HOW ON EARTH could an intelligent, civilized, 20th century country have demonized an entire religion to the point of justifying deportation, genocide and the Holocaust? Not just those of the Jewish faith, but homosexuals, migrant gypsies, and the mentally & physically disabled – anyone deemed by the powers-that-be as foreign, weak, or not just not “one of us.”
In 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany after the Nazi Party won a significant percent of the peoples’ vote. The Nazi’s took advantage of an economic recession and political unrest to preach German Nationalism as the solution. They conducted a ruthless propaganda campaign against the Jews whom they blamed for Germany’s woes. The Nazi Party claimed the Jews corrupted the German way of life with their external influence. They portrayed Jews & gypsies alike as evil and foreign, while the German people were hard-working and patriotic. They expertly exploited our base human emotions of both fear and anger. They claimed the Jews were weakening Germany’s culture, economy and security.
A relentless anti-Jewish propaganda machine preached to the population, year after year, in both the press and radio.
In 1933, German Jews numbered around 500,000, or 1% of the German population. During the next six years, the Nazis attempted to “purify” Germany, liquidating Jewish-owned businesses. Under Hitler’s 1935 law, anyone with 2 Jewish grandparents was designated Jewish, regardless of their current faith or party. In the Nazi’s mind, only Aryans were true Germans. By German law, Jews could now become targets for bigotry and persecution. The majority of the German people who were not Jews swallowed the propaganda – whether out of fear, belief or hatred, and turned in their Jewish neighbors to the Nazi party.
The culmination of the Nazi campaign for the average German citizen was KRISTALLNACHT on November, 9th, 1938 or the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazi mobs were allowed to smash the windows of Jewish businesses, burn synagogues to the ground, and arrest thousands who resisted. Police and firemen were ordered by the Nazi Party not to interfere and let it all happen. Non-Jewish Germans just stood back, hid in their homes, and watched it all occur. Jews were now required to wear arms bands with a yellow Star of David with the word Jude inscribed.
In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and WWII began.
As they swept Poland, the Nazi military forced tens of thousands of Polish Jews into ghettos, confiscating and redistributing their property. Surrounded by walls of barbed wire – poverty and hunger made the Warsaw ghettos the worst. It was a breeding ground for disease and starvation. More than 10% of the Polish population was Jewish, numbering over three million. They would soon all be sent off to concentration camps.
By 1941, the Nazis had in effect sealed off Europe to migration. Whether Jew, gypsy, gay or disabled, you were now trapped in Hitler’s Third Reich with no escape. Forced deportations by long trains of boxcars to Concentration Camps soon begun – with infamous names like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachua, Bergen Belsen, and 20 others spread across Germany and Poland. What began an internment camps soon became extermination factories. The Nazis Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. While whispers of the wide spread extermination leaked out to Britain, the United States and Russia, it was not until the Camps were liberated by the Allies in 1945, that the full atrocity of the Nazi Holocaust was revealed to a shocked world.
We humans can, and sometimes do, LEARN from history. But there are many aspects about the Holocaust, specifically its decade long, pre-war genesis with demonization and propaganda, that we have yet to fully evolve past. Leaders with dictatorial authority have the power to create a cult-like framework that can harness people through the 2 potent emotions of fear and hatred. Leaders prey on conformity, anger, privilege, racism, superiority, and bigotry. They divide populations into US and THEM camps. We know from past, and current, examples that it doesn’t require centuries of gestation. In fact, in today’s Digital Age of instantaneous Social Media, it can be accomplished in a matter of months, or even weeks.
So what can we human beings do today in the “modern” 21st century to prevent such a thing from even happening again? I will leave you with this famous 1790 quote, routinely attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish statesman and philosopher:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of Evil, is for good people to do Nothing.”Edmond Burke
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