The Holocaust: Basic Questions

Figure 1.--NAZI Governor General Hans Frank, 3 months after the German invasion decreed that all Jews above 10 years of age were to wear a white badge with a Star of David on their right arm (November 23, 1939). Here a Jewish teenager is selling the arm bands in Warsaw. You can see the damage from the German bombing in the background.

We have received quite a range of questions from readers on the Holocaust. Many are issues addressed on many of the pages in the Holocaust section. Some are not and are important enough to be addressed. Some of these questions come from students working on school projects. Often these basic question cut the central issues involved. We will try to answer some of these questions and readers are incouraged to submit additional questions as well as to comment on the questions akready addressed.

What does the Holocaust have to do with your site on children?

The answer to this question is quite simple. Unlike World War I where children were killed for the most part incidentally to combat operations or suffered from overall food shortages , the NAZIs as part of the Holocaust specifically targeted children. As part of the Hunger Plan, food shortages were created to kill Jews, especially Jewish children and other non-workers. There were other targets, but Jewish rations from the beginning werecset below all other groups. Jewish children and their mothers along with the elderly were the first to be murdered at the death camps. For the most part the children were not held at the camps, but were sent directly to the gas chambers after they stepped off the transport carriages at Auschwitz.

Why did the NAZIs hate the Jews?

Several students had posed this question. The general tendency of studebts is to approach the holocaust like other historical subjectsd logically. This is probably a mistake. Hatred is not always logical. For example many Americans hate Black people because they see them as lazy and not very intelligent. Hitler and the NAZIs disliked Jews because they were successful economically and professionally (because they were industrious and did well in school). There are historical reasons for anti-Semitism, but don't expect them to be logical or founded on fact. The origins of anti-Semitism lay in the Middle Ages and the Church played a central issue. This is a topic which we have only begun to address in our site.

What did the Jews do to inspire such hatred?

Another student poses this question, which is related to the question above. Students are incouraged to look at both or often the many sides of an issue. A good teacher will help students put aside their national, religious, social class, racial and ethnic prejudices and assess historical issues disaptionately. While this is simply good teaching, when assessing the Holocaust this approach is dangerous. There is sadly in this world pure evil. This was reflected un Hitler and the NAZIs. Trying to look at both sides of the issue lends a creditibility to the NAZis that they do not merit. On many controversial issues, proponents can muster reasonable arguments, that is why the issue is controversial. This is not, however, always the case. The answer of course is that the Jews did nothing to merit the horror visited upon them. NAZI antisemitism was a volitile mixture of Nordic mythology, xenephobic nationalism, gangsterism, racial bigotry, ignorance, hisdtorical tradition, and pure evil. It had vurtually nothing to do with the Jews themselves.

What kind of labor were the children forced to perform?

Children coudn't perform much useful work. That is why the Germans wanted to kill them first. The point of the Holocaust as it evolved was not to use Jews for labor. Some NAZIs wanted tonuse them for labor to assist in the War effort and to benefit economivally from slave labor. Teen agers were used to work in ghetto work shops and to peddle, but once deportations began they were doomed. Hitler decided that even if harmed the war effort, he wanted the Jews killed. He had no problem in using Jewish labor while the killing progress was going on, but he wanted them killed as fast as possible. The purpose was to kill them. Children who had little or no value as labor were among the ones killed first. Upon arrival at the camps, children and women with children were sent directly to the gas chambers. Now it is true that some Jews were used for forced labor. They were, however, given so little food and housed in such poorconditions that there life expentency was only a few months. The purpose was to kill them. This was done at a time in Germany that a shortage of labor was developing as workers were coinscripted for war service. Thus as notvall the Jews could be klled immeditely, Jewish labor along with other foreign and foreign labor man the war industries. For the most part, however, as soon as the non-productive Jews were killed, productive worker Jews were killed. The impact on the war did not matter, the highest German war-time priority was to kill the Jews as rapidly as posible.

What did America do to save the Jews?

The answer sadly is, not much. There was still considerable anti-Semetic feeling in America during the 1930s and 40s. America allowed very little Jewish immigration during the War. America did help defeat the NAZIs which saved many Jews, but there were no efforts to destroy the gas chambers in the death camps. There were some efforts to help Jews in Vichy France escape, but primarily well know Jews with professional reputations. After the War began, especially after the German victory in the West (june 1940), there ws little America could do except win the War. And here the Allied victory managed to save about half of the Jews at ruck in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. America did assist the survibvors ad ofher victims of NAZI tyranny in librated areas through UNRAA. Even after the War there was great resistance in the Congress to allow the Jews in refugee camps to come to America. This was eventually overcome and many of the survivors eventually came to America.


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Created: 1:34 AM 10/22/2004
Last updated: 1:34 AM 10/22/2004