-By Oluwatosin Giwa
‘’Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task
will be the annihilation of the Jews. As soon as I have
power to do so, I will have gallows built in rows- at the
Marienplatz in Munich, for example- as many as traffic
allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscriminately,
and they will remain hanging until they stink; they will hang
there till the principles of hygiene permit. As soon as they
have been untied the next batch will be strung up, and so on
down the line until every last Jew in Munich has been exterminated.
Other cities will follow suit, precisely in the same fashion, until all
Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews’’
Hitler had always been open about his hatred of Jews. In his 1926 book, Mein Kampf (my struggle), he gave warning of his intention to eradicate the Jews immediately he attains power. Never before had a state with authority of its responsible leader decided and announced that a specific human group,[ including its aged, its women and children], would be killed as quickly as possible, and then carried through this resolution using every possible means of state power to achieve it.
The term holocaust comes from the Greek word holokauston, referring to an animal sacrifice offered to a god in which the whole animal is burnt completely.
It is however important to note that the anti-Semitism was not all Adolf Hitler’s initiation. The Jews had been regarded as nuisances a long time ago even before Hitler was born. In 1895, Volkisch leader Hermann Ahlwardt called the Jews ‘predators’’ and ‘’cholera bacilli’’ who must be exterminated for the good of the German people. Also in his best-selling 1912 book, Heinrich Class, urged that all German Jews be stripped of their German citizenship and be reduced to alien status. Many other German leaders had condemned the Jews but none had a strong-driven zeal like Hitler.
Adolf Hitler became the Fuhrer of Germany in 1934 , then he fully embarked on his long desired ambition. He was also the leader of the Nazi party from 1921 to 1945 (when he died). Nazi leaders proclaimed the existence of the ‘’people’s community’’ for the Germans. Then Nazi policies about repression divided the population into three types of enemies:#1 the racial enemies– the Jews and the Gypsies ; #2 political opponents– Marxists, liberals, Christians & the ‘reactionaries’ (who were viewed as the wayward Germans) and #3 moral opponents –the ‘work-shy’ ,the homosexuals and habitual criminals.
Every arm of the country’s sophisticated bureaucracy was involved in the killing process.
The persecution and genocide were carried out in stages :
- Nuremberg Laws of 1935: Initially, the German government passed to exclude Jews from the civil society. Jews were excluded from schools and universities, from belonging to the Journalists’ Association and being owners or editors of newspapers. Jews were stripped of their land properties and stores.
- Kristallnatcht (1938): A Jewish minor assassinated a Nazi diplomat in 1938. This incident was used by the Nazis as a pretext to go beyond legal repression to large-scale physical violence against Jewish Germans. Jews property was vandalised, Jews were attacked, more than 7000 Jewish shops and 1200 synagogues were destroyed. The death toll is assumed to be more than the the official number- 91
- Concentration and labour camps (1933-1945): These were initially used as places of incarceration but later became places where Jews were either killed or made to work as slave laborers, undernourished and tortured. Extermination by labour was a policy of systemic extermination – camp inmates would literally be worked to death or physical exhaustion
Ghettos (1939-1945): The Nazis established ghettos to confine Jews. The ghettos were formed and closed to the outside world at different times and for different reasons. Ghettos were intended to be temporary until the Jews were deported , but the deportation never occurred. Instead the ghetto inhabitants were sent to extermination camps. The ghettos were overcrowded. Starvation and disease also killed hundreds of thousands.
“The German came, the police, and they started banging
Houses “Raus! Raus! Juden raus!”… One baby started to cry…
And then the other. So the mother urinated in her hand and gave the baby to drink to keep quiet… [When the police had gone], I told the mother to come out. And one baby was dead… From fear the mother had choked her own baby.
— Abraham Malik, describing his experience in the Kovno Ghetto
- Pogroms (1939-1942): A number of deadly pogroms occurred during the second world war. The Nazis encouraged some while some were spontaneous. Some Jews were burned to death in a locked barn and many were just killed by mass shooting.
- Death squads (1941-1943): So many Jews and Gypsies were killed by firing squads. The execution initially carried out in secret places and outskirts of towns was later performed in public places.
‘’ One after the other, they had to remove their luggage, then their coats, shoes, outer garments and also their underwear… Once undressed, they were led into the ravine which was about 150m long, 30m wide and a good 15m deep… When they reached the bottom of the ravine they are seized by members of the Schutzpolizei and made to lie down on top of the Jews who had already been shot… The corpses were literally in layers. A police marksman came along and shot each Jew in the neck with a submachine gun… I saw these marksmen stand on layers of corpse and shoot one after the other, walking across the bodies to the next Jew, who had meanwhile lain down, and shoot him”
- Human Experiments: A distinctive feature of Nazi genocide was the extensive use of human subjects in “medical” experiments. German physicians were highly Nazified, compared to other professionals, in term of party membership. The most notorious was Dr Mengele whose experiments included placing subjects in gas chambers, freezing them, attempting to put change eye colour by injecting chemicals into children eyes and various amputations and other surgeries. Subjects who survive these were almost always killed and dissected shortly after.
“ I remember one set of twins in particular: Guido and Ina, aged about four. One day, Mengele took them away. When they returned, they were in a terrible state: they had been sewn together, back to back, like Siamese twins. Their wounds were infected and oozing pus. They screamed day and night. They were in so much pain. Then their parents – I think the mother’s name was Stella- managed to get some morphine and killed the children in order to end their suffering.”
- Extermination camps: Starting in December 1939, the Nazis introduced new methods of mass murder by using gas.
At the extermination camps with gas chambers all the prisoners arrived by train. Sometimes entire trainloads were sent straight into the gas chambers, but usually the camp doctors on duty subjected individuals to selections, where a small percentage were deemed fit to work in the slave labour camps; the majority were taken directly from the platforms to a reception area where all their clothes and other possessions were seized by the Nazis to help fund the war. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. Usually they were told these were showers or delousing chambers, and they were signs outside saying “baths” or “sauna”. They were then given a small piece of soap and towel to avoid panic, and were told to remember where they kept their belongings for the same reason. When they ask for water because they were thirsty after a long journey in the cattle trains, they were told to hurry up, because coffee was waiting for them in the camp, and it was getting cold.
According to Rudolf Hoss, commander of Auschwitz , bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and solid pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the chambers through the vents in the side walls, releasing toxic HCN. Those inside died within 20 minutes: the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was to a gas vent, according to HOB, who estimated that one-third of the inmates died immediately. An SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that : “Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the openings and it was clear that they fought for their lives. When they are removed, if the chamber was congested, as often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin coloured pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleed from the ears.
The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted by dentist prisoners, and the women’s hair cut . The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashed. The work was done by Sonderkommando, the work units of Jewish prisoners. When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims’ mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into a furnace alive as punishment.