Thesis: Jews in the Concentration Camps

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¶ … Jewish Holocaust

THE HISTORY and RELEVANCE of the NAZI HOLOCAUST

Hitler's Ideals and the Final Solution:

Anti-Semitism was the principal doctrine of Nazism and was evident as early as Hitler's original written autobiography Mein Kampf ("my struggle"), authored while he was imprisoned briefly after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1921, more than a decade before rising to power in 1933 (Guttenplan, 2001). Hitler's "Final Solution" was initiated beginning in 1941, although the network of concentration camps through which it was implemented had begun to take shape several years before, being used to exterminate "undesirables" such as the mentally retarded, homosexuals, and political prisoners, as well as Jews, Gypsies, and captured members of the armed resistance in Germany in the early years of World War II (Levin, 1993; Loftus & Aarons, 1994).

By 1943, the Nazis had established dozens of concentration camps throughout Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe, intended to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine. In Germany, Jews were sent to nearby work camps and death camps and in the occupied countries, were transported by rail, under deplorable conditions to the nearest death camps, often several days away.

Resettlement" and Transportation to the Concentration Camps:

One of the paradoxes of the Holocaust is the degree to which the traditional administrative efficiency and timeliness of the Germans applied to the most horrific of human atrocities ever perpetrated. Jews were systematically transported to concentration camps from Germany and all of occupied Europe by rail. The logistics of so many transports from so many places was facilitated by precision rail schedules, census lists, and passenger logs, notwithstanding the fact that the passengers were destined for immediate execution or slave labor, if they were "luck."

In some occupied areas, particularly in Germany during the earlier war years, the Nazis took great pains to camouflage their plans by publicizing propaganda about "resettlement in the East" in connection with which Jews scheduled for transport were issued instructions for packing their belongings and labeling them to ensure that their bags were not lost during the process. Later in the war, particularly in some of the occupied countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, no such pretenses were used and Nazi authorities or local authorities complicit with the Nazis simply rounded up Jews on lists or from whatever buildings or neighborhoods were scheduled for liquidation on a given day, marching them at gunpoint to the town square or to the train stations (Morse, 1998). Nazi authorities went so far as to produce fictional motion picture films supposedly depicting life in the resettlement camps that, in retrospect, are now not too dissimilar from life on a kibbutz in the decades following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Some of those films actually depicted the main gates at Auschwitz emblazoned with the phrase Arbeit Macht Frei ("work makes freedom"). Of course, by the time those films were shown to help increase cooperation with the "resettlement" transportation, the characters shown on the screen had already been gassed and cremated in the crematoria at the camps (Levin, 1993).

The actual experience of the journey itself was the same whether the ultimate destination was a death camp or a work camp. (Guttenplan, 2001). In both cases, the Nazis used cattle cars instead of passenger compartments because the former were completely empty and a single train of cattle cars could be filled with a few thousand people, especially if absolutely no accommodations for the most basic human comforts were provided. A single bucket would be tossed in above the heads of the passengers for use as latrine by as many as two hundred people for the next two or three full days. So many human beings were shoved into each cattle car that it was not uncommon at all for individuals to die en route to the camps by the dozens in each car, but remain standing, because they were propped up by the crushing pressure from so many other prisoners (Levin, 1993; Loftus & Aarons, 1994). Generally, the individuals were herded into the cattle cars and hurried along by Nazi soldiers with varying degrees of cruelty depending on whether or not deportations were still being camouflaged. If not, Jews were subjected to being whipped with riding crops, hit with riot batons, or otherwise physically abused to expedite their cooperation.

In some instances, Nazi officers made examples out of uncooperative individuals by cracking their skulls open with a baton or a rifle but; according to some accounts by survivors as well as the Nazis themselves, the more sadistic officers sometimes grabbed a child by the feet right from the arms of a mother slowing the process down by protesting being separated from her child and swung the child against the train's undercarriage head first, killing it before shoving the mother into the car (Morse, 1998).

Depending on the precise route, the train ride to the camps could last for three days and nights, during which the cars were completely sealed shut, often without any fresh air at all unless someone managed to break a hole in the wall of the train car. There was no food of any kind and more often than not, no water provided. When the Nazis did provide water, it was likely to be by inserting a hose and simply spraying water above the heads of the passengers; this, in unheated train cars in the dead of the Eastern European winter (Levin, 1993).

Treatment of Jews and Other Prisoners in Nazi Concentration Camps:

The circumstances of arrival at the concentration camps varied, again, depending on whether the camps were death camps or work camps. However, even at work camps, the arriving passengers were usually separated immediately upon being unloaded onto the destination train station. As usual, the Nazis were very efficient in this regard as well, constructing train routes that lead right to train stations at the entrance to the camps.

Usually, at work camps, Nazi doctors looked over the new arrivals and sent able-bodied adults and male adolescents to barracks and the elderly, the infirm, and mothers with children in a different direction to extermination facilities (Levin, 1993). Prisoners not immediately executed were tattooed with a unique prisoner identification number that survivors still bear on their arms today.

Again, depending on the degree of deception being employed at particular camps and at different times, the methods of immediately exterminating new arrivals at the camps varied. In the earliest years of the war, Nazi guards and soldiers simply marched the elderly and women with their children to the edge of large pits approximately thirty or forty yards long, ten or fifteen yards wide, and two or three yards deep and machine gunned all the prisoners so that they fell into mass graves. Nazi officers then administered fatal shots to the head of anybody still squirming or merely wounded by the initial volley of fire before pouring lime from sacks onto the bodies and then marching the next group of one or two hundred individuals to the edge of the same pit. Sometimes, the victims were killed in their clothes but more often they were first stripped naked at gunpoint before being marched to their deaths (Guttenplan, 2001).

Eventually, this practice was discontinued, mainly because of the psychological toll it took on the soldiers responsible for carrying out the mass murder day after day, but also to conserve ammunition necessary for the war effort. Heinrich Himmler famously was observed to recoil in horror during one of his camp inspections when he ventured close enough to the open pit that when an officer shot a survivor, bits of brain matter splashed onto Himmler's overcoat (Kershaw, 2000; Levin, 1993).

One of the systems that replaced the mass executions by open pits was the introduction of Zyklon-B in false shower facilities that were actually mass execution gas chambers. Initially, the Nazis had experimented with gassing Jews by simply redirecting exhaust fumes from large "ambulances" and other wheeled trucks into the passenger compartment, but such methods were insufficient to cope with the shear numbers of Jews scheduled for extermination. Zyklon-B was developed as a solid insecticide formed into small pellets that produced deadly hydrogen cyanide gas upon being exposed to the air.

Particularly at Auschwitz, Zyklon-B was employed in conjunction with false shower facilities (Guttenplan, 2001).

The false shower facilities themselves were large enough to accommodate hundreds of victims at a time. Generally, the victims were instructed to disrobe and to remember the number on the hook upon which they had hung their clothes, to maintain their cooperation until the very last moments. After the room was filled to capacity, the doors were sealed and a guard would open a hatch in the ceiling and, wearing a mask to protect himself from the deadly vapors, would unseal the air-tight lid of the Zyklon-B container and shake the pellets out into the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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