The Holocaust

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The Holocaust

The Holocaust refers to the killing of European Jews and others by the Nazis before and during the Second World War. The total number of European Jews murdered was about six million. Nazi regime came to an end after Germany was defeated by the Allied Powers in 1945 bringing World War II to an end.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party

The defeat of Germany in World War I left the country economically traumatized and unstable politically. Adolf Hitler, an old soldier who had been in the German forces for long, was frustrated by this defeat in particular. Earlier that year, a group of some Germans had founded a political organization called German Workers' Party. Some of the founders included Karl Harrer, a journalist and Anton Drexler, a locksmith. After the defeat, Adolf Hitler joined the party. The manifesto of the party was to promote nationalism in Germany and anti-Semitism, the strong dislike and harsh treatment of the Jewish people (Landsberg and Alison 208). The party felt that the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that brought World War I to an end was unfair to Germany as it burdened the country with restitution that was too heavy to pay. Hitler became known as a beguiling speaker and blamed Marxists and Jews for Germany's troubles and through this many people were deceived to join the party. German Workers' Party was later renamed to Nationalist Socialist German Workers' (Nazi) Party and in1921, Hitler became the new leader. He held several rallies during his reign in which he claimed that Germany's problems would not stop until there was a complete revolution and this included driving the European Jews and communists from the country. He claimed that the European Jews and communists in the country were the cause of hunger, unemployment, economic depression and inflation of prices of commodities. His speeches made the party gain popularity among Germans especially the youth who were disadvantaged economically.

Failed Coup and Hitler's Rise to Power

Hitler together with his followers attempted to overthrow the government in Bavaria, Southern Germany in the year 1923. It was known as coup d'état or Beer Hall Putsch. He had hoped that this would be the beginning of a great revolution against Germany's government (Baumgartner and Samuel 179). However, this attempt failed and led to his arrest, conviction of treason, and he was to serve a five-year jail term, but he was released within the first year. He rebuilt the Nazi Party and set on trials to become Germany's leader through an election. Around 1929 there was enormous unemployment and economic breakdown. Hitler and his followers took advantage of this by condemning the government and through this he started winning elections. In 1933 he was appointed as the Chancellor of Germany( Zuroff and Efraim 323) Under his rule, he made Germany a one-party state by banning all other political movements and parties. In the same year he opened a camp for political prisoners in Dachau, Germany. Many European Jews died as a result of execution, disease, overwork and malnutrition in that camp. Other prisoners in that camp included homosexuals, gypsies, mentally and physically handicapped, artists among others who Hitler felt were not suitable to stay in his country.

Expansion and Persecution of Jews

After gaining power, Hitler directed aggressive alien policy towards overruling the Treaty of Versailles and restoring Germany's power. He argued that the redrawn map of Europe denied Germany expansion space for the population that was fast-growing. He also claimed that the treaty had led to the separation of Germans by the creation of new states like Czechoslovakia and Austria. He compromised the postwar international order bit by bit, pulled out Germany from the League of Nations and rebuilt the country's armed forces above what the Treaty of Versailles authorized. In 1936 he reclaimed the German Rhineland, occupied Austria around 1938 and in the following year he captured Czechoslovakia.

Systematic Killing of Jews

Hitler instituted strict measures directed at mistreating the Jews in Germany. Towards the end of 1938 he had banned all the Jews from accessing most of the public amenities in the country. During World War II, campaigns against the Jewish gained a lot of momentum. When German soldiers invaded Poland many of the Jews in Poland were shot, confined of most of them in the slums where they died due to starvation and sent some to camps in the various regions of Poland where they were turned into slave laborers or killed instantly. A great number of Jewish people were also shot dead by the Nazi troops in the Western parts of Soviet Russia. This occurred in 1941 when the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany( Kushner and Tony 698) In 1942 the Nazi Party held a conference at Wannsee near Berlin where they lay out plans to systematically terminate the lives of all the European Jews. Later in the same year and in 1943 Jews in the Western countries including Belgium and France were evicted to the camps all over Europe. Big death camps like Auschwitz started operating in Poland efficiently. The killing of Jews in the German-dominated areas only stopped towards the end of the war as German soldiers moved back to Berlin. About six million Jews had been killed by 1945.

America's Reaction and Efforts

Information concerning the killing of the Jews by the Nazi government had reached America, but they did not know of the mass killing campaigns that were going on. They sympathized with the European Jews but assisting them was not a priority. Domestic challenges in America like racism, national security, lack of employment and antisemitism shaped their reaction to the plight of the suffering European Jews. During World War II, America together with the Allies focused on military conquest as compared to humanitarianism. America allowed more refugees to get into the nation as compared to other countries. However, it could still have allowed tens of thousands more had they been given the United States Immigration passports. About one hundred and eighty thousand to two hundred and twenty-five refugees were admitted in the United States from 1933 to 1945. The United States' disposition to allow in refugees was limited by the economic havoc of the Great Depression together with the devotion to impartiality and strongly held preconception towards immigrants. The Great depression refers to an economic collapse in Europe, North America and industrialized parts of the Western world from 1929 to 1939. It is recorded as the most prolonged and grave slump ever in the West. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the then president of America, reacted to the catastrophe by a plan referred to as the New Deal.

America's Immigration Policies

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's government did not put any effort into modifying the United States' complex and constitutional immigration procedure which limited the number of immigrants permitted. This denied thousands of refugees fleeing from Nazism chances to get into America. Moreover, the United States' government put in place new strict measures that made it tougher for refugees to enter the country.

America's Involvement in World War II

Most of the Americans thought that America would maintain neutrality in the World War II. This was back in the year 1939. However, in two years as debates were ongoing between isolationists, the group that wanted America to maintain neutrality and concentrates on the Western Hemisphere defense, and interventionists, the group that wanted America to offer military assistance to Great Britain, America slowly joined the Allied Powers. America declared war on Japan in 1941 after Japan launching a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Germany declared war on America in response to this. Through this America fully got into the war. The United States of America, Great Britain, Soviet Union and China collectively known as Allied powers fought against Germany, Italy and Japan collectively known as Axis powers in defense of democracy and not the rescue of the European Jews being killed by the Nazi government.

America's Response to the Holocaust

For four years, American civilians and troops made great sacrifices to overthrow the Nazi government. Some of the sacrifices included home-based war effort and military service. The United States had been expected to offer more assistance in the rescue of the European Jews, however, this was not possible at the time it got into the war (Braham and Randolph 327) The State Department of the United States confirmed in 1942 that the Nazi government had planned to kill all the European Jews, and the information was widely spread. About two million Jews had already been murdered. Gerhart Riegner, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, had earlier sent a message through the United States' State Department to Rabbi Stephen Wise, the president of the organization concerning the mass murder. The officials of the State Department blocked the letter from reaching the intended recipient claiming it was a mere rumor. After three months of investigation, the news was verified. When this news reached the Jews in the various Allied nations, they held vigils and rallies and declared 2nd December 1942 a world mourning day to express their dissatisfaction with the killing.

Allied Nations Response to the Holocaust

Great Britain, the Soviet Union, The United States together with other allied nations emancipated a declaration on monstrosities. The declaration castigated cold-blood killing of the Jews and also stated that the criminals would be punished after the war stopped (Zuroff and Efraim 576). However, there were no promises of rescue initiatives. By 1943 details of the mass killing were still trickling in and the Jews in America were still divided on the magnitude of pressure they would exert on their government to aid in the rescue of the victims .Some feared that their appeals would lead to anti-Semitic campaigns in the United States while others argued that putting pressure on the government was the only way out. Rabbi Wise organized a massive rally in Madison Square Garden and also tried to influence President Roosevelt to assist the victims. British foreign and the State Department officials held a conference in Bermuda in April 1943 to address the increasing pressure for the rescue (Kochavi and Post 127). The conference ended with no substantial plans for the rescue further frustrating those advocating for the rescue.

Individual Efforts to Raise Awareness

Peter Bergson, an activist, also tried to create awareness of the European Jews' plight. He organized marches, rallies and accused Roosevelt's administration of silence on the matter. Jan Karski, a Polish underground resistance member, also tried to convince Roosevelt of the need to rescue the Jews after witnessing how they suffered in the ghettoes and death camps. War Refugee Board was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 to execute a military rescue of the victims of the Nazi regime which saved thousands and thousands of Jews. The killing of the Jews came to a stop in 1945 when the Germans were defeated at the end of World War II.

America's Immigration Policies and Potential for Rescuing More Jews

On 13th November 1935, FDR sent a letter to New York Governor Herbert Lehman concerning the issuance of immigration visas. He stated that with regards to the Governor's request that the quota for German Jews is moved from 2500 to 5000 per annum there was no immigration quota fixed for the person in the class described nor had there been any arbitrary limitations set upon the number of visas issued other than the maximum allowance fixed by law. In Benjamin V. Cohen's letter to Missy LeHand on November 10th, 1938 he stated that he had received authentic information that the German situation was far worse than what was known from the press. He reported that many Jews had been arrested and murdered and urged Missy to mobilize American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and Jewish Labor Committee immediately.

America would have rescued more Jews if they had changed their constitutional immigration process and issued more visas to the immigrants. They would also have increased the quota for the German Jews per annum. If President Roosevelt listened to the plight of the rescue advocates early enough, more Jews would have been rescued as well.

Works Cited

 Kushner, Tony. The Holocaust and the liberal imagination: A social and cultural history. Wiley-Blackwell, 1994.

Landsberg, Alison. "Prosthetic memory: the ethics and politics of memory in an age of mass culture." Memory and popular film. Manchester University Press, 2018.

Kochavi, Arieh J. Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States, and Jewish Refugees, 1945-1948. Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Baumgartner, Samuel P. "Human Rights and Civil Litigation in United States Courts: The Holocaust-Era Cases." Wash. ULQ 80 (2002): 835.

Zuroff, Efraim. The response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust: the activities of the Vaad ha-Hatzala Rescue Committee, 1939-1945. Ktav Pub Inc, 2000.

Braham, Randolph L. The Treatment of the Holocaust in Textbooks: The Federal Republic of Germany, Israel, the United States of America. Holocaust Studies Series. Columbia University Press, 562 West 113 Street, New York, NY 10025, 1987.

November 13, 2023

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