Those who could work, mostly men, were sent the other way and "processed" into the camp. They were stripped naked, all their belongings confiscated, and shaved from head to toe, given worn-out rags to wear and shoes that did not fit. There were no blankets, mattresses, pillows, or heat in the dormitory "beds" (like wooden boxes) where they slept six to a bed. They were systematically starved and used for slave labor. After a whole day of heavy labor, "dinner" was a bowl of cabbage "soup," mostly water, and sometimes a slice of bread. They mustered twice a day to be counted, often standing for hours on end without adequate clothing in the winter. Those who became unable to work went to the gas chamber. During epidemics the bodies piled up in heaps like garbage, and vicious dogs, trained to hate the prisoners, guarded the camps. (Frankl, 1997).
Why Didn't Anyone Help Them?
Whole books, such as While Six Million Died (Morse, 1960), have been written about how the world turned its back on the Jews. Morse, gives much documented evidence that the U.S. government knew what happening to the Jews and chose to do nothing. Morse shows that immigration laws were perverted and tightened to keep the Jews from coming here. For example, one of the rules was that immigrants had to provide proof they would be able to support themselves once they got here. Without money (they couldn't bring any out of Germany), Jews who hoped to immigrant to the U.S. needed "sponsors," that is, citizens willing to help them find jobs and get established. Sponsors were hard to find. I interviewed a woman who was a child during World War II. Her grandfather's name was Heller, a traditional Jewish name, but his part of the family had converted to Christianity several generations before and didn't remember being Jews anymore. Because of his name, he received letters from Jews in Germany with the same name, pleading with him to sponsor their immigration to America. He said he didn't want to be bothered or get involved. Of course, she says, he didn't know the extent of the Jews' plight. Most Americans didn't. According to Leff (2003) the newspapers didn't think it was a story! At the end of the war there were lots of stories about heroic American soldiers liberating people, but very few (and only one on a front page) dealing with the torture and destruction of six million European Jews. The post-war American media appears to have been indifferent to the fate of the Jews. Americans learned from the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, that the Nazis had committed atrocities, but they did not learn that the atrocities were committed as part of a systematic campaign to rid the world of Jews. When the camps were liberated by American and Russian military the papers reported the countries of the prisoners, the heaps of corpses, etc. But did not report extermination of the Jews.
General Dwight D. Eisenhauer reported that the soldiers could smell the camps as far away as 15-20 miles. The people living in those areas had to know what was happening, although they claimed they didn't. The German people, themselves, seem to have been complacent. When the Jews were dismissed from their jobs, for example, most of them approved of it. The German public opposed denouncing and persecuting clergy but didn't mind sending Jews to camps. How they managed to be religious and hate the Jews at the same time is hard to understand. One German historian claims, "Most Germans did not want the Jews to be killed" (Johnson, 1999, p. 484). But another, Gellately, says, "[The] majority more or less accepted the racist teachings and cooperated in eliminating unwanted social 'elements'" (Gellately, 2001, pp. 261-262). There is really no good explanation for why the world stood by and let the Holocaust happen.
Conclusion - Hitler's Legacy
Hitler has been dead more than 60 years and the name Hitler is no longer in any phone book anywhere on earth. However, his ideas are unfortunately still with us. Antisemitism is alive and festering. Wherever Jews reside as legitimate residents, Hitler's legacy casts an ominous shadow. Israelis, for example, have been through at least 70 suicide bombings and more than 25 car bombings since 1993. The Jews who survived the Holocaust learned that they must be ever vigilant and protect themselves vigorously. Eyewitnesses to the holocaust have worked hard to let people know what really happened so that the horror cannot be repeated.
Ages, A. (1981). Anti-Semitism: The uneasy calm. In The Canadian Jewish Mosaic, Weinfeld, Shaffir & Cotler, eds. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, 383-395.
Cary, N.D. (2002). Antisemitism, everyday life, and the devastation of public morals in Nazi Germany. Central European History, 35 (4), 551-589.
Frankl, V. (1956-1997). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Penguin Books.
Gellately, R. (2001). Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jews in Nazi Germany web site. Retrieved November 28, 2006 at http://www.historylearningsite.com.uk/Jews_Nazi-Germany.htm.
Johnson, E.A. (1999). Nazi terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and ordinary Germans. New York: Basic books.
Leff, L. (2003). Liberated by the yanks: The holocaust as an American story in postwar news articles. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 40 (4), 407-430.
Luke, T. (2005) Terror in the soul. UN Chronicle (42 (1), 32-33.
Miller, A. (1998). Adolf Hitler: How could a monster succeed in blinding a nation? Spiegel. Retrieved November 25, 2006 at http://www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/adolf_Hitler.html.
Morse, A.D. (1960). While six million died. New York: Simon &…