their reach, including almost two million children under the age of 18. Jews, however, were not the only target of the Nazis. During the war, an estimated 10,547,000 Eastern Europeans, including millions of Poles, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Gypsies, and Soviet POWs, were also killed. These numbers suggest that the Nazi genocide was far-reaching, although the rationale for the murder of the targeted groups varied from one group to another. The Germans had, in fact, created a priority list of groups that were to be eliminated. The Slavic people were considered inferior by the Nazis, and it is probable that in the long run the Slavs would have become victims of genocide. But during the German occupation of Slavic territories, the objective called for the removal of 100 million Poles, Ukrainians, and other Slavic groups from their homes in the annexed German territory, and the resettlement of millions of ethnic Germans in their place. The majority of the Slavs were to be assigned as slave laborers to serve their German masters, their education limited to counting up to 10, and millions of them were to be deported to Siberia once the Soviet Union was defeated. The targeting of Slavic people by the Germans, however, was not driven by the same ideology that called for the annihilation of every last Jewish man, woman, and child.THE RESPONSE OF JEWS TO THE HOLOCAUST: THE JUDENRATEFrom the perspective of more than 60 years since the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945, there still remain some gnawing questions regarding the response of the Allies, and such institutions as the churches and the Red Cross, to the planned extermination of the Jews. Added to the mix is the question of the response of the Jews to their planned demise. Did the Judenrate betray their fellow Jews by cooperating with the Nazis? How correct is the perception that the Jews went like sheep to their slaughter? How do we interpret the “silence” of the Catholic Church in the face of the unimpeachable evidence at its disposal regarding the Final Solution? Finally, how culpable were the Allies in failing to bomb Auschwitz, lest it interfere with their overall military strategy? Would the bombing of Auschwitz have resulted in the saving of Jewish lives or at least slowed down the extermination process by destroying the train tracks that brought Jews to the death camp?The condition of the Jews in the ghettos of Poland deteriorated following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, as they were now rounded up and deported to the death camps. The first use of carbon monoxide gas to exterminate Jews was introduced at Chelmno in December 1941, and by the following summer all of the death camps were operational. In Auschwitz, the Germans introduced Zyklon B gas as the preferred means of exterminating their Jewish victims. The response of the Jewish Councils to the deportations to the death camps varied from ghetto to ghetto. In the Lodz ghetto, for example, Mordecai Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the Judenrate, displayed great zeal and organizational ability in running the factories and the internal life of the ghetto. Although not aware of the extermination camps, Rumkowski nevertheless tried, in vain, to halt the deportations. Between January and May 1942, 55,000 Jews were deported from the Lodz ghetto to Chelmno, where they were all killed. By and large, Rumkowski was able to make himself useful to the Germans, and as a consequence, they allowed him to run the ghetto with an iron hand. Some historians have viewed Rumkowski as a traitor and a Nazi collaborator, whereas others believe that his policy of cooperation with the Nazis helped extend the life of the ghetto. A megalomaniac, Rumkowski would not tolerate any criticism of his leadership. At one point, he printed postage stamps bearing his likeness.In Upper Silesia, the ghetto chairman, Moshe Merin, vigorously enforced the German demand for forced labor. Yet he was aware that those deemed unfit for labor by the Germans were killed. Merin reasoned that in order to protect one segment of the ghetto population, he must sacrifice those too weak to work. In Vilna, Jacob Gens promoted the strategy of “work for life,” which meant that as long as Jews engaged in productive work they had a chance to survive. His most controversial act was to deliver to the Germans 406 Jews who were old or chronically ill. The Nazis had originally demanded 1,500 children and women who were unemployed, but Gens countered the order and justified his action by claiming that he wanted the women and children to survive for the future of the Jewish people. Efraim Barasz, the head of the Bialystok ghetto, was aware that the deportations were delivering Jews to the death camps. Nevertheless, he had faith that work “would serve as a protective shield and that our main rescue effort has to be based on the establishment of a highly developed industry.” Barasz rigidly enforced German directives and warned the ghetto inhabitants against acts of sabotage against the Germans. Like Gens, Barasz believed that as long as Jews engaged in productive labor, he could save the ghetto from total liquidation, and the Jews from certain death. Upon learning that the deportations from the Warsaw ghetto meant death for those being “resettled,” Adam Czerniakow, the head of its Jewish Council, committed suicide rather than comply with German orders. The Jewish Council leaders were often ruthless toward their own people, but they sought to save as many Jewish lives as possible. Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), wrote that without the help of the ghetto Jewish leadership, there would have been chaos and disorder, and this would have required the Germans to use their own limited manpower to round up and deport Jews to the death camps. She concluded her controversial book with these condemning words: “To a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.” It would appear that any judgment of the Judenrate’s response to Nazi demands must consider the unprecedented nature of the moral ambiguity that informed their leadership. With their options limited, the Judenrate found themselves being forced to decide, through the preparation of the quota lists, who should live and who should die. Despite the efforts of the Jewish Councils to prolong the lives of the ghetto inhabitants through a strategy of survival through work, the fate of the Jews was not in their hands but in those of the Germans. Once Nazi Germany committed to the Final Solution, it was the Nazis who decided the fate of the Jews. Formal resistance was rarely possible, but strategies were devised by the ghetto leadership to keep Jews alive, even if it meant the sacrifice of some for the benefit of the many. Ultimately, it mattered little what the Jewish Councils did. The ghettos were eventually liquidated, and their Jewish population, along with the leadership of the Jewish Councils, was deported to the death camps. The argument remains, however, as to whether a more obstructive resistance to Nazi demands would have made any difference in light of the German determination to exterminate European Jewry.JEWISH RESISTANCEResistance to the Nazi atrocities, however, did occur and manifested itself in ghettos such as Warsaw, and in the Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor extermination camps. In addition, Jews who successfully fled from the ghettos and the camps joined partisan groups where they engaged in all aspects of guerrilla warfare against the Germans. It is a simplification to believe that Jews allowed themselves to be slaughtered like sheep. Although millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazis, it is also true that, where it was possible, Jews resisted the enemy. Sometimes, as was the case in the Warsaw ghetto, the resistance came too late. The Warsaw ghetto uprising occurred when the Germans had already deported most of the ghetto’s inhabitants. Yet, when the revolt broke out in April 1943, it took a special German army unit to crush the Jewish rebels, who held out for almost a month against a superior military force.The revolt in the Warsaw ghetto inspired uprisings in the ghettos of both Lvov and Bialystok. As was the case in Warsaw, the Germans eventually crushed the revolts, liquidated the ghettos, and sent the remaining Jews to the Janowska camp, where they were killed. Jewish resistance, however, was not limited to the ghettos. As stated above, acts of resistance occurred in the major death camps. The best-known example was the formation of the Auschwitz Fighting Group, which had cadres in Birkenau and Monowitz. On 6 October 1944, Jewish “special squads” (Sonderkommandos) launched a revolt with explosives as their only weapon. Nevertheless, they succeeded in blowing up Crematorium 3, thus destroying the installation. Immediately after the revolt, the participants were rounded up and immediately executed. Similar revolts occurred in Treblinka and Sobibor with the same results. Where Jews were more successful in confronting the Nazis was in the partisan movements. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews fought in partisan units in the forests of Byelorussia and the western Ukraine. Perhaps the most famous of the Jewish partisan leaders was Alexander Bielski. Joined by his brothers, he led the so-called Bielski Otriad, consisting of 300 fighters engaged in guerrilla warfare in Byelorussia against the German foe. Some of their activities included the derailment of troop trains and the blowing up of bridges and electric power stations.Between 1942 and 1944, there were 27 Jewish partisan units fighting against the Germans, and about 1,000 who participated in the Warsaw Polish uprising in the summer of 1944. Jewish partisans placed themselves under the command of the national partisan groups that fought the Germans. The inability of the Jews to organize their own guerrilla movement was due, in part, to the lack of support from the surrounding population or the approval of a government-in-exile. Given the prevalent anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, Jews could never be certain that in approaching a farmer for food or shelter, they would not be betrayed and handed over to the Germans.It is difficult to assess the difference Jewish resistance made in light of the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust. Historian Raul Hilberg has concluded that “the reaction pattern of the Jews is characterized by an almost complete lack of resistance. . . . The Jewish victims, caught in the straitjacket of their history, plunged themselves physically and psychologically into catastrophe.” Yet this may be an unfair assessment of their resistance at a time when most Jews were ill-fed, sick, and at the mercy of armed Germans and their auxiliary forces. Elie Wiesel has observed, in regard to Jewish resistance, that “the question is not why all Jews did not fight, but how so many did. Tormented, beaten, starved, where did they find the strength-spiritual and physical-to resist?” Jews were simply too few in number to defend themselves against Germany’s determination to annihilate them. Furthermore, the Jews were also victims of an endemic anti-Semitism that permeated much of Eastern Europe. Consequently, the Germans were able to enlist the support of Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and others in the implementation of the Final Solution. In Western Europe, Jews also participated in the resistance movements but found that anti-Semitism was a factor in their ability to survive. In France, for example, the antiSemitic leadership of the Vichy government enthusiastically promoted anti-Jewish laws and expedited the deportation of foreign Jews to the death camps.RIGHTEOUS GENTILESAs bleak as the situation was, there were those Gentiles who risked their lives to help the Jews. At a time when hiding or assisting Jews meant severe punishment, about half of 1 percent of the total non-Jewish population of occupied Europe helped to rescue Jews. Protecting Jews took many forms: Countess Maria von Maltzan hid the Jewish writer Hans Hirschel, along with other Jews, in her Berlin apartment. In the Dutch village of Nieulande, each villager agreed to hide one Jewish family or at least one Jew. The Protestant village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, located in southern France, hid many Jews in full view of Vichy government officials. The mass collective effort of the Danish people resulted in the rescue of 7,000 of its 8,000 Jews. There were also others who for humanitarian reasons risked their lives and careers in behalf of the Jews. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, saved the lives of approximately 10,000 Jews on the eve of the deportation of Budapest’s Jewish community to Auschwitz. Dr. Aristides de Sonza Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat, discarded orders from his government and issued nearly 10,000 travel visas to Jews escaping the Nazi terror. Paul Gruninger, the police chief of the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, helped save 2,000 Jewish refugees who illegally crossed the Swiss border from Germany and Austria in 1938–1939. The Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, Sempo Sugihara, working in tandem with his Dutch counterpart Jan Zwartendijk, issued thousands of travel visas for Jews attempting to escape the Germans following their invasion of Lithuania in June 1941. For his effort, Sugihara lost his position and was forced to return to Japan in disgrace. Sugihara is sometimes referred to as the “Japanese Schindler.” Oskar Schindler’s efforts on behalf of the Jews were celebrated in Steven Spielberg’s epic film Schindler’s List. Schindler was one of several German entrepreneurs, including Julius Madritsch and Raimund Titsch, who aided Jews interned in the Plaszow labor camp. In Schindler’s case, he provided Jews with food and shelter and protected them from the brutal whims of Amon Goeth, the camp commandant. Schindler is credited with saving the lives of 1,100 Jews.THE CATHOLIC CHURCHHolocaust historian Henry Huttenbach once remarked that the smallest street in the world was the Avenue of the Righteous, located outside Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He was referring to the fact that although Gentiles came to the aid of Jews, the number of those willing to risk their lives and livelihoods on behalf of the Jews was small. It is possible that many more Jews would have survived the Holocaust had institutions such as the Catholic Church spoken out against the Nazi genocide. The failure, therefore, of organized Christianity to confront the Nazi menace is also a part of the history of the Holocaust. It is true that in various European countries under German occupation, individual Protestant and Catholic clergy denounced the treatment of the Jews. Jews were also hidden in convents and monasteries, and historian Pinchas Lapide estimates that about 800,000 Jews were saved by the Catholic Church, although historians question whether the Vatican can take credit for the deeds of individual Catholics who saved Jews. It may be that in the case of Catholic clergy, their actions in protecting Jews was a result of “signals” that they received from the Vatican that permitted priests and nuns to help Jews.As the preeminent moral institution in Europe, the Vatican refrained from publicly condemning the extermination of the Jews, although it was among the first to learn of the Nazi genocide. Perhaps Pope Pius XII feared that in confronting the Nazis over the issue of the Jews, he would be risking the lives of Catholic clergy as well as the confiscation of church property. The result was a policy of silence in the face of one of the most horrendous events in world history. The record of the Vatican is further complicated by its involvement in helping leading Nazis, such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, to escape to Latin America at the end of World War II. It remains to be answered whether similar “signals,” which Catholic clergy received from the Vatican to help the Jews, were also given on behalf of fleeing Nazi war criminals. Regardless of the motives for his silence, Pius XII’s ambivalence toward the Jews groups him in the category of those who failed to voice a condemnation of the Nazi genocide.THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSSLike the Catholic Church, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also failed to use its moral standing to speak out on behalf of the Jews. The start of World War II and the German implementation of the Final Solution created an unprecedented situation for the ICRC. Inasmuch as the Germans attempted to carry out their annihilation of the Jews in secret, the ICRC rarely was privy to the mass deportation of the Jews. Similarly, aside from visits to Buchenwald and Theresienstadt, the ICRC was never permitted to inspect the concentration camps or the death camps. But early on, the ICRC received information about the Final Solution and agonized over the risks involved in extending help to the Jews who were marked for death. Ultimately, the ICRC chose not to use its humanitarian reputation and its neutral standing in the world community to sound the alarm regarding the Nazi genocide. Instead, as in the case of the Vatican, the ICRC engaged in quiet diplomacy and never attempted to arouse public opinion against the Nazi atrocities. In fact, the ICRC rarely alluded to the extermination of the Jews in its correspondence. Rather, the Jews were included in the general category of prisoners, deportees, and hostages whom the organization believed were entitled to the same protection as were military combatants. The ICRC also refused to raise the question of Nazi racial discrimination inasmuch as it violated the tenets of the Geneva conventions. For example, the ICRC did not protest the separation of German Jewish (Mischlinges) medical personnel from their Gentile counterparts on the eastern front.The failure of the International Committee of the Red Cross to use its moral capital on behalf of the Jews may have resulted from its fear that by doing so, it would compromise its work on behalf of millions of prisoners of war on the eastern front, in particular, and the organization’s standing as a neutral in general. Yet, where it was possible, the ICRC did intervene in countries where it believed it could aid the Jews. In 1941, the ICRC established the Joint Relief Commission of the Red Cross for the purpose of providing food, clothes, and medicine to the Jews trapped in the ghettos of the General-Gouvernement. These efforts, however, were stymied by the Allies, who refused the ICRC permission to pass through the continental blockade. Ultimately, the operation was limited to providing quantities of food to a number of camps in the east and to refugees in the south of France. Perhaps the most successful endeavor of the International Committee of the Red Cross on behalf of the Jews was its intervention in Hungary in the spring of 1944. The Red Cross, along with the War Refugee Board, exerted pressure on the Hungarian government to halt the deportation of the Jews, which, for reasons of national self-interest, it agreed to do. During this period, when the deportations were suspended, the ICRC found food and shelter for thousands of Jews.The most conspicuous failure of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in addition to its reluctance to arouse the world to the nature of the Nazi genocide, was the aborted plan to organize the emigration of Jews from German-occupied territory and move them by ship to Palestine by way of the Black Sea and Turkey. The ICRC, however, was careful not to violate the provisions of the British White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration into Palestine. When the German government predictably refused to issue exit permits, the mission failed.THE ALLIESA different type of failure is associated with the controversy surrounding the debate over the question as to whether the Allies did all they could to save the Jews from extermination. In early 1942, the Polish government-in-exile residing in London sent Jan Karski, a courier for the exiled government and a member of the Polish underground, on a mission to evaluate the general situation in occupied Poland. Karski twice slipped into the Warsaw ghetto, where he met with Jewish leaders who informed him of the desperate plight of the Jews. In November 1942, Karski reached London via Sweden, where he briefed the Polish government-in-exile, and subsequently met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill regarding the fate of Polish Jewry. Based on Karski’s reports, the Polish government-in-exile called on the Allies to take measures to prevent the destruction of the Jews. Karski next went to the United States where he met with President Franklin Roosevelt, to whom he described the terrible plight of the Jews. The president assured Karski that something would be done. In later years, Karski would lament as to how he was given assurances by the two Allied leaders that action on behalf of the Jews would be forthcoming, only to fail to see it materialize. Karski, however, was not the only source of information that the Allies received regarding the murderous activities of the Nazis.Reports of the mass murder of the Jews also came to the attention of the Allies from the World Jewish Congress (WJC). The organization, which had its headquarters in Switzerland, received information from Eduard Schulte, a German businessman, to the effect that the Germans were engaged in the mass murder of millions of Jews by means of poison gas and other methods. On 8 August 1942, Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the WJC representative in Geneva, cabled Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the president of the WJC and a friend of President Roosevelt, and Sidney Silverman, a member of the British Parliament, the information he had received from Schulte.The U.S. Department of State, which intercepted the mailing, refused to transmit the Riegner cable to Wise because the information was not substantiated. Toward the end of August, however, Wise received the cable from Sidney Silverman. When Wise passed the information on to Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, he was asked not to make the information public until the contents of the cable were verified. Wise held on to this information, and it was not until November 1942, when it became evident that the Nazi genocide entailed the murder of millions of Jews, that he publicly disclosed the contents of the Riegner cable. At the time, Wise was willing to maintain secrecy regarding the cable because he had confidence that the Roosevelt administration would respond to the destruction of European Jewry with all the resources available to the U.S. government.Rabbi Wise’s faith in President Roosevelt, however, was not justified by the response of the United States to the Holocaust. Following America’s entry into the war, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and Germany’s subsequent declaration of war against the United States, the president operated amid pressures that politically prevented him from taking a more forceful stand on behalf of European Jewry. These pressures arose in the form of opinion polls, which showed a high percentage of anti-Semitic feeling throughout the country, both before and after the United States went to war against Germany. Because anti-Semitism was a factor in the political calculations of the president, Roosevelt concluded that the war could not be depicted as one being fought to save the Jews of Europe. As early as his convening of the Evian Conference in 1938, Roosevelt rarely singled out the plight of the Jews but referred instead to the “political refugees crisis.” For this reason, the response of the Roosevelt administration to the Nazi genocide, at least until 1944, was one of gesture rather than action, with the objective of appeasing the concerns of his Jewish constituency. Although the Allies were aware that Jews were being murdered in the millions, it was never mentioned at any of the major conferences held by the Allied leadership in Casablanca, Teheran, or Yalta. When the British government in mid-1942 found itself facing public pressure to do something on behalf of the Jews, the United States joined Great Britain in a declaration that condemned the “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.” What the Allied leaders did not do was advocate a concrete strategy against the Nazi genocide. As the position of the Jews deteriorated and the public became aware of the German extermination policy, they demanded more from their leaders than wellmeaning platitudes. The result of this pressure was the British convening of the Bermuda Conference in April 1943. The Germans, by October 1941, had prohibited the emigration of Jews from German-occupied territory. Fearing, perhaps, that millions of Jews finding havens in the Allied countries would increase the manpower of the enemy, the Germans changed the status of the Jews from that of potential emigrants to prisoners of the Reich. Nevertheless, the Bermuda Conference was organized for the purpose of finding a solution to the large number of both Jewish and non-Jewish refugees who sought safe havens in neutral countries. The conference was not designed, however, to deal with the larger and more immediate issue of genocide. Furthermore, the British insisted that the Jewish character of the crisis be played down, and the euphemism “political refugees” be used to disguise the plight of the Jews. As one proposal for rescue after another was rejected by the delegates, it became clear that the real purpose for convening the conference was to assuage public opinion without committing to specific steps to rescue Jews. Despite evidence of the Final Solution, the British insisted that the Jews be treated as one of the many groups victimized by the Nazis. The failure of the Bermuda Conference was widely condemned by American Jews as well as by non-Jews who were concerned about their governments’ apparent indifference toward the fate of the Jews. When concrete steps were finally taken, they were almost forced on President Roosevelt.In the fall of 1942, when news of the Jewish catastrophe in Europe was filtering back to Washington, Henry Morgenthau Jr., the secretary of the Treasury and the highest-ranking Jew in the Roosevelt administration, was informed by his subordinates in the Treasury Department that officials in the State Department were engaged in deliberately withholding information regarding the murder of the Jews. In January 1944, Josiah DuBois Jr., Morgenthau’s assistant, handed the secretary his “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews.” The report documented the “willful failure” of the State Department to use its authority to provide aid to the victims of the Nazi extermination campaign. Sensitive to the highly charged nature of the report’s title, Morgenthau changed it to “A Personal Report to the President.” On 16 January 1944, Morgenthau, along with two other Jewish advisers to Roosevelt, Benjamin V. Cohen and Samuel Rosenman, presented the report to the president. Fearful, perhaps, that should the information become public it would be politically devastating for him in an election year, Roosevelt quickly moved to defuse a potential scandal for his administration. By the end of the month, President Roosevelt by executive order established the War Refugee Board (WRB).The creation of the War Refugee Board signaled a new policy whereby the Roosevelt administration would take “all measures within its power to rescue the victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death.” Despite the alleged support of the president, the WRB quickly found that not all government agencies were willing to cooperate with the new policy. The War Department was uncooperative, and the State Department remained obstructive in regard to the WRB efforts to save Hungarian Jewry from being shipped to Auschwitz. Ultimately, the WRB was instrumental in pressuring the Hungarian government to stop the deportation of the approximately 230,000 Jews of Budapest. Despite this success, the WRB, already at odds with other government agencies, was additionally handicapped by poor funding and what appeared to be Roosevelt’s lack of interest and support. One of the WRB’s most publicized successes was the evacuation of 982 Jewish refugees and a sprinkling of non-Jews from Italy to a safe haven in an unused army camp in Oswego, New York, in August 1944. Fearful that this humanitarian project would be construed as proof that the administration gave a priority to the rescue of Jews, Roosevelt insisted that non-Jewish refugees be included in the rescue operation. Although the WRB sought to organize additional havens in the United States, the president would agree only to the Oswego project. Although the WRB was established after millions of Jews had already been murdered, the agency sought to save the remnant of European Jewry through activities that included the protection of Jews within Axis-occupied Europe by financing underground activities as well as by exerting diplomatic pressure.The WRB also was indirectly involved in one of the most controversial issues regarding the Allied response to the Nazi genocide, the bombing of Auschwitz. Although not under the purview of the WRB, its members were sympathetic to the rising demand that Auschwitz, or the railway tracks leading to the death camp, be bombed in order to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria or, at the very least, slow down the process whereby thousands of Jews arriving daily by train to the death camp were killed. By the spring of 1944, if not earlier, the Allied governments were aware of the killing operations in Auschwitz. At the same time, the Allied air forces controlled the skies over Europe and were within bombing range of Auschwitz as well as the tracks leading to the death camp. Although appeals were made to the Allied governments that the camp be bombed for humanitarian reasons, the decision was made not to bomb targets that deviated from the overall military strategy. The U.S. War Department argued that such attacks would be an impractical diversion from vital military and industrial targets and would result in heavy air force casualties. The War Department insisted that the most effective way to save the lives of the Jews in Auschwitz, and in other German concentration camps, was through an early defeat of the Axis enemy. Thus, the air force based in Italy bombed German plants that produced synthetic oil and rubber, which were located within 45 miles of Birkenau. On two occasions, American bombers struck the industrial sites of Auschwitz itself, less than five miles from the huge gas chamber installations.The efforts of the WRB were further stymied by the Allied policy of unconditional surrender, which prohibited negotiating with Germany, bribing Nazi officials on behalf of the Jews, or ransoming of Jewish lives in exchange for goods and commodities that were in short supply in Germany. Given the “silence” of the Christian churches and the unwillingness of the Allies to include the rescue of Jews as a priority in the war effort, the Germans continued unobstructed their genocidal policy toward the Jews. Bereft of aid from the Allied world, the Jews found themselves at the mercy of their German killers. Historians will continue to argue as to whether the Allies, the churches, or the International Red Cross could have done more in the face of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. Reflecting on the low priority that was given to saving the Jews from annihilation, it must be noted that our judgments are too often shaped by what we know in the present about events that occurred in the past. In the case of the Allied “failure” to adopt a more active policy toward saving the Jews, the strategy can only be understood by examining the options that were considered realistic at the time. From the perspective of the present, the bombing of Auschwitz appears to have been an obvious means of saving Jewish lives. Yet, at the time, even Jewish leaders were divided on the merits of such an action, and many of them subscribed to the strategy that the best way to save the lives of the Jews in the death camps was through a speedy victory over Germany.We still are unclear about the reasons for the silence of the churches or even how to interpret that silence. It may be that, with the exception of the Quakers, every Christian denomination under German occupation sought to protect its own. It is clear that the law of self-preservation rather than self-sacrifice informed the reaction of the churches to the extermination of the Jews. The failure of organized Christianity to condemn the German extermination of the Jews, therefore, may have had less to do with the traditional anti-Jewish teachings of the church than with a very earthly fear of Nazi retribution.CONCLUSIONWhat we can say with certainty is that the Holocaust was perpetrated by the Nazis as a means of eliminating the Jews from the planet. Although a certain amount of greed motivated the Germans in their war against the Jews, it was primarily their racist ideas that justified the gas chambers and crematoria in death camps such as Auschwitz. If there is anything to be learned from the Holocaust, it is that bigotry has deadly consequences. Unfortunately, humankind has absorbed little of this lesson, as evidenced by the recent war in Bosnia and in other acts of genocide in countries such as Rwanda, Zaire, and Darfur. The primary identification of the Holocaust with the Jews is not meant to minimize the suffering of the other groups who lost millions during the Nazi terror. Rather, the Nazi assault on the Jews was an unprecedented event in history, inasmuch as a nation-state had never before targeted an entire people for extinction. It was Nazi Germany’s intentions toward the Jews rather than the numbers murdered that places the Jews at the center of the Holocaust. Having condemned an entire people to death, a precedent for this type of genocide was established in the future. Can we guarantee that the peculiar ideas and laws that first stripped Jews of their rights in Germany and then condemned them to the gas chambers will not occur again? To trivialize or diminish Hitler’s war against the Jews by reducing or relativizing the six million Jewish dead to simply one of many targeted victims of the Nazis is to lose sight of the peculiar fusion of anti-Semitism and apocalyptic ideas that made the resolution of the Jewish question central to Nazi ideology. Once the Final Solution to the Jewish question was adopted as state policy, the Germans constructed the death camps, whose primary function was to murder Jews. To miss this aspect of the Holocaust is to invite the possibility that it could happen again, only with another group replacing the Jews as the victim.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.