The murder of over six million Jews during the Second World War is known by many names. It is known as “Shoah,” which translates to “catastrophe,” in Israel and France on account of an invaluable documentary by Claude Lanzmann’s that was released in 1985. The Nazis who committed these unspeakable acts of evil, on the other hand, called it the “Final Solution.” Today, this event of unparalleled horror is most commonly known as the “Holocaust,” which comes from the Greek word holokauston. The Greek term, in turn, comes from the Hebrew word olah, which refers to sacrifices that were burned whole. The term came into use, as burning the Jews in crematoriums was part of the extermination program (“What is the Origin”). While this event is known by a variety of names, they all point to a single conclusion: The Nazis desperately attempted to annihilate the Jews systematically. As this history paper will show, far from being an inevitable consequence of war, the murder of Jews was an orchestrated suicide that was engineered long before the conflict.
One of the incontrovertible facts that prove the Holocaust was an orchestrated genocide is the fact that it was all planned. The mechanism by which the Nazis were to destroy the Jews was already in place long before the war. Anti-Semitism had always been present in Europe. The Jews were historically persecuted across the continent for hundreds of years. They were expelled from Spain in the 15th century as well as from England in the 13th century. They were also accused to spreading disease by poisoning wells during the Black Death and suffered violence incited by these charges (Barry and Gualde 47). By the time the First World War ended, the Jews were once again the obvious scapegoats as they had always been. The Nazis propagated the false narrative that the republicans and the Jews were the reason why Germany lost the war, accusing them of ousting the Hohenzollern through the German Revolution of 1918-1919 (Kolb). Indeed, this resentment of the Jews, the economic disaster that followed the war, and the bitterness over the controversial provisions of the Treaty of Versailles were among the root causes of World War II.
Though baseless, such accusations succeeded in once again stoking anti-Semitic sentiments. It portrayed the Jews as the enemy and therefore made the enactment of oppressive laws easier. The Jews, for instance, were subjected to the Nuremberg Laws. What exactly were the Nuremberg Laws for? Enacted in 1935, these laws were intended to curtail the rights of the Jews. These laws drew ethnic lines that separated the Jews from what the Nazis believed were the Aryans. They also denied them citizenship and prohibited intermarriage between Jews and Aryans (“The Nuremberg Race Laws”). The essence of the Nuremberg Laws, therefore, was the systematic marginalization of the Jews. It was a preceding step for the rounding up and the extermination that were to come.
Another fact that proves the Holocaust was orchestrated was the increasingly oppressive measures taken against the Jews. On the evening of November 9, 1938, prospects slowly dimmed for the Jews. Jewish businesses and other establishments where smashed, set on fire, and ransacked all throughout Germany and Austria. This event is now known in the pages of history as the Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. A carefully arranged anti-Jewish violence, the Kristallnacht damaged more than 1,000 synagogues and business establishments. Thirty thousand (30,000) Jewish men were also arrested and deported to concentration camps. Police merely stood by as violence engulfed the streets, often done by neighbors. Firemen were present to protect Aryan property, doing nothing to prevent the flames destroying synagogues (“Kristallnacht”). Here, the Jews finally realized that they had no future left in Germany. The fact that the state authorities did nothing to prevent the violence and the destruction of property also point to the clear intention of the Nazis to annihilate the Jews.
Finally, the most significant proof that the Holocaust is an orchestrated genocide is the way by which Jews were massacred. The murder of the Jews was systematically done by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Germany’s invasion of Poland triggered World War II. By this time, the Nazis had moved to the next stage of their master plan: the formation of ghettos to separate the Jews from the rest. Eventually, concentration camps were established across Germany’s new empire across Europe, with the highest concentration in Poland. Jews were rounded up in ghettos, where the quality of life was extremely poor and food was rarely available. The spread of disease was rampant, and many perished in the tight spaces. Eventually, the Final Solution was made to materialize. The Germans had been ordering deportation all throughout the war years, but when a massive “evacuation to the east” was announced, most of the victims knew they were to face imminent death (Rees).
Death camps were essential instruments to the success of the Final Solution. While Germany’s Einsatzgruppen proved useful for slaughter by bullets, they needed to travel often and some reported to have suffered from psychological repercussions. With the killing done in camps, however, the process was reversed: the victims traveled to be slaughtered. They were taken by train on cattle cars to the extermination camps. Essentially, the camps became factories for producing corpses. And like burnt sacrifices, the bodies were thrown into open fires or crematoriums. The mass murder was effective, efficient, and came with little psychological costs to the German staff. According to witnesses, a few Germans could kill tens of thousands of prisoners in a month (Rees). Such was the level of organized murder the Nazis achieved.
In labor camps, death was also the end game for the Jews. Prisoners were deprived of food apart from meager pieces of bread, watery soup, and cups of bad coffee. The wardrobe consisted of striped uniforms and wooden clogs, with nothing for warmth during cold winter nights. Medical care was close to non-existent, and many of the wounded were left for dead or shot instantly. Sporadically, the prisoners had to line up for a process known as Selektion. Much like the first inspection upon their arrival, this process separated those capable of working from those who could no longer labor. Those unfit to work were transported straight to the gas chambers. Survivors often tell tales of them pricking their fingers for blood, which was then used to color their cheeks to look healthy and avoid selection (Rees).
These acts of abuse, cruelty, indignity, and outright murder continued for years. By the time the war ended upon the death and downfall of Hitler and the fall of the Nazi Party, more than six million Jews had died. This is equivalent to around two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe (“Killing Centers”).
What these facts point to, in the end, is that the mass murder of the Jews was a clear attempt to eradicate their entire population off the face of the earth. The details surrounding this event along with the tons of evidence that exist show that this is no inevitable act that the Nazis were forced to commit due to war; rather, this was a carefully planned and well-thought out systematic process. This was a massacre on the industrial scale that was performed of their own volition. The Nazis could have not killed that many if the Holocaust was not engineered by people bent on murdering all the Jews. Having established this fact, what can the suffering of the Jews tell people today? There is much to learn from this tragedy. While the Holocaust may be a harrowing narrative of Jewish persecution, those who listen and understand will be able to acknowledge the evil that can take hold of society. This case of racism may be the worst the modern world has ever seen, but knowing what has transpired throughout those years will help prevent another one from happening ever again.
Barry, Stephane and Norbert Gualde. “La plus grande épidémie de Histoire (The greatest epidemics in history).” L’Histoire, no.310, 2006.
“Killing Centers: An Overview.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/killing-centers-an-overview. Accessed 1 February 2021.
Kolb, Eberhard. The Weimar Republic. New York, Routledge, 2005.
“Kristallnacht.” Public Broadcasting Corporation, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/holocaust-kristallnacht/. Accessed 1 February 2021.
Rees, Laurence. The Holocaust, A New History. PublicAffairs, 2017.
“The Nuremberg Race Laws.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-nuremberg-race-laws. Accessed 1 February 2021.
“What is the Origin of the Term Holocaust?” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/story/what-is-the-origin-of-the-term-holocaust. Accessed 1 February 2021.