Jewish children were the most vulnerable of all and died in the greatest proportion. They were the most vulnerable and had no economic value which the NAZIs could exploit. Even more importantly, they also were the seed for the future of the Jewish people. The NAZIs also saw them as a force for future retribution if they were not killed. The NAZIs are estimated to have murdered over a million Jewish children. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Ghetto whose parents had been killed. A great body of literature exists on the Holocaust including the experiences of the children. some of the children were killed by SS Einsatzgruppen in mass executions with their parents in Poland and on a larger scale in the Soviet Union. Most were forced into gettoes where those without parents often starved. Then they were deported and died in the various NAZI transit, labor, or death camps. Some Jewish children managed to survive the Holocaust by hiding, emmigrating (often without their family), or concealing the fact that they were Jewish. When asked after the War why they killed the chilldren, a ranking SS officer told his interviewers that was a stupid question. Of course it was a question from an American that had not yet full come to terms with the evil of the Holocaust. The children were not a messy consequence of killing the adults, Killing the children was the heart and soul of the NAZI effort to destroy the Jewish people. And the NAZIs were terrifyingly effective. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the Jewish children in the occupied were killed by the NAZIs. Survival was not random. Survival depeneded on who you were, where you were from, gender, age, health, appearance and other factors.
The Holocaust began in Germany. It was, however, to be a gradual process. The initial goal was to drive Jews out of Germany. The first steps were aimed at removing Jews from German life and making it difficult to Jews to make a living. Adults were the first targets. The NAZIs proceeded to fire Jews from the civil service and educational institutions. There was a symbolic boycott of Jewish stores and shops followed by a gradual process of removing Jews from German business and commerce. While this immediately affected adukts, taking away their parent's livlihood affected the children as well. Children were directly affected by abuse at school. NAZI teachers humiliated Jewish children them in class and down graded their work. The NAZIs began a purge of teachers who openly opposed them and a more gradual process of hiring ideologically reliabnle staff. Other children attacked Jewish children and were not punished. Then with the declaration of the Nuremberg Laws, Jewish children were expelled from the schools (1935). Mixed marriage families were disrupted affecting the children. With the terrifying Kristallnacht, again it was mostly the adult men that were targeted. And the NAZIs did allow Jewish children to leave in the Kindertransport (1938-39). With the invasion of Czechoslovakia (March 1939) and Poland (September 1939), the NAZIs turned their attention to the occupied territories.
The NAZIs with the advent of World War II pursued the Holocaust much more rapid in the occupied cointries. With the the invasion of Poland The first acts were against adults (September 1939). There were several incidents of Jews being shot, mostly adult men from some boys were included among the victims. The general process in Poland was to keep the families together and heard Jews into medieval ghettos. This process was continued after the victory in the West and the occupation of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands (June 1940). The NAZIs changed this process with the invasion of the Balkans (Yugoslavia and Greece (April 1941). Here the pkilling process began soon after the occupation. The NAZIs did not pursue the ghetto process as in Poland. This was because smaller numbers of Jews were involved and the decesion to kill the Jews was more advanced. In the Balkans the pricess was often to kill the men first and only later the women and children. Large scale killing began with Operation Barbarossa, the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). SD Commander Heydrish organized four Einsatzgruppen were organized to kill Communist officials, other regime supporters, and Jews. Apparently, the orders were unclear because some Einsatzgruppen atfirst only killed adult male Jews, although this very quickly shifted to all the Jews they found. While the killing process was underway in the Soviet Union, it was not in Poland. This began in Chelmo. Many of the victims came from the nearby Lodz Ghetto. There was within the NAZI hierarchy considerable differences as to just what to do with the Jews, at least in the short term. There was a great deal of money to be made by exploiting the Jews, both through graft and corrupting and using them as slave labor. Of course killing them ended all the lucrative possibilities. Thus some NAZIs a range of policies other than mass extermination. This debate was possible because Hitler as far as we know never issued written orders. Thus there was ampel reason to misunderstand the verbal orders he almost certainly gave Himmler. Göring, and Heydrich. One of the options was to kill the children and other non-workers. The Allgemeine Gehsperre order selecting the children was one result (September 1942). By this time, howver, the decesion to kill all the Jews had already been taken. And the SS had worked out the best process. Trying to separate the children from their parents meant that the SS then had to enter the ghettos and find where their parents his them. It was more efficent to separate them upon arrival at the death camps. Counting on the desire of parents to hang on to their children, the SS allowed the families to stay together until reaching the death camps. Here they were either all killed or the children (with their mothers), sick and elderly were separated for immediate death.
The first Jews to be targeted by the NAZIs were adult men who were fired from their civil service jobs. But this was just the beginning as more a more occupations were targetefd as well as extra-legal actions. The children were of course not unaffected. When men lose their jobs, they can no longer support their families. Jewish children were also affected by the way teachers treated them as well as rising violence at the hands of other students, Given the improtance that Jews placed on education, it was ineviavle that Jewsish education and students would be targeted by the NAZIs. Many Jewish children were already driven from the public schools by the time the NAZI Nuremberg Laws were decreed (September 1935). This gave NAZI authorities the authority to expel Jewish children from the public schools. The Jewish community began organizing schools for the children. This proved difficult because NAZI authorities were also seizing Jewish property. This any substantial facilities were seized. The Jewish community did the best they could with the resoyrces they were available to them. Considerable emphasis was placed on English as most parents were attempting to emograte, especiallyh to America or England. After Hitler launched the war, the NAZIs began to set up ghettoes for Polish Jews. And German authorities began deporting German families milies began to be deported to the ghettoes. Ghettoes regulations varied, but ultimtely any form of scholl or education was prohibited. The school situauin varies in the different occupied countriesm but the general process was expulsion and concentation in preparation gor transport to the death camps.
Jewish children were the most vulnerable of all and died in the greatest proportion. The NAZIs are estimated to have murdered over a million Jewish children. The children were not a messy consequence of killing the adults, Killing the children was the haeart and soul of the NAZI effort to destroy the Jewish people. And the NAZIs were terrifyingly effective. There are of course no precise statistics. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the Jewish children in the occupied were killed by the NAZIs. This is much higher than the 60-70 percent of adults that perished. [Tec] Part of the reason was that children died in such large numbers was that they were more vulnerable and less able to fend for themselves. They were more vulnerable dusease and malnutrition in the ghettoes. The NAZIs rounded up the children for killing operations before their parents. And when whole scak\le transports to the death camps began, the children and their mothers were singled out for death as soon as the gas chambers were available. Another factor is that the NAZIs specifically targeted the children. Here they were stunningly successful. In 1939 there were some 1.7 million European Jewish children under the age of 16. By 1945 only an estimated 0.2 million of those children had survived, most by hiding. [Greenfield]
Survival was not random. Almost all of the children who survived either emmigrated or were hidden by Christian families or institutions (usually Catholic) schools and orphanages. There were several factors which affected whether a child lived or died. Survival depeneded on 1) who you were, 2) where you were from, 3) gender, 4) age, 5) health, 6) appearance, 7) parents, and other 8) factors. Children from wealthy families were the most likely to survive. These parents had the money to send their children abroad before the War began or smuggle them out after the War began. Money of course did not guarantee saftey, but it was an important assett. Of course the NAZIs as part of the Holocaust began depriving Jews of the abilitty to make a living and to loot their property. Besides being lucrative, impoverishment made them more vulnerable. Once impoverished Jews had few alternatives and chances for escape. Where you were from was crucial. German Jewish children had the best chance of survival because the Holocaust in Germany was a slower process and parents had time to understand the NAZIs and prepare. Many parents protected their children by sending them outside the country. Dutch Jewish children had almost no chance of survival because their parents had no concept of the danger and there was no where to escape. Also children who grew up speaking Yiddish and spoke Polish or other local language with an accent were difficult to hide. Gender was also a factor. Because Jewish boys were circumcized, it was much more difficult to hide them. Age was another critical factor. Infants could be placed the most easily with families willing to protect them. Young children from about 3-7 years were the most difficult to hide. In their innosence they could easily say someting to give themselves away. Older children could more effectively be coached to guard their secret. Health was another factor in that many children faced great deprivation and children who were not physically strong were less much likely to survive. Appearance was a key factor. Children who "looked Jewish" were virtually impossivle to hide. Part of the curiculum in German schools was racial education which among other aspects taught German children to identify Jews. Light complexioned Jewish childrem especially children with blond hair and blue eyes were the most likely to survive. Parents also played a key role. Some recognized the danger and planned for it. Others did not. Many parents arranged for emmigration such as the Kindertransport or hiding places before they were arrested and forced into gettoes. Also coaching by the parents was important in the child being able to successfully hide. Howard Greenfied's book The Hidden Children provides 25 examples of children who were succesfully hidden.
It is difficult for modern readers to understand why the Germans conducted the Holocaust. Certainly there was no logic to, but only hate. Especially difficult to understand was the killing of the children. There appears to have been several reasons. The key was at the heart of NAZI ideology. The NAZIs were obsessed with eugenics and building a new world around the Aryan master race. The Jews were seen as race polluters and the carriers of hereditary diseases. The elimination of the Jews was thus seen as an essential step in building the new perfect Aryan race. The children were potential racial polluters. The children as the seeds of the Jewish future were thus not killed reluctantly or unintentionally, but rather the children were seen by the NAZis as essential to kill. There were other reasons for killing the children. They had no economic value which could be expolited by the the NAZIs. In fact they had a negative economic value as they kept their care kept their mothers from working. The NAZIs also saw them as a force for future retribution if they were not killed.
The childern suffered humiliation, phyical and verbal abuse, deprivation, and starvation. The older children were set to forced kabor. Most were utimately murdered. One can not forget the images of the starving Jewish children on the Warsaw Ghetto whose parents had been killed. A great body of literature exists on the Holocaust including the experiences of the children. some of the children were killed by SS Einsatzgruppenin in mass executions with their parents in Poland and on a larger scale in the Soviet Union. Most were forced into gettoes where those without parents often starved. Then they were deported and died in the various NAZI transit, labor, or death camps.
Many ask, "Why didn't the Jews fight back". Often the question is couched as an accusation that the Jews were to cowardly to fight and somehow deserved their fate. In fact the Jews did fight back. The best known example is the Warsaw Getto uprising (1943). There was also an uprising at the Sorbibor death camp. In addition there were Jewish partisan groups. Some were argue that the Jewish resistance was weak and inefectual given the enormity of the NAZI killing machine. That is a question we will leave to others to answer as HBC wants to primarily focus on the children in the Holocaust. In this regard, it must be rembered that the NAZIs used the children as a weapon to limit Jewish resistance. Many Jews might have run away and either fought or at least been more difficult to arrest. One factor limiting this was partents inability to abandon their children. An adult might be able to survive in a forrest or join a partisan group. With small children this was impossible. This is why the NAZIs kept families together until the moment the Jews steped out of the cattle car tarnsports on to the platforms at the death camps and the selections began.
Some Jewish children managed to survive
the Holocaust by hiding, emmigrating (often without their family), or concealing the fact that they were Jewish.
When asked after the War why they killed the
chilldren, a ranking SS officer told his interviewers that was a stupid question. Of course it was a question from an American that had not yet full come to terms with
the evil of the Holocaust. A young U.S. procecutor in the Nuremberg War Crimes tells of his interview with S.S. General Otto Oldendorf was commanded Einsatzgruppen actions. Oldendorf was not some uneducated S.A. thug, but a ciltured man with five children and a PhD. in economics. He complained that it was a stupid question to ask him why the children were killed. He said that Germany was fighting for its survival and the children of left allive woukld mean future enemies that would have to be fought. He made a point that he always insisted on his men acting with "compasion". They were not allowed to throw babies out windows or crush their skulls by swing them against trees. He told his men that mothers would hold their babies to their breasts. Thus aim for the baby and one bullet will economically kill two Jews. [U.S. prosecutor]
This portion of the Wiesenthal site is dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Each day, we'll revisit a special child's life as a tribute to their unique person. Each of the children featured are accompanied with a biography and photograph. To navigate through the biographies, click on the name next to the picture and it will take you to that child's personal page. To return to this main index page, click on the icon that says, "Meet Other Children of the Holocaust". This site includes children from the many different countries in which the Germans dominated.
One problem that teachers face is when and how to discussthe Hiolocaust to children. In terms of books, The Diary of Ann Frank is probably a book than can be used for this introduction. Another book, written for the younger reader, is Howard Greenfeld's After the Holocaust which relates the experiences of eight child Holocaust survivors. The book is designed for readers about 13 and older to appreciate. The word, Holocaust, means destruction by fire, as Greenfeld notes in the introduction of his work, "After the Holocaust". Lives, property, and culture were destroyed by that cataclysm. The eight survivors of the Holocaust who share their experiences with the reader, however, also their youth.
Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.
Greenfeld, Howard. After the Holocaust.
Greenfeld, Howard. Hidden Children (Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston 1993).
Tec, Nechama. "Children and the Holocaust: Keynote address," Children and the Holocaust Symposium, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 3, 2003.
U.S. prosecutor. This gentleman spoke from the floor at the Children and the Holocaust Symposium, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 3, 2003., but I did not get his name.
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