For a number of years I have been fascinated by the Holocaust that played itself out under the rule of the Third Reich during WWII. Not fascinated in an entertainment sort of way but rather a curiosity of how something like this could have evolved from a seemingly civilized nation. There are a plethora of books, movies, documentaries and articles (both fictional and non-fictional accounts) on the subject. I doubt any tell the real story of the horror that was so widespread and claimed the lives of millions of people.
At the height of the Third Reich’s glory days there were more than 20,000 concentration camps. There are names of these places that anyone with just a bit of education recognize instantly—Auschwitz, Dachau, Sobibor and Treblinka to name a few. In actuality many of these camps were not just a single facility but a series of camps. Auschwitz had a number of satellite facilities like Birkenau, Blechhammer, Gleiwitzi, Janinagrube, Jaworzno, Monowitz, Kattowitz and a number of others. Dachau had Kaufering and Landberg as well as a few other satellite facilities. Suffice it to say if you see the name of one camp there are two or three others associated with it that you are not aware of. The killing machine had been honed to efficiency and perfection by the German War Machine.
Many believe these camps were constructed and initiated operations as WWII kicked off in 1939 but many opened their doors as early as 1933 (Dachau, the 1st concentration camp, opened March 22nd, 1933) and as time progressed, and as people accepted the lunacy that was the Third Reich, they turned into the horror camps that was the Holocaust. I should mention here it was in 1933 that the German people elected to give total control to the madman who was Hitler. Many of these camps were liberated toward the end of WWII by the Allied Forces in the early months of 1945, but many were, prior to being overrun by Allied Forces, liquidated. Meaning every person held there were exterminated and the camp burned to the ground in an effort to remove any semblance of existence or evidence. So twisted and perverse was this desire to kill that even after all knew the war was lost to Germany the killing machine continued expending what little resources remained to facilitate the mass murder of millions.
These camps were categorized by the Nazi henchmen for specific purposes. Some were forced labor camps, some were nothing more than holding centers and others had the distinct purpose of annihilation. If, while serving at the labor camps and could no longer work or were deemed unnecessary, you were sent to one of the special camps that specialized in death—like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno or Belzec (all in Poland). Prisoners of war, political prisoners or anyone who did not think along the lines of a good Nazi were sent to labor camps and had only a slight hope of survival. Others, like the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, Serbs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally infirm, the elderly and select others (considered “anti-social” i.e. beggars and vagrants) were sent to an extermination camp as they had no place in the Third Reich. From 1932 on Jews (and others) were discriminated against and eventually measures were initiated that pushed discrimination to a new level—the systematic extermination of the Jews (Endlosung – The Final Solution) started in the Soviet Union in 1941. There was even a very specific formula to determine if you were to be considered a Jew—and of course, if you were considered a Jew you were destined for one of the extermination camps. Even if you did not meet the definition of a Jew, as outlined by the Nazi formula, but had a trace of Jewish blood you were categorized as Mischlinge (a hybrid) and met with discrimination commensurate to the level of Jewish blood. Eventually, those considered to be First Degree Mischlinge (two Jewish Grandparents) were deported to the death camps. An estimated total of 11 million people were murdered in the German death camps.
It is believed the Nazi Party did not initially have an overt plan to exterminate Jews or “undesirables” but it can be inferred from his writings and speeches that Hitler wanted this from the beginning, but as a Government, the Nazi Party did not act on Hitler’s desires until they were sure there would be no revolt from the German population.
“In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance only the Jewish race that received my prophecies with laughter when I said that I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and with it that of the whole nation, and that I would then among other things settle the Jewish problem. Their laughter was uproarious, but I think that for some time now they have been laughing on the other side of their face. Today I will once more be a prophet: if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” Adolf Hitler – January 30, 1939
By 1941, after two years of a war they were winning, and with the implementation of a massive propaganda effort, the German people were complacent and content to let the Nazi Party do as they saw fit—regardless of what that might be. Whereas there were pockets of German and other European citizens (small groups and individuals) who worked against the Nazi Party and their Final Solution, there is no evidence of a national movement to stop the killing. In fact, the majority, either directly or indirectly, whether wittingly or unwittingly, worked to further the Nazi agenda. At the very least they did nothing to stop it.
The annihilation of undesirables was a subtle subject in the German schools. A typical math question demonstrates this subtle tactic, “The construction of a lunatic asylum costs 6 million marks. How many houses at 15,000 marks each could have been built for that amount?” You can infer from that what you wish, but the fact remains the Nazi machine began a euthanasia program on the sick and disabled in October 1939. In a letter from the Chief of Institution for the Feeble-Minded to Dr. Frank, the Reich Minister of Justice it was stated, “…in an efficient nation there should be no room for weak and frail people.” Several times a week a bus would arrive at the facility in Hadamar with a number of “feeble-minded” people and later the smoke would rise out of the chimney.
Local school children knew what was going on and tease each other by saying, “…you’re crazy; you’ll be sent to the baking oven in Hadamar…” What was going on was a known fact throughout occupied Europe and it was accepted as the norm by most.
You can dissect the events from 1932 thru 1934 that gave Hitler total control and allowed him to pursue his perverse plan, and the subsequent events up through May of 1945, but it all comes down to the fact that the Nation of Germany allowed this to happen. So, can we lay complete blame on Hitler and his henchmen? No. Soon after becoming Chancellor in 1932, Hitler called for a new election and used a massive propaganda machine to demonstrate to the German people that he was their only hope for a new and prosperous Germany—he promised “change” after the economic crash of the late 1920’s and early 30’s. This election was won because 8 percent of the votes offered, a vote that opened the door to the Holocaust and hurled the world into war, was provided by conservative Germans. This led to Hitler’s full use of the Sturmabteilung (S.A., Storm Troopers), the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), the Schutzstaffel (SS, Protection Squad), the Sicherheitsdienst des ReichsfuhrersSS (S.D., Security Service of the SS) and ultimately the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing groups each containing several commando units) whose sole purpose was to travel the country side and exterminate Jews wherever they might be. These organizations, and others like them, ran the camps and collected the occupants to fill the camps, the gas chambers and the crematoriums. The sickness and perverse nature of the men (and women) who filled the ranks of these organizations could move about and initiate any atrocity without fear of retribution from a government that claimed to serve the people—that is people who met a specific identity and mindset. What is said to be unique about Hitler’s “Final Solution” was the determination to murder, without exception, every Jew who were unfortunate enough to be within their grasp, with a fervent fanaticism, ingenuity, efficiency and cruelty. Sonderbehandlung (special treatment) was reserved for the Jewish population and from captivity to the application of “special treatment” the life of a Jew was intolerably brutal—and often very short.
So, back to the original question, “where did the evil that was the Holocaust come from and where did it go?”
The answer, “it has always been here and it is still here.” I’ve heard people say something along the lines of, the Holocaust was a very unique thing and could never happen again, because we are much more civilized now—but that is such a lie. (I should also mention here there are those who are pushing an agenda to have the Holocaust of the Third Reich removed from history since they claim it never happened.) Let’s look at some not so distant historical facts. The annihilation of the Native American in the 1800s and 1900s – in fact, although subtle, this practice continues today. The prisoner of War camps of the Civil War—Andersonville in the South and Rock Island in the North. The extermination of millions by Pol Pot’s Red Khmer in Cambodia (1975-1979), the Stolen Generations in Australia (1910-1970’s), the Sudan (1955-1972 and again 1983-2005), the Brazilian Indian Genocide (1957-1968), Rwanda (1962-1963 and again in 1983), Uganda (1971-1979), Sri Lanka (1983-2009), North Korea (1990’s to Present), Darfur (2003-Present) and Syria (2011-Present). All of these events took place with the approval (or the lack of disapproval) of a government and people of influence of that nation. Sadly these listed are just a few of recent “events” of civilized societies acting on a thought that one group of people are better than another and therefore have the right to exterminate those they deem unfit or not in line with accepted philosophies.
The evil that was the Holocaust is ever present and all it takes is for good people to allow it. All it takes is a twisted leader, with the support of a few henchmen and the blind eye of a nation and the Holocaust will play itself out at anytime, anywhere. And yes, even in the United States. History will repeat itself over and over again. The first step that opens the door to a Holocaust is the thought that it could never happen here.