Friday, June 5, 2009

Pres. Obama: Lessons of the Holocaust

Pres. Obama Joins German PM Merkel and Elie Wiesel at Buchenwald
One day after he criticized those who deny the Holocaust President Barack Obama toured the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany with German Prime Minister Merkel and Nobel
Prize winning author and Buchenwald survivor Elie Weisel. "These sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time...our grief and outrage have not diminished, " the President said today. He said we have a duty to confront those who deny the Holocaust as well as other acts of intolerance and violence that continue to this day. " It is now up to us to resist" the intolerance that led to the Holocaust, he further stated.  Invoking his father who perished at Buchenwald, Mr. Wiesel made a moving plea for the world to abandon war, oppression and intolerance, and for peace for both Israel and its neighbors. The "time has come" for an end to hatred, but he cautioned,"the world hasn't learned." The concentration work camp was constructed in 1937 near Weimar and was liberated in April 1945 after 56,000 people perished there, or about one quarter of those incarcerated. Other camps, primarily outside Germany that were extermination camps, had even higher numbers of people killed there. The President's great uncle helped liberate the camp as an American soldier in WWII. Elie Weisel is in the above photo taken by the U.S. Army.  
The Holocaust
The Holocaust refers to the largest and most recent coordinated genocidal attack against Jewry in world history.[1] At its conclusion about six million men, women, and children of Jewish ancestry or religious affiliation were killed by the Nazi regime.
Estimated Figures of Jews Killed As A Result of the Holocaust

Country                        Number    Percent of Jewish Population


Poland                          3,000,000            90

SSR Ukraine            900,000                   60

Hungary                       450,000               70

Romania                       300,000               50

SSR White Russ.            245,000             65

Baltic States            228,000                     90                   

Germany/Aus.            210,000                 90

Other               600,900                      -

TOTAL                        5,933,900             67

(Dawidowicz, 1975, p. 402)

Nation              Number of Jews Killed

Poland              up to 3,000,000

USSR                          over 700,000

Romania                       270,000

Czechoslovakia            260,000

Hungary                       over 180,000

Lithuania                       up to 130,000

Other               560,000

TOTAL                        5,100,000 (Hilberg, 1985, p. 1220)

The Holocaust did not start spontaneously, however, with bullets or gas chambers in the 1940s, but rather with a carefully sculpted campaign of bigoted rhetoric and direct action which escalated throughout the 1930s. The official Nazi propaganda bureaucracy orchestrated a systematic effort to scapegoat responsibility for Germany's military, diplomatic and economic defeats on to Jews. Media campaigns labeled Jews as rodents or vermin unfit for inclusion in an Aryan society.  Nazi laws worked hand in glove with economic deprivation and social castigation to remove Jews from meaningful participation in German society.

 On November 9, 1938 a two day long attack of coordinated hate crimes by roving bands of Nazi mobs commenced across Germany and Austria resulting in the death of 96 Jews, and the illegitimate arrest of 30,000 more.  Arsons, vandalism and looting destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues. As correspondent Otto Tolishus reported in the New York Times, " nightfall there was scarcely a Jewish shop, cafe, office or synagogue in the country that was not either wrecked, burned severely, or damaged." The combination of government complicity and the lack of any meaningful public condemnation in Germany to this initial violent salvo is widely regarded as a crucial turning point for the even greater atrocities that followed (Berenbaum, 1993, p. 54; ADL,1991, p. 7).

The final stages of the Nazi atrocities involved the complete isolation of Jews from society. Victims were stripped of their belongings and forcibly removed from their homes. In violation of Judaic law victims were tattooed with identification numbers on their forearms. They were transported in sealed railroad cattle cars to cramped unsanitary slave labor camps ringed by electrified fences, guard towers, and armed soldiers.

 Most of the Jewish deaths that occurred under the Nazi regime occurred at 17 major concentration camps spread across Eastern Europe from 1942-1945.  While most died from gassings involving either the insecticide Zyklon B or carbon monoxide, a smaller number died from shootings, beatings, anatomical experimentation and disease (Berenbaum, 1993, p.123;  O'Brien & Palmer,1993, p.68).

These concentration camps were the most efficient killing machines ever developed in human history. Those who were infirm, elderly, or too young for forced labor were immediately segregated and executed upon arrival. All others, except the few liberated by the Allies, were killed after a period of forced labor. At the conclusion of their period of forced labor, most victims were stripped naked and herded into large enclosures where they faced a painful death through asphyxiation from poison gas. The bodies of the victims were, contrary to Judaic law, cremated and reduced to ash in a mass collection of superheated black industrial iron ovens located on the premises.

In disputed Soviet territory roaming Nazi SS and police killing squads called Einsatzgruppen, summarily executed whole communities of Jews. Approximately 25% of the Jews killed during the Holocaust were actually executed by the Einsatzgruppen (Berenbaum, 1993, p. 95). Nearly all the Jews who failed to escape European countries under Nazi domination during that period perished in concentration camps. One third of the world's Jewish population and nearly all of mainland European Jewry was obliterated (O'Brien & Palmer,1993, pp. 68-9; Berenbaum, 1993,  p. 95). Others systematically executed included devout Christians, gypsies, gays, intellectuals, and the disabled.

Notwithstanding wartime chaos and the Nazi's intentional attempt to hide the nature and extent of their brutality, the Holocaust is one of the most thoroughly documented events in human history.  After Hitler's initial proclamation in 1939 authorizing the extermination of the disabled, explicit official documentation of extermination was still extensive, but involved the use of code words (Berenbaum,1993, p. 65). After the liberation of the concentration camps by the allies various members of Congress, the military, survivors and the press helped document the atrocities. The 1946 Nuremberg Trials presented exhaustive proof of the Nazi's extermination plan against European Jewry. During the trial the defendants did not deny the atrocities, but rather proffered that they were merely obeying commands. Among the damning evidence was Rudolf Hoess' admission to English interrogators on March 16, 1946 that he "personally arranged on orders received from Himmler in May 1941, the gassing of two million persons between June-July 1941 and the end of 1943, during which time I was Commandant of Auschwitz" (Stern, 1993,  p. 69).

The Nizkor Project 
A resource for those dedicated to combating bigotry both online and within 
their communities. 
Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
American Jewish Committee
Simon Weisenthal Center

Interfaith Committee of Remembrance Honors Holocaust victims and survivors through a series of musical concerts and events 

Holocaust/Shoah Page

United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

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