A nation unaware of its past has only a pallid present, while its future is completely uncertain. In this respect, the horrifying events known as the Holocaust have unprecedented significance not only for the Jewish people, the main victim of this inhuman outrage, but also for the rest of humanity. The exploitation by human beings of the most modern and efficient means of annihilation in dealing with human beings merely on the basis of their biological origin is undoubtedly the ultimate crime against the human race, and as such, knowledge and awareness of it must be handed down through the generations to ensure that no such event ever comes to pass again.
The National Socialist (Nazi) Party headed by Adolf Hitler, author of Mein Kampf “My Struggle”, came to power in the Republic of Germany as the result of democratic elections held in 1933, at a time when Germany, like much of the Western world, was undergoing an extremely severe economic crisis. By putting the country on a war footing, the Nazi Party fought unemployment and pulled Germany out of the economic calamity that had affected the country. One of the principles comprising the Nazi world view was that of the hierarchy of races. According to this principle, the Aryan race – to which the Scandinavians and Germans belong – is the most advanced race, while the Slavs, the Jews and the gypsies are to classified as untermenschen “sub-humans”, the races that close the list from the bottom.
Following the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century and the social revolutions that took place in Central Europe in 1848 and thereafter, the Jews of Central Europe had successfully integrated into European society – especially in France and in Germany – and thus provided fertile ground for the rapid and rabid development of the pseudo-scientific anti-Semitism offered by the Nazi weltanschauung. Coming in the wake of the church-instigated anti-Semitism that had lasted for many centuries, and given the German propensity for precision, the stage was set for the outbreak of violence.
When the violence against the Jewish people began, it began gradually. At first Jews lost their jobs: not only Jewish professors were unable to find employment at German universities, but also Jewish workers in all fields found themselves on the streets, unable to provide their families with livelihoods. Jewish institutions were attacked, synagogues were raided and then burnt to the ground. Entire Jewish communities were deprived of their property and forced to live in subhuman conditions in special quarters that were known as ghettoes. Individual Jews were subjected to persecution.
The Nazi definition of a “Jew” was extremely inclusive: not even the grandchild of a Jew could feel safe, not even if his parents and he had grown up as Christians.
As the “war against the Jews” progressed and got steadily more violent, and especially after plans for the so-called “Final Solution of the Jewish Problem” were drawn up, entire communities were marched through the inhuman conditions of European winters towards labor camps, hundreds of Jews dying by the roadside in drifts of snow. As World War II progressed, and the German Wehrmacht (Army) invaded more and more countries, it became the practice to transport by railroad thousands of Jews and to “relocate” them in camps throughout Europe. Thousands of Jews were herded into railroad cars under subhuman conditions: no air, no food, no heating and only a bucket in a corner for wastes. It is no wonder that hundreds of Jews died while being transported to their destination, the camps. Some of these were indeed slated to be labor camps, and their inhabitants were forced to work in German munitions plants, providing weapons and ammunition for the German war effort.
Other camps were explicitly designated as death camps, with crematoria and gas chambers to facilitate the dispatch of tens of thousands of Jews. The most infamous of these is undoubtedly the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, though many others were the equivalent of Auschwitz with regard to the atrocities against the Jews committed in them.
There were doctors on duty at the death camps, but their task was to experiment on those about to die – and as a result, many inhuman tortures were perpetrated on the victims in the name of scientific research. The most infamous of these doctors was Josef Mengele who succeeded in escaping from Germany with the collapse of the Third Reich and made his way to South America where he managed to survive to an old age despite the unceasing efforts made, especially by Jewish groups seeking vengeance, to apprehend him.
As the Allied armies advanced through Europe, the Russians from the East and the Americans, British and French from the West, many of the camps were liberated, together with hundreds of Jews the Germans had not yet managed to kill.
The Jewish People lost between six and seven million of its scions in the Holocaust, horribly and systematically murdered by the German Nazis in the most intensive attempt ever made to wipe out the Jewish People. Of these millions over a million and a half were children. No wonder that the leaders of the post-Holocaust Jewish world step carefully, for they feel on their shoulders the heavy yoke of responsibility for the future of our people.