The Theme of the Holocaust and the Responsibility

When we see an image in black and white, we tend to believe that such an event only occurred in a history textbook years ago. We think of wars, death, power, the absence of life, and aggression. An image in black and white can create a nostalgic mood or a hopeless feeling like the Holocaust picture presented below. The image background, a grassland, looks dead and dull, no life being born out of it and a gray sky portraying an end to happiness and the beginning of a mourning life. The picture taken during that time resembles a dark day. It shows a woman, possibly a mother carrying a child in its arms as a soldier is shooting from behind. The soldier is pointing a rifle right at them, choosing to end both of their lives. The photograph is shot from a close-up angle capturing the face of the soldier better than the face of the victims.

Being able to see the face of the soldier depicts that he has no resentment for the act that he is committing while the woman and the child retrieve away as they know that their life is coming to an end. Besides the individuals showcased in the image, there is not a lot of movement captured. The outdoor area looks quiet, alone, and is dark symbolizing life during the era the picture was captured. The scene of the photograph depicted in a deserted area makes the viewer understand how lifeless and hidden these horrible acts being committed were to those doing the harm. On the ground, we can see dark spots, dark holes, and a combination of ashes and burns. This picture emphasizes the tragedy of the Holocaust and the lengths that soldiers were willing to go to. This image makes the viewer wonder how someone can have so much hatred towards others for being ethnically, religiously, or culturally different.

Children and women during the Holocaust were especially susceptible to physical and emotional harm during the Holocaust. Children especially were targeted on supposed racial grounds, such as Jewish youngsters, others for biological reasons, such as patients with physical or mental disabilities, or because of their alleged resistance or political activities (Holocaust Encyclopedia). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum records that as many as 1.5 million children, about 1 million of them Jewish, were killed by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Because they were hidden, some were able to survive. Their identities were disguised and often physically concealed from the outside world; these youngsters faced constant fear, dilemmas, and danger (Holocaust Encyclopedia). Women, like children, were targeted for their disabilities along with women who were Polish and Roma. During the time of the Holocaust, certain concentration camps and areas were for women. By the time Soviet troops had liberated the camps, there have been over 100,000 women incarcerated (Holocaust Encyclopedia). Specifically, Orthodox Jewish women accompanied by children were extremely vulnerable; the larger number of children in Orthodox families also made women in those families a special target of Nazi ideology (Holocaust Encyclopedia).

While the Holocaust was taking over souls, it became evident that is was unsafe for children to attend school. Janine Phillips, a child from Poland, filled a one-thousand-page notebook when she was ten years old because of the amount of free time she had. In the book, Children in the Holocaust and World War II, by Laurel Holiday, she describes how the war was inevitable and when a country is fighting for its survival, there is no time for school (Holiday 3). The Phillips family felt thoroughly dejected, forsaken by justice, nothing but the bad news was all they heard (Holiday 11). Many Polish buildings were destroyed and burned down, leaving the residents with a scarcity of food, missing family members, and homeless. Similar to the individuals in Poland, people in Denmark suffered as well.

Kim Malthe-Brumm, an eighteen-year-old Danish boy, left the life he had love at sea and joint the partisan underground after he saw what the Nazis were doing to the Jews (Holiday 343). A year later after leaving home, Kim was arrested by the Nazis for partisan activities and sentenced to death (Holiday 343). Through the letters he writes to his girlfriends he reveals that everything is trembling and the agony which is part of every birth is everywhere. Never has the world been exposed to such suffering (Holiday 350). He describes his life before this nightmare, always looking through the eyes of a dreamer and now falling asleep with a heavy heart. Being separated from his loved ones, caused Kim to experience a hard life as the family ached immensely for his presence back home.

In the book, We Remember the Holocaust, Adler shares the story of Ruth Bestman. Ruth contracted tuberculosis from the Lodz ghetto and while in Auschwitz. She recalls the day she arrived in Auschwitz, We were stripped of everything and shaved. The only thing I was holding was a photograph of my parents, which of course I had to give up (Adler 76). The author mentions that the ghetto in Lodz, Poland was set up in the poorest section of the city (Adler 59) with no running water and limited space in the apartments available. In the ghetto, there was no food, no clothes, just pure hunger and starvation (Adler 59). Jews were willing to trade whatever they had for bread as they stood on the streets begging. Hirsh Altusky, one of the ladies that lived in the ghetto, remembers at night children were crying and begging, ‘Throw down a piece of bread. Give us a piece of bread.’ Every day when you walked out of the house, you saw dead bodies, skins and bones covered with a newspaper (Adler 60). Besides the Jews, Roman Catholics, the disabled, homosexuals, and Roma Gypsies were also persecuted.

Roman Catholics were unwanted during the era of the Holocaust. In 1933, the Nazi regime arrested thousands of members of the German Catholic central party, as well as Catholic priests (Yad Vashem). All Catholic institutions and schools were banned from removing any competing authority. Throughout the time World War II was occurring, Catholic organizations were oppressed, and thousands of Catholic priests were imprisoned and murdered throughout the areas occupied by the Nazis (Yad Vashem). Hitler wanted to eliminate Catholicism, create a new religion, and replace worshipping Jesus Christ with Nazi ideology. In The Holocaust by David Crowe, he mentions that Martin Luther denied the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and that Jews were more likely to convert to his branch of Christianity than to a religion (Roman Catholicism).

As mentioned earlier, the disabled were also an easy target of persecution leaving them with no place and no life because they were believed to be a burden to society. According to Terese Schwartz, the Nazis decided that is was a waste of time and money to support the disabled. Hitler held a cleansing program in which thousands of people with various handicaps were deemed useless and simply put to death like cats and dogs (Schwartz). Up until 1939, 200,000-350,000 disabled individuals were forcibly sterilized and at the beginning of 1930 200,000 were murdered during the Euthanasia program either by gassing, lethal injection or starvation (Yad Vashem). The Nazis only wanted to have healthy and racially superior members around, so they eliminated the weak and the sick because they were considered unfit for the community. Treated relatively similar to the disabled people were the Roma Gypsies.

Schwartz asserts that the Roma Gypsies were chosen for total annihilation solely because of their race and were denied privileges. They were considered to be a racial and social problem to the German nation. The Germans believed, both the Jews and the Gypsies were racially inferior and degenerate and therefore worthless (Schwartz). Between 90,000-150,000 Roma were murdered by the Germans throughout Europe (Schwartz). Before they were sent to the ghettos and extermination camps, they were sent to concentration camps. Areas of Europe that were occupied by Germans had the fate of Roma vary between countries. The United States Holocaust Museum states, the German authorities generally interned Roma and deployed them as forced laborers in Germany or transported them to Poland to be deployed as forced labor or to be killed.

The homosexuals were not a part of Hitler’s plan either. They were stripped of their civil rights because the Nazis considered homosexuality an affront to their goal of encouraging natural population growth and normal family life (Yad Vashem). For this reason, many males were persecuted, tortured, and executed. The homosexual inmates were forced to wear pink triangles on their clothes so they could be easily recognized and further humiliated inside the camps (Schwartz). Schwartz reports that between 5,000 to 15,000 homosexuals died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Some Nazis believed that homosexuality was an illness that could be cured. Therefore, they designed policies to cure homosexuals of their disease through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival, often separating them from other inmates (Holocaust Encyclopedia). Nazis expanded the program of finding a cure by including medical experimentation homosexual inmates of concentration camps which caused illness, mutilation, death, and yielded no scientific knowledge (Holocaust Encyclopedia).

Microhistories of the Holocaust holds a collection of documents and stories of survivors that were able to escape the Holocaust. In 1998 Esther A. testified her story to the USC Shoah Foundation in New York. She states that after her Holocaust experience she hates wars and does not want to ever see wars again. She says, I do not want people to hate each other because of color or religion (Zalc 288). Esther, Jack A. was also able to share his testimony and the importance of making it known. In his story he implies, We have to be alert. We have to tell the story to all students, as uncomfortable as it isBut, we have to stand on guard. And it has happened. It has manifested itself in ethnic cleansing (Zalc 290). The lives and future of the Jews that witnessed the Holocaust depend on their unity and cooperation today. The Documents on the Holocaust by Yitzhak Arad reminds us that at a time that is hard and difficult as any in Jewish history, but also significant as few times have been, they have been entrusted with the leadership and representation of the German Jews (Arad 57).

After the Holocaust, there were few possibilities for emigration. Tens of thousands of homeless Holocaust survivors migrated westward to other European territories liberated by the western allies where they were housed in hundreds of refugee centers and displaced persons camps (Holocaust Encyclopedia). There was a large number of agencies that aided with finding homes to homeless and providing clothes as well as clothing. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration managed the camps that offered help. Postwar anti-Semitism and violence led Jewish survivors to choose Palestine as their more desired destination; many others sought entry to the United States (Holocaust Encyclopedia).

The United States Holocaust Museum hold statistics reporting that in December of 1945, President Harry Truman issued a directive that loosened the quota restrictions on immigration to the US of persons displaced by the Nazi regime; under this directive, more than 41,000 displaced persons immigrated to the United States. Later in 1948, the Displaced Persons Act was passed which provided approximately 4000,000 US immigration visas for displaces persons, and of the 400,000 displaced persons who entered the US under the DP Act, approximately 68,000 were Jews (Holocaust Encyclopedia). Other Jewish refugees left to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South America, and South Africa. This led to an impact on various cultures. After World War II, Yiddish language, the official Jewish European language, had a significant decline as it English quickly replaced it. The Yiddish language and culture were rooted out of Europe.

Although today many structures and buildings that have been rebuilt since the destruction of the Holocaust, there are still many scars in locations that the Holocaust impacted the most. As much as Germans would like to think that this event did not occur, it did, and they have had to confront what Hitler did. The term Vergangenheitsbewaltigung translates to coping with the past and has become a key concept in post-1945 German culture describing the way Germans discuss and confront their history (The Local). Richard Evans, the author from Foreign Affairs, wrote an article and said, in recent decades, Germany has accomplished an undeniably impressive feat: a collective acceptance of moral responsibility for the terrible crimes of its recent past. Germany has declared an official national day of remembrance for the Holocaust, January 27th. Through this, the newly united Germany has shown itself to be taking a new and progressive approach towards remembering its National Socialist past (The Local). In addition, the German government also decided to remember the Holocaust in more physical ways by constructing memorials and monuments such as The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to give expression of acceptance. These memorials serve more than just a symbolic function. They serve as a reminder to the past act as constant, unavoidable, and visceral reminders of the truth (Evans).

This exercise allowed me to explore the Holocaust more and gave me the opportunity to gain unknown knowledge of an impactful event. As I was researching, the more I read and the more I came across statistics, the more real it became to me. The Holocaust has been a topic I have been aware of since elementary school. Throughout the years, it has been taught to me in different stages, but it is not until now that I am fully comprehending the Holocaust and all that it entailed. It is crazy to think how ridiculous and dehumanizing it is to kill a mother and a child and how the Nazis were completely okay with it.

The theme of the Holocaust has not been covered in class yet, but will be before the semester ends. I am thrilled to see how much more I will be able to learn and I am eager to contribute and participate during the class lecture of World War II. Reading the class textbook, Traditions and Encounters, I learned about the final solution. Hitler was able to solve what he considered the problems of Jews throughout Europe through the German occupation of Poland in 1939 and the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 (Bentley 624). The final solution for the Jews entailed the attempted murder of every Jew that lived in Europe. At the Wannsee Conference that took place in 1942, fifteen leading Nazi bureaucrats agreed to evacuate all Jews from Europe to camps in eastern Poland, where they would be worked to death or exterminated (Bentley 625).

Today the Holocaust is remembered as a sacrifice and as a means to respond to the way our faith may be challenged, especially practicing Catholicism. It has made us aware of being able to prevent an occasion like this again from ever happening. The Holocaust brought to light how we treat people and the injustices that many individuals receive. Because of the Holocaust, I have become more aware of my surroundings and the pain that I can cause to others based on my actions and my words.

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