To introduce the Holocaust, I want to provide a brief overview of the event. The Holocaust was a large scale, state-sponsored, systematic murder of innocent Jews across Europe carried out by the German military and authorities. Germans believed that their race was superior to the Jewish race. Jews were deemed, "life unworthy of life." (1) The Holocaust was a result of this strong German belief, which led to the attempted annihilation of the Jews. The German government called the plan to annihilate the Jewish people "The Final Solution." Nearly six million out of the nine million European Jews were murdered in total. This means that two-thirds of the European Jewish population was wiped out in less than 10 years.
Although Jews were the main target of the Nazi regime, others were viewed as inferior as well. These peoples included, Gypsies, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses, some Slavic peoples, and homosexuals. Today, we know that although the Germans did not succeed in their plan to annihilate the Jews, the Holocaust remains a devastating chapter in history. This essay will attempt to inform you of the terrible reality of the Holocaust and Canada's role in it.
(We, as a nation, should be held responsible for ignoring and downplaying the importance of the events happening in Europe. ) In the year 1933, six years before World War II began, the Nazi party came to power in Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. At this point, the German nation was in an economic slump, due to the consequences of World War I, specifically the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty included "massive demilitarization and financial reparations" for Germany. During this time, Hitler became the dictator of Germany and began building a German "military machine", contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. He wanted to expand Germany to create a German controlled European empire.
Part of this plan was to create a "pure race." This was where the Holocaust began. Hitler decided upon "The Final Solution", the plot to rid Germany of unwanted peoples. You might be wondering what the German population thought of this idea. As it turns out, most Germans supported it, and those did not were subjected to the same treatment as the Jews. As well as lying about the Jews and their "evil ways", Hitler convinced the German people that the Jews and other "unwanted" people were a communist threat to the nation. The Jews were the main target of this plan And so his people went along with his proposed "Final Solution." The plan was quite simple; the Jews were to be isolated and eventually transported to concentration camps to be killed.
Before any major steps were taken to annihilate the Jews, the government started promoting anti-Semitism and racism among the German people. Jewish children were taunted at their schools; signs prohibited Jews from common rights such as access to stores and services; and vandalism and beatings were common. Meanwhile Hitler and Stalin were plotting to take over numerous smaller, less powerful countries that separated Russia from Germany. They proceeded to declare war and invade these countries, conquering them easily. As a result of these invasions, Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. This was the beginning of World War II.
Eventually, as the Germans neared Russian forces, they decided to declare war on Russia too, contrary to Hitler and Stalin's "secret agreement." As the Germans advanced east, they set up ghettos, which were sealed off districts within a city. A total of four hundred ghettos were established by the Nazis in Europe. In these ghettos, the Jews were isolated from everyone and everything else. Many Jews died in the ghettos.
The reasons for death were quite obvious. The ghettos were very crowded, unsanitary, and miserable places to live. Forced labour was often issued in these ghettos. They were run by Nazi appointed Jewish leaders who basically did what the Nazis told them to do. The Jewish leaders were even in charge of deporting their fellow Jews to concentration camps. After all of the victims were transported to concentration camps, the ghettos were often destroyed.
Concentration camps were places of horror. Speaking of them, Adolf Hitler said, "When I came to power, I did not want the concentration camps to become old age pensioner's homes, but instruments of terror." (2) By the end of the war, there were hundreds of concentration camps throughout Europe. Some of the major camps include Dachau, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, Flossenbuerg, Ravensbrueck, Majdanek, Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Gross-Rosen, Dora-Mittel bau, Bergen-Belsen, and Chelmno. In most concentration camps forced labour was often used for economic gain. For instance, at Mauthausen, prisoners were worked to death at a nearby stone quarry. At the quarry, "prisoners were forced to run up the 186 steps out of the stone quarry carrying heavy boulders." (1) Siegfried Halbreich describes forced labour at Gross-Rosen like this, "During the day, we had to march to the stone quarry, I would say maybe twenty minutes away, and it was in a mountainous terrain, and...
there we had to work, we had to work in this quarry carrying the heavy rocks, and... people died like flies." (3). Most major concentration camps were also equipped with their own gas chambers and crematoriums, the largest of them killing 8, 000 prisoners per day. Extermination camps were constructed during the war specifically for mass murdering their prisoners of ghettos or concentration camps. Most prisoners were gassed with Carbon Monoxide or Zyklon B gas.
These extermination camps were supposed to be kept top secret to prevent allies from learning too much information of the mass killings. Some of the major extermination camps were Chelmno, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Blezec, and Sobibor. Around 1944 and 1945, towards the end of World War II, concentration camps and extermination camps were abandoned in order to prevent advancing Allied Forces from discovering what had happened in these camps. Also, many prisoners were murdered to decrease the number of liberated prisoners of would testify of their concentration camp experiences.
As the Nazis retreated back into Germany, other prisoners were forced on "Death Marches" to other camps within Germany. On these marches, many weak prisoners were unable to walk and died or were shot. As more and more camps and prisoners were liberated, the Holocaust came to a close. Canada had little to do with the liberation of the camps, as its forces were centered in the liberation of Northern France and the Netherlands. Most of the camps were liberated by American troops because of the front they were fighting in relation to the camps. Usually there were no more than 200 surviving prisoners left to die at the camps at the time of their liberation.
The remaining Jews were placed in Displaced Persons camps (DP) in Europe until they could find a place to start a new life. Within the same year of the armistice, the German "war criminals" were put on trial. Over half of the twenty-two "major" war criminals were sentenced to death by hanging on October 6, 1945. It is hard to sum up such an extensive event like the Holocaust but I will try anyway.
About six million out of the 9 million Jews living in Europe died in the Holocaust. That's two-thirds of the total population! This tragedy as well as World War II in Europe was the result of German nationalism, radical racial thinking, and German militarism. Knowing what man is capable of doing and will do, I believe that we should do everything possible to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again. I believe that the nations should have put together a much stronger effort to help the Jews, such as opening borders to Jewish Displaced Persons. All we can hope for is that the world has learned from this tragedy and that it will never happen again. Bibliography (1) web > Author: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2) web > (3) web > (4) web > (5) web.